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Florida Football: 2018 Gators Preview and Prediction

Cece Jefferson, Florida Football

Cece Jefferson, Florida Football

It has been a while since Dan Mullen coached at Florida but one thing that hasn't changed are the expectations. The former Mississippi State head coach and Gators offensive coordinator is tasked with returning the program back to where it was the last time he called Gainesville home. Whether Mullen can lead Florida to another national championship will take some time, but the goal for 2018 is erase the memory of last season's 4-7 showing. Mullen and his coaching staff have plenty of pieces to work with, but question marks remain on both sides of the ball and life in the SEC is never easy. The future looks bright, but the present may feature some growing pains.

Previewing Florida Football's Offense for 2018

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Dan Mullen, Florida's offensive coordinator on two national title teams, plans to return Florida to its high-scoring ways. "I know how important offense is here," he says. "I know everybody likes to score some points. I love scoring points."

Mullen first must find a quarterback. Since Tim Tebow's 2009 departure, no Gators signal-caller has accounted for more than 16 TDs in a season. Feleipe Franks had eight interceptions and took 29 sacks in 2017. Fellow redshirt sophomore Kyle Trask, Florida's best pure passer, will push him for snaps.

Whoever's under center should benefit from a solid run game. Junior Jordan Scarlett has a chance to become a 1,000-yard rusher. The backfield, though, is crowded. Junior Lamical Perine is an SEC-caliber back, while sophomore Adarius Lemons has big-play potential.

Receivers Tyrie Cleveland and Kadarius Toney are talented but injury prone. The rest of the unit has underachieved. The eligibility rulings on transfers Van Jefferson (Ole Miss) and Trevon Grimes (Ohio State) could be game changers.

UF's success ultimately hinges on the offensive line. The unit returns five starters, led by senior left tackle Martez Ivey. But many of those returners have struggled too often the past two seasons.

Previewing Florida Football's Defense for 2018

The Gators ranked outside the nation's top-15 defenses for the first time since 2007 and ended the season in disarray. Florida yielded 87 points during back-to-back losses to Georgia and Missouri and allowed 38 points to struggling Florida State.

New coordinator Todd Grantham does inherit some nice pieces, led by a stable of pass rushers and two lockdown cornerbacks.

Ends Cece Jefferson, Jabari Zuniga, Jachai Polite and Antonneous Clayton could thrive in Grantham's 3-4 scheme. Massive sophomore tackle Tedarrell Slaton (6'4", 358) has the skills to dominate inside.

At linebacker, David Reese finished last season with 102 tackles. The rest of the unit managed 125. Little-used junior Rayshad Jackson emerged during spring practices.

Cornerbacks Marco Wilson and CJ Henderson are among the SEC's top duos. Junior Chauncey Gardner-Johnson moves from safety to nickel back, where his speed allows him to disrupt the middle of the field and rush off the edge. Junior safety Jeawon Taylor has good range but an injury history. Keep an eye on versatile sophomore Brad Stewart.

Previewing Florida Football's Specialists for 2018

Johnny Townsend, who led the nation in punting the last two seasons, and kicker Eddy Pineiro, who hit his final 16 field goals at Florida, will be hard to replace. Townsend's brother, Tommy, and freshman Evan McPherson, the nation's top-rated prep kicker, are next up. Florida hopes Lemons can improve field position on kickoffs and that Toney will shine on a punt-return unit ranked last in the SEC.

Final Analysis

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Florida

Mullen embraces the incredible expectations that drove his former boss, Urban Meyer, to retire for a season and cost Will Muschamp and McElwain their jobs at Florida. Mullen's ability to develop quarterbacks is critical given the long-standing issues under center. He and his staff must prove to be strong recruiters to rebuild Florida's talent level and depth after four straight classes outside the top 10. The 46-year-old will benefit from a favorable schedule. Doubling last season's total of four wins is within reach.