2018 COLLEGE FOOTBALL PREVIEW: #17 FLORIDA GATORS CAPSULE
HEAD COACH: Dan Mullen (First Season)
RECORD AT FLORIDA: 0 – 0
CAREER RECORD: 69 – 46
2017 RECORD: 4 – 7, 3 – 5 SEC
OFFENSIVE COORDINATORS: Billy Gonzales, John Hevesy
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Todd Grantham
STADIUM: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (88,548)
FIVE – YEAR WINNING TREND
2013: 4 – 8
2014: 7 – 5
2015: 10 – 4
2016: 9 – 4
2017: 4 – 7
September 1 Charleston Southern
September 8 Kentucky
September 15 Colorado State
September 22 at Tennessee
September 29 at Mississippi State
October 6 LSU
October 13 at Vanderbilt
October 27 Georgia at Jacksonville
November 3 Missouri
November 10 South Carolina
November 17 Idaho
November 24 at Florida State
Michigan 17 – 33
Tennessee 26 – 20
Kentucky 28 – 27
Vanderbilt 38 – 24
LSU 16 – 17
Texas A&M 17 – 19
Georgia 7 – 42
Missouri 16 – 45
South Carolina 20 – 28
Alabama Birmingham 36 – 7
Florida State 22 – 38
2017 STATS – OFFENSE
2017 STATS – DEFENSE
TURNOVER MARGIN: -3
RETURNING STARTERS OFFENSE: 10
WR Tyrie Cleveland
LT Martez Ivey
LG Brett Heggie
C TJ McCoy
RG Fred Johnson
RT Jawaan Taylor
TE C’yontai Lewis
QB Feleipe Franks
WR Josh Hammond
RB Lamical Perine
RETURNING STARTERS DEFENSE: 6
NT Khairi Clark
DE Cece Jefferson
LB David Reese
LB Vosean Joseph
CB Marco Wilson
DB C. Gardner – Johnson
2018 UNIT CONFERENCE RANKINGS
2018 PRE—SEASON SEC SELECTIONS
AP Kadarius Toney (Second Team)
OL Martez Ivey (Second Team)
DL Cece Jefferson (Second Team)
CB Marco Wilson (Second Team)
S Chauncey Gardner (Second Team)
RB Jordan Scarlett (Third Team)
CB CJ Henderson (Third Team)
P Tommy Townsend (Third Team)
2017 SEC STANDINGS
- Georgia 7 – 1
- South Carolina 5 – 3
- Kentucky 4 – 4
- Missouri 4 – 4
- Florida 3 – 5
- Vanderbilt 1 – 7
- Tennessee 0 – 8
- Auburn 7 – 1
- Alabama 7 – 1
- LSU 6 – 2
- Mississippi State 4 – 4
- Texas A&M 4 – 4
- Ole Miss 3 – 5
- Arkansas 1 – 7
2018 TOP RETURNING LEADERS
PASSING: Feleipe Franks, 125 – 229 –1,438 – 9TD – 8INT
RUSHING: Lamical Perine, 136 – 562 – 8TD
RECEIVING: Tyrie Cleveland, 22 – 4 to 10 – 2TD
TACKLES: David Reese, 102
SACKS: Cece Jefferson, 4.5
INTERCEPTIONS: CJ Henderson, 4
2018 TOP RECRUITS
WR Jacob Copeland, Pensacola, Florida
OT Richard Gouraige, Tampa, Florida
QB Emery Jones, LaGrange, Georgia
ATH Justin Watkins, Clermont, Florida
TE Kyle Pitts, Abington, Pennsylvania
S Amari Burney, Clearwater, Florida
ATH Trey Dean, Hampton, Georgia
RB Dameon Pierce, Bainbridge, Georgia
LB Andrew Chatfield, plantation, Florida
DB David Reese, Fort Pierce, Florida
2018 PROJECTED RECORD: 8 – 4, 5 – 3 SEC
2018 BOWL PROJECTION: Belk Bowl
2018 SEC PREDICTIONS:
- South Carolina
- Mississippi State
- Texas A&M
- Ole Miss
2018 RECRUITING RANKINGS
- Texas A&M
- South Carolina
- Mississippi State
- Ole Miss
Florida hasn’t been a national contender for the last couple of seasons and that is a problem for Gator fans. Dan Mullen must prove they are strong in recruiting in order to build Florida to a top talent level that football fans are used to. Developing a premier quarterback is Mullins first priority. Returning 10 starters on offense will make the transition easier, but Florida must improve on offense in several categories including scoring (108 overall), passing (102 overall) and total offense (110). Florida hasn’t finished in the top 40 in scoring this decade. The schedule is more favorable so doubling their win total from last year should be within reach.
