It's been quite the curious case for the Florida Gators this season. Ten months removed from playing in their first BCS bowl game since 2009, the Gators are out of the BCS national title hunt and are moving farther and farther away from playing in Atlanta for the SEC championship.
Florida is out of the polls with a 4-3 record (3-2 SEC) and is staring at a second-half slate that feature Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State.
With the Gators on a much-needed bye following back-to-back losses to LSU and Missouri on the road, they are back to the drawing board as they prepares for next week's showdown with Georgia in Jacksonville.
“I’m a competitor. I’m going to fight my ass off,” coach Will Muschamp told reporters after Florida's 36-17 loss to Missouri this past weekend. “That’s what you do. When you get your back against the wall, you fight your ass off and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Last season, Florida came out swinging when it was backed up, ripping off 11 wins. In 2013, the Gators have been weighed down by the first-aid kit. It's been a miserable season for injuries in Gainesville, as eight players have suffered season-ending injuries since fall camp, including starters Jeff Driskel, Dominique Easley and Matt Jones. The defense also dressed 13 healthy players against Mizzou.
While the injury bug has chomped away, the offense has sputtered mightily in the past two weeks. Florida has scored just 16 offensive points and registered 391 yards in losses to LSU and Missouri.
It certainly isn't a coincidence. It's frustrating Muschamp and the fan base. You can hear grumbles in Gainesville, as the Gators continue to slide and teams around them grow stronger.
It has to be painful for the Gators to look up at Florida State, Miami and Central Florida in the BCS standings. Those teams are No. 2, No. 7 and No. 23 in the standings, while the Gators are well on the outside.
In January, Florida was an Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Louisville away from being considered a legitimate national title contender in 2013. Now, 6-6 is a real possibility.
"It's just one of those years," Muschamp said Wednesday. "It's unfortunate, but it's just part of the game and you gotta coach through it and you gotta play through it. We don't make any excuses around here. We need to play better than we did the last two weeks, that's for sure."
It's hard to say what this program is at the moment, but we know where it's been. It enjoyed wonderful success under Steve Spurrier in the 1990s and won two national championships under Urban Meyer from 2005-10.
On one hand, injuries have decimated this team, but on the other, the offense was never really imposing before injuries set in. Turnovers dictated the Miami loss, line protection has faltered, explosive runs have vanished and the passing game has disappeared (again).
Last season's 11 wins came with adjustments, luck and more physical play on both sides of the ball. After seven games, it looks like that edge is gone. Injuries have taken a toll, but at some point adjustments have to be made.
"We just have coach our guys up better, put them in better situations to play faster," Muschamp said. "When you struggle, you need to go back to technique and fundamentals, and you need to simplify to get our players to play faster and play with more confidence."
It's not like this was the easiest job for Muschamp to fall into. He was left with what was described as a "broken program" when Meyer resigned following the 2010 season, and it didn't have much in the cupboard to work with offensively.
Since taking over, discipline issues have improved, but this team has operated with a very small margin for error on the field. That centers on recruiting and coaching. Muschamp just hasn't lured elite offensive talent to Florida and the play-calling has been too predictable and stale at times.
When asked on Wednesday about any offensive changes he could foresee, Muschamp maintained that coaching changes weren't on his mind.
"This is the same coaching staff that came a game away from playing for the national championship last year," he said.
On-field personnel changes could, and probably should, come. Muschamp started the process by taking coaches off the recruiting trail on Sunday and Monday to spend more time tinkering with the offense. The Gators rank 12th or worse in the SEC in scoring, passing, rushing and total offense. It's hard to improve when your starting quarterback is gone, your line is battered and spotty, and you don't have a bruiser at running back.
But that's where coaches step in and make proper adjustments.
Muschamp is 22-11 as Florida's head coach, but just 13-8 in SEC play. Muschamp has to win out in conference play during the regular season to match Ron Zook's SEC record during his three-year stint.
It's far too early to talk about Muschamp's job security, but the course for this program is unknown, and that has to be a little concerning around Gainesville.
Muschamp sounds more frustrated than concerned at this point. He insists that recruiting is fine and players probably see Florida's struggles as a way to play early. He isn't into making excuses, but he wants answers.
"Anyone with a shred of intelligence can see the situation [they are in]," Muschamp said. "It's been frustrating, but we need to coach better."