Mullen and Gators need to join SEC’s parade of true freshman quarterbacks

If Dan Mullen doesn’t start Emory Jones at quarterback next season, the Florida Gators hired the wrong coach.

That’s because freshmen are all the rage in college football these days. No more waiting around to get the system completely down. These big, strong, smart kids are having systems built around them, improvisations and mistakes included.

Former Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen gives the scoreboard in the closing seconds of the team’s 31-28 loss to Mississippi on Nov. 23, 2017. Three days later he was hired to coach the Florida Gators. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Is this any way to run a major college program?

Well, Nick Saban went 14-1 at Alabama in 2016 with true freshman Jalen Hurts. On Monday night he benched Hurts at halftime and got just enough from Tua Tagovailoa, another true freshman, to win the 2017 national championship over Georgia and Kirby Smart’s true freshman quarterback, Jake Fromm.

Now comes word from FAU coach Lane Kiffin that Tagovailoa probably would have transferred if he hadn’t gotten into that title game. That’s insider knowledge from Alabama’s former playcaller, as announced on Dan Patrick’s national radio show.

What’s more, the Seattle Times is reporting that Jacob Eason, a former freshman starter at Georgia, is expected to transfer to Washington rather than sit the bench behind Fromm.

Young people are impatient by nature, of course. They want to play. They want to know that the promises they heard during recruiting were genuine, and that they won’t be left out when all the high-profile signees start stacking up at quarterback.

More important to this discussion, Mullen needs to shake things up at Florida with a bold approach that has nothing in common with the cautious offenses that Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain rolled out before him.

If Jones, the nation’s No. 4 dual-threat prospect, was good enough to get offers from Alabama and Ohio State and FSU, he’s good enough to start for the Gators against Charleston Southern on Sept. 1.

After all, Florida made a coaching change because 4-7 doesn’t work around there. Mullen was the choice because he develops dual-threat quarterbacks into big winners. Jones was Mullen’s choice in his first round of Gator recruiting because the top target of the former Florida staff, Matt Corral, is more of a pro-style quarterback.

Add it all up and there’s no reason for the Gators to look toward anyone but Jones, who as a January enrollee is already on hand and ready to dive into offseason workouts and spring practice.

Feleipe Franks is brawny and can run but his decision-making is spotty and often too slow. It figures that McElwain would have played any of the other underclassmen last year if they were ready, if only to save his own job. If this isn’t the time for a fresh look at a freshman quarterback, when will it ever be?

The need is not so urgent for Mark Richt at Miami. He’s got a returning starter in Malik Rosier who has flaws but also has wins over Notre Dame and Virginia Tech and the honor of clinching the program’s first ACC Coastal Division title. Still, N’Kosi Perry spent his freshman season watching from the sidelines last season and Jarren Williams, the highlight of a great early signing period for UM, may prove to be better than both of them if given a chance.

It’s a risk playing freshmen at quarterback, but a waste to keep the best ones idle.

Most have forgotten this, but freshmen weren’t eligible to play varsity football or basketball until the NCAA approved the idea in 1972. The old Big Eight Conference voted against it at the time but in 1985 one of its members, Oklahoma, turned to true freshman quarterback Jamelle Holieway when Troy Aikman broke a leg in an October game against Miami.

Holieway, a great option quarterback, led the Sooners the rest of the season, helping Barry Switzer to the last of his three national titles.

[Somehow, the latest national title in Bama’s dynastic run came as a shock]

[Richt next task is to surpass his Season 2 highlights at Georgia and UM]

[$10 million sure didn’t buy Dolphins much with Jay Cutler]

Muschamp, Golden and Richt take a ride on the dizzy coaching carousel

New South Carolina NCAA college head football coach Will Muschamp stands in the tunnel at Williams Brice Stadium Monday, Dec. 7, 2015, in Columbia, S.C. Muschamp was officially introduced today as the new coach of the Gamecocks. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
New South Carolina NCAA college head football coach Will Muschamp stands in the tunnel at Williams Brice Stadium Monday in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

Just a few random thoughts on the recent college coaching carousel and it how it impacts major names from our state schools. Some real puzzlers here.

Will Muschamp – The guy goes 1-3 against South Carolina as Florida’s head coach. Just last season his Gators blew a late-fourth quarter lead to lose to the Gamecocks in overtime, and it was that result that directly led to the announcement by his boss that Muschamp would not return in 2015 to coach Florida.

