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January 5, 2009
MIAMI - Dan Mullen insists he knows how to divide time between his two jobs.
Florida better hope he's right.
Less than a month after being hired as Mississippi State's coach, Mullen will deliver his farewell performance as Florida's offensive coordinator Thursday when he calls plays in the BCS Championship Game against Oklahoma at Dolphin Stadium.
Mullen is preparing for his assignment by following the advice of Bo Pelini, who served as defensive coordinator for LSU in the title game against Ohio State last season after taking Nebraska's coaching job. What did Pelini tell him?
"Make sure you're 100 percent focused on the individual task at hand," Mullen said. "Set aside my time. Worry about Florida when it's time to worry about Florida. Worry about Mississippi State when it's time to worry about Mississippi State. Don't try to cross the two over."
That strategy worked well for Pelini, who helped LSU beat Ohio State 38-24 in the championship game before leading Nebraska to a Gator Bowl title in his first season with the Huskers.
Mullen has followed Pelini's advice by giving himself a strict work schedule depending on whether he's in Starkville or Gainesville on any given day.
"When I've been at Mississippi State, my 100 percent focus is on that, and I try to find a little time to do some Florida things in the evening," Mullen said. "Since I've been here, from 6:30 in the morning to 7 o'clock at night, I'm doing Florida stuff. From 7 o'clock until I've had it at night and can't stay awake any longer, I'm doing my Mississippi State stuff."
After being announced as Mississippi State's coach Dec. 12, Mullen remained in Starkville until Christmas Eve. He has been back in Starkville for one day just before the end of the year.
Oklahoma still has reason to feel encouraged by this development. The Sooners won their last national title in 2000 by beating Florida State 13-2 in the Orange Bowl, which was Mark Richt's last game as the Seminoles' offensive coordinator before taking over at Georgia.
"It can [be a distraction] to some degree," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "We've been in that situation before as well, and they're all managed differently. How much of a distraction? It's hard to say. But you manage it and deal with it just because you have to."
Although Oklahoma's assistants typically haven't stayed with the Sooners for a bowl game after taking head-coaching positions at other schools, former wide receivers coach/co-offensive coordinator Kevin Sumlin remained with the team for the Fiesta Bowl last season after getting hired as Houston's coach. Oklahoma lost that game 48-28 to West Virginia.
Last week, though, new Washington coach Steve Sarkisian served as USC's offensive coordinator in a 38-24 Rose Bowl triumph over Penn State.
"I played phone tag with Steve and didn't get a chance to talk to him, but it was the same deal for him," Mullen said. "The nice thing is the last couple of weeks have been a dead period in recruiting. You're limited in the phone calls you can make. You can't [contact] prospects on or off campus. The recruiting kind of slowed down, and it's made that a lot easier adjustment on getting the job done here."
Florida wide receiver Percy Harvin said he was at about 90 percent and expects to play Thursday after missing the SEC title game with a sprained ankle.
Harvin indicated that he had been able to make his cuts in practice the past few days and shouldn't have a problem playing. "I'm used to playing through the pain," he said.
Tebow reacts to Franks
Franks said Tebow would be the fourth-best quarterback in the Big 12, behind Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, Texas' Colt McCoy and Texas Tech's Graham Harrell. Franks added that it was easier for him to prepare for Tebow because Florida doesn't throw the ball as often as that Big 12 trio.
Tebow was asked if he thought he'd be the fourth-best quarterback in the Big 12. "Who knows?" Tebow said. "Maybe. That might have been a compliment."
Watch out for James
Florida's Brandon James scored on punt returns in two of the Gators' first three games this season, but he hasn't taken one all the way back since. That could change this week against an Oklahoma team that has struggled with kick coverage all season.
Oklahoma ranks a respectable 17th in the nation in punt coverage, but the Sooners are 106th in the nation in kickoff-return coverage. Oklahoma opponents have scored on kickoff returns four times this year.
James also returns kickoffs for the Gators and averages 23.7 yards per attempt, though he never has scored on a kickoff return.
"When I'm back there, I just try to be very aggressive, but if you get too aggressive or try to overdo it too much, that's when it doesn't come," he said. "You've got to stay calm and play within the flow of the game. When it's time for that return to break, it will break."
Tebow can't imagine Meyer in NFL
Florida's last championship football coach eventually left Gainesville for the NFL, but Tebow can't imagine Gators coach Urban Meyer following the same path that resulted in Steve Spurrier's departure.
"We've talked about it, [and] I don't think so," Tebow said. "I think probably one reason would be it would be a little bit harder to motivate some of the wealthier guys who make more on the team than he does.
"One of his best things as a coach is his motivating and getting guys ready to play. He does a great job of molding and influencing 18- to 22-year-olds. That's what he does best. I think he enjoys doing that. I don't think he would want to go to the next level."
After waiting four years to make an impact on the field, redshirt junior wide receiver David Nelson has made the most of the opportunity that arose from Harvin's late-season injury.
Nelson has scored twice and has eight of his 19 career catches in the Gators' past three games. He caught three passes for 27 yards and a touchdown in the Gators' 31-20 SEC championship game victory over Alabama.
"As a competitor, you want to be out there playing," Nelson said. "As much of a competitor as I am, you want to be on the field contributing. You want to know you helped this team do what it can. The past few years, I haven't been able to say that. We have guys on this team who can do stuff with the ball and do stuff down the field. You just have to keep working hard, keep waiting your turn and keep being patient, and that's what I've done. Finally, this hard work is paying off."
Nelson is hoping his late-season surge will get him some opportunities Thursday even after Harvin's likely return to the lineup.
"I've definitely earned some respect around here," Nelson said. "I think the coaches are confident in me. Tebow's confident in me. If Percy needs a break or if [Louis] Murphy needs a break or somebody needs a break and I come into the game, I feel like the offense can still work the way we usually do it. I don't think they're going to call plays differently when I'm in the game."
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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