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Gators open Dan Mullen era at Swamp Saturday night

Josh Ciganek

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Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Finally, the time has come for the return of college football at the University of Florida and the Gators have many expectations for this upcoming season. As everyone knows, Dan Mullen has returned to the Gators as the new head coach after finding great success in his tenure at Mississippi State. Florida plays host to Charleston Southern Saturday night in a game that is sure to provide fans with a bit more hope for the rest of the season.

Before the Buccaneers enter Ben Hill Griffin stadium, there are a few things that many fans should keep their eye on Saturday.

Feleipe, Feleipe, Feleipe

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Feleipe Franks comes into Saturday night’s game with a target on his back. Franks earned the starting job this offseason after making quite the impression on Mullen with ”his ability to extend plays and his athleticism,” plenty of which was seen in the Orange and Blue Spring Game. After splitting time with Luke Del Rio and Malik Zaire in 2017, Franks takes over as the main starter in this new look Gators offense.

He has competition in redshirt sophomore Kyle Trask and highly-touted incoming freshman Emory Jones, two players that could potentially earn playing time this weekend. Learning from Coach Mullen, who produced Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and Dak Prescott at Mississippi State, this could be a more improved Feleipe Franks than fans have seen before. Expect Franks to lead this Gators offense in more ways than one this season.

Familiar Faces All Around

The Gators are returning 20 of their starters from last season with 10 on offense and 9 on defense. Of those returning, the most notable name that will be taking the field for Florida is unior running back Jordan Scarlett. The last time Gator fans saw Scarlett on in action, he ran for 889 yards and six touchdowns in 2016 as a true freshman. Martez Ivey returns for his senior year as he leads the offensive line into action and was voted to the preseason All-SEC first team list. In addition, junior wide receivers Freddie Swain and Tyrie Cleveland will be key weapons for Franks downfield. The addition of Ole Miss transfer Van Jefferson will add to the outside threat in the Gators’ offense.

The defense has multiple notable names returning this season. Sophomore cornerbacks CJ Henderson and Marco Wilson lead the secondary into the 2018 season. As freshmen, Henderson led the Gators with four interceptions (two of which were returned for touchdowns) and Wilson led all corners with 10 pass breakups. Junior linebacker David Reese returns after a monster sophomore campaign in he led all Gators in tackles in 2017 with 102, one of eight SEC players to log a 100-tackle season. The only other Gator to receive preseason All-SEC first team honors is defensive lineman Cece Jefferson. Jefferson logged 47 total tackles in 2017 while also leading the defense with 4.5 sacks.

With so many starters returning for the 2018 season, watch for there to be strong chemistry on both sides of the ball.

High Standards, High Rewards

Mullen has been very adamant throughout this offseason in rebuilding the Florida Gators into a championship caliber team. He spoke at the SEC Media Days about getting the winning culture back to the University of Florida as well as keeping up with the traditions of the University. As many recall, Mullen was part of the coaching staff during both the 2006 and 2008 National Championship winning teams. Add in the success of Coach Mullen plus returning 20 starters from last year and this Gators team has the ability to give Georgia a run for their money in the SEC East.

While there may be a learning curve throughout the season, the Gators will look to come out of the gate running, both literally and figuratively. As the action gets underway in The Swamp, a new season of Gator football kicks off at 7:30pm.

Josh Ciganek is a young draft pick working his way up the depth chart on the F.F.I. roster, who enjoys watching and writing about all of Florida’s football teams.

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