The Florida Gators under Dan Mullen have become a better version of Michigan. One can say this based on the Gators’ authoritative Peach Bowl win last year, but in fairness to the Wolverines, some of their elite defensive players skipped the bowl to prepare for the NFL Combine or Draft.
When I say that Florida – an easy winner over Florida State 40-17 on Saturday night in The Swamp – is a “better Michigan,” I am not talking about the Peach Bowl last season. I am referring to a bigger picture.
Yes, Florida State is the end-of-season rivalry game for Florida. The Gators have their Thanksgiving weekend rivalry opponent figured out, unlike Michigan. You might be wondering where the comparison lies.
It’s actually a simpler connection than you might think.
Michigan cannot solve the chief rival in its own conference and division. The same is true of Florida. Like Michigan and Jim Harbaugh, Florida and Mullen cannot get past the brick wall known as the Georgia Bulldogs.
Ohio State keeps winning the Big Ten East at Michigan’s expense. The Buckeyes keep locking the Wolverines out of Indianapolis.
Georgia keeps winning the SEC East at Florida’s expense. The Dawgs keep locking the Gators out of Atlanta.
In both cases, one side has the plainly better players. The margin of victory has been substantial the past few years. The real story is not so much the failures of the loser, but how well the winner has built a program and created a high floor.
Ohio State is enjoying a supremely prosperous period in its history, a period on par with Woody Hayes’ great teams in the late 1960s and early 1970s Jim Harbaugh hasn’t done as well as he possibly could at Michigan – we can criticize him for that – but Harbaugh hasn’t exactly been awful, either. He has been a 9- or 10-win coach… which is not much worse than Bo Schembechler.
Michigan shouldn’t be going 0-3 against Penn State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State. That is true. However, Michigan is not Texas, going 7-5. Michigan is not USC at 8-4. Michigan is not Nebraska, failing to make a bowl. Michigan is not the Florida State program which is a total mess right now.
Michigan could be so much worse.
As we consider Dan Mullen and Florida, then, the Gators are a better Michigan. They do lose to Georgia. They do fail to win their division. They do fail to play for conference championships… but whereas Michigan will not make a New Year’s Six bowl this season, Florida will. Whereas Michigan failed to win 10 games in the regular season, Florida succeeded in reaching that mark.
The Gators did this largely without Feleipe Franks. They did this without Jon Greenard and Jabari Zuniga for a significant chunk of the season.
Dan Mullen coached his butt off… and yet, because Georgia is clearly better than Florida, it is easy to think the Gators are falling short.
It is no secret that Florida fans – given their first taste of sustained success by Steve Spurrier, and then a second golden era created by Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow – love winning in STYLE. The style points matter to Gator fans.
The Mullen-era teams aren’t amazingly stylish. They certainly look bad against Georgia’s defense. This isn’t the gleaming, glowing, glorious period of conquest and domination the Spurrier or Meyer years were.
Yet, when you look at Florida State – and also at a Miami team which just lost to Florida International and Duke to close its season – the Gators don’t look that bad after all. FSU and The U are 6-6 and going to Shreveport or another off-the-radar bowl location. Florida will play in a Cadillac bowl, and elite bowl, a bowl the Gators expect to play in.
Yes, Georgia is still better, just as Ohio State is relative to Michigan. Yes, division and conference titles need to be won sooner rather than later. Yet, all things considered, Florida has done well with what it has. The key is to create something better and larger, but in 2019, Dan Mullen did not fail.
He is doing a better job than Jim Harbaugh, for sure.
Gators face annual challenge of who’s leaving?
The Gators end to the season was just as predicted, and now, so too is the leaving of significant players for the NFL, etc.
Florida ended up getting the Virginia Cavaliers in the Orange Bowl and the second-best team in the weakest conference in Power 5 football was no match for the strong talented Gators.
Just before the conference championship games, it was predicted almost everywehre that Virginia would get trounced by the Clemson Tigers, but still be the most likely candidate to face the Gators in a “New Year’s Six Bowl”.
Once the game was confirmed and the lines came out, the Gators were listed as massive 16 point favorites at the best Sportsbooks around the nation.
And, when it came time to tee it up? Florida delivered a win.
— Orange Bowl (@OrangeBowl) January 9, 2020
The final score was 36-28, as Virginia hung tough by scoring 14 in the 4th quarter and got the backdoor cover on the point spread. Still, the Gators finished sandwiched between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Oregon Ducks at No.6 in the AP Top 25. But, will the Gators still be as good next season?
Will they be better? And who might they be missing?
That brings us to a few key players that have declared for the 2020 NFL Draft. Let’s start by taking a look at them.
It seems that as receivers get bigger, corners have been getting smaller. So, C.J. Henderson (above) at 6’1” and 191 pounds is almost an oddity nowadays. He is long, athletic and extremely fast. In short, he was one of the best corners in college football. He’s declared for the 2020 draft and could go in the first round.
