GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Dan Mullen has done a tremendous job these last few months of selling this new era of Florida football, of reinvigorating the fan base and injecting much-needed energy into a program that bottomed out last fall.
But on Saturday, he needs his quarterbacks to help him a little bit.
No, spring games don’t matter all that much in the big picture. They don’t finalize depth charts for the fall, and performances good or bad largely will be forgotten come September.
But between now and then, what happens in The Swamp on Saturday is going to set the talking points and impact the expectations of many for this team. In one regard, at least.
There has been cautious optimism that Mullen, renowned for his track record of developing quarterbacks, can have the magic touch at a position that has vexed this program for so long. With each year further removed from Tim Tebow, Florida somehow seems to find itself even further away from an answer to its most glaring issue.
But Mullen represents hope — hope that his offensive system will make things easier on the quarterbacks, that he can find a way to unlock in redshirt sophomores Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask what the previous staff couldn’t, and that he can develop freshman Emory Jones into a dynamic playmaker sooner rather than later.
Those three, along with redshirt freshman Jake Allen, will be in the spotlight Saturday, and it would really help this whole wave of momentum and excitement Mullen has set in motion if at least one of them can play really well.
That is the main hope for the Gators this weekend, the one thing that has to go right, the one piece of this spring game that does actually matter.
If the defense struggles, fans largely will write it off as a unit still adjusting to a new scheme and new coach. Even after a down season last year, there’s enough to like about this defense to feel optimistic for the fall.
If the offensive line struggles, there will be frustration, for sure, but hope will remain that well-regarded offensive line coach John Hevesy can coax more out of the unit by the start of the season.
But if the quarterbacks underwhelm, there will be reflexive panic, flashbacks to Franks’ rough 2017 season and fears for the worst-case scenario — more of the same at QB.
It doesn’t matter who stars on Saturday, but the Gators and their fans need something to build on at the position moving forward.
If it’s Franks, the storyline is of redemption, of a player many wrote off after last fall starting to maybe put it all together and maximize his obvious physical talents.
If it’s Trask, it’s the underdog story, the QB who seemed a long shot from the day he signed with the program proving that he just needed time to develop his raw abilities. With his big arm, prototypical frame and the value of the unknown — he didn’t have the very public struggles Franks endured last fall — it would be easy to conjure excitement for his potential.
And if it’s Jones, it would mean the perceived future of the position is closer than maybe it has seemed much of this spring.
Any of those storylines would satiate the fan base until August.
Again, Mullen has done all the heavy lifting so far in drumming up excitement for this 2018 Florida team. He could use a little help on Saturday keeping that wave from cresting.