I did not think the Florida Gators were going to be 4-1 and readying for a top-25 matchup as October 2018 began.
I didn’t think that when Dan Mullen was hired, didn’t think that during this offseason, didn’t think that at this season’s outset, and certainly didn’t think it when Kentucky finally snapped that decades-long winning streak by the Gators back in Week 2.
Things have changed a bit since then, though.
Florida rebounded from that loss to Kentucky by playing significantly better defense against Colorado State a week later, then went to Tennessee and trounced the mistake-prone Vols a week after that. Last Saturday, Florida scored its biggest win yet by suffocating Mississippi State’s once-pyrotechnic offense and executing its own patient plan of attack in Starkville.
And through it all, the Gators have generally looked more like a composed, mature, well-coached group of football players than they did under not just Jim McElwain, but in the final year of Urban Meyer’s tenure and most of Will Muschamp’s. Florida’s defense plays hard, but also smartly, usually, and the Florida offense seems a lot more competent than it has for most of the last decade, even if its competence is resulting in good drives and ball control more than eye-popping totals of points and yards. (Though, to be fair? Florida is averaging 35.4 points per game, No. 42 nationally, and is at No. 37 nationally with 6.39 yards per play.)
All of which leads me to wonder: Is 2018 already a successful year for the Gators? And, if not, isn’t it getting really close?
I think most Florida fans approached this 2018 season, even one under promising new management, with more trepidation than triumphalism. We saw all the stumbles under McElwain and Muschamp, and, even if there were arguably some achievements sprinkled in among those stumbles, we generally seemed to be approaching Mullen’s tenure with patience, with exceptions made for the typically foolish overreactors and unrepentant pessimists.
And this schedule didn’t set up for a lot of glory, at least on paper. The Mississippi State, Georgia, and Florida State games all seemed like writeoffs, and many of Florida’s SEC foes looked more formidable than the Gators.
What’s happened since those expectations were set has been pleasantly surprising.
Florida lost to Kentucky, sure, but it has gone undefeated on the road since then, absolutely waxed the only rival it has played, and just got a win that left rabid fans in hostile territory deeply disappointed. And, moreover, while Florida seems to have gotten better since that loss, Kentucky also just looks like a very good team at this point in time, having gone undefeated to date.
Feleipe Franks looks like a competent, poised quarterback in charge of an offense that has raised its baseline to effective and seems to have the potential to be explosive. Florida’s defense already can be both explosive and dominant, even though its secondary is being held together with twine and chewing gum. And the Gators now appear to have game-changing special teams units, with the great kicking of past years now complemented by aggressive kick-block schemes and good returners.
If you wanted Florida to win eight or more games this year, you can start realistically projecting that. If you wanted to see visible and significant improvement, you already have.
Is Florida’s 2018 a success, with no qualifiers needed? Nah, not yet. An 8-4 season seems like the median for the Gators, given their start, but if Florida finishes at that mark, and one of the three losses is to what looks like a dreadful Florida State team, this season will still have a very bitter note. And though Florida is probably slightly more likely to win 10 games (!) than lose six, I would definitely not rule out either outcome.
But is Florida’s 2018 looking very likely to end as a success, as of right now? Absolutely.
This is a Friday Forum, though, so I’d like to know your thoughts, too. What will constitute a successful season, to you? Has Florida exceeded expectations enough to make this fall feel like a success, or is there more — even much more — to do? And is there a point at which Florida just looks good enough and has enough wins that your expectations and standards for success will change?
Let’s chat about it in the comments.