Editor’s note: After finishing the SEC West, our annual Crystal Ball series shifts to the SEC East. Leading off is Florida. Coming Tuesday: Georgia.

I was off by a mile.

Well, define “a mile.” You see, last year, I had Florida projected for a 7-win regular season with an 8-win ceiling. Even at 8 wins, that obviously would have doubled the 2017 total, and all things considered, that would have been a positive sign in Year 1 of the Dan Mullen era in Gainesville.

And then, well, 10 wins happened.

Technically, I was only off by 2 wins because this only accounts for the regular season. We don’t project any conference championship/bowl wins. And in my defense, I did say in last year’s projection that I was “higher on Todd Grantham than you are.” That’s still true. That’s why I like Florida’s defensive outlook for 2019.

But where I was wrong by a mile was Mullen’s ability to maximize Feleipe Franks. I thought Kyle Trask was going to be the guy and that Franks would ultimately find a new home to showcase his rocket arm. What Mullen did building Franks’ confidence back up was huge. And it helps when you have a coach who can scheme receivers open so that those throwing windows aren’t so tight.

That brings us to 2019, where Franks has another year with Mullen. And for me, I have another opportunity to be off by a mile.

2018 record: 10-3 (5-3), T-2nd in SEC East

Dan Mullen’s less-than-stellar offseason

The biggest question I had with Mullen was how he was going to manage egos at a place like Florida, especially if he built the program back up again. It’s a different ballgame than at a place like Mississippi State, where the Bulldogs aren’t dominating national offseason conversation.

And while Mullen’s on-field showing impressed me, that question remains. Why? Look at just some of the things that happened at Florida this offseason:

  • Makes an infamous comment about guys “leaving just after coming in” following Justin Fields’ transfer from Georgia to Ohio State;
  • Top QB recruit Jalon Jones enters transfer portal after sexual assault allegations;
  • Top 2019 signee Chris Steele transfers after a reported dispute with the coaching staff about rooming with Jones;
  • 4-star 2020 QB recruit Carson Beck admits he used Florida to get an offer from Georgia;
  • Had 9 players enter the transfer portal.

Everyone had guys transfer, and sadly, it’s not uncommon that players get arrested in the offseason. But coming off a 10-win season in which Mullen should have been able to build all sorts of momentum, it’s fair to say he didn’t have the offseason he wanted.

How much will that matter once the season rolls around? The transfer stuff could hurt with depth, and the questions about his recruiting are to be determined, but Mullen can still make people forget that he hasn’t exactly aced his first real offseason test at Florida.

Finally for Feleipe

As I mentioned, how refreshing it has to be for Franks to come into a season as a starter. That’s the first time that happened entering his 4th year in Gainesville. And for all the times I have and will continue to criticize Franks, you know what? I give the kid credit.

He’s by no means perfect, but he didn’t run away from a new head coach when he tried to get him to think differently about the position. It worked. Franks had the best statistical season for a Florida quarterback in the post-Tim Tebow era, and he gave Florida fans a reason to think even better days are ahead.

I’m not sure that Franks is ever going to be that accurate. But with all the talent Florida has at the skill positions, Mullen can once again put Franks in favorable spots. He can also trust Franks to recognize when the running lanes are open, which he did a better job of doing down the stretch last year.

I’m looking forward to that version of Franks for an entire season.

Todd Grantham’s return

I applauded when Florida backed up the Brink’s truck to pay Grantham. I banged the drum that he was the type of guy Mullen needed to run that defense last year, and I thought his defense was the difference in wins at Mississippi State and vs. LSU.

Keeping Grantham instead of watching him leave for the NFL was huge. There’s a reason Grantham is one of the highest-paid assistants in college football history. He led Florida to a top 20 defense in his first year, and now, he’s got a lot of talent to work with in Year 2. Jabari Zuniga, David Reese and CJ Henderson give Florida a leader at every level of the defense. You can bet Grantham will appreciate that.

Well, not as much as he appreciates sending everything but the kitchen sink on third down.

Game-by-game predictions

Week 0: vs. Miami (in Orlando) (W)

A rivalry renewed should be all sorts of fun in Orlando. I’m admittedly a touch worried about a young Florida offensive line against a Manny Diaz defense. But do I think that Diaz, in his first game as a head coach, is going to beat a top 10 team? No. I like Mullen’s chances of putting pressure on Miami’s defense, which might not be perfectly in sync from a communication standpoint yet. I don’t think we get a shootout, but I give Florida a good chance of winning by a couple of touchdowns.

Week 1: Bye

Week 2: vs. UT Martin (W)

  • L, 51-14
  • L, 45-23
  • L, 76-3
  • L, 63-28
  • L, 59-14
  • L, 45-16

That’s how UT Martin performed against the SEC in the Playoff era. For all you math majors, that’s 339-98. The Skyhawks were outscored by an average of 40 points per matchup against SEC teams in the Playoff era. Methinks Florida hits the “over” on that.

