I think Bill Connelly’s preseason preview of the Gators is spot on, but that’s probably because it neatly fits in with my preseason expectations (duh).
First, from a historical preference, Mullen is a step up from Jeremy Foley’s last two choices.
Muschamp and McElwain had solid résumés. But neither had been a P5 head coach before.
Mullen has nine years of not only P5 head coaching experience, but SEC head coaching experience.
And he led historical overachievement at Mississippi State. In the 50 years before his arrival, MSU’s average percentile rating was 57 percent. In his nine seasons, it was 75.4 percent. His Bulldogs finished ranked in the AP top 20 three times and won six bowls. He raised the bar significantly in Starkville.
Any further context you want to add is even friendlier. You know, like how how Florida’s offense had an average Off. S&P+ ranking of fifth during his last three years as OC in Gainesville (2006-08) and has had an average ranking of 65.4 since.
On paper, this is very likely to be at least a good hire for Florida. I would be floored if the Gators weren’t at least top-15 good soon. (They’ve only hit that mark twice in the last seven years.) On the field, this was a nearly risk-free hire.
That has to be tempered by the program’s less than auspicious start under Mullen’s watch.
So why isn’t there more energy emanating from Gainesville? This hire got a good grade from everyone who grades such things, but “Florida’s going to be back soon!” buzz — like what we saw from Scott Frost’s Nebraska hire — has been minimal.
Recent headlines haven’t helped. Something in the neighborhood of seven Gators were allegedly involved in a confrontation involving gamblers and BB guns (and a frying pan). This came after a few key players were suspended or booted for “misusing school-issued funds” last fall. It’s a lot harder to get your program to achieve when your two-deep is randomly Thanos-ing itself.
Meanwhile, though July recruiting rankings are as conversational as they are consequential, Mullen hasn’t done himself any favors there either.
Then there’s the product on the field. Florida didn’t bottom out in exactly the same way that Tennessee did last season — while UT’s Butch Jones was very much fired for on-field performance, McElwain’s dismissal was blurrier, and the Gators were decent for half the season. Still, as with Jeremy Pruitt at UT, Mullen is facing a Year Zero season while figuring out what kind of building job he’s got.
Florida’s got plenty of individual talent, even if this latest stupid scandal continues. It’s hard to set 2018 expectations until we know the timeline for the rebuild…
There’s always one team every year in the SEC that I have a hard time getting a handle on before the season’s start and I’m starting to think this year that team is Florida. Read Bill’s complete post and you’ll get where I’m coming from on that.
He’s projecting the Gators to go 8-4, with three tight games (LSU, Missouri and South Carolina). That looks about right to me, but I’m not sure how meaningful a range of 6-6 to 9-3 really is, other than any of it is better than 4-7.