Judging by the enthusiasm and buzz in Gainesville right now following the hire of Dan Mullen, the Gators appear to be on the right path to building up the football program back into an SEC title contender.

That’s a thought shared by SEC Network host Paul Finebaum coming off Florida’s spring game performance in which over 53,000 Gator fans showed up to over the weekend. During his weekly Monday morning appearance on Birmingham-based WJOX 94.5 FM program The Roundtable, Finebaum offered up these comments on the importance of fan attendance for a coach’s first spring game.

“Well, 11 years ago, Nick Saban said when he had 90 some odd thousand at the first spring game, it set the tone. It was one of the most significant things,” Finebaum said during his appearance. “I think you’ve seen a lot of coaches do that since then. Kirby Smart had the rock concert and the 90,000 at his first one. So I think you do have to set the tone, I think the weather — I don’t know what the weather was in Gainesville Saturday, but that was a good crowd for a spring game.”

While having fans show up for a glorified practice is one thing, how quickly can Mullen turn around a Florida program coming off a four-win season? Finebaum admitted he believes Florida State will have a more immediate rebound under first-year coach Willie Taggart, but he put that more on the fact that the Seminoles play in the ACC and don’t play an SEC schedule.

Although he believes it may take a season or two to get there, Finebaum is pretty clear on the optimism he shares for the future of the Florida program under Mullen.

“I will say, and I speak to a lot of people in Gainesville on a pretty regular basis, the spirit is back,” Finebaum continued. “There is an enthusiasm there has not been felt probably since two years before Urban Meyer left, which leaves no doubt that this program is going to be a factor. Maybe not this year, but it’s about to become a major factor in the SEC East.”