The dead of the offseason is upon us.
Post-Spring through pre-fall camp, right in that sweet spot before the major recruiting events pick up; man there’s nothing really topical to discuss. Its about this time of year where I’m grasping for material to fill the unnaturally large void in my life that is usually filled with Gator football news and events. So naturally, I’ve spent a bit of time recently re-watching the 10 victories of Dan Mullen’s first year in Gainesville and I’ve decided to rank them, because who doesn’t like lists?
The games nobody else (including us lets be real) cared about.
If I’m going to parade being honesty in this article, no need to deviate now. I’m going #10 63-10 vs. Idaho, #9 53-6 vs. Charleston Southern, and #8 48-10 vs. Colorado State. I went with that home game vs. Butters’ old team over the rest of the who-cares group because people forget how horribly depressing that Kentucky loss was.
In hindsight, yes Kentucky was a pretty solid team in 2018, but man at the time… things hit def con 5 very quickly in the Mullen era. Losing to a team we hadn’t lost to in 100 years in your first SEC game? The hurt was very real in Gator Nation and beating the Rams by 38 points helped restore a small amount of confidence. The Rams were a decently potent offensive team, some of us *cough me cough* were worried about what would happen if their passing game got going.
#7 The Comeback in Nashville.
You know it’s a good year when 18-point comebacks are this far down on the list. Vanderbilt always plays us tough, and this one was a matchup against another veteran QB capable of moving the football. I think many of us expected there could be a dog fight early, this was one week after the huge home win against LSU and sandwiched right before the bye week pre-Georgia.
Part of what allowed me to rank this one at the bottom is I’ve always felt we got a bit lucky. If Ke’Shawn Vaughn played that whole game, I’m not quite sure we are able to come all the way back, regardless of how well our offense countered (and they moved the ball with a ton of consistency in the second half).
#6 Dan Mullen’s homecoming W.
Dan left Mississippi State with their most talented team in school history in 2018. The general expectation going into this game, notwithstanding the Bulldog’s loss the previous week, was that they’d wipe the floor with the 3-1 Gators. Mississippi State was legitimately a more talented team at the top of their roster than Florida last season.
Enter Todd Grantham’s 2018 masterpiece. Believe it or not, as Nick Fitzgerald’s former coaches, Grantham and Mullen knew exactly how to stop him. The dropped pass gods certainly did provide us with a blessing, but overall the defense was lights out after they got their feet under them against the run early. The offense was also a bit more productive than they appeared on paper. The ability to flip the field and make Mississippi State work with a long field went a long way in holding on to the lead late.
#5 Mullen vs. Pruitt, round one knockout.
I suspect many of you would have this game slightly higher on your list. That would be understandable as the Vols are a hated rival and we absolutely stomped them on the road in a majorly hostile environment (I give Neyland credit for being the loudest stadium I’ve ever personally attended). But here’s the thing I’m stuck on: the Vols were just a terrible football team.
Going into that game, nothing less than a solid W was expected. Though absolute domination was a pleasant surprise, I’ve got this one a little lower just because Butch Jones left behind a dumpster fire that not even the likes of Jim McElwain could produce. Burning down Rocky Top truly was a beautiful three hours though. Franks rope to Cleveland for six was one of his first “wow” throws of the season.
#4 Comeback vs. the Cocks.
Hear me out folks, I know this is where I’ll stir up a bit of controversy. This game was huge, much bigger than it appears on the surface. This game truly had it all. Coming off the debacle that was the Florida defense vs. Drew Lock, morale was alarmingly low. The first half started off as expected, with Jake Bentley slicing through the middle of the defense and Feleipe Franks looking totally lost. Things hit rock bottom towards the end of the 3rd quarter with a casual 90-yard pass and a 17-point deficit. A little luck on 3rd down, and suddenly, things got rolling.
Something happened with Feleipe in the 4th quarter of that game. I can’t tell you exactly what, but whatever it was he got busy from that day forward. The bigger picture is why I have this game so high on the list. Orchestrating that second half comeback did something for the team’s confidence and buy-in. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of watching the physicality of that 4th quarter, something we sorely missed during the McElwain era. The Gators maintained that level of play for the rest of the season. Also, a tip of the cap to Will Muschamp going into a shell with the lead as we all knew he’d do.
#3 Swamp the Doak.
Five years. Five, miserable, terrible years. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m happy to say I was in attendance to watch that particular streak (and a few other streaks) come burning to the ground. Where do I being? Four touchdown deficit? Outnumbering the Noles in their own stadium? Kodak on the sidelines the whole time? Yea this was about as good as you can draw it up.
Similar to Tennessee, the FSU matchup loses a bit of significance due to how terrible they were for the entirety of the 2018 season. Part of the beauty of this matchup was seeing how far ahead the Gators were and realizing just how quickly that happened. Beating the Noles wasn’t much of a challenge, in fact, many of us were frustrated that things didn’t get out of hand earlier. We beat these guys by 27 points with Dan calling one of his worst halves of the season. Similar to South Carolina late, the Gators simply dominated in the trenches from start to finish.
#2 Resurrecting the Swamp vs. LSU.
The turn-up was real folks. Coming off the upset of Mississippi State, the vibe was at an all-time high in Gainesville. The Gators were on deck to serve up a second straight upset, hosting the #5 ranked LSU Tigers. In my opinion, the best part of this game was the atmosphere within the stadium. The experience was vintage, peak-performance Swamp. In recent history, the vibe was comparable to 2015 Ole Miss.
This game is where you saw the value John Hevesy brings to this program. The offensive line put together a very solid second half against an always tough LSU defensive front. Jachai Polite’s strip sack was the only thing standing between a 14-0 first quarter deficit. Retire Moms gets my play of the year vote.
#1 Third time’s the charm.
On December 29, 2018, for the first time in what feels like 1,000 tries, the Florida Gators beat the Michigan Wolverines in American football. I’ve seen Florida play Michigan twice in the last four years … 74-24 Harbaugh. I drove 15 hours to watch one of those games. When bowl selection season rolled around, I was dreading what everyone knew to be inevitable. Little did I know this time would be different.
Florida’s 41-15 win over Michigan sits number one on my list because it became plainly obvious to anyone watching that Florida could no longer be ignored under Dan Mullen. The offseason is far too long, and bowl games can leave a bad taste in your mouth for a long time if they go south. The opposite is also true, the optics of a 10 win season are fantastic in year one; but we’re not talking about a simple win here, we’re talking about an ass whooping of a 10th win. This game reinforced our belief that new-Feleipe was about that action. Even better (especially considering he’s back for one more ride) was Lamical Perine, capping his season with a cool 79 yards on only six carries, making that 210 yards rushing on 19 carries in his final two games of the season.
2018 was one to remember.
This article took me way too long to write. It would take other free-lancing fans of schools out west… I don’t know… maybe half the time? Seriously though, in the dead of the summer when we’re getting way too in-the-weeds over every minor detail, maybe take a few minutes to remember that the season in the fall is when the Saturdays really count. Here’s to counting more than 10 Gator W’s in 2019.
You can follow Vari on Twitter at @157Gale.