HOOVER, Ala. — There might not be a magic number of wins to save Florida coach Will Muschamp’s job.
Paul Finebaum says there could be a magic victory.
To bounce back from a 2013’s 4-8 freefall and remain the Gators’ head coach, Muschamp will have to finally beat one of Florida’s biggest rivals, said Finebaum, a longtime SEC observer and ESPN radio personality.
“I really think he has to beat Georgia,” Finebaum told the Orlando Sentinel Tuesday at SEC Media Days. “That is where I would look first.”
The Gators, 0-3 under Muschamp against the Bulldogs, do not disagree.
“There’s no other game like it,” sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III said Monday. “But you know, we’ve gotta win one. We’ve got to beat Georgia.
“We have to do that to win the East.”
The Gators likely do not have to win the SEC East for Muschamp to return for a fifth season.
How many wins it will take remains to be seen, but few of those victories will come easy.
“Their schedule is absolutely brutal,” SEC Network analyst Greg McElroy told the Sentinel. “With their schedule being what it is, I think eight wins would definitely be enough to secure his job.”
The Gators’ schedule features so many pitfalls, eight wins is a lofty threshold and could hinge on the Georgia game.
The annual matchup in Jacksonville against the Bulldogs remains among the toughest on UF’s schedule. But in 2014, it has to get in line behind visits from South Carolina and LSU and trips to Alabama and FSU.
“He has the two toughest road games in the country at Alabama and Florida State,” Finebaum said. “I think that helps people understand it’s not going to be easy.”
It will be impossible if the offense does not improve from being one of the worst in the SEC during Muschamp’s three seasons.
New offensive coordinator Kurt Roper was hired from Duke to run an up-tempo, shotgun-based attack to fit the skill set of redshirt junior Jeff Driskel.
Former UF quarterback and current ESPN analyst Jesse Palmer called Duke’s bowl game last season and loves the Roper hire. Palmer now wants to see a lot more from Driskel.
“He’s the key this year,” Palmer said. “We all know how talented he is. But it’s Year 4. Gator fans want him to realize his potential.
“The problem is avoiding the catastrophic plays.”
Palmer, who played at UF from 1997-2000, recalled Driskel’s two red-zone miscues last September at Miami, the four turnovers during a 2012 loss to Georgia and Driskel’s pick-six during the first snap of a loss to Louisville in the 2013 Sugar Bowl.
But all three analysts agree Roper should get the best out of Driskel.
“I think Roper is phenomenal,” Finebaum said. “It took awhile, but I think Will Muschamp finally got it right. He has the credentials. He has the pedigree.
“I think this moribund offense is finally going to improve.”
Palmer said if UF’s offense has even a “pulse” this fall, Muschamp will field a strong enough defense for the Gators to contend in the East.
McElroy quarterbacked Alabama to the 2009 national championship against Muschamp’s Texas defense and came away impressed.
“He kept us limited, just keeping us off balance with the things he was doing, the looks and changing things,” McElroy said. “I think he’s a tremendous coach.”
But Muschamp’s head coaching future will come down to how the Gators’ perform this season.
UF could be much improved and still finish 7-5. McElroy said that could be enough.
“If the team is still playing, is still encouraged, still playing good football at the end of the year, I can’t say it’s not justified to keep Will Muschamp,” McElroy said. “It all depends on how the team is playing.”
Finebaum said anything fewer than eight wins would be unacceptable.
“This isn’t some run-of-the-mill program,” he said. “This is the bluest of the blue chips. After 4-8, if you come back with 7-5, you shouldn’t expect to keep your job.
“I don’t think things should be dummied down for him. Beat somebody. You’re the head coach at the University of Florida.”