College football programs traditionally show significant improvement from year one to year two under a new coaching staff.
If that happens at Florida under coach Dan Mullen, the Gators could be College Football Playoff contenders next season after going 10-3 and rising into the top 10 in the nation in 2018.
For it to happen, the Gators will have to improve in some areas and some new, inexperienced players are going to have to come through at certain positions.
Over the next several days, The Sun is breaking down the team position-by-position, one position at a time:
Who’s gone: Junior Jordan Scarlett, who declared for the NFL draft Wednesday. After being suspended for the entire 2017 season while being investigated for his role in a credit card scam, Scarlett bounced back in 2018, rushing for 731 yards and four touchdowns and averaging 5.8 yards a carry.
Who’s back: Senior and 2018 leading rusher Lamical Perine (750 yards, six touchdowns, 5.9 yards a carry this past season), true sophomore Dameon Pierce (425 yards, two TDs, 6.7 yards a carry), redshirt sophomore Malik Davis, who missed most of the 2018 season with a broken foot, and redshirt freshman Iverson Clement.
Who’s new: True freshman Nay’Quan Wright, who will enroll this summer. The four-star prospect from Miami Carol City is an explosive and elusive runner who could give the Gators a home-run threat in the running game.
What’s next: If Perine returns for his senior season, and all indications are he will, he will have a chance to be the featured back now that Scarlett has moved on to the NFL.
Over the course of his UF career, Perine has evolved into a complete back. More than just an effective runner, Perine also has become productive in pass protection and as a receiver coming out of the backfield.
He played two of the best games of his career in the last two of the season, rushing for 129 yards and a touchdown against Florida State and rushing for 76 yards and a touchdown and catching four passes for 22 yards and a touchdown in the Peach Bowl win over Michigan.
Pierce, who flashed some big plays and big-time potential as a true freshman this past season, appears ready to take the next step and get significant game reps behind Perine.
Davis, UF’s second-leading rusher as a true freshman in 2017, sustained a broken foot in the third game and did not return. He should be 100 percent for the start of the spring and will compete with Pierce for playing time behind Perine.
Clement, who saw practice time at safety last fall due to a lack of depth in the secondary, likely will return to being a full-time running back in the spring. He is a tough, athletic player who will compete for playing time.
Wright, an excellent prospect, will join the competition in preseason camp and give the Gators depth at the position.
Possible scenario: If Perine returns, he’ll have a chance to get maybe as many as 18-20 carries a game as the featured back. But he likely will share reps with Pierce and Davis, because they are proven backs and Mullen insists on having fresh legs in the game at all times at running back.