GAINESVILLE — Will Muschamp says it's time to let it go and move on.
The Florida coach believes in his heart that the Gators (11-1, 7-1 SEC) are one of the best teams in the nation, and yes, he would love to be playing in Atlanta this weekend for a shot at a national championship berth.
But that's not happening. Time to deal with reality.
"We knew the rules of engagement when we started the season," Muschamp said. "I'm not one that's going to sit there and complain about it. It is what it is. We had our opportunity in Jacksonville (vs. Georgia), and we didn't get it done. That's our fault. Nobody else's."
Muschamp said before the season that anything less than playing in the SEC Championship Game would be considered a failure. Though he has softened on that, he's steadfast in his desire to take the Gators to Atlanta.
"I've been in that game and there's nothing like it," he said. "You work at a place like Florida to go there. I feel very strongly about that, and that'll never change."
WAR OF WORDS: Alabama coach Nick Saban is a friend and mentor of Muschamp's, but the two definitely don't agree on who should get a Sugar Bowl invite. Saban said he has a problem with the loser of the SEC title game being left out of the BCS. The Gators are currently No. 4 in the BCS standings behind Notre Dame, Alabama and Georgia. The loser of the SEC title game will have two losses and is expected to fall behind Florida in the BCS rankings. The top four get an automatic invitation, and no more than two teams from one conference are allowed BCS bowl bids. Florida is expected to get a Sugar Bowl invitation.
"For either one of these teams (Alabama or Georgia) it's not really a great scenario," Saban said. "You play your way into the championship game, which means you're the best team in your division, they're the best team in their division. They played their way into the game by a total body of work for the whole season. It doesn't seem quite right. But it is what it is. … I don't feel good about it for our football team or their football team, either one."
Muschamp, whose Gators won on the road against Texas A&M, the only team to beat Alabama, didn't take that one lightly.
"Well, I can switch and go to Atlanta if he doesn't want to go to Atlanta and play the Dawgs," Muschamp said. "Be careful what you ask for, Nick."
QUINN AN AWARD FINALIST: Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is one of five finalists for the prestigious Broyles Award, presented to the nation's top assistant football coach.
Led by Quinn, now in his second season, Florida has become one of the premier defenses in the nation. UF ranks third nationally in points allowed (12.9), the lowest in school history since 1964. The defense also ranks third in rushing yards allowed (96.58) and fifth in total yards allowed (282.6). The Gators are first in the nation in pass efficiency defense (91.50) and have forced 29 turnovers, tying for fifth nationally in turnover margin (plus-17). UF has allowed just five passing touchdowns this season, the second-fewest in the nation.
The other finalists: Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, Texas A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury and Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason.
INJURY UPDATE: Florida junior LB Jelani Jenkins had surgery Monday morning to repair a broken bone in his foot and will likely miss four to six weeks. Jenkins was injured during Saturday's victory at FSU. He missed 2 1/2 games earlier this season after surgery for a broken thumb. LB Neiron Ball (ankle) is expected to play in the bowl game. QB Jeff Driskel (ankle) is in a boot for precautionary reasons, and OL Jon Harrison also injured his ankle, but both are expected to play. Harrison is also in a boot. Muschamp said DB De'Ante "Pop" Saunders (knee) will not play.
SOLACE FOR A FRIEND: Muschamp and fired Tennessee coach Derek Dooley are longtime friends who have previously coached on the same staff, so it's no surprise Muschamp feels for Dooley, who was fired last week after going 15-21 and 4-19 in the SEC in three seasons.
"I'm disappointed for Derek," Muschamp said. "He's a really good coach and great friend. It's part of the profession. At the end of the day it's the bottom line of winning and losing football games. Very disappointed for him."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]