Expectations have risen right along with the victory total in each of Florida’s two seasons under Dan Mullen. The Gator goal, the expectation, is for that trend to continue in 2020.
Coming off an 11-win season and second consecutive top-10 final finish, expectations are soaring to new new heights in and around the football program.
The players are starting to talk about “It.” And we all know what “It” is.
“The College Football Playoff,” senior quarterback Kyle Trask said Monday. “Ever since Coach Mullen got here we’ve been to two New Year’s Six bowls. So, we definitely feel pretty strongly that we have a good shot at it this year.
“I think we have a great shot because our guys know how the coaches operate, we know what the coaches want to see and I think everyone really has that perfect bond with each other right now. We’re working really hard. I’m excited to see where this season takes us.”
The Gators have enjoyed a rapid rise under Mullen. The year after going 4-7 and going through the coaching change, UF went 10-3, beat Michigan in a New Year’s Six bowl game and finished in the top 10. The Gators topped that last season with their 11-2 season and win over Virginia in the Orange Bowl.
Can Florida take the next step in Year 3 — play for an SEC championship and make it to the CFP?
“We don’t really speak about it. It’s just a quiet understanding every time we go to workouts we all know that we have a common goal that we want to reach,” junior cornerback Marco Wilson said. “If someone’s not living to that standard we speak up about it because we want everybody to be up here so we can achieve that.
“Our expectation is really just outwork everybody else and be the hardest working team on the field no matter what. Be mentally strong and prepared whenever we go out on the field.”
The Gators displayed plenty of mental and physical toughness last season, with the only two losses coming to top-10 teams — LSU and Georgia. It was a successful second season under Mullen, one that has continued UF’s momentum, which the Gators hope to carry on through the spring, summer and preseason camp and right into the season.
There is much work to be done. As Mullen pointed out after the bowl win in January, the 2019 team no longer exists. It is in the history books. The 2020 team was born during the first team meeting early in January. So, this is a team that’s just getting started.
But it does appear to be off to a positive start, based on the feedback from Mullen and the players about how the offseason strength and conditioning program has been playing out.
That program will end next week, with the start of spring football practice. After that, it’s summer workouts, camp in August and then the start of the season in September.
“Everything I hear, it has been a pretty positive offseason with the guys,” Mullen said. “We get around some of the workouts, but both on and off the field, it’s been a pretty positive offseason for our guys. Our performance in the classroom, how we’ve handled things, our Gator Life program, has been real positive. Guys getting bigger, faster, stronger. Just overall general team attitude has been very positive throughout the offseason.”
Mullen was asked if there have been three or four players who have stood out in offseason workouts.
“Not really,” he said. “I’ll see it when we start playing football. Everybody’s had a good offseason, so it would be more maybe people that wouldn’t impress. People that don’t impress would stand out more than those who impressed. Everybody should impress me in making huge gains in the offseason, and there really hasn’t been anybody that hasn’t impressed me that would stand out more to me.”
The workouts, like the expectations, have risen to a new level under Nick Savage, Trask said.
“Every year we try to make it a little bit harder and harder,” he said. “When I first got here — Coach Savage is a great strength coach — it was just kind of a shock at first. Now, we’re all used to it, locked in and ready to go. I’m really excited to see where this season takes us.”
Maybe it will be far — maybe even all the way to the CFP.
That has become the expectation heading into Year 3 in the Mullen era.
“Just each guy mentally preparing to be better this season,” junior tight end Kyle Pitts said. “We already experienced 10 wins and 11 wins, and now it’s time to try and move on to the next thing, the playoffs and hopefully win a national championship.
“We know how good we can be. It’s just putting all the pieces together in order to reach our potential.”