In the 100 days leading up to the kickoff of the college football season on Saturday, Aug. 25, HERO Sports is ranking the top 100 teams in the FBS. Each day, starting May 17 and ending Aug. 24, a new team is revealed in the HERO Sports Top 100.
No. 27 Florida
For the first time since Steve Spurrier took the field in 1990, Florida enters a season with a first-year head coach who was most recently a Power Five head coach. Spurrier won seven SEC East titles, six SEC titles, one national title, and lost only 27 games in 12 seasons.
Spurrier won nine games in 1990. Can Dan Mullen match that?
2017 Record: 4-7 (3-5, SEC)
Florida won at least five games every season from 1978-2012. They won four games in both 2013 and 2017.
Their five-win decline from 2016 matched 1961 and 2010 for the largest single-season win declines in program history. While they would've won five games if not for cancellation of the Northern Colorado game, that's not the point.
Head Coach: Dan Mullen (1st Year)
Dan Mullen was lured away from Mississippi State with a contract that pays him $6.1 million annually, roughly $1.6 million more than the annual value of Jim McElwain's Florida deal.
"I also wanted Florida football to be fun again," athletics director Scott Stricklin said in his statement announcing Mullen's hire. "Fun for our fans, student-athletes, staff and this University."
Sure, it'd be fun to score more points and beat some good teams, but, ultimately fun means one thing: SEC Championship and the College Football Playoff.
WR Brandon Powell, WR Antonio Callaway, DT Taven Bryan, CB Duke Dawson, CB Justin Watkins, S Marcell Harris, K Eddy Pineiro, P Johnny Townsend
Five selections in the 2018 NFL Draft gives Florida at least four draft picks in each of the last six years. (One of those five picks, receiver Antonio Callaway, didn't play in 2017).
The defense was hit the hardest, losing two key players from last year's secondary in Duke Dawson and Justin Watkins and one from their future secondary in Watkins. The freshman corner, a four-star recruit in the 2018 class, enrolled early but left the team after being arrested twice in three months.
They also lost two of the best specialists in program history in kicker Eddy Pineiro (38-for-45 on field goals in his career) and Johnny Townsend (47.7 average in his last two years).
Returning Offensive Players
QB Feleipe Franks, QB Kyle Trask, RB Jordan Scarlett, RB Lamical Perine, WR Tyrie Cleveland, OT Martez Ivy
The offensive numbers have been trash for most of the last decade. Last season, Florida ranked 90th or worst nationally in points per play, yards per play, third-down conversions, sack rate (almost 11 percent!!!) and yards per pass completion.
Mullen brought co-coordinators Billy Gonzales and John Hevsey with him from Mississippi State, where the pair spent a combined 14 seasons. They will run a relatively simple spread offense — though they do experiment with options and unconventional formations and motions — that relies on a power-running game.
It's a system that Jordan Scarlett (suspended last year for his role in the credit card scandal) should thrive in:
“He knows the pass game, he knows the run game,” senior left tackle Martez Ivey said of the 5-foot-10, 213-pound Scarlett. “And he’s been around. He’s experienced. That’s a big boost for us in the offense.”
Who's the quarterback?
Sophomores Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask battled in spring ball and will continue to do so in the fall. Trask is the better passer, played better in the spring game and could fit well in the new offense. Mullen has said they'll continue tailoring the offense to each player's skill set.
“If I have a — if I got a square peg in a round hole, okay, I mean, you can sit there and slam all you want; it's not going to work," Mullen said. "What you need to do is go find a square peg, right? Or a round peg in a round hole or square peg in a square hole.
The winner gets a receiver group loaded with talent, though most of them have battled inconsistency and injuries throughout their careers. Tyrie Cleveland has home-run potential, averaging nearly 19 yards per catch last year.
With the offensive line, it's same story: One — maybe two — good pieces surrounded by a lot of underachieving players or those who don't look comfortable in the blocking schemes. Senior left tackle Martez Ivy is the headliner.
Returning Defensive Players
DE Cece Jefferson, DE Jabari Zuniga, DT Tedarrell Slaton, DT Khairi Clark, LB David Reese, NB Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, CB Marco Wilson, CB CJ Henderson, S Jeawon Taylor, S Brad Stewart
Mullen also brought Todd Grantham and the revered coordinator's one-gap 3-4 system from Mississippi State. And he has the personnel to make immediate improvements to a unit that was unusually average last year.
Cece Jefferson will occupy the "rush" end position, though he had shoulder surgery in April and could be out until September. When healthy, Jefferson — the best No. 96 in the FBS — the 6-foot-1, 242-pounder is a versatile disruptor, recording 15 tackles for loss and five sacks the last two seasons. An undersized end who's played his entire career in a three-point stance, he should fit perfectly in a system that moves him around the field.
"He’ll be multiple in our defense meaning he’ll play outside linebacker and defensive end," Grantham said of Jefferson. "At the end of the day, he’s an edge rusher is what he is. And to me, it’s just about developing him and continue to develop his habits and his traits and his fundamental skill set and allow him to be productive and successful."
Behind him is a linebacker group that has high-end talent and productivity in David Reese — the best No. 33 in the FBS — but a lot of unproven players stepping into big roles. Reese accounted for nearly half of the unit's total tackles last year.
Corner Marco Wilson leads a secondary that won't start a single senior this season. The 6-foot, 177-pound Wilson became the fourth true freshman to start at corner in Week 1 in program history. He led the team in pass breakups (10) and added 34 tackles.
"Honestly, I wasn’t impressed with my freshman season,” Wilson said. “I know I got a lot more to do. I don’t even, like, pay attention to what everybody says. Like I’m good, this, nah. I know I got a lot more to go and a lot of work to do because I want to be the best. I want to be known as the best and I want to end up going onto the next level, and when I get to the next level, I want to be the best there too.”
RB Dameon Pierce, RB Iverson Clement, DE Zachary Carter, DE Adam Shuler, CB Trey Dean, S Amari Burney
Florida has plenty of returning talent at running back, so there isn't much room for new faces. Two incoming four-star players, Dameon Pierce and Iverson Clement, however, could break the rotation immediately.
Elsewhere, redshirt freshmen Zachary Carter and Miami (FL) transfer Adam Shuler add depth to the defensive line, and true freshmen Trey Dean and Amari Burney will have roles in the secondary.
"There’s obviously a lot of potential and flexibility that he has,” Mullen said of Burney, a top-200 player from Clearwater, Fla. “Obviously his development, physical development and size and where he gets to will kind of determine where he ends up, but I think his athleticism gives him the flexibility to play three, four different positions on the defense.”
Florida's schedule is laced with oddities. They play two FCS teams (Idaho was scheduled before the Vandals dropped down), have only four true road games, and don't play a road SEC game after an Oct. 13 trip to Vandy.
|Saturday, Sept. 1||vs. Charleston Southern|
|Saturday, Sept. 8||vs. Kentucky|
|Saturday, Sept. 15||vs. Colorado State|
|Saturday, Sept. 22||at Tennessee|
|Saturday, Sept. 29||at Mississippi State|
|Saturday, Oct. 6||vs. LSU|
|Saturday, Oct. 13||at Vanderbilt|
|Saturday, Oct. 27||vs. Georgia|
|Saturday, Nov. 3||vs. Missouri|
|Saturday, Nov. 10||vs. South Carolina|
|Saturday, Nov. 17||vs. Idaho|
|Saturday, Nov. 24||at Florida State|