Florida prepared to juggle early signing period, SEC title prep

Zach Abolverdi
Gainesville Sun
Florida quarterback Kyle Trask listens to coach Dan Mullen during the Gators' game against Vanderbilt last month in Nashville, Tenn.

Florida’s Dan Mullen, like many college coaches, has suffered through some sleepless nights in 2020. 

Between dealing with COVID-19 protocols, having his roster fluctuate weekly during an all-SEC season and still managing all the demands of his coaching responsibilities — including virtual team meetings and recruiting visits — it’s been a challenging year for Mullen. 

“Your mind’s just racing at night, you know? You try to fall asleep a little bit, your mind races between 2 and 3 or 4 o’ clock in the morning, making sure you’ve checked everything that needs to be done,” Mullen said. “But I guess that’s just part of the deal.

“From week to week, you’re trying to figure out all your different contingency plans. Usually you get a big relief at about 11 o’clock on Thursday night when you get your final test results and this is the team we’re going to be playing with — that you hope.”

Mullen and his staff have navigated through this college football season and recruiting cycle successfully, producing the nation’s No. 6 team and sixth-ranked 2021 class, according to Rivals.com. The finish line is now in sight.

The Gators (8-1) wrap up their regular season Saturday against LSU (3-5) before the SEC title game Dec. 19. As the coaches prepare for No. 1 Alabama (9-0), they’ll also be busy with the early signing period Wednesday. 

Mullen won’t be sleeping soundly any time soon, but he’s not worried about next week’s juggling act.

“You do have a lot going on,” Mullen said. “It’ll be senior night here in The Swamp. There’s a little bit of an extra stuff that goes on with all of that. Then we get one more game (against the Tide). That’ll be kinda getting into a normal game week. The thing that’ll be different is we’ll be going through final exams that week. 

“So you’ve got a challenging schedule to get that organized the following week, as well as having a signing day on Wednesday. So there is a lot, but we have a really good staff to kind of keep everybody knowing what their job is, what their responsibility is and to get it done. It’s been a unique year with a lot of unique challenges, and this is just another one.”

Florida offensive coordinator Brian Johnson said the early signing period has “completely changed” the recruiting process, and timing of it is more difficult in 2020 with the revised football schedule. 

In a normal year, the regular season and conference title games would be over by now. But the SEC Championship Game was pushed back two weeks from Dec. 5 due to COVID-19, and other league teams will be playing makeup games next Saturday while Alabama and Florida compete in Atlanta. 

“For the most part everybody is under the same circumstance,” Johnson said of the early signing period, “so you've just got to find a way to adjust and adapt. I think we have a great recruiting staff, and know those guys do a great job of helping us be organized with what we need to get organized. I know we're looking forward to it. I know the young men are all looking forward to it. It's kind of just something you've got to adjust and roll with in 2020.”

The Gators have assembled a consensus top-10 recruiting class for the third consecutive year. They hold 26 verbal commitments at this time, including Rivals100 members Corey Collier, Jason Marshall and Tyreak Sapp. 

Recruits haven’t been able to take official visits this fall due to COVID-19, but Mullen and his staff continue to sell the program with UF’s play on the field and have still found ways to establish relationships. 

“It’s unique,” he said. “You do it on FaceTime or Zoom calls or that type of stuff. You don’t have them in-person here. It’s been a little bit different. It’ll be interesting to see after this year what maybe the NCAA takes as a plus and a minus moving forward, coming out of it. I’m sure there’s a lot of things you can evaluate.”

Mullen wants more clarity from the NCAA on roster management with football players receiving an extra year of eligibility. There’s an 85-man scholarship limit and each recruiting class can have a maximum of 25 new scholarship players, referred to as “initial counters.”

 “I think unfortunately over the next two to three years, there could be an issue. I think the NCAA is looking at different transfer rules with that. That would be something I wish they would address … and kind of get it done as one together,” Mullen said. 

“If you have 85 scholarship players and get rid of the 25 initial (counters), or that transfers don’t count as part of initials, or if you lose a guy to the transfer portal you gain an initial, or something that’s going to be able to balance roster management in the future. Hopefully it doesn’t become such a major issue that it has to be addressed.”

Saturday

Who: LSU (3-5) vs. No. 6 Florida (8-1)

When: 7 p.m.

Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

TV: ESPN

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850