COACH MULLEN AT SEC MEDIA DAYS
DAN MULLEN: All right. Well, it’s great to be back at SEC Media Days, and, you know, going into year 10 here for me of this, but it’s all new. We got a new city here, a new location for this, which is fantastic. I’m in a new school, got new swagged-out shoes on, I guess, for everybody.
But it’s exciting to be back. It’s exciting to get the season kicked off and get ready to get football rolling and get ourselves into the fall.
So I have to say I’m very honored. I’m thrilled to be the head coach of at the University of Florida. It’s a great honor for me to be there and take over a program that has so much history and tradition of winning, and I’m excited to build that standard back, get the Gator standard back to where everyone expects it to be.
When you think of the Gator standard, you’re thinking about a university of excellence. Everything about the Gator standard is excellence, whether it’s academics, research, the University of Florida stands for excellence, and that’s the Gator standard. And I want to make sure I get our football program back on top and continue that excellence of where we’ve been.
I’ve been very fortunate taking over the program. Our guys have bought in. One of the things when you take over a program you want to see — I didn’t recruit a lot of the players that are on campus. Some of them I have, but not all of them. And I want to make sure that they buy into the type of program that we’re going to have.
That’s what we’ve been able to see, is a bunch of players buy in to what we’re trying to build, through the offseason program, through spring practice, in the classroom, in the community, in every way buying in and having a great attitude to try and go build this program back up and be successful.
One of the things I think, if you always see our teams play, that we’ll always start with our guys is relentless effort. That’s one thing I want from our players. That’s one thing we can control every day, is the effort in which our guys go out and attack the weight training session, the effort they attack training table, how they eat, their health, the effort in which they put into their studies, the effort they put into preparation and the effort they put into playing at The Swamp and representing the Gator Nation everywhere.
We’re going to come back and have an exciting football team, create the energy, create the excitement that I know The Swamp to be as one of the most intimidating stadiums in all of America. And I’m excited to get this program back on top.
I’ll turn it over to you and you’ll turn it over to them.
Q. Just wondering, is — in evaluating last year’s team and what you saw on tape, is there that fine a line between 4-7 and contending, I guess, first for the division title? Are the pieces in place with the kids that you brought in and signed to make a run at Georgia?
THE COACH: We certainly hope so. You know, not just Georgia, everybody in the SEC East. You know? One of the things that having been in this conference for quite a long time that I’ve learned is the margin for error is very small. The margin for error from having a bad season to an average season, an average season to a good season, a good season to a great season, a great season to a special season is very, very small.
That’s what makes it such a huge challenge. You have to bring your “A” game every single week no matter who it is you are going to play. When I took over the program, the goal for this year’s team is to go, and there’s two aspects to it. There’s this year’s team, and there’s the program as a whole. And the goal for this year’s team is to go to get back here the first week in December and compete for an SEC Championship. That’s our goal with this year’s team.
We also have a goal, though, to build the program, to be a consistent championship contender. And those — sometimes they go hand in hand; sometimes they don’t. But we’re constantly working to do it.
And the work our guys put in, I want to see how they come off of summer conditioning, all the extra work that they’ve put in. Certainly our goal is to find a way to compete for a championship and get back here in December.
Q. You’ve seen the Georgia rivalry in Georgia and Kirby Smart from all different sides. I just wonder now that you’re back in The Swamp in an area where at one time you saw that — the winning side of that rivalry, how do you view that rivalry and what it means to try and win the East every year?