So who does South Carolina hire as its new coach? Will Muschamp, of course. He’ll be back in the Swamp on Nov. 12, 2016, leading the team that Steve Spurrier used to coach against the team that Steve Spurrier used to coach.

Al Golden – He sure didn’t gain much by staying loyal to Miami through a nasty NCAA investigation and sanctions that school officials didn’t warn Golden about at the time of his hiring.

In January of 2014 Golden was considered a candidate for the Penn State job, his alma mater. Now, after being let go by the Hurricanes, he can’t even get hired on at Rutgers back in his old New Jersey neighborhood. Rutgers announced Ohio State defensive coordinator Chris Ash as its new coach Monday and that had to sting. Golden had already started following the Twitter accounts of New Jersey’s top high school prospects so you know he was interested.

Mark Richt – His Georgia career was highly successful overall but he lost that job based on an inability to beat Florida often enough. Richt went 5-10 against the Gators and didn’t put up much of a fight this season in a 27-3 loss that probably sealed his fate despite an overall record of 9-3.

So who quickly jumps in to snatch Richt up? The University of Miami, of course, otherwise known as the program that hates the Gators more than anyone logically could.

Wishing success for all of these coaches, who are also fine men. It’s just the quirkiness of this game that sometimes gets me. Always entertaining.

[Instinctively you knew this, but no 5-7 Dolphins team has ever gone on to make playoffs]

[We wanted firings, we got firings, but now it’s on-the-job training for rest of Dolphins staff]

[Sun Bowl may not be flashy, but here are five reasons Hurricanes should be fired up about it]

If Jimbo wants it, this matchup with McElwain could be first of many great ones to come

Saturday night’s matchup at the Swamp between FSU mainstay Jimbo Fisher and Florida newcomer Jim McElwain should be the first of many years of great showdowns between the two.

We’re not asking for anything like the 12-year duel between Bobby Bowden and Steve Spurrier, but something close.

CLEMSON, SC - NOVEMBER 07:  Head coach Jimbo Fisher of the Florida State Seminoles watches on during their game against the Clemson Tigers at Memorial Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Clemson, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
CLEMSON, SC – Head coach Jimbo Fisher of the Florida State Seminoles watches on during their game against the Clemson Tigers at Memorial Stadium on November 7, 2015. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The only way that wouldn’t happen is if one or the other decides there is a bigger, better job elsewhere. I don’t see that happening, and that opinion isn’t budged by reports that LSU seems ready to cut Les Miles loose and start throwing money at Jimbo.

What LSU wants is what the Seminoles will fight to keep. Not a hot young coach with a sporty record for a season or two but a high-energy champion who learned the business inside and out long before he became a head coach at FSU in 2010.

Fisher, 50, was a quarterbacks coach at one SEC school (Auburn) for six years and an offensive coordinator at another (LSU) for seven more. Next came six years calling plays for Bobby Bowden at FSU. That’s how you set yourself up for a string of major bowl appearances and top recruiting classes and national title shots.

That’s how you put yourself on the top of any coach search committee’s list, and I mean any school’s list.

What should keep Jimbo at FSU is the same thing that made Bobby stay rather than going to Alabama or somewhere else. The ACC is a sure path to national championship contention, year after year. The SEC, with its annual demolition derby of huge-budget teams, is not. Neither is any team in the Big 12, where the lack of a conference title game makes it possible to be passed over in the final College Football Playoff rush, or even  a plum destination like USC, where Oregon and Stanford and UCLA make a rough neighborhood.

Anything could change of course, but wouldn’t it be disappointing if we didn’t get Jimbo vs. McElwain for many Thanksgiving weekends to come?

McElwain, 53, has that long-term look in Gainesville. He’s just getting started as a head coach, having put in

GAINESVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 06:  Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain speaks during an introductory press conference on December 6, 2014 in Gainesville, Florida. McElwain has left Colorado State and replaces ex-Florida coach Will Muschamp who was fired earlier this season.  (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
GAINESVILLE, FL – Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain speaks during an introductory press conference on December 6, 2014. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)

three previous seasons at Colorado State, and no coach could realistically hope to make a place like Florida only his second stop.

