Dan Mullen and Florida are again headed to a New Year’s 6 bowl game after securing the program’s first 10-win regular season since 2015.

This time, Florida upgraded its bowl destination from Peach Bowl to the prestigious Orange Bowl, where they will face No. 24 Virginia out of the ACC. All told, it was a very successful regular season for the Gators, whose only losses were to No. 1 LSU in a tremendous game at night in Death Valley and a nip and tuck 1-touchdown defeat to arch-rival Georgia in Jacksonville.

Mullen has won 20 games in his first 2 seasons in Gainesville, becoming the first Florida coach to post back-to-back 10-win seasons since his mentor, Urban Meyer did it in 2008 and 2009. That’s a terrific foundation for the future, but the question on most Gators fans’ minds is whether Mullen can close the talent gap with Kirby Smart and the Dawgs?

From a pure aggregate talent standpoint, Florida has done that a bit.

Yes, Georgia has pulled in better recruiting classes under Smart the past 2 seasons than Florida under Mullen. But Florida’s overall talent, measured by the number of blue-chip players on the roster, has been upgraded, while Georgia’s blue-chip number has remained relatively static. That’s resulted in a modest closing of the talent gap, but the Gators still haven’t won enough head-to-head recruiting battles against Georgia to close the gap significantly.

Can they in 2020? Perhaps. The recruiting map is favorable to Florida and the Gators appear poised, per the 247Sports’ composite rankings, to pull in Mullen’s 2nd consecutive top 10 class and the closest to Georgia in terms of average recruit ranking in Mullen’s tenure.

That’s also progress, but Florida will need to finish strong on the trail over the next 2 weeks and into January to make that a reality.

Another issue for Mullen will be attrition.

After the Orange Bowl, Florida will also lose a host of players to graduation and the NFL. Among the players lost to graduation are All-American defensive end Jon Greenard, All-SEC defensive end Jabari Zuniga, All-SEC linebacker David Reese II, team captain and running back Lamical Perine and a quartet of electric wide receivers in Van Jefferson, Freddie Swain, Tyrie Cleveland and Joshua Hammond. Injured former starting quarterback Feleipe Franks will go pro or transfer, shrinking Florida’s quarterback room. Finally, Florida will also lose All-SEC junior cornerback CJ Henderson to the NFL Draft, though Mullen said this week that for now, he does not expect additional early NFL departures. Still, that’s a significant and impactful group of veteran players who were central to the quick turnaround orchestrated by Mullen and his staff.

That makes Mullen’s second full recruiting class all the more important, as for the first time in his tenure, Florida is replacing an immense amount of veteran leadership in addition to the departure of high-level, experienced talent.

Given this background, here’s a quick primer with what you need to know about Florida’s 2020 recruiting class (all rankings 24/7 Composite as of December 11, 2019).


National rank: 9th
SEC rank: 6th
5-stars: 0
4-stars: 14
3-stars: 7

Best Player: 4-star DT Gervon Dexter (Lake Wales, Fla.)

Dexter, who should claim a 5th star when the composite is updated again, is one of the nation’s best interior defensive lineman, a splendid combination of power and burst who can rush the passer or provide the gap control and push so essential to dominant run defense. Dexter, who at 6-7 is incredibly tall but still could add weight and muscle, will feature at the Under Armour All-American game on Jan. 2. Long considered a potential flip to Georgia, Dexter shut down his recruitment last week, indicating he would take no additional visits and sign with Florida.

Assessing the QB: 4-star QB Anthony Richardson (Gainesville, Fla.)

Richardson went from lightly-recruited 3-star as a junior to consensus top 300 4-star quarterback by his senior season. At 6-4 and 210 pounds, Richardson has a mature frame and electric speed. He has excellent touch and a fluid arm motion and release throwing the football, though there are questions about the upper end of his arm strength. A member of the prestigious Elite 11 QB group for 2019, Richardson will enroll early and should join the Gators for bowl practices this month.

Biggest need filled: Defensive line

If you watched Florida’s losses this year, what stood out was the way the Gators either lost the battle on the line of scrimmage or lacked the depth to overcome critical injuries to starters. To be sure, any program would miss the likes of Jabari Zuniga and Jon Greenard, who each missed valuable time this season. Zuniga played hurt against LSU and only sparingly (and hurt) against Georgia; Greenard played hurt against UGA and lasted only a down against LSU.

Without those 2 players at full-strength, Florida simply lacked the high-end talent needed to win the biggest games in the SEC.

Florida also lacked elite talent at DT, beyond the excellent Adam Shuler. Kyree Campbell, Luke Ancrum and Teddarell Slaton are serviceable, but none is the type of consistent push the pile guys you need at defensive tackle.

Florida has remedied that problem in a big way with the 2020 recruiting class. Of Florida’s 22 commitments, 5 are defensive linemen, and including Brenton Cox, the 5-star Georgia transfer, the number rises to 6. All 5 defensive linemen are blue chips, and collectively, their composite average is .926, a solid 4-star rating.

Add Cox and that group to last year’s haul which included high 4-star DE Khris Bogle, and suddenly, the Gators are building tremendous depth on the defensive line.

Biggest need left to fill: Wide receiver

Florida has 2 receivers and an athlete capable of playing receiver in the class, but ideally, you’d like to replace as many as you have leaving. The Gators will miss their senior quartet of receivers no matter who they add, but to feel safe, they’d like to add at least 1 more receiver to their 2020 haul.

The good news? The 2 locked in already are high 4-stars in Jaquavion Fraziars (Dunnellon, Fla.) and Fort Lauderdale product Leonard Manuel. Four-star Miami athlete Marc Britt is also a possibility but might play defense. The Gators will also add Texas transfer Jordan Pouncey, who has Gators bloodlines, though he will likely need to sit out a season.

Best Position Group: Defensive line

Impact players everywhere. See above.

Best Player still chasing: 4 -star WR Xzavier Henderson (Miami)

CJ’s little brother, Xzavier Henderson, is the biggest jewel left on Florida’s board, with Clemson and Alabama the primary competitors for his services. At 6-3, 180, Henderson could afford to fill out some, but his physicality and strength make him an NFL prototype who can play immediately. Like his brother, he has incredible speed in pads; he’d be an immediate vertical threat for a Gators offense that will need one next season. Henderson will announce Jan. 4 at the All-American bowl, and while Clemson will get his final visit, the Gators staff remains quietly confident they’ll be the choice in the end, just as they were for CJ.