On November 26, 2017, Dan Mullen had signed a contract of six years, 36.6 million dollars to be the next head coach of the University of Florida. This hire made sense in more ways than one. His history with Florida made the most sense; he had served as the offensive coordinator from 2005 thru 2008. As a Gator fan, this time period is truly unforgettable. The Gators won the National Championship in 2006 and 2008. Mullen helped Chris Leak reach another level and recruited players such as Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin, Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey and so on. He even got Cam Newton to Florida, but uh, yeah, things happen.
Another reason the hiring made made sense was Scott Stricklin. Stricklin became the Athletic Director for Mississippi State a couple years after Mullen was hired as head coach there. Stricklin had seen firsthand how good of a coach he was. Mullen had a very good track record when it came to the quarterbacks that he coached and was very competitive in the SEC west. At one point in the 2014 season he got the Bulldogs to the top seed in all the polls, including the inaugural College Football Playoff rankings, which is something that not many people are capable of doing with a team from Starkville, Mississippi. I was extremely optimistic about Mullen being brought into Florida. He knew the expectations, welcomed them and knows what kind of opportunity he has to build a true powerhouse.
The expectations for the season weren’t very high, at least for most outside the building. The Gators were coming off a 4-7 record with a lot of doubt at the QB position. Feleipe Franks was the starter for most of the season in 2017 and his play was less than satisfactory. Franks only produced 9 touchdowns thru 8 starts in 2017, that es no bueno. Franks was only a redshirt freshman though, and it was apparent that the previous staff was not properly developing him. Coming into the 2018 season Franks would have to battle redshirt sophomore Kyle Trask and true freshman Emory Jones. Franks’ lack of touch and his inability to read defenses and scan the field for an open receiver were the main concerns coming into the season. His experience is what won him the job as the other two QBs had no collegiate starts.
Fast forward to the first game against Charleston Southern. Florida spanked their booty good, defeating them 53-6. Franks went 16 of 24 for 219 passing yards and 5 TD passes all in the first half. Franks was already on pace to pass his 2017 TD marks in just two games. After the game, my good friend Keith asked me “You’re not one of those Gator fans that think they’re back, are you?” I replied “ I wouldn’t say back, but I’m optimistic about how the offense looked” or something along those lines. Even though it was just Charleston Southern, the offense from previous years still looked inept against lesser opponents.
They would lose the next game to Kentucky in a game where both the offensive and defensive lines lacked toughness. They would bounce back however in the next four games. Over that four game stretch the Gators scored over 40 points against Colorado State and Tennessee. They then got a tough road win over Mullen’s former Mississippi State team who was ranked #23 at the time. #5 LSU came to The Swamp, where Florida was able to outlast them. Murmurs about Florida was imminent at this point. They completed a comeback versus Vanderbilt and for the first time since 2008 Florida vs. Georgia featured two top ten teams. Florida battled for a bit, but Georgia took control and pulled away in the second half. The slim chance the Gators had to get into the playoffs was gone and the team came out flat against Missouri. Missouri would win easily. Against South Carolina the Gators found themselves down 31-14 with 4:40 left in the third. The Gators would score 21 unanswered points to win a game where Franks literally shushed the home fans. They walloped Idaho 63-10. They finished the regular season by traveling to Tallahassee and dropping 41 on the Seminoles (shoutout to Keith and Mike). They clinched a New Year’s six bowl berth and were scheduled to play Michigan in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl after finishing ranked #10. They demolished Michigan in a strong showing 41-15.
My overall take away from this season is that the next few seasons should be fun to watch. The Gators scored over 40 points in six games during 2018, including the bowl game. You would have to go back to 2011 just to get a total of 7 games over 40 points. Franks finished with 24 passing TDs and 7 rushing TDs. Franks 31 total TDs certainly surpassed his 9 from the previous season. Franks made massive strides, but still has improvement to be made. The team made progress throughout the season and looked like they figured it out a bit towards the end. Mullen’s effect on Franks was very apparent too. I expect Franks to make more strides now that he has a full season in the system. I expect Franks to win the battle again, but also expect to see a lot of different packages featuring Emory Jones next season. The team has fully bought into Mullen’s plan and as have I. I expect this team to continue to grow and receive more national attention. With the pieces that Mullen is picking up thru recruiting as well, I don’t think it will be long before Florida returns to the caliber of team that they once were.