By John Luke McCord
What a difference an offseason can make. One of the SEC’s best coaches, Dan Mullen, finds himself in new colors, at a new program, with different expectations in 2018. Florida AD Scott Stricklin is hoping those changes for Mullen end up changing the trajectory of the program.
Mullen has won consistently over the past nine seasons at Mississippi State, and Gator nation is hoping that translates to even bigger success in Gainesville. However, Mullen will not be able to lean on star quarterback Fitzgerald or the deep defensive unit he had built in Starkville. Instead he inherits a quarterback position that is in need of his magic touch and a team that could be short on confidence following a 4-7 finish in 2017.
However, if anyone can do get a team going offensively it’s Mullen, who holds an Hour Glass coaching stamp of 5(fifth in SEC, a tick above national average of 3.5/4), and has an impressive track record working with signal callers. And when you take a closer look at the roster: there is plenty of production returning on the defensive side, the offensive line is comprised of veterans and the receiver group has nice potential.
Tracking the past three years of recruiting results the Hour Glass gives Florida an 88.46 talent stamp, which ranks fifth in the SEC. That includes five returning players on the offensive line with significant starting experience, two 500-yard rushers, a handful of uniquely talented pass catchers, talented pass rushers and plenty of productive tacklers.
Rising junior Lamical Perine and rising sophomore Malik Davis combined to rush for 1,122 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2017, and both guys could see a major jump this coming fall. If you’re looking for a breakout receiver in the SEC this fall Tyree Cleveland could be your guy. The rising junior averaged over 18 yards per catch in 2017. Add returning pass catchers Antonio Callaway, Josh Hammond, Dre Massey and Kadarius Toney and you have depth at receiver. Though with Mullen bringing a new offense don’t be surprised to see incoming freshmen Jacob Copeland and Justin Watkins, both 4-star prospects, get into the mix. Former Ole Miss wide out, and 4-star signee, Van Jefferson has transferred in and could be eligible in 2018, as well.
Eight of the Gators’ top 10 tacklers from last season return this fall. That includes star defensive lineman Cece Jefferson, who led the team with 4.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss in 2017. The team had plenty of talented, young players a season ago and they seem poised to improve in a big way under new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and staff. Three guys to watch are: rising junior defensive back Chauncey Gardner, rising sophomore defensive back CJ Henderson (led team with four INTs in 2017) and rising junior linebacker David Reese (led team with 104 total tackles in 2017).