SEC: Florida Gators

Aaron Rodgers said it to Packers fans and LeBron James said it to Cavaliers fans. And whomever winds up taking over as the next head coach of the Florida football program would assuredly want the same message relayed to Gators fans when it comes to the 2015 recruiting class.

R-E-L-A-X.

[+] EnlargeByron Cowart
Tom Hauck for Student SportsFive-star Byron Cowart is not letting Florida's coaching change affect his decision.
Losses on the field cost Will Muschamp his job and his successor will inherit a class with just nine verbal commits -- the fewest of any Power 5 program. With all that, panic has assuredly set in with Florida fans. But not only is it premature to worry about how this class will finish, those fans don't need to look far into history for some significant reassurance as to how strong the Gators class could be when it crosses the finish line.

While Florida doesn't share much in common with USC -- opposite coasts, different conferences, public vs. private, etc. -- there's one thing they share that is the only thing that matters in this situation. It's something that only a handful of college football programs can take advantage of. Because Florida -- like USC -- is one of college football's most visible power programs, a coaching change can lead to immediate positive effects, especially on the recruiting trail.

After the second game of the 2013 season, the Trojans might have had the least recruiting clout in the Pac-12. Dozens of high-profile USC recruits had just sat through a sloppy 10-7 loss to Washington State, complete with loud boos and chants to fire the coach.

“It was kind of a letdown,” said one ESPN 300 prospect following the game. “It's really thrown me off of them."

USC kept Lane Kiffin at the helm until Sept. 30, when the decision was made to let him go. Steve Sarkisian took over on Dec. 2 and the recruiting impact was felt almost immediately.

That decision was met with immediate excitement from prospects and galvanized the recruiting efforts in a hurry. After sitting outside the ESPN class rankings for months, the Trojans made their way back among the top 40 recruiting classes just two weeks after Sarkisian's hiring.

When the recruiting class was finished, only three prospects who originally committed to Lane Kiffin remained. The Trojans finished with 19 commitments, including the three Kiffin landed and four former Washington pledges that followed Sarkisian to USC. The Trojans finished with the No. 14 group in the country, and not only did the Trojans eventually sign Adoree' Jackson -- the lone five-star prospect in the region -- they also wound up signing the aforementioned ESPN 300 recruit that was so down on the Trojans following the Washington State loss.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesSteve Sarkisian's hiring jumpstarted USC's recruiting efforts in the final two months of the 2014 cycle.
When Florida fans look at USC carrying only three commitments from early December through signing day last year, the idea of having nine committed at this point -- including four ESPN 300 prospects -- should be rather reassuring (provided they don't take a glance at Florida State's class at the moment). What should be even more reassuring are the prospects still left on the board for Florida. ESPN 300 prospects Byron Cowart, Martez Ivey, CeCe Jefferson, Adonis Thomas and Jeffery Holland are just a few of the names in the region still looking at the Gators following the loss of Muschamp. The talent available is even greater than what the Trojans collected in sweeping ESPN 300 prospects Jackson, JuJu Smith and Damien Mama on signing day last year.

Cowart probably said it best when he told ESPN.com's Derek Tyson: "I’m still considering Florida. At the end of the day, they will pay top dollar for whoever the next head coach will be, so whoever they get will be a top coach."

Getting out in front as the first major program to announce a coaching change will be a significant benefit to Florida, as often the rumblings of a coaching change can be far more detrimental to a recruiting class than the coaching change itself. In addition, the Gators are likely guaranteed that whoever takes over as head coach will bring with him several recruits -- either because they are committed to whatever program he is coaching for right now, or his name recognition alone will be too much to turn down.

While mention of the 2015 recruiting cycle makes it feel like this class goes through just one fluid stage from first offers to signing day, the truth is that there are a number of separate recruiting seasons for these seniors. We're about to step into the two that matter most -- the months between the end of the season and the beginning of February, and the final 48 hours leading up to signing day. What matters most is the recruiting momentum that can carry a program through those periods, and Florida -- like USC last year, or a handful of programs including Alabama, Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas and a few others -- is one of those programs that has the ability to become a freight train on the trail with the right hire.
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The list of reasons why the Florida head coaching job is so attractive is awfully long, but the biggest reason is recruiting.

