Dan Mullen doesn’t need to be informed of the innumerable benefits that would come with a positive finish to the 2018 season.
At 7-3, and favored in the two contests remaining on the schedule, the No. 13 Gators are in prime position to make a New Year’s Six Bowl if they win out. Mullen spoke Wednesday about the possibility, calling it “a huge honor” and “the next best thing” for the program after missing out on the College Football Playoff. For a foundation year, that’s pretty good — and yet, Mullen’s future success will likely be predicated on a strong finish on the recruiting trail.
As many UF athletics programs celebrated Signing Day on Wednesday, Mullen and his coaching staff continued balancing the team’s preparation with the work on the recruiting trail. With less than five weeks until the early signing period opens, Florida has a top-25 recruiting class, and the Gators could add anywhere from six to eight commitments before things are said and done.
“I feel like the early signing period is shaping up for UF to fill a lot of their needs early. Many of the Gators targets, and even a chunk of their commits, are looking to sign in December, as well as many prospects will be taking their official visits that month,” said Blake Alderman, 247Sports’ recruiting analyst covering the Gators. “As we hit the last month or so, until December 20, the biggest need for the Gators to fill is along the defensive line.”
The addition of the December signing period, which began with the 2018 recruiting class, resulted in a significant portion of early signees, with 77 percent of 247Sports’ three-star or higher prospects utilizing the chance to lock in a spot before the traditional National Signing Day on the first Wednesday in February.
While that number isn’t expected to be as high across the board in the 2019 iteration, the Gators are on track to sign at least six of their 15 commits in December.
There’s a benefit, too, as two 2018 early enrollees — defensive back Trey Dean and running back Dameon Pierce — have seen significant action this season, and Florida is expected to play as many as 10 true freshmen Saturday against Idaho. After a buy-in season, Mullen said Monday he hoped to show the team their efforts didn’t go unnoticed.
“I think it’s always great for everybody. Guys put so much work in, and the reward to get into a game and play in a game, be out there in The Swamp and get to play,” Mullen said, “I think is a pretty special deal.”
And, similar to the implementation of the early signing period, the addition of the four-game redshirt rule has altered Mullen’s typical approach to preparation. The Gators used the bye week to give the underclassmen more snaps in practice, and UF’s 12 p.m. battle with the Vandals should feature plenty of fresh faces. UF will recognize 20 seniors before the game — the rest of the afternoon will seemingly be a display for potential Gators.