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A penny for the thoughts of Florida Gators

TAMPA

I wonder, what was he thinking?

Once the bands cleared the field and the cameras went live, what was running through Will Muschamp's mind?

That there are an awful lot of positions requiring upgrades? That it's a darn good thing quarterback recruit Jeff Driskel is already set to enroll next week? That, hopefully, Charlie Weis didn't tune into the Outback Bowl and change his mind?

More than anything, I picture Muschamp feverishly figuring out ways to extend Ahmad Black's eligibility.

The transition between University of Florida eras began Saturday afternoon as the Gators staggered and stumbled to a 37-24 victory over Penn State in a game that looked more like a season opener than a finale.

Muschamp sat in a Raymond James Stadium luxury box with athletic director Jeremy Foley and got his first live glimpse of the team he will officially take over today. What he saw, hours after New Year's Eve, had to be sobering.

This was not a real good Florida team. The offense has no quarterback, no consistent running back and no clue. There are a handful of fine players on either side of the ball but nobody who takes your breath away. At least not yet.

You might even make the argument that the team Muschamp inherits in 2011 has less talent than the team Urban Meyer was given in 2005. Maybe that's a stretch, but 16 of Ron Zook's holdovers went on to be drafted, including a half-dozen in the first three rounds.

And that doesn't even include quarterback Chris Leak.

Right now, that has to be Muschamp's greatest concern. Leak wasn't the perfect fit for Meyer's spread option offense. But he was smart, and he was talented and he helped take Florida to a national championship two years after the Gators stumbled home 7-5 in Zook's final season.

Unless Weis can work magic as the new offensive coordinator, the Gators might be hard up enough at quarterback to consider playing Driskel as a true freshman.

• • •

I wonder, what was he thinking?

Once the outcome was no longer in doubt and he had his wife, Shelley, in his arms, what was running through Urban Meyer's mind?

That an eighth victory never seemed so delightful? That he was spared the heartache of having to fire offensive coordinator, and best friend, Steve Addazio? That he made the right decision to walk away now?

Friends say Meyer has never looked so happy than in the past few weeks knowing that the continuous countdown to another football season has been removed from his life. You can debate his motivation for leaving, but you cannot deny he is entitled to the rest.

He wasn't always warm with outsiders. He had a funny way of defining honesty. And even though his stay was relatively brief, very few people seem devastated by the idea that he is already walking away from the sideline.

Yet for all the revisionist history going on around Meyer now that he is an ex-coach, there is no doubt that Florida is in his debt. He achieved more in six years than could have been reasonably expected when he took over a program that was coming off three consecutive mediocre seasons. He changed the mind-set in the locker room, and he convinced Florida fans they should forever dream large.

• • •

I wonder, what was he thinking?

When the game was on the line and fourth down had to be converted, what was John Brantley's first thought as he was told to stay on the sideline?

That he deserved better? That the three years he spent as Tim Tebow's understudy was a complete waste of time? That a new beginning at a smaller school might be the best thing for him?

It is not easy to defend Brantley today. He was given one of the most high-profile jobs in the world of college football, and he did very little to impress anyone. The Gators were so desperate for better quarterback play, they handed the ball to a tight end.

Still, the lingering question is whether Brantley failed the game plan or whether the game plan failed him. Meyer has never been able to recruit top-of-the-line running backs, and when the passing game sputtered this year, everything fell apart. Which left Brantley twisting in the wind.

In his past three games against Division I-A opponents, Brantley was 28-of-56 for 223 yards and three interceptions for an NCAA rating of 78.6. Jordan Reed, who is No. 1 on the depth chart at tight end, was 13-of-24 for 118 yards and no interceptions for a rating of 109.2.

Does that mean Reed was that much better? Not at all. Reed was often throwing on first or second down whereas Brantley was brought in for third and long and asked to create miracles. No matter how you view it, Florida quarterbacks came up way short in 2010.

• • •

I wonder, what were you thinking?

When the season finally ended and the alma mater was playing, what was your gut reaction?

That Meyer went out the way he deserved with a victory? That Muschamp is going to have to earn that $2.7 million salary?

That timing is everything?

John Romano can be reached at [email protected]

A penny for the thoughts of Florida Gators 01/01/11 [Last modified: Sunday, January 2, 2011 12:19am]
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