Fall Sports

Gators Primed for a Playoff Run

Photo by John Korduner / Getty Images

In two years as Florida’s head coach, Dan Mullen has a 21-5 record. The Gators’ improvement from ten wins last year, to eleven this season is modest only in number. That one win difference is actually a monumental feat. The step from ten wins to eleven is one that takes discipline and sacrifice. Something that has been missing from the Gators’ football program over the past decade.

The fact that Florida managed to improve their win total and repeat as New Year’s Six bowl champions, is an accomplishment that is made all the more impressive when accounting for the level of adversity and the strength of competition that they faced this season. The Gators battled injury nearly every week. The injury bug affected everyone from star defensive players like Jonathan Greenard, Jabari Zuniga, or CJ Henderson, to the Gators’ starting quarterback, Feleipe Franks.

It isn’t often that a team can sustain such injuries and still weather the neverending onslaught of power that is the SEC schedule. Florida defeated Auburn with a quarterback that — prior to this season — hadn’t started a game since he was a freshman in high school. They went toe-to-toe with one of the most prolific offenses of our time, while missing key defenders from the starting lineup… on the road and at night. To say that Dan Mullen is doing something special at the University of Florida would be an understatement.

With the way things have gone since Mullen arrived in Gainesville, it stands to reason that the next logical progression is a twelve or thirteen-win season and a playoff berth. Now, Florida is losing a good deal of talent either to graduation or to the NFL this season, but there is reason to be optimistic about the Gators 2020 football season.

One of the nation’s best receiving corps isn’t going to see as significant of a drop as one might think. With so many talented receivers and a quarterback that is particularly adept at spreading the ball around, the Gators didn’t have one or two superstars. Instead, they had players that placed team before self and took advantage of what the defense gave them every Saturday.

Florida returns Trevon Grimes, Jacob Copeland, Kadarius Toney, Kyle Pitts, Keon Zipperer, and they are bringing in a handful of very talented receivers in this year’s signing class. The tandem of Grimes and Pitts will likely be the leaders of the pack here.

Grimes improved on his year one production this past season, totaling 491 yards and three touchdowns on 33 receptions. His large frame and sure hands will be a sure weapon for the Gators next year.

Pitts was a matchup nightmare, having tight end size with the speed of a wide receiver. As a sophomore, Pitts was one of the Gators’ leading receivers hauling in five touchdowns and 649 yards on 54 receptions. He really improved as a blocker last season and another year in the system will only improve his game.

Toney is unpredictable if nothing else. There’s no denying his playmaking ability but health and a lack of touches have plagued his career. The dynamic speedster has announced his return to continue making Gator Nation stand up and holler as he jukes defenders out of their socks. If he can remain healthy and follow the script, there will be many exciting highlights for the talented athlete.

Jacob Copeland and Keon Zipperer are two guys that can really make a statement next season. With the upperclassmen out of the way, now is the time to shine for this pair. Copeland displayed flashes in limited playing time last season and has really worked to improve his understanding of the playbook as well as his route-running. Zipperer flew mostly under the radar but had a year to develop under tight ends coach Larry Scott. With his size and talent, Zipperer could be a perfect complement to Kyle Pitts.

The biggest question mark last season was the offensive line. Through recruiting and transfers, Mullen has done a fine job of creating depth. Although they were extremely inconsistent in run blocking a year ago, this unit appeared to gel as the season came to an end. With a few weeks off to prepare, they opened up holes for Lamical Perine to gash the Virginia defense on the way to 138 rushing yards on just thirteen carries. If this is a sign of things to come, Florida’s offense will be deadly next season.

On the defensive side, Florida received some good news when Marco Wilson announced that he would return for his senior campaign. His return means the Gators will have some meaningful experience at cornerback. Brad Stewart, Donovan Stiner will also contribute to the school’s DBU moniker.

The rest of the secondary is chock full of talent, as Kaiir Elam, Trey Dean III, and Amari Burney, will be a big part of the rotation. Jaydon Hill and Chester Kimbrough will add talent, youth, and depth to the unit, as well.

The defensive line does lose a great deal of production but Zach Carter began to turn it on toward the end of the season and if he can continue to play at that level, he could be the next in a long line of great Gators’ defensive linemen. Brenton Cox will likely provide pressure from the opposite end. Cox was once a five-star commitment for Georgia before transferring to UF last year. He will be eligible to play next season.

Florida returns with a great deal of talent and extraordinary promise. If Dan Mullen can get them to push themselves just a little bit harder this offseason than they did last year, the schedule, the talent, the work ethic, and the coaching set up quite nicely for the next step forward for a Gators’ football program that is on the rise. The Gator Standard is returning and the rest of the nation has been put on notice.

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