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New Florida football coach Dan Mullen still has to fill some key spots on his coaching staff, and it remains uncertain who the Gators will end up with at quarterback in this recruiting class.
The latter could well have an impact on how the Gators fare in 2018, with there presently being no clear favorite on the roster for the starting QB job.
But Mullen has nonetheless succeeded so far in inspiring excitement and optimism through much of the fan base. Most seem to realize this won’t be an overnight fix after the Gators bottomed out at 4-7 this fall and now face schematic transitions on both offense and defense, yet there’s reason to believe things could get better very quickly.
The latest Gators Mailbag Question of the Day considers that notion:
Brandon W. asks … “What number is an acceptable amount of wins for Dan Mullen in Year 1?”
As I’ve said, I think the improvement will be swift for several reasons.
First, consider that with all the adversity Florida dealt with this season, the Gators were still just a few plays away from potentially starting 5-1, and who knows how differently their season might have gone if they had just a little more offense in that back-to-back 17-16 loss to LSU and 19-17 loss to Texas A&M. (Granted, Florida was also a couple big plays away from just as easily starting 1-8).
The point is, though, the switch to Mullen’s spread offense and the change in play-calling alone will produce an offensive upgrade. Of that I have no doubts. There are enough playmakers on the offense (Tyrie Cleveland, Kadarius Toney, the running backs, to name a few) to work with, and Mullen’s track record indicates he’ll figure out how to get enough out of the quarterback spot one way or another.
Defensively, it remains to be seen how the Gators adjust to new coordinator Todd Grantham’s 3-4 scheme, but the unit is coming off one of the program’s worst seasons statistically and a young roster getting a year older should help at least somewhat to move things in the right direction. This side of the ball is certainly a wildcard, though.
Finally, listening to Mullen’s former Mississippi State players detail how intense his offseason strength and conditioning programs are and how that had a real carryover into the fall, I’m a believer that will make a difference in its own right.
So what does that mean in terms of wins and losses?
Let’s count the games against Charleston Southern, Colorado State and Idaho as wins. Vanderbilt took a step back this year and should again be a game Florida expects to win. So that’s four.
Kentucky just can’t seem to get over the hump against the Gators with 31 straight losses in the series, Tennessee is facing its own rebuild under new coach Jeremy Pruitt after going winless in the SEC in 2017, and despite the lopsided meeting this year Missouri still has plenty to prove. All three are toss-up games at worst, and home game with South Carolina might be as well.
Beyond that, the Gators will likely be underdogs on the road at Mississippi State, hosting LSU, against Georgia in Jacksonville and traveling to Florida State.
Whether or not this assuages a frustrated fan base, I think eight wins would qualify as a strong debut for Mullen while meaning that Florida at least won the games it was supposed to win. Six wins or fewer would obviously be underwhelming. And seven wouldn’t move the needle much, but it may be the most likely outcome in year one of this rebuild.
But from the sounds of it, that wouldn’t satisfy Mullen’s own expectations.
“I have high expectations for next season, I do,” he said at his introductory news conference. “And I have no idea what type of team we have. I haven’t seen anybody play or take a snap or run one step or tackle anybody. But I’m going to promise you, I have extremely high expectations for our program next season.”
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