THE COACH: Well, I think it’s such a great rivalry, because you’re looking at, you know, two teams, two fan bases, universities, and really football programs that expect to win championships. So that makes it an awful big game, because you’re looking at two teams right now that, you know, usually you have to beat the other one if you want to get there and to do that.
But the rivalry is a fantastic rivalry. It’s one of the most fun games you can be a part of down in Jacksonville. And I do see, you know — I think it’s a very healthy rivalry. And I think a lot of times in college football and college sports sometimes you can get some rivalries that maybe are not as healthy. I mean, they are tough, they’re nasty, it’s a great rivalry, but they can become unhealthy.
One of the great things is that’s a healthy rivalry between the fan bases. Everybody enjoys the game. I think both programs know it’s such a critical game to accomplish the goals you have, which are to win the SEC East.
Q. Coach, you talked about that Gator standard and it’s one where — how much did that standard influence your decision to go there and leave Mississippi State, which was the place where you generally were considered that you exceeded expectation there?
DAN MULLEN: Well, I think it’s huge. You know what I mean? Having the opportunity, having been at the University of Florida before and won championships, multiple championships, there, I know what a special place it could be.
And I think that was a big help for me, walking into a situation where I had familiarity with a lot of things. So I think that was a big help, and it made it a very easy decision for me to make to want to come back and be the head coach at the University of Florida.
It was — it was — I think all the things — the tradition, the university, that Gator standard — made it a very easy decision for me.
Q. You’ve done a great job in developing quarterbacks throughout your career at Mississippi State, and you brought in a signee this year, Emery Jones, but you inherited Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask. After you had a spring to evaluate them physically and with their intangibles, did they surprise you at all? And what kind of progress did they make? And will you change your philosophy at all offensively from what we saw at Mississippi State?
DAN MULLEN: I’ve been pretty pleased with the work they put in and how they handled it. We won’t change our philosophy, we’ll change what we do. One of my first meetings with the quarterbacks, I wanted to sit down, and I told them, I said, you may have watched — if you watched Mississippi State film from last year, that’s not the exact offense we’re going to run. We’re going to put you in position to be successful.
One from the things I wanted to do in spring, I said we’re going to put a lot of different things in, we’re going to throw a lot of different things at you. I want you to go as hard as you can. I don’t care if you’re good at it or not good at it. You do it, and at the end of spring we’ll evaluate what you do well, and moving forward we’re going to go and put you in a position to be successful.
And I think that really changed the mind set of the quarterbacks in the room. Because there’s not a specific way to do it. Every quarterback I’ve had, they are all different shapes and sizes and different talent and skill sets.
To be honest with you, our job as coaches is to put them in position to be successful. If I have a — if I got a square peg in a round hole, okay, I mean, you can sit there and slam all you want; it’s not going to work. What you need to do is go find a square peg, right? Or a round peg in a round hole or square peg in a square hole. It’s not that complicated.
But the person that needs to change is me. And what we’ll do is change offense around the strength of the quarterbacks, and they’ve surprised me. I want to see how they continue to grow and develop through the summer. And as we move and get closer into the season, we’re going to put them in a position to be successful on the field.
Q. Dan, is it easier to recruit to Florida where you have more in-state talent, better talent base, you have a better budget, and you have a more recent tradition of championships. Is it easier because of all of that? And because of all of that, are the goals different for you in Florida?
DAN MULLEN: I think for me, if anybody knows me, my goals have always been the same, which is I want to try to compete for championships, you know, and find a way to win football games.
As it comes to recruiting, I think one of the things you see is the Florida brand is a national brand. The tradition that the program has attracts players to the University of Florida. And we’re in a great location. The state of Florida has a tremendous amount of football talent locally.
If you put a dot in Gainesville, Florida, and you drive a five-hour radius around there, there’s going to be a lot of great football players that can come, stay close to home, get the premier education in the South and have the opportunity for their families to see them play and travel to see them play in person.
And I think there’s a lot to that, and that’s one of the things that makes Florida one of the premier places in America.
Q. Dan, can you — is it a luxury to have a couple fourth-year seniors that you brought here today to come back, and how much do you count on them for leadership?
