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July 18, 2012

Notebook: Muschamp begins year two with fresh view

HOOVER, Ala. -- Will Muschamp's first year in Gainesville wasn't nearly what he expected it to be. A bowl win over Ohio State was the only thing that saved the Gators from what would have been their first losing season since 1976.

Part of the Florida's struggles came when starting quarterback John Brantley suffered through multiple injuries, halting the offense's momentum.

"Mack Brown said something to me when I had the opportunity to be the next head coach at Texas," Muschamp said. "I said 'What makes you think I'm ready for this job?' He said 'You're not. I've been a head coach at North Carolina for 10 years, Appalachain State one year and Tulane for four years, and I wasn't ready for this job at Texas. Every job is different. Every job has its own circumstances, its own positive, its own negatives.'"

Muschamp expects things to be different in year two. He still hasn't settled on a starting quarterback, but new offensive coordinator Brent Pease has arrived to replace Charlie Weis, now head coach at Kansas. Florida averaged 25.5 points last year.

"People ask what will be different," Muschamp said. "We better score some more points."

Even before he became head coach at Florida, Muschamp had long admired Pease's work. Pease was offensive coordinator at Kentucky for the famous 'Bluegrass Miracle' game when Muschamp was defensive coordinator at LSU.

"We will be a more downhill running game because of the backs we have," Muschamp said. "That's not a shift in philosophy. That's what we wanted to be last year, but we didn't necessarily do that because our front wasn't as good and the backs were smaller."

John L. Smith, Petrino catch up

A one-year contract is unheard of in the college football world. It's usually considered next to impossible for a coach to operate with such a short leash.

Then there's Arkansas' John L. Smith, who's trying to contend for a national championship after parachuting into Fayetteville following Bobby Petrino's firing this summer.

"I guess there's something in (me) that says life is an adventure and don't miss anything," Smith said. "I've never been one to turn away from an open door."

Arkansas, which has Heisman candidates at quarterback and running back, hosts both Alabama and LSU this season.

The former Louisville coach left Weber State, his alma mater, for the chance to lead the Razorbacks. He spoke to Petrino last week, the only time he's done so since taking the job. The two coaches caught up, and Smith told Petrino what was going on with his former team.

"It was a good conversation," Smith said. "It was basically about our football team at Arkansas, of which he's always concerned about, and of course what he's going to do from here on out with his life. Things he'd like to get done."

Mullen still struggling in SEC West

Mississippi State's Dan Mullen has made the Bulldogs relevant since arriving in Starkville, but, he's still had major issues winning divisional games. He's 3-12 against the SEC West in his first three years at Mississippi State with all three wins coming against Ole Miss. He's still winless against Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn and LSU.

"We've had the opportunity to beat every one of those teams, right down to the fourth quarter, last plays of the game," Mullen said. "I look back last year, LSU, No. 1 team in the country, wins the SEC championship, it was 14-9 in the fourth quarter. We took some shots down the field, 0-3 on those shots. We catch one of those, that becomes 16-14 at home."

Things don't get any easier in 2012. In the final five weeks of the season, Mississippi State will face Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU, Arkansas and Ole Miss without a bye week.

Mullen won the Egg Bowl in each of his first three years and led the Bulldogs to bowl games in each of the last three years, but has never finished better than tied for fourth in the division.

Strong start key for Auburn

Gene Chizik and Auburn will be tested early in 2012. The Tigers play Clemson on Sept. 1 in Atlanta as part of the Chick-Fil-A season kickoff, and the direction of their season could be determined early.

"It's going to be a great test for us early," Chizik said. "We're going to have to play extremely well to beat this football team, which is loaded on the offensive side of the ball."

The Tigers face Mississippi State in the second game, then have a game against Louisiana-Monroe before playing heavyweights LSU and Arkansas in the first half of the season. To make matters more interesting, Auburn has new offensive and defensive coordinators this year.

Auburn won its first two games last year, albeit narrowly. The Tigers beat Utah State 42-38 in the season opener and beat Mississippi State 41-34 in the second game. A strong start could propel the Tigers into the SEC title hunt, but a slow start could doom them.

"It really depends on our first three games," tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen said. "They'll be really big for us, especially that opener against Clemson … If we escape those first three games of the year undefeated, then I think this team has a real good chance of doing something special this year."

Quick hits

--Les Miles was asked about his popular commercial for EA Sports' NCAA '13 video game. In the commercial, Miles scolds the Tigers' mascot, Mike, for using an in-game feature that allows a user to place a previous Heisman winner on any team.

"We had a lot of fun with it," Miles said. "I can't tell you the number of people that walk by me and say 'Like a son to me. A Tiger son.'"

--Chizik, who coached two years at Iowa State before landing at Auburn, welcomed two former Big 12 schools to the conference. He went 0-2 against Missouri and 0-1 against Texas A&M while coaching the Cyclones.

"I don't think a lot of people are giving Texas A&M and Missouri the credit they deserve," he said.

--The SEC's coordinator of officials, Steve Shaw, announced Wednesday that the league was adding another officiating crew for the coming season. Nine new officials have been hired to help ease the load on officiating crews with the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri this season. The new officials were not hired as a single crew, but will be spread among previously existing crews.

League injury report

Arkansas tailback Knile Davis, recovering from a broken ankle suffered in training camp last year, expects to be ready to play when the season begins. He led the conference with 1,322 rushing yards in 2010.

"I'm cutting full speed. It's been a long process to get back to 100 percent, but I'm back," Davis said. "It's about time I get that contact."

Florida cornerback Jeremy Brown broke his wrist and underwent surgery on Wednesday morning. He should be cleared for full contact by Sept. 1, but could miss some time early in camp. He missed last year with a knee injury and the 2009 season with back problems, but started 10 games in 2010.


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