Texas might produce more Division I prospects, and you can find high concentrations of talent in California, but if you want to find difference-makers -- the kind you need to win the SEC and the national championship -- you head to the Sunshine State. The University of Florida sits in the heart of the highest quality and quantity of high school football talent in America, and to win big the Gators must hire somebody who can tap into that local pipeline. Will Muschamp’s replacement must beat Florida State and Miami regularly for these players and also keep Nick Saban, Gus Malzahn, Les Miles, Urban Meyer and others from poaching players away.

It’s a tall task indeed, but here are top 10 candidates who would make sense at Florida because they have the recruiting chops to be successful.

[+] EnlargeHugh Freeze
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsHugh Freeze has proven he can win recruiting battles against the SEC heavyweights.
1. Hugh Freeze
Head coach, Ole Miss

Freeze might be tough to pry away from Oxford because of his close ties to the state of Mississippi and the fact that he still has more time left with the vaunted 2013 top-five recruiting class he brought in to Ole Miss. But from a recruiting standpoint, it’s hard to think of somebody who would be in a better position to lure talent to Gainesville. Freeze already knows how to recruit in the cutthroat SEC and has recruited against the big dogs with a lot of success in Florida since he arrived at Ole Miss.

ESPN Jr. 300: What to know in the SEC 

November, 19, 2014
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The SEC already has five commitments from players ranked in the top 25 of the ESPN Junior 300. That list includes Greg Little, the No. 1 player in the Class of 2016 and a Texas A&M commit. As a whole, the SEC has 27 commitments in the updated ESPN Junior 300. Here’s a closer look at the updated rankings.


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Will Muschamp made one thing abundantly clear during his news conference Monday: He's leaving Florida's program in better shape than he found it.

"We've got a deep and talented roster, so don't let that new guy tell you he ain't got no good players," said Muschamp, who will not return as the Gators' head coach in 2015. "Tell you that right now. They got some good football players in that locker room."

Despite what the stats and this year's 5-4 record might say, he's right. The Gators are losing a star in defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., but the defense is still loaded with quality depth and talent to help any new coach for a couple of years. And even though the offense is riddled with holes, the quarterback position is better than when he arrived, there's depth on the line and there could be promise in a group of young receivers that includes Demarcus Robinson and Ahmad Fulwood.

I'm not saying Florida's next head coach has a group of world beaters on his hands, but he has a much better foundation to work with than Muschamp did when he took over for Urban Meyer in 2011.

Florida will lose four senior starters on both offense and defense, and there are still a couple of juniors, such as linebacker Antonio Morrison and running back Matt Jones, who could depart early for the NFL draft. But the core of this team will be back, including most of the defensive line and a secondary that houses star cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III.

All in all, the Gators could potentially return 20 players who have played in at least 14 collegiate games and 14 who have played in 20 or more games. So there's experience to work with, and players who have gone through the toughest parts of their development stages.

Now, this isn't to say Florida has a complete roster full of elite talent. Upgrades need to be made, especially at wide receiver, and more quality bodies need to be brought in on the offensive line. The Gators might have to replace all three starting linebackers, as well. There's work to be done across the board, but there's a good base for the next coach to build off of.

Muschamp also left that locker room in a more stable condition, too, after walking into an absolute mess when he arrived in 2011. Even Meyer relented he left him a broken program. So it took awhile for Muschamp to gain power in that locker room, but looking at the state of what's happening away from the field, he did a heck of a job bringing order, even if the wins didn't come.

Head cases and trouble-makers were booted, as the off-field incidents decreased exponentially under Muschamp and the team's GPA rose. The team's Academic Progress Rate (APR) this spring was 979, which is 10 points higher than the national average and the highest it's been at Florida in the past decade. Muschamp has had 68 players make academic All-SEC and 44 graduate with degrees. And the composite team GPA this past spring was the highest in the history of the football program.

