GAINESVILLE, Fla. — We came to a consensus Wednesday at SEC Country that the bar for a strong debut by new football coach Dan Mullen next season would be 8 wins.
And looking back, that seems to be on par with how former Gators coaches have fared in their inaugural season. Five of the Gators’ last six coaches won at least 8 games in their first season.
The lone exception of the bunch was Will Muschamp, who posted a 7-5 mark when he took over the program in 2011.
The other five:
- Jim McElwain: 10-4 with an SEC Championship Game berth.
- Urban Meyer: 9-3, giving Florida its first 9-win season since 2001. Two national championships would follow in the next three seasons.
- Ron Zook: 8-5, the beginning of a consistently average three-year era.
- Steve Spurrier: 9-2, with both losses coming against top-10 opponents. Six SEC Championships and the program’s first national title followed suit.
- Galen Hall: 9-1-1, his first and best season at the helm of the program which was followed up by two 6-win seasons and two 7-win seasons. Hall was forced to resign in the middle of his final season in 1989 season during an investigation into NCAA violations.
While the direct success among those coaches varied, all of them had similarities that weaved through their first year.
The biggest of them: They all won the games they were supposed to win.
The Gators defeated every opponent not in the Power 5, and won more than half of their games in SEC play. Only Meyer lost more than 2 conference games in his inaugural year (the Gators went 5-3 in SEC play 2005).
They each had marquee wins that showed the program was heading in the right direction.
Hall went 4-1 against top-20 opponents in 1985, including a 14-10 win over No. 6 Auburn.
Spurrier’s Gators, ranked No. 15 at the time, blew out No. 4 Auburn, 48-7, for his first victory over a ranked opponent in 1990.
Zook’s first Florida team had 2 wins against top-5 opponents in Tennessee and Georgia in 2002.
Meyer went 4-2 against top-25 opponents in 2005, with victories over No. 5 Tennessee (16-7), No. 4 Georgia (14-10), No. 23 Florida State (34-7) and No. 25 Iowa (31-24).
And McElwain’s team routed No. 3 Ole Miss 38-10 five weeks into his Florida tenure in the 2015 season.
Mullen will likely have those opportunities, as well, in his first year.
While the schedule will be lighter next season, the Gators will face three teams that are ranked in the top 25 heading into bowl season: No. 3 Georgia, No. 17 LSU and No. 18 Mississippi State. Florida State will likely return to form, as well, after a rough 2017 season.
If Mullen can split those four and take care of the rest of his schedule, eight wins is a reasonable accomplishment in 2018.