DAN MULLEN: A lot. I think one of the things you look at — the leadership within the program comes — there’s a new way that we’re doing things, so even the leaders are learning the new ways of doing things.
One of the great things that — and especially the guys that are here today that came with me, the — you know, you have David Reese, you have Martez Ivey and Cece Jefferson, are guys that have played a lot of football at Florida, have been around the program, have seen changes within the program, have a lot of pride in the school, and want to win.
And they’re learning a new system of doing it, but the one thing they have is experience and been on the field and been through a lot. So a lot of other players on the team look up to them. A lot of players in the program look up to them because they’re guys that played out there on the field. They’re guys that have played in SEC Championship games.
So it’s important for me that they understand what our new program is all about, what we need them to do, and them to set that bar and set that standard for the rest of the team.
Q. Dan, while you’re waiting for Van Jefferson to get cleared, what is that waiting game like, and what need does he feel if he is eligible?
DAN MULLEN: Well, I guess you can say — I don’t want to say frustrating, because just having done this a long time within the NCAA and as this goes, you just understand that it’s a process. And as the process plays out, you get a feel, we feel good or bad about one thing or the other, and hopefully we’ll be able to announce something in the near future about what’s going on with the transfers.
But I think they have the opportunity — he would have the opportunity to come in and fill a need as a playmaker with experience in this league. And I think that’s a huge benefit of a guy, when you get in big games, that’s been and played in big games, that’s made big catches in big games, and has experience, and I think that’s a huge plus.
Q. When you think back to your first year at Mississippi State, what were some of the lessons that you learned in that first year that you’re applying now as you take over a new program?
DAN MULLEN: I think one of the things is, in year one, I kind of came in like a bull in a china shop, maybe, and I was somewhat of a control freak or just paranoid in my first year. I had to have my hands on every single detail of every aspect of the program and a lot of times maybe didn’t let people do their jobs to the best of their abilities.
And, you know — so I think one of the biggest things of that is the opportunity that understanding that everybody knows what the expectations are within our program and letting people go out there and do their jobs and, you know, implement our plan of what’s going on and not maybe being such a control freak over every detail.
You know, the other big one is you’re always going to deal with new issues and new things that have come up, but a lot of times it won’t be my first time having to deal with a certain problem or a certain issue. So you become a better decision-maker. The more opportunities you have to make decisions, usually the better decision-maker you become.
Hopefully I’m a better decision-maker today than I was ten years ago.
Q. Martez Ivey is one of the players that came with you as a Gators representative. What are our expectations for him and the offensive line coming into the season?
DAN MULLEN: Well, I think to be successful you got to be pretty solid up front. You’re not going to find a team that’s competing for a championship that does not have a solid offensive line. So I think that’s going to be a huge part of our program, is that line coming together, those guys getting used to playing with each other, the experience they have playing with each other.
And their performance is going to be huge. A guy like Martez has done an amazing job since we’ve gotten there of — look, he’s reshaped his body. When I talked to him, he’s healthy. He feels good about himself and where he’s at. And I’ve seen him work and improve. He might not be the most outspoken, vocal guy in the room, but he’s a guy that — when he made a decision to come back for his senior year, he’s a guy that has come in and bought and done everything we’ve asked him to do from day one.
Q. The last few offseasons this time of year have been a little tumultuous at Florida. There’s been some drama and stuff that obviously you weren’t any part of at Mississippi State, but what’s been the message discipline-wise? How proud are you how the team’s been conducting itself? And how have you kind of set that expectation?
DAN MULLEN: Well, we talked. We talk every day about it. We have a team full of 18- to 22-year-olds, and I think one of the things — I look back to when I was 18 to 22 years old and my decision-making process. And so I try to always put myself in their shoes. And I’m sure I made a mistake or two. There weren’t camera phones. There’s no evidence of that. Thankfully.
But I think when you look at these young men, and they’re coming in from all different backgrounds in a different situation, every day we talk about decision-making, how that decision is going to affect you, how is it going to affect your teammates, how does it affect your family, how does it affect our football program. And if you can learn to make good decisions, you’ll become successful at whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish.
