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.
Gators QB Feleipe Franks playing for his place in history
Feleipe Franks is playing for history this year in Gainesville, Florida, but more than history, he is playing for a place in the hearts of Florida Gator fans. He might not characterize his journey that way, but viewed from a distance, that is the poignant center of Franks’ story as Florida’s starting quarterback.
Go through the history of Florida quarterbacks since the start of the Steve Spurrier era. The stories of these quarterbacks are very different. There is room for Feleipe Franks to fall between various extremes.
Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow are the ultimate immortals who lifted the Gators to the mountaintop. Rex Grossman deserved the Heisman Trophy in 2001 but didn’t get it. He played well against Tennessee that year, but defensive coordinator Jon Hoke coached poorly, and Alex Brown got owned by the Vols’ offensive line. Nevertheless, Grossman brought the Gators many richly satisfying moments. He isn’t in the Wuerffel-Tebow pantheon, but he was a great UF quarterback.
Shane Matthews has a special place in Gator lore. He is the man who started it all, the first special Spurrier quarterback who gave birth to the golden age of Florida football. College sports fans cherish the young athletes who built a foundation for a treasured part of their lives. Matthews was that foundational figure for Florida football fans, much as the 1994 basketball team showed Gator Nation what was possible in college hoops, catching the attention of a man named Billy Donovan, who would come to Gainesville a few years later.
Wuerffel and Tebow live eternally on Mount Olympus. Grossman and Matthews will always be treasured with great passion as all-time-great Gators.
Then the stories become a lot more complicated.
Terry Dean’s biggest sin was that he wasn’t Shane Matthews or Danny Wuerffel. Sandwiched between the two, it was hard for Steve Spurrier — trying to cement Florida’s powerhouse status in the SEC — to accept Dean’s limitations and push him to become even greater. The Spurrier-Dean relationship was memorably fractured and scarred. Since Spurrier is the most important figure in the history of Florida football, the friction which defined his relationship with Dean inevitably affected the way many (though not all) Gator fans felt about Dean.
If you were to argue that Dean was the most complicated Florida quarterback of the last 30 years, many would agree with you.
If Dean was the most complicated Gator signal-caller of the past 30 years, Doug Johnson would probably rate as No. 2.
Florida did keep winning under Johnson. It beat Florida State and knocked the Seminoles out of the national title hunt in 1997 (“BEHIND THE DEFENSE!”). It won a BCS bowl — the Orange Bowl — in the 1998 season. It won the SEC East in 1999. Yet, after the Wuerffel years, those three seasons felt like a huge letdown… and in truth, they were.
Doug Johnson, who did play with the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL for a brief while, had the physical tools of a top quarterback, but he simply didn’t process the game the way great QBs do. This irritated Spurrier to no end, and it clearly wasted some of Florida’s best defenses, chiefly the 1998 group, which deserved so much better than what it got. Doug Johnson elicited the words “what might have been” in Gainesville, a frustrated litany of almosts and coulda-shoulda-wouldas.
The man who replaced Johnson in 2000 wrote a different story.
Yes, Rex Grossman played for portions of the 2000 season, but after a thoroughly ineffective first quarter in a pivotal SEC game against South Carolina, Spurrier called on Jesse Palmer — who had won in Knoxville against the Vols earlier in the year — to rescue the team. Palmer did just that, throwing for three touchdown passes and leading a 28-0 second-quarter surge which wiped away a 21-3 deficit created by two South Carolina touchdowns off blocked punt returns.
Florida won, 41-21, clinching the SEC East and setting the stage for the program’s first SEC championship since 1996 under Wuerffel.
Palmer did not have a lengthy Florida career, but in his year of truth as a Gator, the future college football commentator (whose greatest contribution to humanity was saving the life of Chris Fowler a few years ago during a Pinstripe Bowl broadcast at Yankee Stadium; Fowler had choked on a dry chicken sandwich, and Palmer successfully Heimliched the piece of poultry out of Fowler’s pipes) brought UF back to its rightful place atop the SEC.
