GAINESVILLE — After making a six-win jump in Dan Mullen’s first year at Florida, the Gators will have an even tougher challenge facing them in Year 2.
Trying to win one or two more to go from very good to great.
For all of Mullen’s success, he has never won more than 10 games in a season. UF has only topped that mark once in the last nine seasons.
As the Gators open preseason camp Friday, here are three reasons to be optimistic about UF leaping back into the sport’s upper echelon and three reasons to pump the brakes.
Reasons for optimism
Including his time as an assistant, Mullen is 51-27 in his first year at a program and 64-19 in his second, for all the reasons you’d expect. Players know the system and terminology. Coaches know the players’ strengths, weaknesses and learning styles.
“It limits question marks,” Mullen said Thursday during media day.
Specifically, Mullen said Year 2 gives him more knowledge of which players have earned the right to appear on the get-them-the-ball list. So expect even more touches this year for electric athlete Kadarius Toney, which can make the difference in a tight game.
2. Feleipe Franks returns
Franks was one of the nation’s most improved passers last season and turned the corner when he learned how to be the willing runner Mullen wants against South Carolina. After shushing the home crowd against the Gamecocks, Franks was responsible for 11 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Add in Mullen’s track record with developing quarterbacks, and you can see why SEC Network analyst Greg McElroy is high on Franks.
“I’d be highly surprised if he didn’t grow this year,” McElroy said.
3. The talent is there
Assuming Marco Wilson plays the way he did before tearing his ACL against Kentucky, few teams in the country have a cornerback combination like Wilson and first-round talent C.J. Henderson. The defensive line replaces all-SEC edge rusher Jachai Polite with former Louisville standout Jon Greenard. Two-time leading rusher Lamical Perine is back, and the receiving corps is UF’s best since the Tim Tebow era.
“Backups, starters, everybody – it’s just loaded,” Franks said.
Maybe not as loaded as Clemson or Alabama, but loaded enough to suggest UF can keep progressing.
Reasons to pump the brakes
1. The offensive line is almost all new
With an offensive line, Mullen said, “you get concerned in experience and depth.” His Gators don’t have much of the first part, which makes it hard to know how much they have of the second.
The only returning starter is center Nick Buchanan. One of the other top contributors, Noah Banks, missed spring practice with health issues (but is expected to be ready to practice Friday).
There’s still talent and size —teammates have spoken highly of 6-foot-7, 323-pound Stone Forsythe — but the line is UF’s biggest unknown. And considering the Gators open against Miami and its fierce front seven, that’s a concern.
2. What if Franks regresses?
Although Franks improved drastically as a redshirt sophomore, he still ranked outside the top 75 in completion percentage, and his mental game hasn’t caught up to his physical tools. That’s part of a quarterback’s natural progression, but what if it doesn’t happen?
Franks completed less than 45 percent of his passes in three games last year (two of them losses). If his accuracy doesn’t improve, it’s hard to see UF squeezing out another win or two.
3. There isn’t much depth
The transfer portal and some juco-bound recruits have left the Gators down about seven scholarships from the NCAA’s limit of 85, and UF hasn’t recruited at an elite level. The talented secondary would have trouble withstanding an injury or two. The offensive line would, too.
“Overall I think our depth is good,” Mullen said. “I don't think it's great yet but I think we're going to get there within the next hopefully within the next two three years.”
But SEC East favorite Georgia is already there, which makes UF’s path to 11 or 12 wins that much harder.
Contact Matt Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @MBakerTBTimes