Earlier this year, I made the case that Jeff Driskel needed to join the amazing second-year quarterback legacy at Florida for the Gators to have a great season. I’ll have more on this in a moment, but the real second-year legacy for Florida might be its coaches. And Will Muschamp has joined the fraternity.
The tradition began way back in the program’s second season in 1907. Original head coach James Forsythe put together a 4-1-1 mark. The Gators next head coach, G.E. Pyle, then racked up a 6-1 season in his second year. In 1929, Charles Bachman went 8-2 in his sophomore season. After going 0-10-1 in 1979, Charley Pell turned it around to 8-4 in year two. Those men are recognizable names in the Florida history books for sure, but then there are the school’s two coaching legends.
The Gators won their first official SEC championship and notched their first ever 10-win season in Steve Spurrier’s second year. And unlike the previous Gators coaches who had success in year two, Spurrier never let the program slip from the high standards he set early in his tenure, winning the SEC five more times and the school’s first national championship in his seventh season.
Urban Meyer couldn’t sustain the level of success like Spurrier did but his apex was certainly higher. In just his second season, Meyer not only took the Gators to an SEC title, he guided them to the national championship as well. Adding a second national title just two years later, Meyer let the program slip in his final two years in Gainesville.
That slippage led partially to Will Muschamp’s first-year struggles. As bad as the 7-6 record was last season, it didn’t tell just how bad the team was. I wrote at the time that given where the program’s expectations were, it was arguably the worst season in Florida history. So Muschamp’s turnaround of the program in just one year’s time was as unexpected as it was amazing. Although the Gators won’t earn a championship (either SEC or national), this season will go down as one of the most unexpected, stunning and appreciated in the program’s history.
Now the really hard part for Muschamp. He has the program back where expectations going into next season will be sky high and perhaps a little unrealistic. The Gators are going to lose their best players on offense, defense and special teams. There is talk that some of the assistant coaches may leaving to run their own programs. Yes there is depth and yes plenty of underclassman showed flashes of brilliance. But we need to understand this is a long-term turnaround and even if the Gators don’t win a championship again this year, as long as we continue to see improvement, we should appreciate just what Muschamp is building in Gainesville.
Now back to the other high-profile sophomore season. No Jeff Driskel’s numbers aren’t going to compare to the other quarterbacks I profiled back in September. Rex Grossman, Tim Tebow and even Chris Leak put up huge numbers in their sophomore campaigns. But in this offense, Driskel wasn’t asked to put up big numbers. For most of the season, Florida’s passing attack was very conservative and the offense rode on the back of Mike Gillislee. Still, Driskel accounted for 15 total TDs, completed 65 percent of his passes, threw just three interceptions in over 200 attempts and was the team’s second-leading rusher at over 400 yards. He’s still a young quarterback that struggles with reading coverages, staying in the pocket and making smart decisions with the football. But he showed improvement throughout the year and has great promise entering next year.
Driskel was a part of the 2011 recruiting class and after watching a lot of football, it started to jump out at me that that was a pretty special class for quarterbacks. If you’ve been an NFL fan for any of the past 30 years, you know about the famed draft class of ‘83. Elway, Kelly and Marino. Blackledge, Eason and O’Brien. Six first-rounds, three Hall of Famers, two of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time. Well, I’m wondering if in 30 years we might flashback to the high school signing day class of 2011.
The Gators hauled in Scout.com’s #1 ranked QB prospect, Jeff Driskel. They also flipped the #9 prospect in Jacoby Brissett late in the game. As discussed, Driskel had a nice year considering his youth and inexperience. But can you imagine if instead of Driskel’s cautious, conservative game, we had ended up with the guys right behind him in those Scout rankings, Ohio State’s Braxton Miller (#2) or UCLA’s Brett Hundley (#3)? How about the 13th prospect that year, Stanford’s Kevin Hogan? Did you see the poise Hogan showed on the road in knocking off Oregon? All he did was score both of his team’s touchdowns, including the game-tying last-minute score that forced overtime and eventually ended Oregon’s title hopes. The kid Hogan took down isn’t bad either. Oregon’s Marcus Mariota was 34th in Scout’s rankings. The #1 Irish are led by Everett Golson, the 15th best QB prospect that year. All he did was help lead his team to the national title game. And by the way, likely Heisman winner Johnny Football was a three-star that year, 22nd overall. This isn’t groundbreaking stuff, high school rankings are never true indicators of future success and it isn’t a shocker that some lesser recruited guys have played well. But what is a shocker is that of our current top 10 below, six teams are led by redshirt freshmen or true sophomore quarterbacks. Absolutely Amazing.
1. Notre Dame
5. Ohio State
7. Kansas State
9. Texas A&M
11. South Carolina
13. Florida State
15. Kent State
16. Northern Illinois
18. Oregon State
19. Utah State
21. San Jose State
23. Boise State