GAINESVILLE -- On the eve of fall camp, Florida coach Will Muschamp strolled up to the podium, quickly measured his media audience and immediately opened with the one word absent from Florida football all of 2013.
The only people rah-rah about the Gators during last year’s humiliating 4-8 season were their weekly opponents.
According to an enthusiastic bunch donning orange and blue, that’s set to change.
Florida -- admittedly traumatized by its most embarrassing season in 35 years -- is motivated, determined and -- most notably -- confident in a drastic turnaround.
“If we stay healthy at the quarterback position, we're going to win a bunch of games,” said Muschamp, who boldly welcomed major expectations.
This fall, the Gators return a young and hungry defense. For the first time since Tim Tebow was on campus, Florida’s revamped offense features legitimate playmakers other SEC teams coveted.
The talent is there, but just how many wins “a bunch of games” entails will ultimately determine Muschamp’s future employment at UF.
Muschamp’s third season in Gainesville was torpedoed by a rash of injuries, offensive ineptitude and a “woe is me mentality,” but there was a palpable energy among Florida’s players during Sunday’s Media Day.
Guys on both sides of the ball spoke openly about their eagerness at a chance for redemption, desperate to forge last year’s misery into memories this fall.
“I’ve been around this program for over two years now and this is the most excited I’ve seen all the players who want to come out and compete and just win,” junior tailback Matt Jones said. “That just tells you something about this team.”
Added sophomore safety Keanu Neal: “We know we’re going to be a lot better than we were last year.”
Muscham -- who once again acknowledged he hired former Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to jumpstart a stagnant attack after he witnessed Florida’s players lose confidence last seaso -- recognized an immediate attitude adjustment in his team this summer.
“We always talk in terms of either renting it or owning it,” Muschamp said. “You take ownership in your team. I see a lot of that.”
He later continued: “[Last season’s debacle] was something we sort of buried to start the summer. It was great motivation through spring and the off season workouts [and] something we still go to deal with. … I addressed our team about our preparation, about our attitude, about our embracing adversity, having a competitive edge every day. To stick your head in the sand and pretend it was all injuries, that's not right.
You will fool yourself if you believe that. We addressed a lot of those things in the off-season. We're getting ready to get started with the 2014 Florida football team.”
Players swear camaraderie is at an all-time high. Everyone has “bought in.”
“The chemistry is there,” Neal said. “Having everyone on board and knowing they have the opportunity to be successful just makes [everyone] want to work that much harder.”
Muschamp loves to say “talk is cheap,” but these Gators seem genuinely convinced in their chances this fall.
It's only August and it remains to be seen whether the traditional optimistic off-season platitudes hold true, but Muschamp & Co. refuse to deflect pressure.
“I think all of the components are there,” he said.
“We need to go do it now.”
Yes they do.
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