Even Urban Meyer, a real job-jumper, stayed at Florida for six seasons.

McElwain looks like the complete package, too, and why not? His long preparation for this job included one year in the NFL as a quarterbacks coach, one year as an offensive coordinator at innovative Fresno State and four more calling plays for perfectionist Nick Saban at Alabama.

Take at a look at their debut seasons at FSU and Florida and see if it’s not an authentic and fascinating match.

Jimbo started at Tallahassee in 2010 with a 10-4 record and a loss to Virginia Tech in the ACC title game.

McElwain, 10-1 so far, will either match that record in his first Florida season or do a little bit better. The Gators could lose to FSU, lose to Alabama in the SEC championship game and lose a bowl game and the worst it gets is 10-4, good buddy.

[What Schnellenberger dreamed for FAU in 1998 almost became fact at the Swamp]

[Better get a coach who majors in defense because that’s where UM’s title teams shined brightest]

[Learning from the Big Three’s ugly start and their 9-8 start with the Heat five years ago]

We’re not talking about Ron Zook or Will Muschamp, in other words.

There’s a chance now for a long run between two top coaches in the Florida-FSU series, and you can’t do much better than that in a rivalry.

As long as Jimbo wants it that way, of course, and I’m guessing he does. The man is 10-1 against Florida and Miami. He’s kind of got things the way he likes them in this state.

Harris suspension leaves Gators scary thin at QB, but that’s the price of getting this right

You can’t count on Treon Harris, and at this point I don’t even care to know the reason behind his suspension for the Tennessee game.

That leaves the start of Florida’s SEC season in the hands of Will Grier. New coach Jim McElwain will need to have him ready for a better effort than the Gators showed in last week’s 14-9 win at Kentucky. Already what we’re seeing is too reminiscent of the Will Muschamp days, with the defense always on the hook to save the day.

GAINESVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 12: Treon Harris #3 of the Florida Gators scrambles for yardage during the game against the East Carolina Pirates at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
GAINESVILLE, FL – SEPTEMBER 12: Treon Harris of the Florida Gators scrambles for yardage during the game against the East Carolina Pirates at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Either way, McElwain has to keep grinding away at the rough edges of his team. When player discipline is needed, nothing else will do. Even if it means a few losses, even if some of Florida’s best players have to sit out, to compromise on that would be to undermine what McElwain is building for the long run.

Don’t want to hear that? Let’s dig in a little deeper, then. I don’t think Kelvin Taylor should have been carrying the ball late in the 31-24 win over East Carolina if McElwain was angry enough to scream and spew at the running back for drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty a few minutes earlier.

Taylor was flagged for doing a throat-slashing gesture in the end zone following the fourth-quarter touchdown run that put Florida up 31-17.

McElwain went ballistic on the sidelines while confronting Taylor. Later, before the media, the coach said, “Our lack of discipline and understanding of how you play the game crept up, and it was embarrassing. We’ve got a long ways to go. It starts with understanding selfish acts hurt the team and will be dealt with. And it’s not how it’s going to be around here anymore.”

Those words didn’t match the coach’s actions. After East Carolina scored to pull within a touchdown, Taylor was right back on the field as Florida attempted to run out the clock. Three times he took handoffs, gaining a net of 5 yards. It wasn’t enough to avoid a punt, or to avoid giving the ball right back to the Pirates, but in that situation, with a potentially disastrous home loss to an unranked opponent on the line, McElwain clearly trusted Taylor to handle the ball more than he did any other Gator running back.

Taylor didn’t miss any playing time the following week against Kentucky, either. Other than six carries by freshman Jordan Cronkrite, Taylor got every handoff in a game that was tense from start to finish.

Not saying that Kelvin, a former Glades Day star and son of Gator great Fred Taylor, should be drummed out of the corps for one stupid mistake. McElwain’s sideline show of disgust didn’t translate, however, into a clear demonstration of accountability.

Every coach struggles with weighing the importance of teaching against the fear of losing. McElwain, a head coach for all of 41 games between Colorado State and Florida, will get better at this, and at everything else.

For now it’s a matter of proving he’s serious. The suspensions of Harris and starting cornerback Jalen Tabor for the Tennessee game is a major part of that. The Gators wouldn’t have beaten the Vols last year in Knoxville without them.

