Wednesday, January 8, 2014
What Florida can learn from FSU, Auburn
By Jeff Barlis
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It's not easy watching your arch-rival reach the highest of highs while your team suffers through the lowest of lows, but that's exactly what's happening in Florida. FSU won a national championship to cap a season in which UF posted a losing record for the first time in more than 30 years.
Talk about a programs going in opposite directions. It's not easy to even comprehend the mountain top when you're sitting at rock bottom.
But Florida can learn a lot from this year's champion and runner-up -- Florida State and Auburn.
Tigers bounce back
Auburn might have benefited from a miracle or two, but there is no doubting the way this program rebounded in one year.
Jeff Driskel, once the nation's No. 1 QB prospect, gives the Gators -- and new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper -- someone to build the offense around.
That should give everyone associated with Florida great hope. Auburn had a far worse season in 2012 than Florida did in 2013. The Tigers didn't win a single game in the SEC and were just seconds away from winning a national championship one year later.
Gus Malzahn's return brought a sense of connection to Auburn's success in 2010 when he was offensive coordinator. He was able to salvage a recruiting class that ranked No. 11 last February and featured a couple of recruits who were critical to the turnaround.
Defensive end Carl Lawson, the nation's No. 2 overall prospect in the Class of 2013, became a bookend to senior Dee Ford. But it was juco transfer Nick Marshall who made the biggest impact. His electric speed and ability to run Malzahn's offense made the Tigers nearly unstoppable.
Like Auburn a year ago, Florida must use its sub-standard season as a selling point to recruits. The message is simple: "You're needed here and you can play right away."
UF didn't change head coaches, but a new offensive coordinator is nearly as seismic. Kurt Roper, a veteran play-caller with an extensive SEC résumé, will install something very different from the unimaginative, clock-chewing, run-run-pass offense that so frustrated Gator fans the last three seasons.
There's much work to be done across the board, but like Auburn, the key to revamping the offense for Roper and Florida is to work from the quarterback position out.
Just over a year ago, Florida went to Tallahassee and beat the Seminoles. FSU hasn't lost since.
The difference? A transcendent quarterback.
Sure, Jameis Winston is a generational talent. He's a quarterback prodigy with the otherworldly talent to win both the Heisman Trophy and the national title in just his second year out of high school.
Florida doesn't have that kind of QB, but Jeff Driskel was once the nation's No. 1 quarterback prospect, just like Winston. And UF's incoming freshman Will Grier is rated No. 2 in the nation. Together, Driskel and Grier give the Gators a focal point from which to build around.
Florida State's success came as a result of a steady buildup of talent. Remember how many times fans and observers claimed the Noles were officially "back" in recent years? Now there is no questioning FSU.
If Florida is to return to college football's elite, it needs stability. Some fans might not love the idea of Will Muschamp sticking around, but he is being given the chance to finish what he has started. Florida has recruited some of the nation's best classes -- 12th, fourth and second -- in Muschamp's three years. The talent level is rising, and someone has to steer the ship.
Some people forget this, but Jimbo Fisher has only been a head coach for one more year than Muschamp. And while his run at FSU has seen the Seminoles steadily climb back to prominence, Fisher was there from 2007-09 as offensive coordinator and head-coach-in-waiting when the Noles lost 16 games.
Florida's time with Muschamp has been more like a roller-coaster ride. After free-falling to the bottom, there is but one direction to go.