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Misfit QBs could be downfall for Brady Hoke, Will Muschamp

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Associated Press
Quarterbacks Devin Gardner and Jeff Driskel have struggled this season.

Florida's Will Muschamp and Michigan's Brady Hoke were hired within a month of each other after the 2010 season. Each took his team to a BCS bowl early in his tenure. And both could be joining the ranks of the unemployed around the same time, too -- and for the same reason.

Neither has a competent quarterback for the offense he wants to run.

» Florida AD: Muschamp will be reevaluated after season

Hoke and Muschamp are defensive-minded coaches who want to use a pro-style offense and play solid defense. But both followed coaches who preferred a run-heavy version of the spread: Hoke succeeded Rich Rodriguez at Michigan and Muschamp succeeded Urban Meyer at Florida. Now, four years into their reigns, Hoke and Muschamp are using quarterbacks recruited -- and in Hoke's case, signed -- by their predecessors. It could cost them.

Hoke is 28-15 at Michigan, including 2-2 this season; Muschamp is 24-17 at Florida, including 2-1 this season. Hoke took Michigan to the Sugar Bowl in 2011, his first season; Muschamp took the Gators to the Sugar Bowl in 2012, his second season. But mediocre (and in some cases, awful) offenses have dogged both.

Florida's total-offense rankings in the Muschamp era have been 105th, 104th and 115th. Michigan's have gone from 42nd to 79th to 87th.

Muschamp's first season began with John Brantley at quarterback; Brantley replaced Tim Tebow as the Gators' starter. When Brantley was hurt early in the 2011 season, then-freshman Jeff Driskel replaced him. Driskel, who remains the starter, committed to Florida when Meyer was coach and stuck with his commitment when Muschamp was hired in December 2010, two months before national signing day.

» Coaches on the hot seat: Muschamp, Hoke lead list

Hoke had Denard Robinson as his starting quarterback in his first two seasons; Robinson -- who epitomized a spread-option quarterback -- was the starter under Rodriguez for two seasons and kept the job when Hoke arrived after his hiring in January 2001. Robinson was injured midway through the 2012 season, missed two games, then shared time with Devin Gardner when he returned. Gardner was the unquestioned starter last season and still is listed as the Wolverines' starter this week. He signed with Michigan when Rodriguez was coach, then redshirted as a true freshman in 2010, which was Rodriguez's final season.

Driskel and Gardner were considered the top dual-threat quarterbacks nationally in their respective recruiting class. Neither has been consistent -- or in Driskel's case, even effective -- running a pro-style attack. Florida moved closer to a version of the spread this season, but it hasn't helped: Driskel was an otherworldly bad 9-of-28 in a 42-21 loss to Alabama last week.

It hasn't helped Driskel that Florida is on its third offensive coordinator in Muschamp's four seasons. Michigan is on its second of the Hoke era. But unlike Florida, Michigan has stayed with a pro-style attack.

Watch tape of Driskel and Gardner from the 2011, '12 and '13 seasons, and you'll see physically gifted quarterbacks struggling in almost every facet of the passing game. No one can argue that Driskel (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) and Gardner (6-4, 216) don't have the needed physical tools; both have good size, can run and possess strong arms. But asking them to be pro-style quarterbacks, to sit in the pocket, make the necessary reads/progressions and find the open man? It's the square-peg-in-a-round-hole syndrome.

Neither has been surrounded by elite skill-position talent, and both have played behind lines that have not been nearly as talented as you would expect from programs the stature of Florida and Michigan. Still, good quarterbacks make the players around them better. That especially has not been the case at Florida.

Obviously, neither quarterback is the only reason his team has struggled and his coach is in trouble. Injuries hurt Florida last season, and this season, the defense -- especially in the secondary -- has been a disaster. Michigan has lacked defensive talent, too.

Then again, Hoke and Muschamp are defensive-minded guys, and you would expect defensive-minded coaches to have solid talent in place on that side of the ball four years into their tenures. But that's not necessarily the case for either.

It's still early enough in the season for their fortunes to turn. Each team's defense could jell; there is young talent on hand on that side of the ball for both schools. But quarterback play has to get better for both for that to happen. Hoke has talked about the idea of a quarterback change, benching Gardner for Shane Morris, and still might do so. He has handled things differently than Muschamp, who has said Driskel will remain his guy. But it's not a stretch to think that because Florida is off this week, coaches are working on some packages for touted true freshman quarterback Treon Harris, who has some mobility and a strong arm.

In all, 22 schools made coaching changes after the 2010 season; in addition, two schools had interim coaches in 2011. Of those 24 coaches, 11 already have been fired or moved on. And of the remaining 13, three coaches in addition to Hoke and Muschamp -- Tulsa's Bill Blankenship, Miami's Al Golden and Indiana's Kevin Wilson -- are feeling some heat, too.

While Hoke and Muschamp aren't the only ones in danger of losing their jobs out of that coaching class, they are similarly linked in backgrounds, early success and inconsistent quarterback play. And the inconsistent quarterback play could be the back-breaker for both.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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