Week 3: at Kentucky (L)

See, I knew you hated Florida! I don’t. But yeah, I’m calling the upset here. The talk will be about Florida starting a new streak against Kentucky, and Mark Stoops will have his team ready to run through a wall for that one. It’ll be the ultimate “nobody respected us” win for Kentucky, fueled by another big game from Terry Wilson. Florida’s first road test proves to be unsuccessful.

Week 4: vs. Tennessee (W)

For what it’s worth, I don’t think the Vols will look nearly as disastrous as they did last year in this matchup. Jarrett Guarantano will have a better chance of staying on the field, but I still like the odds of Todd Grantham speeding him up as he learns how to function in Jim Chaney’s offense. Lamical Perine and Malik Davis go off to get the bad taste of the Kentucky loss out of Florida’s mouth.

Week 5: vs. Towson (W)

Hmmmmm. Big Emory Jones game? I wouldn’t be surprised. I think Jones will have some meaningful reps this year, regardless of how Franks performs.

Week 6: vs. Auburn (W)

Love, love, love this rare, interesting crossover tilt. This ends up being a huge game for the maturation of Florida’s offensive line. They perform better than expected against that loaded Auburn front and allow Florida’s skill players enough time to make big plays downfield. Auburn’s freshman quarterback struggles with loaded fronts and pressure in what turns out to be one of the better SEC games of the year.

Week 7: at LSU (L)

Revenge game? Uh, yeah. I expect to hear plenty of that heading into this one. What’s the difference with both quarterbacks returning? LSU’s new-look RPO offense and improved play at the tackle positions. That allows Joe Burrow to wear down Florida with his running ability, which he didn’t get to do in last year’s matchup. The Tigers get their revenge and put a dagger to the SEC title hopes of Florida.

Week 8: at South Carolina (W)

This has all the makings of an upset for South Carolina. Florida is coming off a hard-fought loss to LSU and it has the bye week to look forward to before the Georgia showdown. But the Gators’ ability to run the ball prevails late in Columbia. Will Muschamp can’t find a way to get his defense off the field in the fifth game of a brutal 5-game stretch for South Carolina.

Week 9: Bye

Week 10: vs. Georgia (in Jacksonville) (L)

Yes, I thought last year’s game was closer than the score indicated. Yes, I still think Georgia is the better, more consistent team. After seeing how well Jake Fromm reacted to what Grantham threw at him last year, I’d be surprised if he and the Georgia offense struggled against the Gators this year. But I think James Coley tries to take advantage of Georgia’s dominant offensive line and decides to let the ground game do the work, which fuels the Dawgs to another Cocktail Party victory.

Week 11: vs. Vanderbilt (W)

Ke’Shawn Vaughn said that Vandy “let Florida slide” after last year’s blown lead in Nashville. He’s not wrong. Had he stayed on the field, that could have been a different story. But it wasn’t. In Gainesville, I expect Franks to carve up a Vandy defense that’s loaded with questions. Vandy won’t be in position to blow a lead this year.

Week 12: at Mizzou (W)

The Tigers outscored Florida by 50 points the past 2 years. So what suggests that this time will be any different? As of right now, Mizzou is still facing a postseason ban. I question how teams with that lingering perform in November. I’m not saying that Mizzou will be a mess if the bowl ban remains, but it’s worth monitoring. I think a Florida secondary that got exposed on the back end against Drew Lock will have a more successful time against Kelly Bryant.

Week 13: Bye

Week 14: vs. Florida State (W)

Will Florida State #DoSomething better than last year when Florida rolled into Tallahassee and lit up the scoreboard? Maybe. But as we sit here today I can’t think of FSU flipping the switch that quickly. That’s what it’ll take to bridge the significant gap between the two Sunshine State programs right now.

2019 projection: 9-3 (5-3, 2nd in SEC East)


Exactly the same as last year? Really? I realize that’ll upset some people.

But you know what hasn’t happened at Florida since Urban Meyer left? Consecutive 10-win seasons. That’s very much on the table with this forecast.

I think Mullen is faced with the tough task of trying to keep all of his talented receivers happy, which won’t be easy. I don’t think managing Emory Jones and his workload will be easy, either. And if we’re being honest, I have some concerns that Florida won’t be as good at the line of scrimmage as it was last year.

What do I like? I like the odds of Franks being more of a weapon in big games than he was last year. I like that the Gators are oozing talent at running back and receiver. And as I said before, I still like Grantham to confuse a couple of SEC offenses enough to make the difference in winning a low-scoring game.

And hey, if nothing else, I can admit this. I like Florida much better than I did at this time last year.