Gators make strides in 2018

Florida exceeded expectations and went back to meeting the “Gator Standard”.

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Gators make strides in 2018

New coach Dan Mullen was instrumental in the improvement of the 2018 Gators.

New coach Dan Mullen was instrumental in the improvement of the 2018 Gators.

New coach Dan Mullen was instrumental in the improvement of the 2018 Gators.

New coach Dan Mullen was instrumental in the improvement of the 2018 Gators.

Bennett Carollo, Staff Writer

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Heading into the 2018 college football season, there was lots of uncertainty surrounding the Florida Gators and very little optimism. The Gators were coming off a lackluster 4-7 2017 season that saw former head coach Jim McElwain fired midseason. The 2017 Gators also failed to make a bowl game and suffered sound defats to both of the school’s biggest rivals, Florida State and Georgia. Although it would’ve been hard to do any worse than that, the common belief was that the 2018 Gators would be a fairly mediocre team. Many fans were also critical of the team’s choice for the new head coach, former Florida offensive coordinator and Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen. The hire of Mullen was accused of being a last resort for UF and a desperate attempt at recapturing the glory days of the 2006 and 2008 National Championships, when Mullen was on board as an offensive coach. However, it’s safe to say that Mullen exceeded all expectations.

Early on, Gators doubters were seemingly being proven right. Florida lost their first SEC matchup of the year, 27-16 to Kentucky at home. Kentucky is a team that Gators fans historically expect the team to defeat each and every year, as even the 2017 team had defeated the Wildcats. The Feliepe Franks led-offense had also looked to be just as subpar as it had been under McElwain. However, this Kentucky loss would look better and better as the season wore on and the Wildcats now sit at #14 in the CFP top 25. The Gators, too, would look better in the following weeks, as they rattled off five wins in a row, including an impressive 27-19 triumph over highly ranked LSU. Nonetheless, the Gators would see this win streak snapped and their SEC Championship and College Football Playoff hopes dashed all in one fell swoop with a humbling 36-17 loss to Georgia. Florida suffered another blow with a 38-17 blowout loss to Missouri in the very next week. The Gators then won their final three regular season games to finish at a respectable 9-3. Florida also got revenge from recent years by torching Florida State 41-14 in Tallahassee.

I’ll be the first to admit that the loss to Georgia was a tough one to swallow, but it was likely too much to ask for the Gators to be championship contenders in their first year under Mullen. Florida fans should still be encouraged by the strides taken by the team with a first-year head coach. The team still has a question mark at the most important position with Franks set to return at quarterback, unless he can be unseated by a newcomer. Even if he isn’t replaced, Franks will likely continue to improve and become more consistent and Florida will still have their strong defense. The team still has one more game to play this season, a Peach Bowl matchup with #7 ranked Michigan. No matter the result of this game, the 2018 season should be viewed as a success for everyone involved. Mullen has players and fans alike brimming with renewed motivation and optimism, and there’s a lot to look forward to next season with the Florida Gators.

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Gators make strides in 2018