Dan Mullen can add the ultimate Year 1 feather in his visor on Saturday against Georgia
It came off as coach speak, but there was something to the way that Dan Mullen addressed this weekend’s showdown against Georgia that stood out.
Mullen said that “most people consider UGA one of the two best teams in the country” and that “he can see why.”
There was something else that was noteworthy from Mullen. He made it a point to say that if he was told at the beginning of the year that Florida would be 6-1 heading into the Georgia game, “he’d take it.”
Neither remark was surprising to hear from Mullen, but both carried a lot of weight. Think about a world in which Florida maintained control of its own SEC East/Playoff destiny by beating a Georgia team that “most people consider to be one of the best two teams in the country.”
Now think about how fat of a victory cigar Mullen would smoke after doing that.
Could you blame him? His team would have its second win vs. a top-10 team — third against a ranked foe — and it would likely be ranked in the top 6-7 in November while being in good shape to win the East title (it would still take Georgia to beat Kentucky next week). That’s not bad for a team that looked like it was left for dead after this game a year ago.
People forget that this was Jim McElwain’s last game at Florida. They don’t actually forget that, but based on the year that Mullen is having in his return to Gainesville, I wouldn’t blame them if they did.
Before you accuse me of getting ahead of myself, that’s not my way of saying I expect Mullen to be puffing a fat victory cigar Saturday night, but it’s worth discussing the position he could put himself in. A month ago, I was harping on the fact that Florida was still riding a streak of 7 consecutive Power 5 losses coming off the embarrassing defeat against Kentucky.
Goodness, things have changed in a hurry.
That’s a credit to Mullen, who didn’t panic when it felt like the same old Florida (and not in a good way). Throw out all the “trust the process” clichés you want, but look at what he’s done since the Kentucky debacle:
- Dominate a road rivalry game at Tennessee
- Upset his old team at ranked Mississippi State
- Hand top-4 LSU its only loss
- Pull off the program’s biggest road comeback ever
Amazingly enough, I think a win Saturday against Georgia would trump all of that for Mullen. That’s why he was hired — to narrow the massive gap between Florida and Georgia.
Remember when Mullen came out firing shots at the Dawgs after National Signing Day back in February?
“Listen, winning one SEC Championship Game doesn’t make you a dominant program, you know what I’m saying?” Mullen said with a laugh via 247sports. “In two of the last three years, we’ve been to the SEC Championship Game. So even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while.”
Think about how wide the gap was when Mullen made what at the time felt like an insane comment. Florida was coming off a 4-7 season having lost to Georgia 42-7. Meanwhile, defending SEC champ Georgia was a play from winning a national title. Oh, and Kirby Smart just signed one of the highest-rated classes in the recruiting rankings era and looked capable of threatening Alabama as the premier program in college football (that’s still on the table).
Mullen basically threw a rock up at Georgia’s 50th floor penthouse. Now, Mullen is knocking on Georgia’s door, hoping his team can partake in a hostile takeover.
That’s really what’s at stake here. Who could have predicted that in Year 1 of this thing? Regardless of what happens Saturday, it’s incredible that we’re even having this conversation.
And honestly, even if Mullen can’t knock off Georgia in his first try, I think he’d take 6-2 heading into a favorable home stretch of the season. His team will still have a good chance to win 10 regular season games with matchups against 3 Power 5 foes that are a combined 3-9 in conference play and also Idaho.
Mullen should be feeling good right now. He inherited the house that you’re embarrassed to host people at because it’s so messy. Now Florida has one of the nicest houses on the block.
If Mullen has it his way, the Gators will get that 50th floor penthouse Saturday.