Florida trying to eliminate penalties

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida has been among the nation’s most penalized teams in coach Will Muschamp’s first two seasons.

Naturally, reducing penalties has been a point of emphasis during preseason practices. Muschamp knows it’s impossible to eliminate all penalties, but he does want the Gators to cut out things like jumping offside, false starts and personal fouls.

"I’m more concerned with the selfish and stupid penalties we’ve had the last two seasons," Muschamp said. "It’s something we did not improve on."

But even if the Gators don’t make a shred of improvement, it’s not automatically a bad thing. Penalties may be bad for Muschamp’s blood pressure, but they won’t necessarily keep Florida from competing for a national title.

Committing a lot of penalties didn’t hurt seven of the past 10 national champions. Those teams averaged more than five penalties per game and finished anywhere from 27th (USC in 2004) to 118th (UF in 2006) nationally in penalties per game. Every team that won a national title from 2003-12 finished 27th or worse -- except Alabama, which finished in the top six twice (2011-12) and tied for 17th (2009).

Florida’s ranking in 2006 -- 118th out of 119 teams -- isn’t an anomaly when it comes to some of the Gators’ greatest teams. The two most penalized teams in school history were the 1996 team (125) and the 2006 team (116) -- and both won SEC and national titles. UF’s 2008 SEC/national title team committed 102 penalties, which is tied for the eighth most in school history.

In fact, six of the top eight most penalized teams in Florida history won either SEC titles or SEC and national titles.

Not committing a lot of penalties isn’t as important as being capable of overcoming a lot of penalties. Go back to seven national champions that finished 27th or worse nationally in penalties per game. One trait they all shared: A prolific offense. All but one of those teams averaged more than 400 yards of total offense and scored at least 33 points per game.

The lone exception is UF’s 2006 team, but the Gators came close (396.1 yards per game and 29.7 points per game).

Even the three Alabama teams that were built on defense were among the nation’s better offensive teams. The Crimson Tide averaged at least 403 yards and 32 points per game.

A false start on first down wasn’t a drive killer. A holding penalty on second down didn’t necessarily mean the punter needed to start heading toward the sideline. Those teams had playmakers on offense and were able to get yards in chunks. Guys like Cam Newton, Vince Young, Reggie Bush, Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin, and Matt Leinart.

Florida didn’t have those kinds of playmakers the last two seasons. The Gators finished 103rd and 105th in total offense and 76th and 71st in scoring -- which makes it hard to overcome finishing 115th and 114th nationally in penalties per game.

So while Muschamp and the staff are making penalties a point of emphasis this August, finding some playmakers and making the offense more potent may actually be the best tactic. Muschamp will still get hot if the Gators commit a lot of penalties, but having an offense that consistently moves the ball, makes big plays, and scores a lot of points will help ease his high blood pressure.