When Urban Meyer quit, the thinking went that Florida would romp in the Outback Bowl to send him out with a win. But there's a bigger reason why the Gators should have some extra motivation against Penn State.
There's a new boss in town, and the players have to impress Will Muschamp to try and get on his good side. Muschamp observed some practices in Gainesville and hasn't been very hands-on here in Tampa this week, but he'll be watching on Saturday. As you'd expect from a team that's 7-5, there aren't a ton of people who've locked down jobs for next season, so everyone should be sitting up a little straigher in meetings and running a little harder in practice.
The pressure is really on for a few guys though. A fresh start will give some a chance to shine with a clean slate, but others need to step it up if they want to keep their places on the depth chart.
QB John Brantley: This is the big one. As is the case with several guys on this list, UF's current staff is very loyal to Brantley despite his struggles, and he'll have to do something impressive if he wants to win over the new staff. There isn't a reason to think Muschamp is excited about plugging Brantley into his offense, and at the same time, Muschamp may have to talk Brantley into staying. He said this offseason he wasn't sure whether he'd stay in Gainesville or transfer. How well Brantley and Muschamp's yet-to-be-named offensive coordinator hit it off will probably be the deciding factor.
WR Deonte Thompson: Another guy who won Urban's trust, then lost the ability to catch (it's debatable whether he ever had it, I guess). Deonte hasn't been as bad as he'll probably be remembered, but he hasn't played like a No. 1 or even a good No. 2 receiver. Fresh eyes in the coaches' booth spell trouble for Thompson, and he desperately needs to flash some potential. There isn't a ton of young talent behind him, but if Thompson isn't going to play like a veteran leader, Muschamp might as well play his backups to get them experience. I'd suggest Thompson brings his new coaches a tray of piping hot coffee every morning to display his steady hands. Hopefully there's First Aid nearby.
TE/WR/FB/QB Trey Burton: Not hating on Burton here, he's just an interesting case. He's obviously a unique player, and Meyer will no doubt talk him up to Muschamp. But where will he fit in? Burton does many things well but nothing spectacularly, and though he carved out a niche in Meyer's system, that role may not be present in the new offense. I have little doubt he'll impress the hell out of all his new coaches with his attitude and work ethic, and there's also an opportunity here for Burton. If he plays well enough, maybe he could even swing a full-time quarterback gig.
LB Jon Bostic: Bostic fell out of favor in the second half of the season, with defensive coordinator Teryl Austin criticizing his play and lightening his responsibility. By virtue of his size, Bostic needs to step up and be UF's middle linebacker going forward, but Jelani Jenkins & Co. aren't just handing that over. Muschamp is a defensive-minded coach, and he'll be looking for leaders on that side of the ball early. Time for Bostic to get himself together and seize the fresh start.
CB Jeremy Brown: Meyer seemed to like Brown a lot, and he returned from a serious back injury to land a starting job this season. But he also faded down the stretch, even losing playing time to Cody Riggs near the end of the year. Janoris Jenkins is likely headed to the NFL, but there's a lot of competition at corner, and Brown could easily land on the sidelines.
S Will Hill: If you need a good laugh, read the italicized words below. If you don't need a laugh, skip over it and save it for a rainy day. Will Hill may enter the NFL Draft. Yep. Wow. Mike Pouncey said this week Hill is probably going pro, which is incredible to me, mostly because Will Hill doesn't appear to be good at football. Sure, he's a great athlete and was a coveted recruit, but Hill has been living off that reputation for too long. He takes bad angles, regularly blows coverage and is in obvious need of more experience, but maybe he feels like he'd be better served learning on the fly. If he's coming back, Hill definitely needs to display some competence, or he could find himself even futher from his NFL dreams.
OK, your turn. Who do you think needs to make a big splash for Muschamp? Who do you want to see take advantage of a fresh start? Got any good stories of someone desperately trying to impress a new employer?