"He was asked to come here and build a program, a program built on character and on good academic values," university president Bernie Machen said. "He was asked to develop young men that would be a credit to the Gator Nation. He has done that."

This team isn't going to be thrown right at the top of a wobbly SEC Eastern Division when the next coach arrives, but he'll have the internal advantages Muschamp didn't. It certainly won't be a bad way to start a new life in Gainesville.

SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 12

November, 19, 2014
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Georgia’s Nick Chubb and Tennessee’s Derek Barnett were once again the stars of the weekend among the SEC’s true freshmen, with both rookies helping their teams earn blowout wins against conference competitors.

Let’s recap how the dynamic duo, and several other members of the SEC’s true freshman class, performed last Saturday:

DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee

What he did: Barnett notched seven tackles, four tackles for loss and a pair of sacks in the Volunteers’ blowout win against Kentucky.

What it means: He probably wasn’t getting enough attention before, but Barnett is getting it now. Barnett is tied for fifth nationally in tackles for loss with Missouri’s Shane Ray. They share the SEC lead with 18 apiece. Barnett is also third in the SEC with nine sacks.

RB Nick Chubb, Georgia

What he did: The return of -- and subsequent injury to -- Todd Gurley generated most of the attention in Saturday’s win against Auburn, but the Chubb Train kept rolling. Georgia’s star freshman ran 19 times for 144 yards and scored touchdowns of 9 and 11 yards. He also caught two passes for 48 yards.

What it means: Chubb has rushed for at least 140 yards in all five games since Gurley was initially suspended. During that time, he has been arguably the SEC’s most dynamic running back. He has run for 815 yards in the past five games and pushed his season total past the 1,000-yard mark (to 1,039) against Auburn.

RB Jalen Hurd, Tennessee

What he did: He hasn’t put up comparable numbers to Chubb, but Hurd has been impressive while running behind a much less experienced offensive line. He rushed 23 times for 118 yards and scored a 4-yard touchdown against Kentucky. He also made a reception for an 11-yard gain.

What it means: Through 10 games, Hurd has rushed for 716 yards and three touchdowns and ranks third on the team with 27 catches for 177 yards and two more scores. He is easily one of the Volunteers' most valuable offensive players and he’s only getting started.

QB Treon Harris, Florida

What he did: The South Carolina game ended terribly for Florida -- with the Gamecocks tying the score late and winning in overtime -- but Harris is a clear upgrade over Jeff Driskel at quarterback. He completed just 5 of 11 passes for 60 yards and a touchdown, but Harris also ran 20 times for 111 yards.

What it means: Starting for the third straight game, Harris suffered his first loss as a starter against the Gamecocks. Nonetheless, Florida has become a more competitive team with him under center. His 100-yard outing was the first by a Florida quarterback since Driskel in 2012.

S Armani Watts, Texas A&M

What he did: The freshman safety made four tackles and broke up two passes in a loss against Missouri, but his biggest play came late in the second quarter when he picked off a Maty Mauk pass at the Texas A&M 12-yard line and returned it 36 yards to the Aggies 48. A&M then drove to Mizzou’s 13 and kicked a field goal at the buzzer to go up 13-6 at halftime.

What it means: Other A&M freshmen like Myles Garrett, Speedy Noil and Kyle Allen have garnered more attention, but Watts has become a solid contributor on defense. He leads the team with three interceptions and 10 passes defended, is second with seven pass breakups and sixth with 52 tackles. It’s shaping up to be a strong rookie season for the young defensive back.

Other notables:

QB Kyle Allen, Texas A&M: Completed 24 of 35 passes for 237 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in a loss to Missouri.

LB Bryson Allen-Williams, South Carolina: Made three tackles, a career-high 2.5 tackles for loss and forced a fumble while combining for a sack in a win against Florida.

DB/KR Evan Berry, Tennessee: Vols legend Eric Berry’s younger brother made two tackles and returned three kickoffs for 91 yards (30.3 ypr) with a long of 39 against Kentucky.

WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M: Caught three passes for 36 yards and totaled 95 yards on two kickoff returns in a loss to Missouri.

DB Malkom Parrish, Georgia: Made five tackles and forced a fourth-quarter fumble that outside linebacker Davin Bellamy recovered in a win against Auburn.

P J.K. Scott, Alabama: Punted seven times for 319 yards (45.6 ypp) in a win against Mississippi State with a long of 56.

RB Ish Witter, Missouri: Ran four times for 34 yards and rushed for a key third-quarter touchdown that gave the Tigers a 14-point lead in a 34-27 win over Texas A&M.

SEC morning links

November, 19, 2014
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1. I had two big takeaways from the latest College Football Playoff rankings that came out Tuesday. First, the committee still likes the SEC. Alabama jumped all the way to No. 1, and despite losing to the Crimson Tide, Mississippi State remained a playoff team at No. 4. Will that last? We’ll see, but for now the Bulldogs have to be happy with where they’re at. The second thing is game control. What is it? It’s basically a calculation of a team’s average in-game win probability or a measure of how exactly a team went about winning (or losing) throughout the game. (Click here if still confused.) Why is it important? The new rankings showed that game control is important to the committee. It’s not just that you win, it’s how you win. For what it’s worth, the SEC has four of the top five teams ranked according to game control.

2. Missouri has a simple path to Atlanta. Win two games and the Tigers are back in the SEC championship game. And yet, everybody is writing them off just like they did last year. Sure, this Missouri team lost to Indiana and got blown out by Georgia, the team that’s currently on their heels for the East crown. But both of those games were at home. Surprisingly the road is where the Tigers have thrived. They have won nine straight road games, including seven straight against conference foes. No other SEC team has won more than three in a row. Not Georgia. Not the two Mississippi schools. Not even Alabama. Don’t be so quick to count out Missouri this Saturday just because the game is at Tennessee. Maybe it’s an advantage.

3. There has been talk this week of a possible Texas-Texas A&M matchup in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl. However, it sounds like the Aggies, and maybe more importantly the SEC, want nothing to do with Texas. That got me thinking, though. What are some of the potential bowl matchups that we’d all love to see? And no, I’m not including the semifinal games. They’re going to be must-see TV regardless of who’s playing. These are lesser bowl games involving SEC teams that I’ve seen projected.
  • Auburn vs. Notre Dame in the Belk Bowl (The last two BCS runners-up)
  • Georgia vs. Wisconsin in the Citrus Bowl (Chubb vs. Gordon)
  • Mississippi State vs. TCU in the Fiesta Bowl (Who’s the best team left out?)
  • Missouri vs. Nebraska in the Outback Bowl (An old Big 12 rivalry)
Tweet of the day

SEC bowl projections: Week 12

November, 18, 2014
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How important is earning the top overall seed in the College Football Playoff? For Alabama, it's very important. It would allow the Tide to play a virtual home game in the Sugar Bowl as opposed to going out West to possibly face Oregon in the Rose Bowl.

That's why Nick Saban and his team have to be ecstatic with their No. 1 ranking in the latest playoff rankings. As long as they win out and win the SEC title, they're headed to New Orleans for the first semifinal game.

Meanwhile, if everything plays out as it should -- and it never does -- the Tide's opponent in the Sugar Bowl would be none other than Mississippi State. That's right. The Bulldogs only dropped to No. 4 after Saturday's loss to Alabama, and that means they're still in good shape for the playoff if they can take care of business against Vanderbilt and Ole Miss.

The next two weeks should also be interesting for the rest of the conference as a number of teams are fighting for that sixth win and bowl eligibility. Both Florida and South Carolina should get there this Saturday as they play Eastern Kentucky and South Alabama, respectively. It won't be as easy, though, for teams like of Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky.

We predict a total of 12 SEC teams becoming bowl eligible by season's end.

