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It’s incredible how quickly a fan base can pivot from frustration, disappointment and exasperation to hope, optimism and excitement.
It’s yet to be determined whether new Florida football coach Dan Mullen will prove to be a success, but he at least made a strong first impression Monday in his return to Gainesville.
The former Gators offensive coordinator on the two national championship teams under Urban Meyer returns after nine seasons as Mississippi State’s coach.
Athletic director Scott Stricklin, who worked with Mullen for nearly eight years in Starkville, Miss., said he doesn’t know what the timetable will be to get Florida back to its previous heights, but he is confident it will happen.
“I have no idea how long that’s going to take. I do know that we’re going to wake up one day and Dan Mullen’s going to be the football coach at Florida and we’re going to be winning a lot of games,” Stricklin said Monday.
The latest Gators Mailbag Question of the Day, meanwhile, focuses on what can be expected from Mullen in Year 1.
Devin B. asks … “Will he have immediate success? I believe we have the talent to do so, but I think he will succeed long-term as well.”
That depends on how success is judged.
Will Mullen provide immediate improvement for Florida? I think there’s no doubt, but that’s due in part to how low the bar is presently set.
After a 4-7 finish for only the program’s second losing season since 1981, yeah, Mullen will get the Gators moving in the right direction in 2018 — if for no other reason than the offensive coaching upgrade and switch to a spread system will jump-start the process of elevating Florida’s offense from the dredges of the FBS. I can’t imagine any way the Gators go a fourth straight season ranking in the 100s nationally in total offense.
Here’s a look at where Mullen’s offenses have ranked every year from his time as coordinator at Florida from 2005-08 and on through his nine seasons as coach at Mississippi State.
|Year||Points per game||National rank||Yards per game||National rank|
|2009, Mississippi St.||25.6||72nd||371.9||65th|
|2010, Mississippi St.||29.0||48th||401.3||42nd|
|2011, Mississippi St.||25.3||73rd||357.2||84th|
|2012, Mississippi St.||29.5||60th||381.9||79th|
|2013, Mississippi St.||27.7||70th||434.4||42nd|
|2014, Mississippi St.||36.9||T-16th||513.8||8th|
|2015, Mississippi St.||34.4||33rd||460.5||31st|
|2016, Mississippi St.||30.4||56th||440.2||44th|
|2017, Mississippi St.||32.1||37th||419.8||49th|
Mullen’s offenses didn’t dominate every year. His Mississippi State teams had lulls, as is prone to happen at a lower-tiered program in a tough conference.
But even his floor was far better than the Gators’ present reality, as they rank 111th in total offense (335.9 YPG) and 108th in scoring (22.1 PPG). And that’s right on par with the previous two seasons under former coach Jim McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.
Even in his leanest years, Mullen’s offenses never ranked lower than 84th in yards or 73rd in scoring.
There’s every reason to believe he will turn things around quickly on that side of the ball.
Perhaps a fair gauge is what he did in his first year at Mississippi State. In 2008, the season before Mullen’s arrival, the Bulldogs ranked 115th out of 119 FBS teams in scoring at 15.25 points per game and 113th in total offense (274.92).
In his first year, even with a quarterback who didn’t fit his system in incumbent Tyson Lee, he boosted the Bulldogs by more than 10 points and about 97 yards per game.
Just as he faced in 2009 at Mississippi State, Mullen takes over a team without an obvious fit at quarterback for his spread offense, but it stands to reason he can figure something out — whether over these next two months on the recruiting trail, via transfer or simply adjusting to his available personnel.
Yes, Florida also has to improve defensively after a down season, but the Gators only figure to get better while returning the bulk of their young contributors from this fall.
So let’s take a look at the 2018 schedule and size up what a realistic first season might look like for Mullen.
Likely wins: Charleston Southern, Colorado State, Vanderbilt, Idaho
Toss-ups: Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Missouri, South Carolina
Other: LSU, Georgia, Florida State
At first glance, it looks like the Gators should only be a significant underdog in three games.
Consider how different this season would have gone if the Gators had just a little more offense in narrow losses to LSU and Texas A&M.
If Mullen provides the offensive boost everyone is expecting, there’s no reason Florida can’t take a major leap forward in 2018. Would an 8-4 season be viewed as immediate success, given where the Gators stand presently? I think it’s possible.
Meanwhile, here’s what Mullen had to say about his own expectations: “ I have high expectations for next season, I do, and I have no idea what type of team we have. I haven’t seen anybody play or take a snap or run one step or tackle anybody. But I’m going to promise you, I have extremely high expectations for our program next season.”
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