GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Will Muschamp sees the big picture.
In fact, he sees it as clearly as the sparkling blue water at Manatee Springs, one of nature’s true treasures located some 40 miles southwest of where Muschamp now calls home for the second time in his life.
This week, though, it’s difficult for Muschamp to see much of anything that’s not right in front of him.
It’s Georgia week, and the protocol at Florida has been that the Gators beat the Bulldogs.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a first-year head coach. It doesn’t matter if your quarterback’s still a bit gimpy and hasn’t played in nearly a month. It doesn’t matter if you’ve lost your last three games.
This is a rivalry that Florida has owned for the past two decades, and the last thing Muschamp wants to do is break what’s become a time-honored tradition for the Gators: beating the Bulldogs.
He’s seen just about every possible side of this rivalry. He grew up in Gainesville, Fla., but played at Georgia and was a defensive co-captain for the Bulldogs as a senior in 1994.
As narrowly focused as they come, Muschamp disputes the notion that this game means more to him because he played at Georgia, and he hasn’t seen the need to build up this game more than any other.
That’s not his style.
If you’re going to play for him, you better treat every game like it’s your last one.
You want intense? Ask some of the football officials in this league if Muschamp can get a bit fiery.
“I kind of view all the games the same,” said Muschamp, who never beat Florida as a player at Georgia. “I know nobody likes to hear that. It's an important game, and it's huge for Florida every year. It's important to the Gator Nation. I know that. But it's like I always tell our players. It's about faceless opponents. I've never felt like as a competitor you needed extra motivation to go play anyone.
“Our guys know it's an important game, and they know it's a big-time game. I don't need to emphasize that.”
It hasn’t been the smoothest ride for Muschamp in his first year on the job. The Gators (4-3, 2-3) have lost three in a row heading into Saturday’s game and haven’t scored more than 11 points in any of their three losses.
Florida is now down to 68 scholarship players, a lot of that attrition coming in the wake of the transition from Urban Meyer to Muschamp.
Meyer’s last recruiting class in 2010 was ranked universally as the No. 1 class in college football, but already eight players from that class have departed.
In particular, the Gators don’t have any depth in the offensive line and are equally thin at defensive tackle, two places you never want to be thin at in the SEC.
Muschamp reiterated Thursday that senior quarterback John Brantley would return to the lineup Saturday, although Muschamp acknowledged that there’s no way to know how effective he’ll be coming off a high ankle sprain.
“He’s going to start and going to play. Now, we don’t know for how long,” Muschamp said. “We hope he can go the whole way, but you just don’t know. He looked good throwing the ball this week, was mobile and seems to be good to go. A lot of it’s going to be on us to protect him and play better around him. He doesn’t need to get hit a whole lot.”
Muschamp refuses to use the Gators’ injuries, their youth or their attrition as excuses.
Some of the attrition has been because players didn’t follow the rules and were sent packing (Janoris Jenkins), while it simply wasn’t a fit for other players.
Muschamp’s brand of football is different from Meyer’s, so it makes sense that the transition would not be without a few snags.
“In a lot of ways, we’re just treading water right now, but we’ve got good players and are not that far off,” Muschamp said. “The important thing is making sure we get the right fit as we go forward.”
The Gators already have 17 commitments for the 2012 signing class, and there isn’t any confusion among the staff about what they’re looking for in a player.
Muschamp’s idea of playing good football starts with being physical and tough and being relentless in the way you prepare and play, and there’s also a certain mentality he’s looking for, which is why the Gators have been so exhaustive in their evaluations.
“We know what we’re looking for, and it all comes back to building the kind of team we want to,” Muschamp said. “There may be some great players out there that we pass on because they’re not a fit.”
Muschamp, who coached under Nick Saban at both LSU and with the Miami Dolphins, isn’t too proud to concede that Alabama and LSU have run off and left everybody else in the league for the time being.
“It really hasn’t been close,” Muschamp said.
Still, he’s been around this league long enough to know that things can change in a hurry. He’s also fully aware of how closely he’s being watched around the country.
Florida is one of the true Rolls-Royce head-coaching jobs out there, and for somebody with no previous head-coaching experience to get the gig is going to turn a few heads.
Muschamp gets that, but he also gets that nothing is going to deter him from getting the Gators back among college football’s elite.
Sooner rather than later.
“I honestly don't feel any differently than I did when I was a coordinator,” Muschamp said. “Obviously, my spectrum here is a little different now. I'm worried about everything we do. But I'm totally consumed by what we're doing, and I've always been that way.
“I'm worried about what we do and not all the garbage out there."