College Football Playoff semifinal (Sugar Bowl): Alabama
College Football Playoff semifinal (Sugar Bowl): Mississippi State
Capital One Orange Bowl: Ole Miss
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Georgia
Citrus Bowl: Auburn
TaxSlayer Bowl: Florida
Outback Bowl: Missouri
AdvoCare 100 Texas Bowl: Texas A&M
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Tennessee
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: LSU
Belk Bowl: South Carolina
Birmingham Bowl: Arkansas

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

November, 18, 2014
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As always there was a ton of recruiting news from around the Southeastern Conference. Florida head coach Will Muschamp announced he will step down from his position at the end of the season, there were key visits and new offers over the weekend. Here's a closer look at the top recruiting news from around the conference.


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This week, USA Today, in the latest of its fan index lists, catalogued the top 10 traditions in college football.

Among them, dotting the "i" at Ohio State, lighting the Tower at Texas and rolling Toomer's Corner at Auburn. All fine events, but no list of such customs in the sport is complete without the latest craze: the wait for Tuesday night.

I say that somewhat jokingly, so refrain from the angry tweets. No, I don't really think it's more fun to dream about the details of a five-minute interview with Jeff Long than to decorate an intersection with toilet paper.

But it's close.

So welcome to the fourth of seven Tuesday College Football Playoff poll unveils, where it finally gets real in the selection-committee room.

Why is this Tuesday different? Because after last Saturday, none of the remaining unbeaten or one-loss Power 5 contenders will meet in the regular season or in conference-title games.

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SEC morning links

November, 18, 2014
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1. Has Florida hired a coach yet? OK, I guess I'm being impatient. Nothing is going to happen until after the season, but athletic director Jeremy Foley did say he hopes to have a coach by December, which means it might only be a month before we know who is going to replace Will Muschamp. Foley also said he plans to look for a coach who can bring that offensive spark back to The Swamp. Gus Malzahn, anyone? Malzahn's buddy Hugh Freeze would also fit the description, but it sounds like the Ole Miss coach is in line for a raise after the season. Freeze added that he and his family are extremely happy in Oxford, which is no surprise considering he grew up there. It hasn't been that long, though, since Rich Rodriguez left his alma mater West Virginia to take the Michigan job. I'm just saying.

2. Rushing the field after a win over the No. 17 team in the country? That's what happens when you haven't won a conference game in over two years. Arkansas paid the price, though. On Monday, the school was fined $25,000 by the SEC for the post-game celebration, a fine I'm guessing coach Bret Bielema would be happy to pay back after Saturday's win against LSU. The atmosphere hasn't been as jubilant in Baton Rouge this week. It was a historically bad performance by the offense, and Glenn Guilbeau of the Shreveport Times writes that it's time for change and more specifically, time for a new quarterback and new offensive coordinator at LSU. The Tigers should fare better next Thursday against a bad Texas A&M defense.

3. What's the one thing we can almost always count on when Alabama plays an FCS team? Nick Saban going off during his weekly news conference about the quality of the opponent and how it doesn't matter. He didn't let us down this week. Saban got a little heated Monday when a reporter asked about the possibility of looking ahead to the rest of the season, aka the Iron Bowl. I think the Crimson Tide should be pretty safe this weekend against Western Carolina. On a different note, Saban was also asked about the music selection in Bryant-Denny Stadium and the updated playlist from Saturday's win against No. 1 Mississippi State. Unfortunately, he's not the DJ. He has nothing to do with what songs play or don't play during games.

Around the SEC
  • Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson unfazed by criticism during brutal stretch.
  • Running back Todd Gurley goes out the same way he came in at Georgia: A superstar.
  • Steve Spurrier laments firing of Muschamp, shoots down rumors of his return to Florida.
Tweet of the day
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – As Will Muschamp approached the podium in front of a throng of media members for one of his last times as Florida’s head coach, he smiled and took a quick peek over at the fine-dressed men who preceded him just moments earlier.

“I guess I'm underdressed for the occasion,” Muschamp said, “I apologize for that.”

