And it was a seminal Saturday for coach Dan Mullen and Florida. Georgia has had the East to itself once Kirby Smart got himself established there. But now it was official, the Gators behind Mullen — brought in to rescue them two years after Smart elevated Georgia — were back to making this division interesting. His offensive mind just might trouble Georgia for years to come, unless some NFL team decides to throw riches at him.
“I came to Florida for the opportunity to win championships,” Mullen said post-game Saturday evening. “We’re SEC East champs and now we have to opportunity to go be SEC champs. That’s what you work for since the day I got here a little over three years ago.”
Florida’s Kyle Trask, a front-runner for the Heisman Trophy, leads the Gators on a scoring drive in 31-19 win over Tennessee that put them in SEC title game.
Mullen was a Gators assistant when Florida won the East in 2006 and ’08. Trask was a redshirting freshman of no repute the last time the Gators were in the SEC title game (2016). Together, they conspired to return Florida to the position of sacrificial offering to whoever comes out of the West.
Mullen will argue that Florida deserves even more plaudits for winning the East in the Year of COVID, when playing a conference-only schedule, he said, made this, “the hardest year in the history of this league.”
“There is no breather when you’re playing an all-SEC schedule, there is no chance to catch your breath. It’s a huge deal for our guys to win the league with the type of year we’re going through,” he added Saturday.
Of course, there are SEC breathers, which is why Vanderbilt was made. And, sadly, Tennessee, a team Florida has now beaten 15 of its last 16 meetings, also has auditioned for the role of a respite.
Regardless, with the win Saturday, Florida has every right to feel good about itself and good about its return to prominence. It has a couple weeks now to bask before facing the stark reality of Alabama. And a couple weeks to hold its breath — hopefully from behinds masks — that everyone can make it to Atlanta in spite of the virus.
In turn, that made for an uncomfortable Saturday for the Georgia follower who had to hear things like this from Mullen in the aftermath:
“We want to be playing in Atlanta in early December — this year happens to be later in December. That’s the goal. That’s the Gator standard, that’s what it’s all about. It is such an awesome game, a special game. And it will be again this year.”