HOOVER, Ala. — If not for the large placard carried by SEC staff members as they accompanied players to interviews, it's likely Florida's three representatives at Wednesday's league media days would have gone relatively unnoticed.
Very much like the Gators so far this preseason.
In a league where Missouri and Texas A&M are generating attention as the new kids on the block, and LSU, Alabama and Arkansas garner national championship-contender buzz, nowhere was it more evident than the SEC football kickoff event that the Gators aren't Florida of a few years ago, when coach Urban Meyer and quarterback Tim Tebow carried rock-star status here.
After muddling through a 7-6 season last year, Florida has been relegated to afterthought in the league, at least for now. And don't think for one moment coach Will Muschamp isn't hammering that point home to his team.
When the SEC coaches' preseason votes were released last week, Florida's lone first-team member was kicker Caleb Sturgis.
"I texted our team, 'Congratulations to Caleb Sturgis, And the SEC coaches must not think much of the rest of you guys,' " Muschamp said Wednesday morning.
Florida players, particularly the upperclassmen, said they are entering the season with a sense of urgency and an understanding that the time has arrived to get things corrected.
"Last year was real tough," senior running back Mike Gillislee said. "We've all got a saying, not the coaches but the players, we're all saying we've got to get Florida back to where they used to be. It used to be that Florida fans, people, expected us to be good. We have to get back to that, get this program back right."
Perhaps easier said than done. The Gators return nearly their entire starting defense, but their biggest obstacle may be at quarterback. Sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel are vying for the job under a new offensive coordinator. Both lack experience. Driskel played in five games last season, Brissett in eight.
"They are even going into camp, and they are both going to get equal reps," Muschamp said. "We'll make the decision when the time is right; I don't have a timetable. I would like to name a starter before this season, but if we have to play both guys we'll be willing to do what we need to do."
And yet, as Florida prepares to begin fall camp in two weeks, Muschamp said he's confident the program is headed in the right direction. This is a critical juncture for Muschamp. The Gators have struggled to sell season tickets, and he admitted he has heard quite often that the Gators haven't had a losing season since 1979. His second season feels more comfortable, for him and his players, each said.
"There's a whole different feel in Year 2 under Coach Muschamp," senior linebacker Lerentee McCray said. "We know what we want to do as a team, and that's win. The strongest, most common goal for everybody is to win. We can take some positives (from last season). We know what not to do. To get where we want to go, we have to do something different."
Muschamp said more depth has led to less cross-training, which allows players to remain in one position and feel comfortable. After a "frustrating, disappointing" first season, Muschamp said he's eagerly anticipating the start of camp Aug. 3.
"As I've said plenty of times, we're building a program, not a team," Muschamp said. "That's where we are right now."