While Texas struggles, Florida enjoys rebirth with defense

10/26/2012 9:43 PM

11/12/2014 2:39 PM

Once upon a time, they wore matching orange shirts and patrolled the same sideline.

Now, Florida football coach Will Muschamp dons a little brighter shade of orange on game day than his former boss, Texas coach Mack Brown. Muschamp's Gators (7-0, 6-0 in SEC), situated at No. 2 in the latest BCS standings, also have a much brighter prospect for BCS bowl possibilities this season than No. 23 Texas (5-2, 2-2 in Big 12).

Florida can wrap up a berth in the SEC Championship Game by defeating No. 10 Georgia (6-1, 4-1) in today's matchup of the top two teams in the East Division standings.

By doing so, Muschamp -- the former coach-in-waiting at Texas -- would turn up more heat on Brown and Manny Diaz, who became the Longhorns' defensive coordinator when Muschamp landed the Florida job after the 2010 season.

Let's be clear: Despite ongoing fan panic, Texas' decision-makers have shown no inclination to sever ties with Brown, who won a 2005 national championship and reached another BCS title game in 2009.

But heat inevitably accompanies disappointment, even if it does not trigger turnover at the top.

And these are disappointing times at Texas, where Brown and Diaz are under siege because the Longhorns' defense has been historically awful in recent weeks.

Texas, a Top 10 team earlier this month, has surrendered 45.6 points per game in its past five outings during the same season that Muschamp, once considered the future of Longhorns football, has built Florida's resurgence on the foundation of a salty defense.

The Gators rank fourth nationally in scoring defense (12.1 average) and seventh in total defense (282 yards per game). That has allowed Muschamp to take a borderline Top 25 team coming off a 7-6 season and turn it into a 7-0 squad in the thick of the national title chase.

The timing, and thoroughness, of Florida's quick recovery has to sting Texas administrators and fans. With every Gators victory, it reinforces what Texas no longer has at its disposal: a rising star in the coaching ranks capable of stabilizing a power program in decline. Texas may need that sooner than anyone expected if Brown, 61, cannot turn the tide at a program with a combined record of 18-15 in his past 33 games.

But Muschamp, the coach once viewed as Texas' long-term trump card to Oklahoma rival Bob Stoops, has left the building in Austin. If Brown rights the ship later this season or next (possible), thoughts about what might have happened in a Muschamp regime at Texas disappear. Ditto if Brown departs and is replaced by Muschamp's mentor, Alabama coach Nick Saban, or some other high-dollar proven commodity.

Such coaches are rare and rarely change addresses. And folks who follow the SEC closely are beginning to believe Muschamp, 41, may be developing into one of those coaches.

CBS college football analyst Gary Danielson, a former NFL quarterback, drew a parallel between Muschamp and former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher, a pair of sideline whirlwinds as defensive coordinators.

"Bill was a very emotional defensive coordinator when he first got the job at Pittsburgh and was in everyone's face," Danielson said. "And he learned over time not to lose that but to use that emotion at the proper times. And I think Muschamp's growing into that very nicely, too."

A Muschamp-Saban showdown in the SEC title game, Dec. 1 in Atlanta, would be a spectacular measuring stick for how far Muschamp has progressed in his second season as a head football coach. But the team's 7-0 mark after Muschamp's inaugural 7-6 season says something, too.

"We went through some growing pains last year," Muschamp said. "We just needed some maturing and we needed more experience playing the game.... We're not a team that's going to overpower you in any fashion. We don't have a whole lot of margin for error. We've got to play in all three phases and it's evident every Saturday. But we certainly can be pretty good. When we're all hitting together, we've got a chance."

For Muschamp, another national title opportunity beckons. But the shirt he'll wear while pursing it is a different shade of orange.

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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