MIAMI GARDENS, Fla — Prior to the 2019 season, Florida Gators head coach Dan Mullen made one thing clear: He was happy about turning a 4-7 team into a 10-3 team that could win New Year's Six Bowls. But the goal moving forward was 11 wins—and he considered a jump from 10 wins to 11 to be far more difficult than four to 10.
After a 36-28 victory over the Virginia Cavaliers in the 2019 Orange Bowl, Mullen and Co. met that goal.
Here are my four takeaways from the Gators' successful 2019 season.
Quarterback will never be an issue under Dan Mullen
If there's one position that you can have full confidence in going forward with Mullen in control of the Gators' offense, it's the quarterback position.
For the first time in nearly a decade, Florida entered the season with confidence under center. Feleipe Franks owned QB1 status entering the year after a strong finish to his 2018 season and a great offseason to back it up. His teammates rallied around him, and there was plenty of confidence in Franks' ability to lead the team after previous struggles as Florida's starter.
Then Franks dislocated his ankle in Week 3 against Kentucky. Naturally, there was plenty of panic about the quarterback position going forward—all it took was three games for the Gators to be uncertain at QB once again.
However, career backup Kyle Trask took the keys to the offense and thrived. He finished his first season as a starter in seven years with 2,941 passing yards, 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Trask compiled an 8-2 record and led Florida to an Orange Bowl victory—something no one expected.
Not to mention, Emory Jones has been groomed as the future at Florida's QB position. And he believes he's ready, now.
The bottom line? While Florida might have the drama of a quarterback battle this offseason, it's for all the right reasons. The Gators believe they have two starting-caliber quarterbacks in Trask and Jones, and over the near-decade prior to Mullen's arrival, Florida couldn't even find one.
As long as Mullen is in Gainesville, the Gators should have the most important position in sports figured out.
This team has fully bought into Mullen's message
Over the years, Florida struggled with off-field incidents and from players not fully buying into the message that previous head coaches would instill, which would come in the way of potential team success.
That is no longer the case.
Mullen has motivated this program to reach new heights every day, and the team has bought in. You see that with only one underclassman electing to miss the Orange Bowl to prepare for the NFL draft. You see that in players such as Jonathan Greenard itching to return to the field in a bowl game while he's injured. You see that in players, such as Florida's wide receivers, being unselfish in their playing time in order to best serve the team in a rotation.
And so on.
It's surprising to see an entire roster buy into a coach's message in general, much less in only two years and half the roster being comprised of veterans who played for the previous staff. But the Gators have done that.
2020 is 12-wins-and-playoff or bust
As previously stated, Mullen and the Gators achieved their goal of 11 wins this season and the team views that as a huge jump.
Now, it's playoff or bust. Or at least 12 wins—which should equate to the playoff, anyway.
The next goal for this team should be jumping from 11 wins to 12, in order to continue the momentum and growth of the program. Following a remarkable—and quite frankly, unlikely—second year under Mullen considering the circumstances at quarterback, there's no reason to believe that as he continues to bring in his own guys and sees his recruits turn into contributors, that Mullen's team can't begin to contend for the College Football Playoff.
Given a relatively easy schedule in 2020 as it looks right now, the expectation should be finishing the season with 12 wins, much like the goal of 11 wins in 2019. From start to finish, Mullen and Co. lived by that goal as motivation and saw it come to fruition.
Yearly improvement and meeting goals is now an expectation. Mullen has proven that he can lead a team in the direction of meeting their goals, and he should be expected to do that in 2020 as the difficulty of his goals continues to increase.