GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The job is finished for the Gators.
After 11 regular-season wins, after victories over Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina and Florida State, after a five-game improvement in head coach Will Muschamp’s second season, the Gators will take a break.
They won’t practice for nearly two weeks as they prepare for final exams and some time away from football.
“We’ve made strides. We’re getting it back to where it needs to be,’’ Muschamp said Monday, less than 48 hours after walking out of Doak Campbell Stadium following a 37-26 win over FSU. “Beating your rivals is very important, and beating your in-state rival is critical because you’ve got to live with it a long time.
“The Gator Clubs will be a lot more fun this year, I can tell you that. It’s important to win in your state and to win in your backyard. It helps to create positive momentum in a lot of areas for your program.”
Florida’s impressive victory over the Seminoles sparked the latest round of debate over the BCS. As the Gators take off this week, those who analyze college football for a living are working overtime talking about the conference championship games, the BCS rankings and bowl projections.
Florida is in the thick of that chatter.
Ranked No. 4 in the BCS, the Gators appear headed to the Sugar Bowl as one of the four top teams in the BCS. No. 1 Notre Dame is expected to face the Alabama-Georgia winner for the national title. Meanwhile, the loser of the SEC Championship Game is likely to drop out of the top four of the BCS, thus missing out on a BCS bowl.
Nick Saban, coach of No. 2-ranked Alabama, told reporters on a conference call Sunday night that the Alabama-Georgia loser should not drop out of the BCS top four and behind a Florida team that failed to make it to Atlanta.
“It’s not really a great scenario for either team,” Saban said. “You play your way into the championship game, which means you’re the best team in your division. It doesn’t seem quite right. I don’t feel good about it for our football team or their football team.”
Muschamp worked on Saban’s staff at LSU and for a season with the Miami Dolphins. When asked about his former boss’ comments, Muschamp offered his own solution.
“Well, I can switch and go to Atlanta and play the Dawgs,’’ Muschamp quipped. “Be careful what you ask for, Nick.”
Since its inception 14 years ago, the BCS has been a favorite target of fans, the media and coaches. The noise usually gets loudest late in the season when the computer rankings start to shape the national championship picture.
If this were 2014 instead of 2012 – in two years a four-team BCS playoff system will begin – the Gators would be looking at playing in a national title semifinal game the next time they take the field. However, they will likely have to settle for the label of “best team in 2012” not to play for the national title according to many of the pundits.
Muschamp wasn’t interested in crying over the BCS rankings – or a 17-9 loss to No. 3-ranked Georgia in Jacksonville last month.
“We knew the rules of engagement when we started the season,” Muschamp said. “I’m not one who is going to sit there and complain about it. It is what it is. We had our opportunity in Jacksonville and we didn’t get it done. That’s our fault, nobody else’s.”
Since taking over Florida, Muschamp has repeatedly stressed the top priority each year is playing in the SEC Championship Game. Despite the unusual scenario that played out last year when Alabama won the national title without winning the SEC – and the conversation about whether the Gators should get that opportunity this year – Muschamp maintained his stance Monday.
“I just think that I’ve been in that game and there’s nothing like it,’’ Muschamp said. “You work at a place like Florida to go there. I feel very strongly about that and that will never change.”
Muschamp said redshirt junior linebacker Jelani Jenkins underwent surgery on his injured foot Monday and won’t be available for the bowl game. Jenkins suffered the injury late in the first half of Saturday’s win … Defensive tackle Leon Orr, who has missed the past three games with a kidney infection, is expected to start physical activity perhaps as early as this week. Orr’s status for the bowl game remains uncertain … Linebacker Neiron Ball (ankle) is expected to be back in time for the bowl game according to Muschamp.
Muschamp said the team will likely kick off bowl preparations on Dec. 7-8 with a couple of light practices in helmets and shorts. They won’t start working at full-speed until the following week.
“They need a break. It’s been a long season,’’ Muschamp said. “They need to get away from football a little bit and get in the weight room and heal up.
“Our first four or five bowl practices will be absolutely no work on the opponent. It will be all working on ourselves, getting our guys back in the swing of playing football again and working on developing our younger players.”
This is the time of year when coaches come and go. Muschamp said he doesn’t expect any staff defections.
He did say he plans to talk to some receiving coaches about possibly joining his staff. Former grad assistant Bush Hamdan served in that role this season after Aubrey Hill’s departure.
Muschamp’s message to any potential replacements: “It’s a great place to work and we’ve got a good young football team and we’re going to be good for a long time,’’ he said.