Mullen Takes No. 5 Florida, Title Hopes Back To Mississippi

Mullen Takes No. 5 Florida, Title Hopes Back To Mississippi

Dan Mullen should hope this trip to Ole Miss goes as well his first or his last.

The Florida coach has three wins in Oxford, Mississippi, with the two most memorable visits coming in 2007 with the Gators and nine years later with Mississippi State.

This one could top both given its Florida opening game of its most anticipated season in a decade and comes against new Rebels coach Lane Kiffin.

The fifth-ranked Gators have high hopes for a Southeastern Conference championship and a spot in the College Football Playoff. Those are logical steps in Mullens third season in Gainesville after Florida went 10-3 in 2018 and 11-2 last year. Mullen returns most of his staff as well as 12 starters, including preseason all-SEC quarterback Kyle Trask.

Floridas title chase begins Saturday in Oxford, part of a retooled SEC schedule caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Theres definitely a lot of expectations, Florida cornerback Marco Wilson said. But the coaches do a great job of just helping us focus on the right things. And, really, everything in everybodys mind is focusing on winning and doing everything we need to help the team out.

Mullen spent nine seasons at Mississippi State, going 5-4 against the team up north” in the annual Egg Bowl. His Bulldogs scored eight touchdowns and totaled 566 yards in a 55-20 romp at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in 2016, Mullens last visit.

His first trip wasnt quite as one-sided. Florida beat the Rebels 34-20 in 2007, with Mullen calling the plays for future Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow. Tebow accounted for 427 yards and four touchdowns in that one.

Mullen landed in Starkville two years later and enjoyed his time in the Magnolia State. He won his first three Egg Bowl matchups.

I remember going to a high school once and I had a lady come up and say, Coach, I pray for you every day, Mullen said. I said, Oh, thats so nice of you. She goes, Im an Ole Miss fan. I pray somebody comes hires and gets you heck out of this state as soon as possible.

So now I left, maybe they like me a little bit.

They love Kiffin, who was hired to replace Matt Luke and lead the program out of NCAA sanctions that hindered recruiting and depleted the roster.

This is Kiffins third stop in the SEC, having served as Tennessees head coach in 2009 and returning as Alabamas offensive coordinator (2014-16). He spent the last three years at Florida Atlantic.

I have no idea whats going to happen Saturday, but well be there. I know that much, Kiffin said. Being a first-year coach, it would be hard to tell you what our personality will be with such limited exposure to the players. We dont have some easy non-conference games to figure it out, so well do the best we can.

QB QUESTION

Kiffin declined to say whether quarterback John Rhys Plumlee or Matt Corral will start, but said theres a good chance both of them will play. They bring different styles, with Plumlee being the more dangerous runner and Corral putting up better passing numbers.

Were very fortunate to have two really good quarterbacks, quarterbacks that have seen SEC football and done really well with it, left tackle Nick Broeker said. Its a really good problem to have.

COVID CONCERNS

Kiffin said his team is coming off two straight weeks with no positive tests for the coronavirus and hopes the trend continues heading into the opener. Florida, meanwhile, had nine positive tests over the last two weeks and could be missing several players in the opener.

Mullen declined to say which guys are quarantined due to a positive test or contact tracing.

Ultimately, its pretty easy for the team because we know want to play this season, and if a bunch of guys have corona, then we wont be able to, tight end Kyle Pitts said. So you can pick one side of the fence or the other. But I feel like we all bought in. We want to play.

NEW FACES

A number of transfers will debut with their new teams. Canadian Tavius Robinson, a 6-foot-7, 245-pound pass rusher, could start for Ole Miss. Florida expects to get its first look at former Georgia linebacker Brenton Cox, former Mississippi State guard Stewart Reese, former Penn State receiver Justin Shorter and former Miami running back Lorenzo Lingard.

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