[Chris Bosh’s comeback is as much mental as physical]

[Matt Moore gives Dolphins the kind of insurance other teams crave]

[Deep throws aren’t landing in Mike Wallace’s mitts in Minnesota, either]

For me, Tennessee hasn’t looked as good as everybody seemed to expect. Sure, the Vols played No. 15 Oklahoma tough in a double-overtime loss. The Sooners didn’t look like anything special last week, however, in a 52-38 win over Tulsa.

Tulsa ran up 618 total yards in a season-opening win over Florida Atlantic. Well, against Oklahoma the Golden Hurricane didn’t slow down much, totaling 603 yards and getting 427 of those on the passing of Dane Evans, who threw for four touchdowns against Oklahoma and had Tulsa within 38-31 last in the third quarter.

Put it all together and 2-1 Tennessee hasn’t done anything more amazing than Florida has to this point. It’s an even match, and one that the Gator defense could certainly wind up winning.

Harris and Tabor won’t like missing it, and McElwain won’t like missing them. There are bigger problems coming down the road, though, with Ole Miss, Missouri, LSU and Georgia all in a row.

It’s time to get this right, from the playbook to player attitudes. Matter of fact, the second might be more important right now.

Cutting down on penalties might be Jim McElwain’s grandest opening gesture

GAINESVILLE – There were a lot of jaw-dropping numbers in Florida’s 61-13 win over New Mexico State in Saturday’s season opener. Eight-for eight in the red zone, for instance, and five different Gators scoring the first touchdowns of their college careers.

The stat that really stands out, however, is a reflection of something the Gators didn’t do for a change.

Penalty flag on the field during an preseason NFL football game between the Detroit Lions and the Buffalo Bills at Ford Field in Detroit, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)

Florida was hit with just one penalty for 10 yards against the Aggies. That’s as close to a clean game as you’re ever going to see, and it’s the first time since 1977 that the Gators have been tagged with only one.

It was an illegal block by a special-teamer that finally broke up the no-flagger and that happened in the fourth quarter, when the backups were busy. Heck, I can remember games when previous Florida teams had penalties called for unsportsmanlike conduct prior to the kickoff.

Just last year there were 150 yards worth of laundry draped around the Gators in a single game, and they won anyway, at Tennessee.

That Gator tradition, marked by penalty yardage leadership in the SEC for five years running, is the only one that McElwain does not need to reclaim. Steve Spurrier, whose innovative playcalling often brought motion penalties and such, overcame the penalties by scoring all kinds of points. Will Muschamp, fired a year ago, tried to tamp the penalties down by raising his sideline decibel level, but with no success.

Earlier this summer McElwain put particular emphasis on striking out personal fouls, saying “Those are the unforced errors that have been the Achilles’ heel for a long time around here. I’m tired of it.”

Now it must be noted that New Mexico State, a sloppy team in every way, was hit by just one penalty, too, at the Swamp. Makes you wonder if the officials were just in a forgiving mood, or wanted to move a bad game along, or weren’t quite warmed up for the new season.

Most of those zebras, however, were part of the same crew that worked the Florida-Alabama game last season. There were 16 flags dropped in that 42-21 Crimson Tide victory. Eleven of them were against Nick Saban’s team. At Tuscaloosa.

Doesn’t seem like that shy of a group, or at least not one that makes a habit of looking the other way.

Florida’s going to have to work a lot harder against future competition, and that means straining longer to hold blocks, getting meaner with gang-tackling, etc. The Gators don’t schedule much heavy-lifting in season openers, and that’s a big reason why their streak of 26 consecutive wins to start the year is the longest active streak in the nation.

Took a look at the 2014 opener, though, or at least the one that counted in the wake of that weather-canceled match with Idaho. Florida rolled Eastern Michigan 65-0 last Sept. 6. It was a big night in every way, with 655 total yards, 27 first downs and, gulp, 10 penalties for 100 yards.

That was Muschamp, never quite in control of the whole package at Florida. This is McElwain, a more comprehensive leader, demanding better execution to go with the necessary enthusiasm and intensity.

Paring down on the penalties may just be the foundation to everything else he builds in Gainesville. Helps keep the offense from sputtering. Maintains momentum on both sides of the ball. Builds team discipline and demonstrates it in a tangible way.

Gives the Gators a better chance to win, and what better recommendation is there for any coach than that?

