It wasn’t that long ago that Gator fans entered the holidays with little to look forward to in terms of Florida football.
A couple of Outback Bowls, a Gator Bowl and a dash of the Birmingham Bowl in 2015 defined the Gators’ accomplishments. And now, after a hot start to his head coaching tenure at Florida, Dan Mullen has made it so that Gator fans can reasonably ask Santa for a playoff berth.
Before, it was like asking Santa for a pony. Santa can’t fit a live pony on his sleigh. Where would it fit under the Christmas tree? The request of a pony was simply unreasonable — much like Gator fans who expected a National Championship under Jim McElwain.
But now, that pony is becoming a possibility. And it all starts with Dan Mullen saddling up and driving the Florida football program to Miami where it will compete in its second consecutive New Year’s Six Bowl game. And while the Orange Bowl, indeed, does not equate to seeing a pony tethered to the trunk of your Christmas tree, it’s no piece of coal either.
Taking a 4-7 football team and milking every last drop of talent out of the near-identical set of guys as the year prior, is a task that can’t be called easy. But when you take that former 4-7 football team and create at 10-3 football team in less than a year, that’s practically witchcraft. And riding that broomstick is the same visor-donning fella that is trotting south down I-95 to Miami — Dan Mullen.
The opportunity to win back-to-back NY6 games is a door that isn’t open to many football programs. It’s hard to do. But that door is sitting wide open for the Gators. And bum-rushing through the doorway would mean a lot to Dan Mullen and the Florida football program.
Getting a NY6 bid last year illustrated the upward trend that Mullen was creating in Gainesville. But getting there in back-to-back years proves that it’s not just beginners-luck.
Instead, Mullen is proving that Florida’s program isn’t just trending upward, it’s becoming elite again.
After all, the argument that Florida was just a win away from the playoffs is a very sound one. Because they were. But shoving the past aside, everything Dan Mullen wants is right in front of him.
A win in Miami will be huge for the future of the Florida football program. Winning an NY6 game in South Florida, a hot-bed for recruiting, could be precisely what Mullen needs to jump-start his third year handing the reigns in Gainesville.
In short, Gators, be patient and earn your bid on Santa’s nice list. There might be little intrigue to the Florida-Virginia matchup, but a win in Miami would create bigger waves than what you might realize.
Keep asking for that pony. You might be surprised sooner rather than later.