December 9, 2022

Is Florida an immediate threat to Georgia’s reign in the SEC East?

Florida head coach Dan Mullen celebrates with fans as he leaves the field after defeating LSU in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Out of the 13 new Power 5 coaches last season, Dan Mullen had the best one-year turnaround, nearly tripling Florida’s win total from 2017.

Mullen’s predecessor Jim McElwain also led Florida to 10 wins in his first season. However, the momentum the Gators generated after closing out last season on a four-game win streak and the confidence the team has built after completing their second spring under Mullen has brought some buzz back to Gainesville.

The 46-year old has established his brand of football in the Sunshine State and now the College Football world awaits for what Mullen has in store for an encore this fall. After all, his experience in the SEC as an assistant and head coach has been very rewarding thus far.

Mullen has an eye for recruiting talent to fit his system in a league that has gained notoriety over the past decade and a half for its’ speed and physicality.

In hindsight, it seems as if Mullen has Florida a year ahead of schedule. This time around the Gators have enough talent to contend in the East after losing to three division foes last season. Taking that next step for Florida would be snapping its’ two-game losing streak to rival Georgia.

The Gators want to become the beast of the SEC East again. The Swamp needs to bring back that aura of being the most feared venue in the league. No more 21-point losses at home to Missouri. The potential is there to create something special and Gator fans are all dialed in.

Feliepe Franks has blossomed into one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC after throwing for 862 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions over the Gators’ four-game win streak. He can also hurt defenses with his mobility and helped Florida’s offense average 45 points per game during that span.

Florida’s rushing-attack was No. 4 in the SEC and averaged 213 yards per game last season. The backfield is loaded with talent and depth, led by LaMical Perine, who had three 100-yard rushing performances despite splitting carries and starting just one game.

There’s plenty of speed and experience returning at wide receiver. Van Jefferson, Josh Hammond and Trevon Grimes combined for 89 catches, 1,236 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2018. Special Teams will also be a strength for the Gators. Tommy Townsend averaged 45 yards per punt and Evan McPherson connected on 17 of his 19 field goal attempts.

The offensive line is an area of concern, considering Mullen has to replace four starters up front. Still, Mullen was proactive with the unit’s transition and signed seven freshman linemen in the Gator’s 2019 class. They’ll all be expected to contribute early-on.

On defense Florida remains a consistent and solid bunch. The program continues to put players in the NFL on that side of the ball every year. Leading tackler Vosean Joseph must be replaced. Trying to fill voids for Jachai Polite’s pass rushing skills and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson’s four interceptions won’t be easy for Mullen.

However, having a prime location in the speed state never has the Gators short on talent. The secondary had the No. 2 best pass defense in the SEC and return a couple of ball-hawks ready to improve on that number. C.J. Henderson and Tray Dean combined for 13 pass break-ups and three interceptions last season.

The early schedule is favorable enough for Florida to potentially be 6-0 heading into the clash with LSU in Death Valley. The Gators only leave the state of Florida once in their first six games. Tennessee, Auburn and Florida State has to come to the Swamp this fall.

After finishing in the top-10 for the first time since 2012 proves the Gators are in perfect hands with Mullen. Florida will renew it’s rivalry with Miami for the 56th time when the two blue-blood programs clash in the season-opener on August 24th at Camping World Stadium.