Clearly, the 2017 college football season did not go the way the Florida Gators imagined it would as the team finished with a 4-7 record. The good news is a new sense of optimism is in the air after the Gators hired former Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen just a day after a season-ending home loss to in-state rival Florida State.
Even though Mullen has been on the job less than three months, he and his staff were still able to sign the No. 14-ranked recruiting class in the nation, according to 247Sports’ Composite Team Rankings. ESPN.com had Florida a spot higher, as Mullen landed nine players in their top 300, three of which were among the top 60 in the nation.
In total, the Gators signed 19 players and given the coaching transition, it’s entirely possible that several of these will see significant playing time this fall. Here are five newcomers to keep an eye on as Florida starts anew under Mullen.
Emory Jones, QB
It is no secret the Gators have had their struggles at the quarterback position dating back to when Tim Tebow left school almost a decade ago. Florida now hopes they have found their signal-caller for the next few years in Jones. The dual-threat from Franklin, Georgia, was recruited specifically for new head coach Dan Mullen's system because of his skill set. He also will have a chance to play as a freshman because of Feleipe Franks’ struggles last year.
Franks was given every opportunity to win the starting job and was the primary quarterback, but he didn't win many people over as he threw for 1,438 yards, nine touchdowns and eight interceptions in 11 games. Given that Franks is the only quarterback on the roster with any real college experience, Jones figures to get plenty of opportunities to seize the starting job.
Jacob Copeland, WR
Copeland was one of the biggest surprises of the Gators’ 2018 recruiting class as he chose them over both Alabama and Tennessee on National Signing Day. With Antonio Callaway suspended all of last year, the Gators lacked a significant big-play threat, but Copeland will now give Florida that potential once again. Copeland’s size (5-11, 186) has brought out to former Florida star Percy Harvin. There is a pretty strong chance that Copeland sees the field a lot as a freshman.
Trey Dean, S
Dean was a four-star prospect, per 247Sports, and given the question marks in the secondary he’s a good candidate to see playing time early as well. Dean (6-2, 180) has the skill set to play cornerback, so his versatility will only increase his chances of getting on the field, as well as his reputation for being a sure tackler.
Amari Burney, ATH
Burney could play at linebacker, safety or as a nickel defensive back. He was a wide receiver before he told coaches he wanted to play on the defensive side of the ball. With his ability to line up in many different spots, the Gators could use Burney in a lot of different ways. His size (6-1, 215) also will assist him in making the adjustment to the college level pretty quickly.
Evan McPherson, K
Not too many people care about the kicker position, but the Gators relied on it a lot last season. Now with Eddy Pineiro entering the NFL draft a year early, a lot of eyes will be on McPherson as the potential replacement. McPherson was a three-star recruit according to 247Sports, and he should be a contributor on day one. In high school, McPherson hit a 60-yarder during a game, which is the second-longest kick in Alabama high school history.
— 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.