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First win the hardest

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Will Muschamp has clearly put his stamp on the Florida program.

Now all he has to do is figure out how to deliver against the Gators' biggest rivals.

Muschamp hasn't beaten Georgia or Florida State in his 24 games as Florida's coach and is facing the prospect of becoming just the second UF coach to go winless against the Bulldogs and Seminoles in his first two seasons since the Bobby Bowden era began in Tallahassee in 1976. He's 0-3 heading into Saturday's meeting against No. 10 Florida State (10-1) at Doak Campbell Stadium, where the No. 4 Gators (10-1) are a seven-point underdog.

"There's a lot of things that when you take this job that you need to do," Muschamp said Monday. "You need to beat your rivals."

Not doing so is a sure way to get in trouble. Just as former Ohio State coach John Cooper. He won 111 games for the Buckeyes, but when just 2-10-1 against Michigan and got fired. Or Georgia coach Mark Richt. He has won two in a row over the Gators, but went 2-7 in his first nine games in the series and got heat from fans during the offseason about not beating Florida.

Muschamp has done a good job of taking a program that was in trouble and turning it into a national championship contender in less than two seasons, so he certainly isn't in any danger of being fired. The Gators are still in the hunt for a spot in the BCS National Championship Game but would be eliminated with a loss to the Seminoles, which would mean the Gators' title hopes were dashed by losses to their two biggest rivals.

Muschamp would become the first UF coach since Charley Pell in 1979-80 to go 0-4 in his first two meetings with Georgia and Florida State. Urban Meyer went 4-0 in 2005-06, Steve Spurrier went 3-1 in 1990-91, and Galen Hall went 3-1 in 1984-85.

Even Ron Zook went 2-2 in his first two games against the Bulldogs and Seminoles.

"I don't think there's any pressure [on Muschamp because he hasn't beaten UF's two biggest rivals], defensive tackle Omar Hunter said. "I wouldn't know about the pressure he has on him. I wouldn't think so. I just think we're going to go out and compete for Coach Muschamp, play our hardest for him and get the win."

Competing hard hasn't been the issue for the Gators against Georgia and FSU lately. Nor has it been coaching. It has been execution, especially at quarterback.

In last season's loss 24-20 loss to Georgia, QB John Brantley was back on the field for the first time in four weeks because of an ankle injury. He wasn't anywhere close to 100 percent, though, and the Gators put in the pistol formation because he wasn't able to turn around and hand off the ball. He played pretty well, throwing for 245 yards and one touchdown, but the Gators ran for minus-19 yards and the defense gave up a 14-point lead on a pair of fourth-down touchdown passes.

Brantley didn't play well against FSU, though. He threw three first-half interceptions before leaving the game with a concussion and Jacoby Brissett threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown in the second half. The Gators held the Seminoles to 95 yards of offense and allowed FSU to drive into UF territory just twice in the second half, yet lost 21-7.

In the loss to Georgia in October, the Gators turned the ball over six times -- including two interceptions and two fumbles by QB Jeff Driskel -- and lost 17-9. UF was driving for the potential game-tying touchdown when TE Jordan Reed fumbled with 2:05 remaining.

Three quirky games, but as Muschamp has been saying all season in response to the Gators winning ugly: Style points don't matter. Winning does.

And right now he's still searching for his first one against his program's biggest rivals.

"There's a list of things [that are important in building a program]," Muschamp said. "Being undefeated at home's important. Beating your rivals is important. Winning your division's important. Going to Atlanta at Florida is important.

"There's a big list of them. That's one of them."