Things got ugly for the Florida Gators in 2017. After winning back-to-back SEC East titles under Jim McElwain, the Gators fired their coach midseason following an embarrassing 42-7 defeat at the hands of rival Georgia. Under Randy Shannon, Florida went 1-3 down the stretch to finish the season at 4-7.
Alas, the Gators have turned the page and brought back old friend Dan Mullen as their new head coach. Mullen was the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach at Florida from 2005 to 2008 before becoming head coach at Mississippi State. The Gators won two national championships while Mullen is on the staff, and they can only hope his return brings the same good fortune.
Mullen turned Mississippi State into one of the most consistent programs in the SEC despite struggling to recruit the same caliber of talent as the league’s powerhouse programs. That track record has many believing he can turn the Gators into a contender in the SEC right away.
Oddsmakers aren’t exactly buying into Florida just yet. The Gators are +11,000 to win a national championship. Florida, to be fair, is a long shot, but the Gators winning a title isn’t as far-fetched as those odds would indicate. The Gators are also projected to only win 7.5 games in 2018. That number is far too low considering the talent on the team, especially with Mullen coming back to help stabilize the programs.
Of course, the first thing Mullen has to do is find the right quarterback. Feleipe Franks is the favorite to start, but he had plenty of ups and downs last season. Kyle Trask is an option and could push Franks for the job. However, he may not have the mobility the Mullen usually prefers his quarterbacks possess.
While quarterback has been a problem for the Gators in recent years, so has a lack of offensive playmakers. That problem could be solved if wide receiver transfers Van Jefferson of Ole Miss and Trevon Grimes of Ohio State are ruled eligible to play right away. If Jefferson and Grimes can play in 2018, they could quickly become one of the top receiver duos in the SEC. If not, the Gators will have to lean heavily on a deep stable of running backs led by Jordan Scarlett.
Meanwhile, the Florida defense appears to be in good shape despite some struggles last year. The Gators have high-level pass rushers and lockdown cornerbacks. Both are necessities to survive in the SEC. If Florida can find enough linebackers and interior linemen to stop the run, they could end up being one of the better defensive teams in the SEC.
Ultimately, Florida’s season will be largely determined by Mullen’s ability to develop a quarterback. A lot of the other pieces appear to be in place. Florida’s meager projections could be a baseline. It’s not impossible to see the Gators challenging for the top spot in the SEC East or sneaking into the College Football Playoff conversation.
|Sep 1||Charleston Southern Buccaneers||7:30 PM|
|Sep 8||Kentucky Wildcats||7:30 PM|
|Sep 15||Colorado State Rams||4:00 PM|
|Sep 22||@ Tennessee Volunteers||12:00 PM|
|Sep 29||@ Mississippi State Bulldogs||1:00 PM|
|Oct 6||Louisiana State Tigers||12:00 PM|
|Oct 13||@ Vanderbilt Commodores||1:00 PM|
|Oct 27||@ Georgia Bulldogs||3:30 PM|
|Nov 3||Missouri Tigers||12:00 PM|
|Nov 10||South Carolina Gamecocks||12:00 PM|
|Nov 17||Idaho Vandals||12:00 PM|
|Nov 24||@ Florida State Seminoles||12:00 PM|
The Gators have a manageable schedule early in the season. In fact, starting the season 4-0 is quite realistic. That means Florida could be undefeated when Mullen leads his new team back to his old stomping grounds at Mississippi State in late September. Aside from that trip to Starkville and seeing Georgia on neutral turf, the Gators get their toughest SEC games at home, most notably LSU, Missouri, and South Carolina. Such a schedule could work to their advantage.
Obviously, Florida reaching the SEC title game or the College Football Playoff will take a massive turnaround after last year’s 4-7 disaster. But the talent and potential are undoubtedly there to be one of the most improved teams in the country. It will be difficult but not impossible to envision the Gators becoming a legitimate contender in the SEC in 2018.