GAINESVILLE, Fla. — For the past eight seasons, the Florida Gators have been looking for their quarterback.
Eleven have started. None showcased sustained success to this point.
Enter Dan Mullen, who was pegged to take over the Florida football program and replace Jim McElwain.
Throughout his last 14 years of coaching, Mullen has had immense success grooming quarterbacks at three different stops. His resume speaks for itself.
First was Alex Smith, whom Mullen helped developed at Utah into the No. 1 pick of the 2005 NFL Draft. In their two years together at Utah (2003 and 2004), Smith threw for 5,199 yards, 47 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. The Utes went 22-2 in that span. Smith, a two-time Pro Bowl quarterback who starts for the Kansas City Chiefs, has played 12 years in the NFL.
Then it was Chris Leak and Tim Tebow at Florida. In four years as Florida’s starter — the last two with Mullen — Leak set the Gators’ career records for pass attempts (1,458), completions (895) and passing yards (11,213). Tebow won the Heisman Trophy in 2007.
And then it was Dak Prescott and now Nick Fitzgerald at Mississippi State. Prescott finished his career at Mississippi State with 9,376 passing yards, 70 touchdowns and 21 interceptions while also adding 2,521 rushing yards and 41 rushing touchdowns. He holds 38 school records at Mississippi State. Prescott, who is in his second season with the Dallas Cowboys, was named the NFL Rookie of the Year last season.
Fitzgerald, a junior in his second season as the starter, has completed 56 percent of his career passes for 4,440 yards with 39 touchdowns and 21 interceptions while also adding 2,486 rushing yards and 33 rushing touchdowns.
The Gators, meanwhile, have not had a successful aerial attack since Tebow left.
Since 2010, the first-year post-Tebow and second year post-Mullen, Florida has not finished a season averaging more than 215.8 passing yards per game and finished above 80th nationally in passing offense once. The Gators averaged less than 200 passing yards per game in six of those eight years.
The hope is Mullen can figure out a way to jumpstart the offense, which will start with his signal caller. Whether that’s Feleipe Franks, Kyle Trask, Jake Allen, Matt Corral (if he keeps his commitment), Malik Zaire (if he applies for and is granted a sixth year of eligibility) or someone else will be determined in due time.