Palmer was not an overwhelmingly great quarterback. He never dominated college football the way Grossman, his successor, did in 2001, but he stepped up when his coaches and teammates needed him most.
When considering where Feleipe Franks fits into the larger story of Florida quarterbacks, he is playing to be remembered in a vein similar to Palmer, and to avoid being remembered as a Johnson-like figure. The Johnson and Palmer comparisons aren’t exact and will never be easy fits with the example of Franks, nearly two decades later, but they represent larger portraits of careers and the paths they follow.
The mention of Doug Johnson’s name elicits a cringe or a wince in Florida football circles. His time under center was painful for Gator fans. Mentioning Palmer within a Florida football context would call forth many happy memories of a redemptive season and a year when Florida restored something which had been missing.
Isn’t this what Franks — under head coach Dan Mullen — is trying to chase down in 2019?
Franks has had his Johnsonian bad boy moments. He has lived through his own periods of considerable friction with the Florida fan base. Yet, at the end of the 2018 season — chiefly in the Peach Bowl win over Michigan — Franks showed that he was capable of evolving, that he could process the game at a higher level, the way Doug Johnson never quite achieved two decades earlier.
If Franks can turn the corner this year and give Florida an SEC East title — which would almost certainly mean a win over Georgia in Jacksonville — the way he has been thought of in Gainesville will give way to a distinctly different identity.
Yes, Feleipe Franks is playing for history, but more than that, he is playing so that he can be remembered in the right way and for the right reasons. It is a personal aspiration, but it is connected to team success.
Another powerful and complicated Florida quarterback story is about to be written in 2019.
We will see how happy the ending turns out to be.
Gators land Georgia transfer Brenton Cox
UF football is finishing up Week 2 of Gator Camp with a new addition to their roster. It was confirmed Friday that former Georgia edge rusher Brenton Cox will playing in Gainesville this fall.
The transfer was confirmed on Twitter by Gator beat reporter, Thomas Goldkamp.
100 percent confirmed, done deal. https://t.co/f9qGB0OEAy
— Thomas Goldkamp (@ThomasGoldkamp) August 9, 2019
Earlier this month, the former 5-star recruit put his name into the NCAA transfer portal, after spending just one season with the Bulldogs. In his freshman season, Cox played in 13 games and ended the season with 20 tackles, two tackles for a loss, a sack, and three pass breakups. He also got the start in the Allstate Sugar Bowl against Texas where he made a career high, six stops.
Sources have informed Swamp247 that Cox visited Florida’s campus on Thursday, and enrolled at UF later that day. He reportedly began practice after officially enrolling. Cox is listed at 6-foot-4, 247-pounds, and will wear No. 6 for the Gators.
Originally from Stockbridge, GA, Cox was listed as a five-star recruit by ESPN.com, No. 11 in ESPN’s top 300, No. 5 DE nationally, No. 3 prospect in Georgia.
But, its not a done deal that he’ll be making an impact for Florida this season. Before he can officially see the field as a Gator, he’ll need to be granted an NCAA waiver, if not he will have to sit out a year at the school of his choice due to NCAA transfer rules. Unless he’s granted the waiver, he will only be able to practice with the team during fall camp and throughout the season.
With all of Florida’s transfers from the program this summer, Cox will bring some much needed support on the defensive side of the ball. After Brian Edwards announced his departure last month, Florida has had nine players now leave their program through transfer or through dismissal for disciplinary reasons this off season. It also means that the Gators currently only have one defensive back on their roster with significant playing time, previously.
Another potential addition to the Florida roster is former LSU cornerback, Kelvin Joseph. The former 4-star 2018 recruit announced his decision to enter the transfer portal last month, and visited UF shortly after.
— Kelvin Joseph || (@bossmanfat1) July 27, 2019
It’s believed that Florida is likely going to be where he lands, but nothing official has been announced so far.
These additions are a bright spot in what has been a disaster of an off-season for Dan Mullen and his staff. This could be the catalyst they need as they enter into the season where they’ll face off against Miami in just over two weeks.