Note: All Aggies' "Around the SEC" series will feature stories on all 14 programs in preparation for the 2021 season.
Two things have been connected with Florida football; Quarterback and head coach.
Steve Spurrier won a Heisman under Ray Graves in 1966. The 'Ol Ball Coach' later became a seven-time SEC Coach of the Year and national champion with fellow Heisman Danny Wuerffel in 1996.
Who can forget the Urban Meyer-Tim Tebow era in the 2000s, where 'Tebowing' became a thing and the Gators were back on top?
Florida has the right man for the job once more with Dan Mullen entering Year 4. Does he have the right quarterback in 2021 with Emory Jones?
“I don’t even know what type of team we’re gonna have this year and I’m there every day,” Mullen said at SEC media days Monday. “I know Emory Jones is coming back and Anthony Richardson is competing for that job with him. You look at those guys and what they've been able to do with the experience they have … so I'm really excited about that."
Change a few things from last season and perhaps Florida is in the College Football Playoff. A close loss to Texas A&M in Week 3 due to poor defensive play is one. A penalty for throwing a shoe against LSU is another.
In reality, the defense as a whole soured the offensive production of Kyle Trask, Kyle Pitts, Trevon Grimes, Kadarius Toney, and others. Todd Grantham was retained for another year, but he'll be on thin ice come this fall.
Maybe it's the defense that will need to step up if the Gators hope to repeat as SEC East champions.
“This spring was great for our defense, man, honestly,” defensive lineman Zachary Carter said. “The guys all spring, we were juiced every day, energy. Guys playing hard, and the biggest thing is guys coming together. I think the biggest thing about a unit is being close off the field, and I think guys started to come together more."
Last season. the Gators allowed 35 points or more in six games. Against Alabama in the SEC Championship and Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, they allowed over 50. Maybe the offense could have matched that production at AT&T Stadium if not for the opt-outs.
Pitts, the John Mackey winner, now is with Atlanta. Toney, the do-it-all speedster, is with the Giants in the Big Apple. Trask is backing up Tom Brady while Stone Forsythe might have a chance to start with Seattle come 2022. Grimes will likely be looking to play next fall after suffering a knee injury with Philadelphia in camp.
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"It's great to see those guys have that success and go on to the next stage, but there's a lot of production to go fill offensively that we're really excited about on the offensive side of the ball," Mullen said.
Jones, a former top recruit, nearly won the job last September over Trask to lead the team. He'll now have 12-plus games to show what was missing under center. Some scouts have penciled him as a 'sleeper' in the NFL Draft.
Maybe he will, maybe he won't. Adding the dual-threat ability does help add another level against SEC East opponents. That might be needed even more when looking at the standings.
According to ESPN's FPI, Georgia is the favorite to win the East with Kirby Smart and JT Daniels at 72%. Florida is next at 20% and surprise team Kentucky comes in at 4%.
Mullen knows how essential a quarterback is to a team's success. He helped Alex Smith become the No. 1 pick in 2005 during his time in Utah. Chris Leak and Tebow each hoisted the Coaches' Trophy when he was the offensive coordinator at Florida.
Dak Prescott was an afterthought when agreeing to play at Mississippi State. With Mullen's direction, he'll one day be a Jeopardy! question on who was the QB for the team that first ranked No. 1 in the College Football Playoff standings.
"I think the key to it is, and one of the reasons we've been successful is, never try to take a square peg and put it into a round hole," Mullen said of working with Jones. "It's identifying what our guys do really well and build around the strengths of not just the quarterback, but the offense as a whole."
Since his arrival in Gainesville as the head coach, the Gators have made a New Year's Six bowl game each season. He's 2-1 in those games and was a few plays away from making the CFP.
Offense wins games, but defense wins championships. That side of the ball halted the Gators from making a run in 2020. This year, it could be the reason the offense has time to develop.
“We're looking forward to having a great year this year," Senior linebacker Ventrell Miller said. "Definitely, the points are not going to be that high this year, so we plan on shutting people out this year. So that's the expectation for my defense this year.”
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