Like Michigan and LSU, Florida is another team that’s been plagued by the quarterback position since Tim Tebow left the program. It was definitely evident during last season when the Gators started 3-1, then lost six of their last seven games, ending with a 4-7 record, their first losing season since 2013. To fix all the teams’ quarterback issues Florida gave Jim McElwain his walking papers and hired Mississippi State Head Coach Dan Mullen. Mullen has put together quite an amazing resume’ when it comes to coaching quarterbacks. Former signal-callers Alex Smith, Tebow, Dak Prescott and as of recent Nick Fitzgerald have all been groomed by Mullen, put up impressive numbers and had a lot of success with their teams. Mullen emphasized in the spring that he wants a quarterback that has mobility and will run a spread offense that creates mismatches out in space and score lots of points. The Gators return 10 starters on offense, including junior signal-caller Feleipe Franks, who already been named the starter for the season-opener against Charleston Southern. The defense returns six starers from a unit that finished 31st in the nation last season in total yards allowed per game.
Team strengths: The defensive front seven. The Gators defense had an uncharacteristic year last season, finishing 69th nationally in points allowed per game and 50th in rush yards allowed per game. So Florida replaced defensive coordinator Randy Shannon with Todd Grantham. Jabari Zuniga, Cece Jefferson, David Reese, Vosean Joseph and Jachai Polite combined for 260 tackles, including 41 from behind the line of scrimmage and 12 sacks last season. Expect the Gators defensive numbers to improve this fall.
Team weaknesses: The offensive line. Florida returns all five starters along the line from last season, but that unit struggled in run blocking and pass protection the entire year and it showed on paper, finishing 110th nationally in total offense. Mullen has his work cut out for him with getting that unit to perform up to the level they were when he was the Gators offensive coordinator.
The schedule: Manageable. Florida plays its usual tough schedule, but gets LSU and South Carolina at home. Besides the finale at Florida State, road games at Tennessee, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt are all winnable.
My take: Mullen was the perfect hire for this program. He knows quarterbacks, he knows the SEC and he knows how to win. It may not happen this season, with the new scheme on offense needing time to transition, but expect Florida to be back competing for SEC titles in the near future.