 

Fewest penalty yards (single game) in Florida history

Opp.                                 Yr.               Yds.

Florida State                 1977             5

LSU                                   2007             8

Alabama                          1994           10

Alabama                         1978           10

Kentucky                        1977           10

Georgia                           1975           10

Maryland                         1974           10

Miami                               1974           10

New Mex. State              2015           10

It’s finally safe to look forward to Jeff Driskel starting a college football game again

Good catching up with Jeff Driskel at Conference USA media day. He’s a genuinely nice kid who handled his demotion at Florida with class, not to mention the tsunami of social-media criticism that preceded it, and should have a lot more success playing quarterback at Louisiana Tech.

Maybe it would have just been better if he started out at a place like La Tech to begin with, but everybody was after Driskel, the Maxwell Club National High School Player of the year, when he came out of Oviedo in 2011. Signng Driskel away from Alabama, Auburn, Virginia Tech, LSU, Clemson and all the other teams that wanted him was the key to Will Muschamp’s first recruiting class at Florida.

090812 Florida Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel (6) rolls out during game against Texas A&M at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas on Sept. 8, 2012. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)
Former Florida Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel rolls out during game against Texas A&M at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas on Sept. 8, 2012. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

The guy was fully committed to the Gators, all right, even though Urban Meyer’s departure would have given him an easy out. Driskel not only came to Gainesville, he enrolled early and got right to work on building what seemed likely to be one of the most memorable careers ever for a Florida quarterback.

Unfortunately, all anyone remembers now are the untimely turnovers by Driskel and the injuries that held him back, none of which did much for the generally impotent offensive game plan that Muschamp and his various coordinators served up.

There really is a fine athlete here, however, with the emotional maturity to become an instant leader at Louisiana Tech. Last year the Bulldogs went with another transfer quarterback, Cody Sokol, who played very little at Iowa but threw for 30 touchdown passes in one season at Louisiana Tech and got a brief look from the Kansas City Chiefs in May as an undrafted free agent.

Driskel, in contrast, threw 23 touchdown passes in four years at Florida.

[Don’t tell me Canes, Noles & Gators don’t belong on list of history’s top 100 teams?]

[If Tannehill’s really so lousy, Mike Wallace’s numbers should soar in Minnesota]

[Heat need Hassan Whiteside to become the players that Amar’e Stoudemire was]

Here’s a statistical sampling, however, of why Muschamp kept believing the Gators would take off with Driskel.

He rushed for 177 yards and three touchdowns in a 2012 game at Vanderbilt. That’s more than Tim Tebow ever ran for in a game.

Driskel also had a nearly flawless 14-for-20 passing day in a win at Tennessee that same season, plus three touchdown passes in a crazy triple-overtime win over Kentucky just last September. It took a fourth-and-7 scoring pass from Driskel to Demarcus Robinson just to keep that game going into a second overtime period.

Overall, Driskel was 15-6 as a Florida starter, and 9-5 as a starter in SEC games. He won, but not enough to meet the standards that Florida once kept under Meyer and Steve Spurrier, and not against the league’s best competition.

“It was time for me to move on,” Driskel said Wednesday of his decision to transfer shortly after Jim McElwain’s hiring as the new Gators coach. “I hope nothing but the best for the University of Florida.

“It wasn’t like they forced me out. I made the decision and I’m happy with the decision I made.”

And what does Driskel think of Conference USA competition compared to the poundings he took at Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge and Tallahassee?

“Looking at the NFL draft, a lot of great players have come out of Conference USA,” he said. “As far as what I’ve seen of the defenses on tape, I don’t think it falls off that much from what I was used to.”

That’s Driskel for you, always saying the right things and trying like crazy to do the right things, too. That included him asking, for whatever reason, to take a selfie with me, a weird old hack he doesn’t know from Adam.

Oh, and former Miami coach Larry Coker also looks much more relaxed these days as coach of Texas-San Antonio of Conference USA. The only thing bothering him during the league’s season kickoff session at the Boca Raton Resort & Hotel was the absence of an old friend.

“I usually wear my Miami ring (from the 2001 national championship) to events like this, and for recruiting, but I don’t have it today,” Coker said. “I was washing my hands at home not long ago when it fell on the tile floor and cracked the setting. I figured it would be all right but a few days later I looked down and it was gone. Just a black hole where the setting used to be.