Florida president Bernie Machen and athletic director Jeremy Foley had just finished delivering their own eulogies for Muschamp, but he sliced through the funereal atmosphere with some quick wit, while fully understanding the gravity of the situation.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesWill Muschamp will get two more chances to go out a winner, and none bigger than the rivalry against FSU.
Even when a reporter told him he looked good and appeared to be taking the news well, Muschamp responded with more dry humor.

“My wife thinks I've gained some weight this year,” Muschamp said.

Sunday’s announcement of Muschamp’s eventual departure was heartbreaking for the coach and a tough decision emotionally for his bosses. They praised him for his high character and dedication to improving Florida’s locker room and raising the team’s GPA.

Players spent all Sunday supporting Muschamp via social media, and the three players who spoke at his news conference were grieving over the loss of their coach, who couldn’t escape his fourth year.

“It was something that we were kind of ready for, given all the buzz around the program,” offensive lineman Chaz Green said. “We knew how important it was to get that South Carolina win. That’s why it was so heartbreaking in the way that it ended, too.”

A 27-20 record with an anemic offense isn’t going to save you at a place like Florida, and Muschamp was one of the first to say that. Muschamp has no ill will toward Foley or the university and knows he didn’t produce enough to keep his job.

He relayed that same message to his team during a Sunday meeting. Muschamp has always been a no-nonsense kind of guy, and while it no doubt pained him to stand up Monday and talk about the impending end to his Florida tenure, he knows that life goes on, and that in a business sometimes you have to leave the emotions out of it.

“I'm going to root for these guys as hard as anybody,” Muschamp said. “I want the University of Florida to be successful. I'm always going to be a Gator, unless I'm on the other sideline. I always will want these guys to be successful in what they do and I always will be there for them.”

Florida players love Muschamp. The cliché sayings dealing with coaches being like fathers and players being like kids definitely applies to this team. Muschamp doesn’t view his dismissal as personal, but leaving his guys is. It hurts, and it will for a long time.

That’s why he wants to help see his guys out the right way.

There will be no SEC title for the Gators, but a bowl berth is possible.

A playoff appearance isn't happening, but imagine what it would mean to this team if it upset Florida State to close the Muschamp era?

Hey, Zookier things have happened.

“We want to definitely get this win for Coach Muschamp,” Green said. “Given the fact that he wants to finish the season and given the fact that how much we care about him and how we feel about it, it’s only right that we dedicate these last two games to him.”

These players care about ending things the right way because some feel as though they let their coach down. He wasn’t the one missing assignments and dropping passes. He didn’t throw wild passes into traffic or miss blocks.

Development and finding efficient ways to win games are on the coach, but there are plenty parts of Florida’s failures that fall right on the players as well, and they know that.

“We failed to an extent, but I say some things just didn’t fall our way,” linebacker Michael Taylor said. “Sometimes we tried hard in certain areas where it needed to be done in different areas. Sometimes it felt like we were doing the wrong thing with the right purpose.”

Things had been building to Sunday’s inevitable end, but there are two more opportunities to send Muschamp out with the smile he walked into Monday’s news conference with. Saturday marks what should be an emotional Senior Day in the Swamp, while next week brings a trip to Tallahassee.

There’s still a lot of motivation for this team.

“We’re playing for each other, we’re playing for Muschamp, we’re playing for Gator Nation,” center Max Garcia said. “Nothing has changed.”

SEC morning links

November, 17, 2014
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Mississippi State, the No. 1 team in the nation, lost this weekend and yet nobody was talking about the Bulldogs on Sunday. That's what happens when another SEC team lets go of their head coach and one of the top players in the conference is lost for the season to injury.

1. Let's begin with the Todd Gurley news. Gurley, who returned for Georgia on Saturday after missing four games due to suspension, injured his left knee late in the game. On Sunday, it was announced that the star running back suffered a torn ACL and will miss the remainder of the season. Terrible news considering that he didn't have to come back. He could've foregone the rest of his junior season and turned his focus to the NFL, an idea suggested by Marc Edelman of Forbes Magazine -- which is sad now given the timing of the piece. Instead, Gurley took the risk for the benefit of his team. It's a big blow for Georgia, too, but not season-ending. The Bulldogs still have Nick Chubb in their backfield, and the freshman has shown he's more than capable of carrying the load. He'll be counted on the rest of the way.