We talk about that constantly. Stick out, look out for each other as a team. That’s a huge thing. If you see somebody not living up to the Gator standard, you see somebody doing something they’re not supposed to do, don’t just stand there and let something bad happen, go out and help fix the situation.
Guys aren’t all — they’re young kids. They are going to make mistakes. Mine is let’s hope we always, anytime if we make a mistake, we learn from it. Or if someone else makes a mistake, we learn from that mistake that we’ve made and we’re making decisions that are helping us achieve our goals, which is becoming a great football player, getting a college degree, okay, having the opportunity to maybe go to the NFL, winning a championship for the University of Florida. Okay?
If you are not making — your actions are not helping us achieve those goals, we need to re-evaluate your actions.
Q. Sorry, follow-up, Nick Savage, who has been so essential to the development of this program thus far, how important is he in that role and having these guys getting in a certain hour and staying on them in?
DAN MULLEN: He’s huge. Because you look, your strength coach is a voice. Every day, in the offseason, they are go in to train right now. They are hearing that voice, and there has to be unbelievable alignment within your organization.
You know, over the summer, he’s really the head coach in a lot of ways. He’s with them every day. He’s the voice they are hearing. He’s giving that same message every day of working. Don’t do things that are going to set you back. Don’t make a decision or put yourself in a position or hurt this team that would set us back from all of the work and the progress that we’ve made.
And so he is — he’s critical in making sure that that message gets across to the team every day, whether it’s me, whether it’s him, whether — really, everybody within the program. Wherever you turn, you’re hearing that message.
Q. Given your experience of working at Florida and having so much success, how shocked were you that they went 4-7? Did you find that you had to rebuild the players’ confidence? And also, second question, you’re obviously a veteran, SEC, but you’re at a new place, there’s six of you guys in the league in new schools. What do you think about that? How do you think the guys will do, and do you have any advice for the first-year guys?
DAN MULLEN: There are some great coaches that have come into this league. And you look at some of the guys that are at new schools, but, you know, they are guys that have pretty really good coaching pedigrees. Most of them have been head coaches at some point in their career before as well. And so, you know, they know what it is to be a head coach, and they know those decisions.
For advice, just get ready, you know, for the Saturdays. There’s nothing like SEC football. You know? The passion. It just means more. It just means more. The passion, everybody involved around the program, you got to be ready for that and embrace it. You, your family, everybody involved in the program, be ready to embrace it.
What was the first part?
THE MODERATOR: Reaction to the Florida finish last year.
DAN MULLEN: Oh, where we finished. The thing to me that’s really interesting with the program that I look at it, it’s not just last year, I look at the last four years. That’s one thing to me that’s really — sticks out with the program.
And the last four years, Florida’s had two four-win seasons and played in two SEC Championship games. That inconsistent — that shows me that individual teams at the university right now are playing at a high level, but the program at itself is not performing consistently at the level it needs to be at.
So, you know, as I look at things and I look at us, I tell the guys on the team, hey, two years ago we played for an SEC Championship. So there has to be talent here. Okay? But the fact that you have a fall-off season is that there’s a lack of consistency in what’s going on within our performance, and that speaks to the program as a whole.
Whether it’s confidence, whether it’s training, whether it’s our actions, whether it’s our discipline, it’s really all of the above, okay, but those things lead to success as a program as a whole.
I don’t want — I want us to have a great team this year. I want us to have a great season. I want us to go compete for a championship with this year’s team. But I also want to build a program that’s going to do that every single year on a consistent basis. And that consistency really defines the program.
And when you’re consistent, you’re going to have an opportunity to go win that championship. Not just compete for it, you’re going to have the opportunity to win that championship. But you have to have consistency within the program to do that.
Q. Two questions. First, I was wondering about the conversation that you had with Tebow when you told him you were going to go back to Florida. And secondly, kind of related to your previous statement just then, is there a burnout factor that’s higher at Florida among coaches?
DAN MULLEN: No, I don’t know first if there’s a burnout factor. I know it’s a high-pressure job. But I love that. You know? I love the expectations. I have — I have extremely high expectations for the program, and that is why I wanted to come back. I embrace all of those expectations.