“I’m getting a new setting now, but I tell you, I miss it.”

Coker went 4-8 last year in UTSA’s first season as a full Conference USA member, with a 27-7 win over Houston as the highlight. The Roadrunners also beat FIU 16-13. One of the worst moments of Coker’s Hurricanes career was the bench-clearing brawl that put both Miami and FIU in a horrible light during Larry’s final season with the Hurricanes in 2006.

“That was horrible, just horrible,” said Coker, who told it straight the the other day, just like always, terming the helmet-swinging fight “a riot” rather than a brawl.

They love him out in San Antonio more than Coker ever was loved in Miami. It’s a good fit, just like Louisiana Tech is for Driskel.

Coach Boom sure would prize a swat at the Gators right now

It just won’t show up, no matter how many times I stare at the Florida Gators 2015 football schedule.

There’s no Florida-Auburn game this year, which means there will be no immediate chance for Tigers defensive coordinator Will Muschamp to rain havoc down on his former Gator team, or to be humiliated by a Florida offense he never could get kicked out of neutral.

090812 Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp during pre-game warmups at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas on Sept. 8, 2012. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)
Former Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp during pre-game warmups at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas on Sept. 8, 2012. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

It’s a shame for those of us who crave drama on a Saturday afternoon, with a little bulletin-board buffoonery on the days leading up to the game just for added spice.

Think back to April, when new Florida head coach Jim McElwain began to set the table for lowered expectations by the noting lack of depth he inherited on the offensive line. Muschamp jumped on that, remembering how McElwain had previously answered questions with the confident approach that he could win with anybody, even his dog Clarabell.

“Said he could coach a dog and win,” Muschamp said when asked about McElwain’s poormouthing of Florida’s depth. “Heck, (does) he like the dog better than his players?”

Muschamp won’t be able to resist popping off during Florida week, either, whenever it first comes around. He’ll revert to the skyrocketing “Coach Boom” role that he perfected in a previous time as Auburn’s defensive coordinator, and he would have loved even more taking on the Gators right away after being fired as their head coach last November.

Don’t make the mistake of categorizing this guy as wholly incompetent just because he went 17-15 against SEC competition as Florida’s head coach and, worst of all, lost to Georgia Southern.

[Media’s pick of Gators as fifth in SEC East gives McElwain too little credit]

[If Tannehill’s such a mediocre QB, then shouldn’t Wallace do better with Vikings?]

[Heat need Hassan Whiteside to become the player that Amar’e Stoudemire was]

I wrote in December of 2010 that Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley would be rewarded for his bold move of hiring Muschamp, and wrote again in November of 2013 that Foley needed to cut the guy loose because it wasn’t working. In between those two columns, however, and to this day, I never stopped believing that Muschamp is one of the strongest defensive coaches around.

During his previous stint at Auburn, Muschamp prowled and jumped and fist-bumped on the sidelines at the Swamp as the Tigers pinned the first loss on Tim Tebow’s Heisman Trophy season. One year earlier, in 2006, the Gators won a national championship, but not without taking a loss at Auburn, their only one of the season. In each case, Florida scored only 17 points and Muschamp got a lot of the credit for that.

Now he’s getting $3.7 million per season over the next three years to run Gus Malzahn’s defense, and even though he’s the highest-paid assistant in college football, most of that total comes from what Florida still owes him. He has no reason to feel mistreated by Foley, who gave Muschamp one more season than necessary to straighten things out, but Muschamp is an intense competitor who also probably never quite got over the indoctrination of playing football at Georgia. He just can’t help being who he is.

So here’s how it plays out. The coach Florida fans couldn’t wait to get rid of is in line now to torment the Gators and everyone else in the SEC, on and off, for the next several years.

Auburn isn’t a contender for the national title according to media consensus simply because Alabama is a little down, or because Malzahn is a terrific playcaller. Having Muschamp there to shore up the Tigers’ porous defense is as important a reason as any.

Still staring at the Florida schedule and still no Auburn game popping up. That’s bad news for the TV networks, who would have fought each other for that matchup, and good news for the Gators, who are much better off playing LSU and Ole Miss from the SEC West this year.

There aren’t any easy teams in that division, but going up against Auburn right now would do McElwain no favors at a time when he really could use a few.