2. The other big news of the day came out of Florida where the school announced head coach Will Muschamp will not return next season. Muschamp, who went 27-20 in his four seasons with the Gators will stay on and coach the team's last two games. Go ahead and strike up the coaching rumors. Who will be the next coach in Gainesville? ESPN's Travis Haney put out a list of eight possible candidates Insider that includes names such as Bob Stoops and Rich Rodriguez. At CBS Sports, Dennis Dodd has three current SEC coaches, including Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, on his list of replacements. It's safe to say that nobody really knows what Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley is going to do. It's also safe to assume that Muschamp won't have trouble finding a job as a defensive coordinator if he so chooses.

3. And then there's Mississippi State. Do they still have a legitimate case at making the four-team playoff even after Saturday's loss to Alabama? Count quarterback Dak Prescott among those who believe they are still one of the best four teams in college football. Both Prescott and head coach Dan Mullen stated their case after Saturday's game. We'll find out just how far back the Bulldogs will fall Tuesday when the new rankings come out. Saturday was a much better day for cross-state rival Ole Miss. The Rebels didn't play, but losses by Mississippi State and Auburn opened the door for them to possibly win the West. The Rebels still need to win out and hope Auburn takes down Alabama in the regular-season finale, but there's a chance.

Around the SEC
Tweet of the day

Will Muschamp is one of those guys who meets everything head-on, and that’s whether he’s coaching football or doing anything else.

So when the end to his Florida head-coaching career was announced Sunday afternoon, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody that Muschamp was as stand-up as they come.

Very simply, it’s a bottom-line business, and his bottom line wasn’t good enough.

Those were his words, not mine.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Rob Foldy/Getty ImagesEven after a stormy tenure at Florida, Will Muschamp won't be unemployed for long.
It’s also a business that rewards good football coaches, and it’s telling that there was as much buzz after the news of Muschamp’s departure as to where he might land next as there was about who would be his replacement at Florida.

Defense has suddenly become a lost art in college football, and Muschamp will be one of the hottest free agents out there this offseason when head coaches set out to retool their defenses.

If Muschamp wants to stay in the SEC, he’ll almost certainly have that chance. More than a few schools in this conference have had trouble stopping anybody on defense this season, and Muschamp’s defensive acumen speaks for itself.

As a head coach, he just wasn’t a fit this time around at Florida. He was never able to get it right offensively, he had one too many recruiting misses and he made a few hires on his staff that came back to get him.

But as a football coach -- and a man -- Muschamp is the kind of guy anybody would want on his staff.

I asked one veteran SEC coach on Sunday what Muschamp’s reputation was with his peers.

“He’s not a good football coach. He’s a great football coach,” the coach said. “He’s a coach’s coach and does it the right way. You’re not going to find many people in this profession who will tell you any differently about Will.”

Muschamp is walking away with more than $6 million in a buyout from Florida, so he can take all the time he wants to settle on what is best for him going forward.

Remember, this was Muschamp’s first head-coaching gig. Some guys who have been head coaches for a while struggle with going back and working for somebody else. But before 2011, Muschamp had always worked for somebody else, and he’s the kind of down-to-earth guy who won't let his ego get in the way of doing what he loves to do -- coaching football.

My sense is he’ll be back next season in college football and make a difference somewhere, maybe even helping a team make a run at a championship.

Muschamp is not the first good football coach to be fired, and he won’t be the last.

This also won’t be the last you see of him.
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The simple answer for why things didn’t work out for Will Muschamp at Florida is the fact that he could never figure things out on offense.

For as great as his teams were at executing on defense, they were equally as bad on offense. Charlie Weis’ one-year offense did nothing. Brent Pease’s Boise State magic never made it to Gainesville. Kurt Roper’s explosive spread offense has been anything but that this season.

