No. 16: Florida

Ordinarily, I don’t put much stock in first-year coaches trying to restore messy situations at tradition-laden programs.


But Dan Mullen is no ordinary coach. And Florida is no ordinary program.

Returning to Gainesville—where he offensive-coordinated for Urban Meyer—after going 69-46 in nine years at Mississippi State, Mullen inherits 19 returning starters. Nineteen. Count 'em, 19.

Last year, a cruel combination of injuries and suspensions led to the firing of Jim McElwain, who was undone by back-to-back losses to LSU and Texas A&M by a combined three points, followed by a blowout loss to Georgia. In a bizarre turmoil-filled situation, McElwain didn't even finish the season.

That 4-7 record was an aberration. Phil Steele tabbed the Gators as his No. 1 Improved Team for 2018. I heartily agree.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

Mullen, who worked for Meyer at Utah as well as Florida, has a reputation for getting the most out of his players. At Florida, he has players.

Quarterback figures to be a work in progress. Sophomore Feleipe Franks, a talented but raw 6-6, 220-pound project who learned the hard way last fall, is the frontrunner. But Mullen has QB choices, including accurate sophomore Kyle Trask and highly-regarded true freshman Emory Jones. And Mullen—who has tutored Alex Smith, Tim Tebow and Dak Prescott—is pretty good at the quarterback thing.

Whoever throws will throw to athletic receivers. The Gators also have a deep and talented set of running backs.

If the offense has questions, the defense figures to have answers. The secondary is among the best in the SEC and new coordinator Todd Grantham, who has a ton of experience at the NFL and NCAA level, has enough talent to mount a serious pass rush.

In another positive, Florida has a favorable early schedule. It could open 5-0 in September without raising any eyebrows. The Oct. 6 visit from LSU ought to be interesting, given the recent history in this rivalry. And Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State look ominous in the second half.

By then, though, Mullen will have established some things.

No question, Florida figures to be more formidable when Mullen has had more time to lay a foundation. But don’t rule out a quick start.[/membership]