GAINESVILLE — You never knew genius could be quite so fickle.
And then you watch as yesterday's innovator is put in his place by today's mastermind, and you realize the best way to measure college football IQ may be with a stopwatch and a tape measure.
Forget the X's and forget the O's. Ignore the quality of game plans, and pay no attention to the number of trick plays. There is really only one way to calculate the genius of a college football coach:
It's the players, stupid.
There was Steve Spurrier, the most brilliant man in college football in the 1990s, taking the worst beating of his career on Saturday afternoon. And there was Urban Meyer, the newest wise man in the game, reveling in the most dominant stretch of victories in SEC history.
And the common denominator?
The level of talent at the University of Florida.
The Gators have been as close to unbeatable as any SEC team has ever been in recent weeks. They have won six consecutive league games by 28 points or more, something no other team has ever done.
UF averaged 44.8 points per game against SEC teams this season, the third-best mark in league history. The only teams better? Spurrier's Florida teams in 1995 and '96, which averaged 45.2 and 47 points.
"In '95, '96, we had teams that did that. Yeah, a lot of teams that did that," said Spurrier, now in his fourth season at South Carolina. "Not any recently."
Therein lies the difference between genius and mere smarts. The genius has a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback. The other coach uses a gimmick alternating system at quarterback. The genius has a receiver good enough to rush for 167 yards as a running back. The other coach, well, he doesn't.
Understand, Spurrier has done a fine job at South Carolina. The Gamecocks are possibly heading to a New Year's bowl and, with one victory in their final two games, will have the most successful four-year stretch in school history with 29 victories. Still, no one is calling Spurrier, 63, a miracle man anymore. No one is suggesting he is the most astute offensive mind in the country.
Which may be why it felt as if Meyer, 44, had finally put the Spurrier legend behind him on Saturday.
Oh, he had already won an SEC title and a national championship. He had already beaten Spurrier two out of three times. In a lot of ways, Meyer had already turned the page on Florida's eternal infatuation with Spurrier.
And yet this felt more like closure. You get the sense that few in the orange-and-blue crowd are still pining for the days of Spurrier and his visor. A beating such as this tends to loosen the nostalgia from your heart.
By the way, Meyer pretty much caught up to Spurrier in the record books on Saturday, too. In his 12-year stay in Gainesville, Spurrier had a 122-27-1 record for a winning percentage of .8166. With the victory against South Carolina, Meyer improved to 40-9 for a winning percentage of .8163.
For what it's worth, Spurrier said this is the best team Meyer has had at Florida. Certainly better than the 2006 team that won the national championship.
"They've got an awfully good team. They've got a collection of players that may be the best in the country," Spurrier said. "I told Urban I hope they go on a four-game winning streak. That's all they need to do now, a four-game winning streak. And hopefully we'll go on a two-game (streak)."
The only challenge remaining for Meyer is longevity. He has had success in his previous coaching stops, and he rebuilt Florida's reputation in a hurry. He has one national championship and has his sights set on a second.
At this point, the only measurement where he comes up short is time of service.
Spurrier worked his magic for 12 years and won six SEC titles at Florida. Meyer is in his fourth year and has No. 1 Alabama standing in the way of his second league championship.
If you want to know the truth, there is one simple way for Meyer to prove his genius:
By staying where the talent resides.
John Romano can be reached at [email protected]