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Merry Christmas! Gifts for the Gator Nation

December 25, 2020
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Merry Christmas, Gator Nation! As you unwrap presents under the tree with your family, we’ve decided to hand out some presents of our own to Gator Nation. Some of these items are more likely to happen than others, but that’s not really the point. On Christmas, anything is possible, so why not shoot for the stars?

Here are our 2020 Christmas gifts to Gator Nation.

First, to head coach Dan Mullen, we give better discretion in his dealings with the media. Mullen came under fire this season for his thinly veiled criticism of the crowd size at Texas A&M and his challenging the UF administration to allow 90,000 fans at the next home game. After the loss to LSU, he complained about having to play a 10-game conference schedule while some teams in other leagues only played half that many. Meanwhile, he refused to blame his defense for any of the three losses. Mullen is far from the only outspoken coach. Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney complain more than maybe anybody else. But Mullen needs to realize that there’s a time and place to make those complaints known, and immediately after a loss isn’t it. It just makes him look like a sore loser.

To offensive coordinator Brian Johnson, we give a head coaching job. While the Gators would certainly miss him, he’s earned the right to run his own program with the way he helped turn Kyle Trask into a superstar and set up the quarterback position for future success. He interviewed for the South Carolina job but didn’t get it. That likely won’t be his only interview over the next couple of weeks.

To wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales, we give him the same jump from Jacob Copeland and Justin Shorter next season as we saw from Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes this season. Toney entered the 2020 season with 454 receiving yards and two touchdowns for his career. He’s caught 70 passes for 984 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. Assuming he plays in the Cotton Bowl, he will produce just the 12th 1,000-yard season in program history. He’s become an excellent route-runner and sure-handed receiver, and he’ll get drafted in the first or second round. Grimes, meanwhile, finally started to play like he was 6-foot-4 this season, making a pair of spectacular touchdown grabs against Georgia and Vanderbilt. Toney and Grimes are likely gone after this season, and Copeland and Shorter are next in line. Both need to become better route-runners, and Copeland needs to reduce his number of drops.

To offensive line coach John Hevesy and safeties coach Ron English, we give rapid development for the young players at their positions. Assuming none of the seniors take advantage of the NCAA ruling that allows them to come back next season, Hevesy will need to replace four starters. With the offense likely to become more run-oriented with Emory Jones at quarterback, that’s particularly worrisome. He needs players such as Kingsley Eguakun, Michael Tarquin, Ethan White and Josh Braun to make a big jump this offseason. Landing an instant-impact transfer also wouldn’t hurt. English faces the prospect of replacing senior starters Shawn Davis and Donovan Stiner. Rashad Torrence, Tre’Vez Johnson and Mordecai McDaniel are some young players to watch for at safety next season.

We give running backs coach Greg Knox a high school signee in the 2022 class. We tried to give this to him last Christmas as well, but apparently, it got lost in the mail. He’s done a good job of landing a pair of five-star transfers in Lorenzo Lingard and Demarkcus Bowman the past two years, but that well figures to dry up at some point. Depending on elite recruits to become dissatisfied at their original schools isn’t a viable long-term strategy. Nay’Quan Wright is the only high school running back who has signed for Knox at Florida, and that was two classes ago.

To linebackers coach Christian Robinson, we give the ability to recruit more true linebackers. UF basically has two different types of linebackers on the roster right now: the old-school, physical run-stopper who can’t cover his own shadow and the freakishly athletic but undersized player who doesn’t defend the run well. They need to start getting more complete players at the position. Otherwise, opposing offenses will continue to exploit the weaknesses of the two or three linebackers on the field.

To quarterback Kyle Trask, we give the Heisman Trophy or, at the very least, a brick outside of the stadium. He’s the first Gator to throw for more than 4,000 yards in a season. He’s tied for six in SEC history with 46 total touchdowns this season. He leads the country in passing yards and touchdowns. He’s thrown for at least 400 yards in a game on five occasions. It’d be a shame if those accomplishments weren’t immortalized somehow. Trask was named a finalist for the Heisman on Thursday night, but he’s still considered an underdog to Alabama’s DeVonta Smith and Mac Jones. To get a brick outside of the stadium, Trask needs to be named a First Team All-American by one of the five major organizations that put out All-America teams.

To soon-to-be starting quarterback Emory Jones, we give the thick skin it takes to be the guy who follows the guy at Florida. Fairly or unfairly, everything Jones does next season will be compared to what Trask did this season. That pressure can be overwhelming and set the fans up for nothing but disappointment. Just ask Doug Johnson or John Brantley about that. The first time Jones throws multiple interceptions in a game next season, there will be fans questioning whether he was the right choice to succeed Trask. He needs to block all of that out and be the best Emory Jones he can be.

To likely unanimous First Team All-American tight end Kyle Pitts, we give an armored truck to transport his soon-to-be-found fortunes to the bank. Pitts has declared for the draft, and some mock drafts have him going as high as the top-5. His combination of strength, speed and length makes him uncoverable. He’s tied for third in the country with 12 touchdown catches this season despite only playing in eight games, and he now owns the school records for career receiving yards by a tight end and 100-yard receiving games. He’s one of the most unique weapons in college football history, and he’s about to get rewarded in a big way.

To cornerback Marco Wilson, we give a new pair of shoes. No further explanation is necessary.

To defensive end Zachary Carter, we give a new pair of boxing gloves and the common sense to not punch someone who’s wearing a helmet. Carter was in the middle of the brawl at the end of the first half against Missouri, and he and Antwuan Powell were ejected for throwing punches. Not only did he hurt his team by getting ejected and suspended for the first half of the Georgia game, but there’s a 99.9 percent chance that his punch hurt his hand more than it did the other guy’s face. He’s been one of the few bright spots on defense, leading the team with five sacks and tying for the team lead with 9.5 tackles-for-loss, but that melee wasn’t his best moment.

To you, the fans, we give a win in the Cotton Bowl. This might be the most important bowl game of the Mullen era so far. Going into the offseason on a three-game losing streak, especially with the way the season started, would not be a pleasant experience for anybody involved with the program. Plus, Oklahoma should be their toughest bowl opponent yet. Michigan had mentally checked out of the season prior to the 2018 Peach Bowl, and the only reason Virginia made a New Year’s Six bowl last season was the ACC’s contract with the Orange Bowl. The Cavaliers finished second in a down year for their conference. Oklahoma has their usually potent offense, but they also possess a top-25 defense this year. They’ve only had one player opt out of the bowl so far, so they appear focused and ready to end their season on a high note. The Gators will need to play their best to win this one.

As a bonus gift to all of Gator Nation, we give a more normal season next year. The 10-game, conference-only season was fun, but we’ve got to get back to normal next year. The weekly COVID-testing updates, the last-minute postponements, the lack of marching bands on the field and crowds small enough that you can hear specific conversations from the press box need to become distant memories. This isn’t the college football we all know and love. For the sake of everybody’s collective sanity – not to mention the financial success of UF’s athletic department – next season needs to be normal.

Merry Christmas, Gator Nation!

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Merry Christmas! Gifts for the Gator Nation

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