Dan Mullen's return to Gainesville means big changes are in store for the Gators
After winning the SEC East the last two years, the Florida Gators had a nightmare of a 2017 season as the team finished with a 4-7 record. After their second losing season in five years, the Gators fired head coach Jim McElwain.
Florida is hoping to bounce back and return to the top of the SEC East in 2018. With all the uncertainty surrounding the Gators’ program, there are a few positives fans can look towards next season. Here are three of them.
1. Dan Mullen
When Florida hired Mullen to take over for McElwain, one of the top priorities was to fix the Gators’ offense. Also to find a quarterback that can play in the SEC.
In a short time, Mullen has already changed the culture in Gainesville. At Mississippi State, Mullen guided the Bulldogs to eight consecutive bowl appearances. While it could be some time before the Gators will compete for an SEC championship, Florida should be an improved team in 2018.
Just the fact that the Gators have gotten rid of coordinator Doug Nussmeier can only help their offense.
Although the Gators’ defense took a step back in 2017, they should be better next season. Florida finished 31st in the nation in total defense, which is a step back from the past few seasons when the Gators were a top-15 unit each of the last three years.
The positive for Florida’s defense is that it performed better the first half of the season. But following the loss to Georgia, it appeared the unit ran out of gas as it received little support from a dysfunctional and pedestrian offense. With an improved offense under Mullen and the new coaching staff, the Gators’ defense should have a better showing, statistically speaking.
Florida has already added David Reese, a four-star linebacker from California, as well as safety Amari Burney, who is from Clearwater, so some reinforcements are on the way.
3. Running backs
The Gators will have a trio of running backs returning, and that will be one of the strengths of the team. Leading rusher Lamical Perine (above, right) will likely be the starter after finishing with 562 yards and eight touchdowns this past season. Freshman Malik Davis was second on the team with 526 rushing yards and two scores.
Also, Dameon Pierce and Iverson Clement, who also signed with Florida in December, will enroll in school early and could contribute as early as this fall. With questions about the quarterback position, an excellent running game will take pressure off of the rest of the offense.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.
(Top photo by Paige Santiago, courtesy of floridagators.com)