When you want to measure something’s growth or development, you usually want to take measurements of what it looks like before the growth or development begins. Comparing “before” and “after” pictures is a foolproof way to make such determinations.
Florida’s football program is about to undergo massive changes, thanks to the firing of Will Muschamp and subsequent hiring of Jim McElwain. The differences between Muschamp and McElwain, and how they run their programs, are night and day, and hopefully, the biggest difference will be that McElwain is a success compared to Muschamp being a failure.
When the Gators take the field in Birmingham against ECU, they’ll be playing their final game under Will Muschamp’s coaching staff. Even though Muschamp is now an employee of the Auburn Tigers, the rest of the coaching staff is Muschamp’s crew. Muschamp’s right hand man, DJ Durkin, is the interim coach and Kurt Roper will call the offensive plays. Neither will be here in 2015, which gives Florida fans one final look at a Will Muschamp directed football team.
But to really get an accurate reading of the “before” and “after” pictures, you need a part of the picture to be the controlled variable. You need a common denominator. Luckily, Florida has one in their bowl game opponent- an East Carolina team they will happen to play again 252 days later in the Swamp.
OK, so the Pirates will be quite different when they come to Gainesville on September 13 than they are now. They’ll have a new QB (current starter Shane Carden is a senior), a new featured running back (to replace senior Breon Allen) and their top two receivers (Justin Hardy and Cam Worthy) will have to be replaced as well. But even still, there will be enough pieces returning to this ECU team next year that will make the Pirates a legitimate measuring stick. In general, playing the same program twice in such a short amount of time is a rarity in college football. Florida has not faced a rematch with the same team in a shorter time span since they beat Auburn in the 2000 SEC Championship after crushing them that October; getting such a rematch in September, even knowing that ECU will have lots of key players to replace, is the perfect opportunity to measure where this team is now with Muschamp’s coaching staff vs. where it is to start McElwain’s first year.
Now, when I say “before” and “after” pictures, I don’t mean to say that the ECU game in September is any means to judge McElwain- even if the Gators lose. I’m not really going to start judging McElwain either way until his third or fourth year, depending on how well they do in his first two, but I’m more interested to see how the team looks against a lot of these same ECU players (and what will be the same ECU coaching staff). For example, how many yards a play does Florida gain on the ground? How many yards does Florida’s QB (whether it’s Treon Harris or Will Grier) throw for? ECU’s offense may be weaker next year, but let’s see how much better (or worse) Florida does against it.
Essentially, the September rematch will be a good test to see where McElwain’s starting point is relative to Muschamp’s ending point. The September game may be the “after” picture, but it’s after Muschamp, not after McElwain by any means. It’s just a means of determining where McElwain is starting off, and a judgment of how good a job McElwain did in his first offseason as head Gator.
Having said all of that, I’m looking forward to the more imminent game against ECU, because I want to get one last look at a Will Muschamp led team, even if Muschamp isn’t physically there. It’s the last game for several key seniors, plus star junior defensive end Dante Fowler, and for his assistant coaches, some of whom I think did a decent job. Muschamp wasn’t all bad, you know. No, I’m not rooting for him going forward after he went out of his way to insult Florida’s facilities, but what we see on Saturday is going to be what he built, minus Muschamp himself, and he did build a ferocious defense that’s absolutely worth rooting for one more time.
So take one last look, Gator fans. It’s a bowl game, which means you may see some trick plays and new wrinkles (especially because DJ Durkin is going to be like a kid in the candy store as the head coach of the Gators for the day), but by and large, this is still a Will Muschamp let football team. A win would be nice, so we can have a winning season, a winning overall bowl record and start 2015 on the right foot, but overall this Birmingham Bowl is just the “before” picture. Enjoy it, laugh at it, mock it, or do whatever else you’ve done when watching Florida football over the past four years one last time against East Carolina.
But it’s the game 36 weeks later against ECU- the “after” picture- that’ll really mean something.