GAINESVILLE — Kyle Trask doesn’t do braggadocio or bulletin-board material, so when the Florida quarterback says something as bullish as he did Monday, it jumps out.
“We definitely feel pretty strongly that we have a good shot at it this year,” Trask said of his Gators.
And what, exactly, is it?
“The College Football Playoff.”
Granted, hope springs eternal during this time of year. The Gators don’t start spring practice until next Monday, and the actual season is months away.
But look past the caveats and qualifiers, and know this: Trask is right. Florida should start 2020 on the short list of playoff contenders, along with the usual suspects of Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State and Georgia.
Although Trask won’t say it himself, he’s a key reason why Florida has a legitimate chance of being in the playoff mix into November. Statistically, he’s the top returning passer in the SEC. That fact is impressive enough on its own, but it’s even more impressive considering that a year ago this time, he was a longtime backup with zero meaningful college snaps.
“That is pretty crazy, just from where I started the season to where it ended,” Trask said. “It’s a pretty crazy ride for me. I just hopefully can improve on that.”
Given Mullen’s track record of developing quarterbacks, it’s reasonable to assume that Trask will indeed improve on what he did last year (ranking 15th in the nation in passing efficiency). Bump him up even higher, and a playoff run looks feasible, especially considering other parts of Florida’s roster.
The Gators’ offensive line was a liability last year after losing four of its five starters. Now Florida returns four starters, plus All-America-caliber tight end Kyle Pitts, while bolstering the defensive line.
“If you want to be successful, you’ve got to be successful along both lines of scrimmage, offensive and defensive,” third-year coach Dan Mullen said. “To do that, you’ve got to have depth. So it’s good that we’re starting to create depth on the lines of scrimmage.”
It’s also good for Florida that some of its competition will likely regress, making a playoff path appear even more viable. Instead of hosting Auburn, the Gators’ cross-division game takes them to the home of a first-year coach (Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss). LSU visits Gainesville without Joe Burrow and Joe Brady. The non-conference schedule is a breeze, unless Mike Norvell has the Seminoles clicking by Thanksgiving.
If you want to squint and find more optimism, maybe Kirby Smart’s Georgia Death Star isn’t fully operational, now that quarterback Jake Fromm (who torched UF last year) is headed to the NFL. Maybe the Gators get better injury luck in 2020 after watching three of their top players (Feleipe Franks, Jonathan Greenard and Jabari Zuniga) miss significant time in 2019.
And if you want to drink the Gatorade and go all-in, one more thing: Mullen seems to think his team will be really good, too. After topping Virginia in the Orange Bowl, he brought up the idea of a return trip to Hard Rock Stadium for this season’s national championship game.
The expectations aren’t vocalized often around the program, but the Gators know they’re there.
“We don’t really speak about it,” defensive back Marco Wilson said. “It’s just a quiet understanding each time we go to workouts, we all know that we have a common goal that we want to reach.”
None of this guarantees the Gators will reach that goal. They have holes to fill at linebacker (where David Reese starred) and receiver (where three ex-Gators went to the NFL scouting combine). Mullen is 0-for-2 against Georgia, which probably won’t regress that much, if at all.
But a week before the start of spring ball, it’s enough to justify Trask’s rare burst of public bullishness.