What's Next For Dan Mullen And His Gators

Florida v Tennessee

He wasn't the first choice and may not have been the second or third. Instead of Scott Frost or Chip Kelly, Florida ended up with Dan Mullen when they decided enough was enough of Jim McElwain.

Mullen did something that is really hard to do. He made Mississippi State relevant and built an offense that was able to compete weekly in the SEC. But the former Urban Meyer assistant once thought moving to Florida was a lateral move from Starkville and supposedly had a smug attitude when he was in Gainesville before. But so far Mullen has been the right choice.

He inherited a team that went 4-7 before his arrival. Florida seemed to lose its juice on the national level and recruiting was not among the best in the toughest league in the nation. Despite McElwain taking his teams to back-to-back conference championship games, the feeling was Florida was just not on the same level as Alabama(few are) and Georgia was closing fast in the east. 

But Mullen has energized a fan base again. He has made inroads in recruiting and found his quarterback in Kyle Trask and the Gators have posted a 10 and 11 win season in Mullen's first two years at the helm. 

But in the "what's next" world of college football, patience does not allow Mullen to just keep this going at the pace he has. Wait, what? A 10 or 11 win season and top 10 finish is not good enough? Not in the eyes of Gator fans who have watched rival Georgia take command of the east and their rivalry. Florida has not won the SEC title since 2008 and Alabama, LSU and Georgia have become perennial playoff contenders every year. 

No, Mullen is not in danger of losing his job. He's just in a position where another season of not playing in the conference title game or playoff makes a major bowl game just another game. That may be unfair but welcome to expectations in college football. Win every game or be just another team.

That brings us to the 2020 season which finally begins for the Gators and SEC this weekend. The conference-only slate sends the Orange and Blue to Oxford for Lane Kiffin's debut as Rebels' coach. It's a road game and everyone is watching how teams begin their season after a long delay in this virus world. But Florida has a challenging back-to-back in weeks three and four with a road trip to Texas A&M and LSU at home. Jimbo also needs to prove he is worth at least half of his contract and LSU is still LSU despite all their losses from last year's championship team. There's Georgia in Jacksonville on November 7th and a season ending trip to Knoxville to face the Vols. 

There is no game Florida cannot win. But there are no guarantees this season on anything. Florida should be able to move the ball on anyone and have enough on defense to be among the better units in the SEC.

Fans are not forgiving, even during a pandemic, when it comes to expectations in college football. Mullen has embraced the tradition and expectations and has truly become the face of the program Florida needed. He has built the team back into a contender but now faces the challenge of the next step. That means beating Georgia and getting to the title game. No one knows how the College Football Playoff committee will judge teams that play fewer games or those who play no non-conference games. 

Is it is playoff or bust for Florida? Not really. But if the Gators go 8-2 and play in a major bowl, it will be a repeat fans are getting tired of. Making the playoffs is realistic. The margin of a good to great season is thin. It's why Mullen, despite going 21-5 in his first two seasons, finds himself in a spot where good is not enough. Greatness is the expectation and expectations are as high as ever in Gainesville.

Final thought: The average person falls asleep in 7 minutes

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