SEC preview: After tumultuous 2017, Florida looks for stability with new head coach this season

Tony Walsh/The Red & Black

Dan Mullen, head coach of the University of Florida football team, addresses reporters at the 2018 SEC Football Media Days in Atlanta last month.

 

Leading up to the start of the college football season, The Red & Black will preview each of the 13 teams Georgia plays alongside in the Southeastern Conference. Today, The Red & Black takes a look at the Florida Gators.

2017 results

4-7 (3-5 SEC); fifth in the SEC East

Summary of last season

Florida’s 2017 season was a tale of two streaks. The Gators opened up conference play with three consecutive wins against Tennessee, Kentucky and Vanderbilt but failed to capitalize on the good position as they lost the next five games. Of those five losses, the 35-point defeat at the hands of Georgia on Oct. 28 was the worst.

That loss to the Bulldogs was the final game for then-head coach Jim McElwain, as he and the Gators mutually agreed to part ways before the game at Missouri. Interim head coach Randy Shannon led them the rest of the way.

Winning the last game of the season still could not have saved Florida from its worst record since the 4-8 season in 2013, although winning against its rival in Florida State may have helped to alleviate the frustration. Instead, the Gators lost to Florida State by 16 points, and the Seminoles finished the season at 7-6.

New coaches, new expectations

Florida hired former Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen in November of last year, just after the conclusion of college football’s regular season. Mullen was with the Bulldogs for eight years and was the National College Football Coach of the Year award winner in 2014.

Before his stint at head coach, Mullen coached quarterbacks at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida. While the Gators hired him because of what he was able to do at Mississippi State, the questionable quarterback situation in Gainesville must have been factored into making the decision. He inherits a quarterback room that consists of Feleipe Franks, Emory Jones and Kyle Trask, all of whom are redshirt sophomores or younger.

Franks played in 11 of Florida’s games last year as he threw nine touchdowns and eight interceptions. Among other things, improved quarterback production is what fans will be judging Mullen by in 2018.

Key returning players

• Lamical Perine, running back: Perine saw more carries for the Gators last season than any other running back, including 57 more carries than the second-place runner in then-freshman Malik Davis. He led the Gators in both yards (562) and touchdowns (8), and he returns as a junior looking to lead an offense that is undergoing changes under new coaching.

• David Reese, linebacker: Reese is also heading into his junior season in Gainesville, and he is coming off a season in which he led the team in tackles with 102. His efforts resulted in the first instance of a player getting more than 100 tackles in a season since Brandon Spikes recorded 131 in 2007.

Season outlook

Florida catches a break in 2018 insofar as it does not open the season against a quality opponent like Michigan, as it did last year. That is the only big change as far as scheduling is concerned, as the Gators still face each of their six SEC East opponents, LSU and Florida State. Its other games include matchups against Charleston Southern, Colorado State, Mississippi State and Idaho.

With the new leadership of Mullen and his staff and experience returning on both sides of the ball, Florida should be in position to contend for the third spot in the SEC East behind Georgia and South Carolina. While they are still a year or two away from being ready to contend for the top spot again, a rejuvenated atmosphere should help them improve upon an unstable 2017.

Printed with permission from The Red & Black independent student media organization, based in Athens, Georgia. For more UGA sports news, visit www.redandblack.com/sports.

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