But with so much talent at QB, we could see Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, and Tua Tagavoilva all go in the Top-10. Then, when you factor in team needs and a few other great corners from Alabama, LSU, and Clemson in Treveon Diggs, Kristian Fulton, and A.J. Terrell, Henderson could fall into the second round. And, it could end up being a steal for some lucky team if that happened.
That said, the Broncos, Seahawks, Vikings, 49ers, and Dolphins all need help at corner. And the Seahawks would be a great landing spot, as they may favor him over some of the other top contenders for his excellent ability in man coverage. That is, if they don’t fill another position need such as DE or OLB – which would make sense as well since they had the leagues lowest number of sacks during the regular season.
Seniors who will go on are Van Jefferson, Josh Grimes, Freddie Swain, and Tyrie Cleveland. And the Gators will lose some talent in their TE depth with Lucas Krull hitting the bricks. He was usurped by Kyle Pitts but still caught nine balls for nearly 110 yards.
It isn’t a huge loss, as Pitts is one of the best TE in the SEC. But not having that extra option with experience at TE will hurt a bit. A handful of QBs will also be leaving. For starters Nick Sproles, a walk-on back-up out of Winter Park has been sitting behind both Franks and Trask. So, he elected to hit the transfer portal and take off.
QB Feleipe Franks will also step through the transfer portal to another school. His horrible ankle injury opened the door for Kyle Trask to take over. Now, we very well could see Franks move over to Kansas, as he had originally committed to former LSU coach, Les Miles, who’s now there.
Although Trask is on the rise, this does hurt the depth chart. Emory Jones is reliable, but he’s no Franks … at least not yet.
On top of this, Chris Bleich and Umstead Sanders both hit the transfer list. But, the Gators actually are not hurt by this, as they picked up Brenton Cox at OLB which is probably a big part of why Umstead elected to transfer.
Cox has solid experience at Georgia and will likely earn a starting spot with the Gators. He tallied 20 tackles, a sack, a pair for loss, and six tackles in the Sugar Bowl alone! Then, he also racked up three pass deflections on top of all that.
The Gators lost a lot of depth at receiver, but they pick up one with Jordan Pouncy. He’s big at 6’2” and 205 and has decent speed.
All in all, the Gators won’t be too much worse for the wear. And, with the shift in emphasis to the SEC West, they have great shot at winning the East and to play for the SEC title next season.
How legit are Dan Mullen to Cowboys rumors?
The Cowboys finally made the move to fire longtime coach Jason Garrett on Thursday night and there has been great debate about whether Oklahoma college coach Lincoln Riley will be his replacement? Now, comes more speculation that the Cowboys may be going with a college coach, but not Riley. Rather, it’s a name that’s very familiar in our state.
With the understanding that no one has credibly tied Gators coach Dan Mullen to the Cowboys vacancy, as of yet. There are rumors and speculation in the Dallas Market and around Mullen in Gainesville that there is mutual interest in him potentially heading to Big D. And there, he would be reuniting with his star college protege’ from Mississippi State, Dak Prescott.
Prescott took over has the Cowboys starter unexpectedly in his rookie year (2016), when Tony Romo suffered a back injury. And, Prescott has had a very successful four year career in Dallas going 40-24 as a starter in the regular season, and including leading them to the playoffs and a playoff victory a year ago.
However, the Cowboys faltered down the stretch of the season and Prescott has been mostly blame for the offensive struggles. They lost head-to-head with the Eagles in week 16 and ended up finishing 8-8 losing the NFC East leading to Garrett’s dismissal.
Another factor is Prescott is slated to be an unrestricted free agent after only making $2 million this year, and clearly, the Cowboys have to commit to him first before any rumored reuniting with Mullen could take place.
As for Mullen, he clearly has resurrected the Gators program over his two years since coming to Gainesville from Mississippi State. They have won 10 or more games in each of the seasons and won a “New Year’s Six” bowl game over Michigan and Virginia in those two years.
It’s unknown how much Mullen would value heading to the Cowboys vs. staying in Gainesville, but clearly he would make more money coaching for Jerry Jones in the NFL. Perhaps, he’d get as much as double his believed $6 million salary for the Gators.
Mullen and Prescott turned Mississippi State into a national power in 2014. That’s when Prescott broke 12 school records, and finished eighth in the Heisman voting as Mississippi State ascended to the number one ranking in the country in October of that year.
The Bulldogs beat Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl, as Prescott had over 500 yards of total offense in that game. He came back for a senior season in 2015 under Mullen and was first team All-SEC as well as a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award, while accumulating 4,300 yards of offense and 39 combined touchdowns.
By the time Prescott left Starkville he owned 38 school records and was a two-time All-American. Mullen and his staff deserve a good deal of credit for helping him with that.
So, on the surface, it makes sense that the Cowboys might have interest in Mullen, but then again, Jones has been infatuated previously with Bob Stoops at Oklahoma and now with Riley.
And, Riley produced back-to-back Heisman winning number one overall draft picks with Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray the last two years. And, it’s expected that his quarterback from this past season, Jalen Hurts, will also be drafted, if not in the first round, at some point.
Now, we wait to see if the rumors are just that, or if the Prescott-Mullen previous connection gains traction on Mullen heading to the NFL
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