So, the pressure that come was it, with being at the University of Florida, I know that walking in the door, and that’s the pressure I wanted. So I don’t know if the burnout factor’s a huge deal.
I think the other part with Tim, you know what, it was great to come back. It was really exciting, talking to Tim, talking to Bob and Pam, his parents, you know, they are a Gator family through and through. And so, you know, it was great. I know they know my expectations and standards. But it’s great having him behind you.
I think one of the great things Tim did when he called — I talked to him even before I accepted the job, and, you know. The great thing Tim did, he said, hey, you know what a special place Florida is, but I also know that I care about you and your family, and you need to do what you feel is best for your family, not what anybody else’s opinion is in what you should do. Do what you feel is best for you and your family.
That’s the type of relationship Tim and I have. It goes way beyond football or success or just winning. It’s about, you know, being a part of each other’s lives and succeeding in our lives.
Q. A couple months back you said that when Florida goes to Mississippi State, that might be the biggest game played in the state of Mississippi. Why do you feel that way, and how much are you thinking about that game during the offseason?
DAN MULLEN: Well, I think that probably because I think it’s going to be a pretty big game. You know, I think I’m — I might be the first coach in the SEC that’s coached at one school for as many years as I did, left to another school and had to play on the road at that school the following year.
You know, it’s going to be a tough — look at any coach that’s went from one school to another in the league, it always becomes a big game. I don’t know if anybody’s done it the first year after leaving. That’s going to make it a little bit different.
But I think it’s going to be a great job. I have such a great relationship. The players there, I love all of the players that are there, in getting — into recruiting them, coaching them, being part of the family with all of them.
That part of it with the players will be emotional to me. I love the fan base and how they believed what I tried to help build there and get everybody on the same page. The people at Starkville were great to me and my family, and there are great people that have so many fond memories of it.
So it will be a very different game, maybe, than the rest of them. I don’t know bigger or smaller, but it will be a different game for me than the rest of them.
Q. Following up on the Van Jefferson question, what were your thoughts about the recent changes to the SEC transfer rule? And in the context, some coaches maybe had some concerns about any move closer to free agency. Did you have any concerns like that?
DAN MULLEN: You know, it’s hard. Any time there’s rule change, until it really gets implemented and you get to see how it works, it’s hard to say whether it’s going to be good or bad. You know, I don’t think anybody wants to get into having free agency in college football. You know, but I think we also want to make sure we’re doing the best we can for student-athletes, the best we can for universities and what’s — you know, what’s best.
I think one thing just in society is, one, you have to look at a situation — every situation’s unique. You know, one of the things — I have two young kids at home, and one of the things I don’t want is to ever have them put in a situation where, as soon as something gets hard, I want to transfer, quit, or do something else. I don’t think that’s good parenting. I don’t think that’s good educating young people.
Now, so I don’t want it where it’s just a free agency where any young person in college football can say, boy, this has gotten hard. I don’t like this. I’m just going to quit and move on. I don’t think that’s educating them properly.
Now, I also, though, think we have to make sure we’re doing what’s best for them and giving them opportunities they need to be successful in their lives and what’s best for student-athletes and what’s best for their families and finding that balance within the educational process and using the game of football to help educate them and help them become successful for the rest of their lives.
We’ll see how this new rule pans out. And hopefully as any new rule that the NCAA passes comes, hopefully it’s beneficial for the student-athletes and for the game of football.
Q. You mentioned the fan base at Mississippi State. There’s a lot of animosity for you there. Given all of your time there, how do you feel about that, and do you think there’s anything that could have been done to have changed that?
DAN MULLEN: No. You know, I’ll be honest with you. My family and I, we gave everything we had to Mississippi State for nine years. We had a lot of opportunities to go to other places. And, you know, and we really enjoyed our time there and wanted to stay there.
You know, the opportunity, though, to be the head coach at the University of Florida is one that I was — I couldn’t pass. It’s a dream job for me. Even Megan said it. When we got that phone call, I had gotten a lot of them in the past, but that one was different. And she just looked at my face, and we knew at that moment this one was different for us.
And so I think it had a lot more to do with the University of Florida than it had to do with Mississippi State, and, you know, it was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up and wouldn’t pass up.