In bizarro college football world, Baylor is up, Florida down

11/14/2013 5:41 PM

11/14/2013 5:41 PM

One school, which has never played in a BCS bowl, loves the direction of its football program and throws contract years and cash at its coach.

The other, among the national leaders in BCS bowls, issues statements from the president and athletic director supporting its embattled coach.

This was Wednesday at Baylor and Florida, programs that for most of the past couple of decades have existed in different football social strata but find themselves in something of a bizarro world this season.

Art Briles is movin’ on up at Baylor. Starting next season, the first of his new 10-year deal, he’ll earn some $4 million and stand among the game’s richest. In the Big 12, that’s Mack Brown and Bob Stoops money.

I’ll listen to anybody’s take about massive coaching salaries, especially as universities further tighten campus budgets.

But Briles has engineered one of college football’s great rags to riches stories, producing more victories in his five-plus seasons (41) than his four predecessors in the 12 previous Big 12 seasons (35).

The Bears, 8-0 and fifth in the BCS standings, have been to three bowl games under Briles and are headed to a fourth straight. There hadn’t been a postseason for the Bears since 1994. Baylor and Texas are the lone undefeated teams in Big 12 play.

Briles came to Waco from Houston with an ace in his pocket. Robert Griffin III had committed to Houston but changed to Baylor when Briles did and wound up winning the 2011 Heisman Trophy.

The program has proved it was no one-year wonder, with quarterbacks Nick Florence and now Bryce Petty continuing to pile up victories and production.

The Bears have upgraded recruiting, especially with skill-position speed, made the right call on transfers and have every appearance of making this thing endure. A new stadium next year only helps, and for a coach who has been and will continue to be greatly pursued, this is when long-term contracts make perfect sense.

Enough Florida fans are wondering about Will Muschamp’s future that president Bernie Machen and athletic director Jeremy Foley offered public support.

“I’m a thousand percent convinced that Will Muschamp is the guy to lead this football program,” Foley said.

Foley was responding to the growing unrest of a 4-5 season that could lead to the program’s first losing record since 1979 and out of postseason play for the first time in 22 years.

The Gators, coming off their first home loss to Vanderbilt since 1945, visit South Carolina on Saturday and, after a nonconference game against Georgia Southern, end the season against Florida State in Gainesville. With the Seminoles pointed toward the BCS National Championship Game, that one could get ugly.

Injuries have decimated the Gators, who have lost seven starters, and now reserve quarterback Tyler Murphy has shoulder problems.

Just a year ago, Florida finished the regular season 11-1 and played in the Sugar Bowl. Muschamp shared SEC coach-of-the-year honors with Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin for leading the Gators from a 7-6 record in his first year. The improvement was the greatest in the program’s history, and the Sugar Bowl appearance was the Gators’ seventh in the BCS era, the most of any SEC program.

Now the school’s top officials must stiff-arm the critics. Former Gators coach and quarterback hero Steve Spurrier, preparing to battle Florida on Saturday, did the same. But even Foley knows what that means.

“This is not the dreaded ‘quote-unquote’ vote of confidence,” he said. “This is just how we all feel around here …We’ll stay the course here. We’ll get it right.”

Maybe like Baylor.

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