The dawn of the Dan Mullen era lies on the horizon as the Florida Gators prepare for the first game under their new head coach, Charleston Southern at home on Saturday evening.
After 2017’s 4-7 debacle, UF will see a lot of positive changes on both sides of the football.
So, allow me to predict a couple.
UF finishes top-3 in rushing in SEC
The Gators have newfound depth at tailback with the return of senior Jordan Scarlett from suspension and sophomore Malik Davis from an ACL tear.
Davis, who led Florida in rushing last year before getting injured against South Carolina, will be a great compliment to Scarlett, a more powerful back that led the UF backfield in 2016.
Pair them with junior Lamical Perine, who led the Gators with eight touchdowns last campaign, and you have an elite committee that few SEC teams can match, mostly because a lot of the conference’s top running backs left for the NFL.
Georgia lost the top two cogs in its SEC-leading ground game, Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, to the New England Patriots and the Cleveland Browns, respectively. Auburn saw Kerryon Johnson forgo his senior season only to get picked by the Detroit Lions. LSU’s Derrius Guice also left early only to tear his ACL before the Washington Redskins’ season opener.
Even though Alabama lost a work horse in Bo Scarbrough, it still retained 1,000-yard rusher Damien Harris, while Mississippi State is bringing a 1,000-yard back of its own, Aeris Williams.
My crystal ball tells me Mississippi State will lead the SEC in rushing, while Alabama and Florida will slot in at second and third.
Jachai Polite finishes with All-SEC honors
A lot of fans must see Jachai Polite starting over CeCe Jefferson at the BUCK position of Florida’s defense and think, “Good for Polite, but when CeCe’s back to 100 percent, he’ll be starting again.”
I’m going to dismiss that notion, because Polite is going to have a breakout 2018.
Coaches, Mullen included, have been impressed by Polite’s effort. He’s the player that won the distinction as UF’s “juice guy” most frequently in fall camp, the title given to the defensive player that comes to practice with the most energy.
Defensive tackle Tedarrell Slaton called Polite a future first-round pick in the NFL Draft.
“He has the best close out of anybody on this team,” Salton said.” He’s really quick on his feet, light, and he can run from any side of the field, he’s going to chase the ball.”
Slaton also said Jefferson would agree about Polite’s close-out speed, and he cited a time in practice where the quarterback rolled out to the opposite side of the field as Polite, but the junior still ran the passer down to record a sack.
Look for defensive coordinator Todd Grantham to utilize Polite’s quickness and Slaton’s power by using stunt packages to disguise blitzes. They’ll be a deadly combination on UF’s defensive line.
Mark Stine is a sports writer. You can follow him on Twitter @mstinejr or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.