All that really needs to be said is that Muschamp lost two games when his defense allowed less than 120 yards of offense.

Whether Muschamp ever really got out of his own way when it came to offensive play calling or not, the truth is that there was never continuity. Having three offensive coordinators in four years didn’t help, but there was no creativity or adequate development on that side of the ball.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsWill Muschamp built a great defense at Florida but could never find the offense to match.
While Muschamp signed some hefty defensive classes during his Florida tenure, he missed on a lot of offensive guys and never brought in the type of game-changers the Gators should be consistently reeling in with the school nestled in the middle of a recruiting hotbed.

For Florida not to sign more than one elite wide receiver or have any consistency at quarterback in four years is inexcusable.

But here Florida is. Muschamp is stepping down at the end of the season, and a program that won two national championships under Urban Meyer and was a consistent SEC title threat under Steve Spurrier in the 1990s is spiraling.

Even Ron Zook’s offenses had more of a pulse.

During Muschamp’s 27-20 run at Florida, the Gators have yet to finish a season ranked higher than 103rd nationally in total offense. Currently, the Gators rank 88th nationally in total offense, averaging a paltry 373.3 yards per game. They are 63rd nationally in scoring offense, averaging 29.3 points per game. Both are highs during Muschamp’s tenure.

While Florida’s offense has been statistically better this season, the losses have shown just how inept this offense has been for the majority of the past four years.

In Florida’s four losses this season, the Gators have averaged just 266.8 yards and 20.2 points per game. Conservative play calling with a talent pool lacking substance has continually kept the Gators from advancing.

Even in Muschamp’s most successful season -- Year 2 in 2012 that featured 11 wins and an Allstate Sugar Bowl appearance -- the Gators won with great defense and a power running game. Yet they still ranked 103rd nationally in total offense and scored only 26.5 points per game.

Bad misses on guys like Stefon Diggs (Maryland) and Nelson Agholor (USC) set Florida’s receiver corps back. Two current running backs struggle with blocking, and legitimate playmaker Demarcus Robinson isn't consistent enough but appears to be the only real receiving threat on the team.

Not having the right pieces in place in Year 4 is on the coaching. Not expanding the playbook or having more looks for your young quarterback at this point in the season is on the coaching.

Clinging to embattled quarterback Jeff Driskel for too long is on the coaching. Driskel showed strides in practice and other coaches have said he has NFL talent, but it never translated to the field.

Even in a new spread offense that was supposed to suit Driskel’s skill set better, the junior looked lost and regressed this fall. Bad losses at home to LSU and Missouri were mired in awful offensive execution that goes back to the quarterback position.

The move to freshman Treon Harris was appropriate but might have come too late. That temporary spark faded Saturday when a limited playbook led to an overly conservative plan that contributed to the final backbreaking loss against South Carolina.

There were no mass injuries to lean on. Muschamp had time to find his quarterback. The excuses are gone, and change is coming.

How Florida goes about this is crucial. This is an incredibly important hire for Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley, who has to bring in a more offensive-minded and established head coach. There needs to be a new, offensive-friendly philosophy in Gainesville, and coaches with real winning experience should clutter Foley's list.

Foley also has to sell more than just the notion that “This is Florida.” That no longer carries the weight it once did. The facilities aren’t up to par with a lot of other SEC schools, and name alone won’t win over a coach good enough to bring Florida back to relevancy.

Florida will have to dip into its wallet and improve the look of the program from the inside out. The funds are there, and Foley is smart enough to know he has a critical search on his hands as he looks to start a new chapter in Gainesville.
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Florida head coach Will Muschamp will step down at the end of this season, the school announced Sunday, just one day after Florida fell to 5-4 with a 23-20 overtime loss to South Carolina.

The Gators' struggles on the field over the past two seasons have started to affect their recruiting. Florida has only nine commits in the 2015 class, a number that ranks last in the SEC. Florida also recently lost commitments from two ESPN 300 linebackers, Adonis Thomas and Jerome Baker.

Several recruits weighed in on the Muschamp news shortly after it was reported.


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