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Gators Have ‘Unfinished Business’

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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What's next, even with a successful start to the Mullen era, is what matters and the Gators are ready for more.

I came back for some unfinished business, man. Try to go out there and win the SEC and just some things I want to do personally, get my degree and stuff like that.
~Ventrell Miller

There isn't quite as much national hype around Florida this pre-season. Replacing stars like Heisman Trophy finalist Kyle Trask, Biletnikoff and Mackey Award winner Kyle Pitts, the highest-drafted tight end in NFL history, and first round pick Kadarius Toney at receiver, some are expecting the Gators to take a slight step back. Florida, which was one touchdown away from winning the SEC Championship Game and scored 46 points against Alabama in Atlanta, has different plans.

This is a program where the standard doesn't change. Neither, even after three consecutive losses to end last year, do the expectations. When the Gators walked in the room at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Alabama, they did so as defending division champions.

Dan Mullen's teams have emerged whether the spotlight has been there or not. The Gators started 6-1 in 2018, Mullen's first season in Gainesville. They ultimately won ten games, a Peach Bowl route of Michigan included, and finished as high as sixth in the national polls. In 2019, the Gators improved to 11-2, won the Orange Bowl and again slotted sixth in the final rankings. Last season saw Florida move into the top five of the polls, beat Georgia by double figures and nearly upset Alabama to win the SEC.

There is a lot to like about the Gators this season. The defense, with cornerback Kaiir Elam picked as a pre-season All-American, has the potential to be one of the league's best. Now a junior, quarterback Emory Jones appears ready for a banner year. Florida should additionally be really strong at the line scrimmage. A full roster has now been recruited and developed by Mullen and his staff. There is a lot of confidence and cohesion on the team. 

"The atmosphere of the team right now, I like it," Florida linebacker Ventrell Miller shared with Ben Troupe. "It's going to get real, that's all I'm going to say."

This is also a program eager to prove itself after late last year's disappointing stretch. Defensive lineman Zachary Carter told a story of how he stayed on the field after Florida's SEC Championship Game loss and reflected on the moment. Individually and collectively, there is so much more that the Gators hope to accomplish. There is no shortage of motivation for a team many may be overlooking.

"I got two words: unfinished business," Carter stated to Troupe.

From the outside-looking-in, Georgia is the overwhelming favorite in the SEC East and, overall, a number of league teams are more trendy national picks this summer. Florida's focus, even somewhat outside of the bright lights, remains the same. Quite notably, the Gators have won 29 games the past three years and are fresh off three consecutive New Year's Six bowl appearances. This has been one of the game's most consistent programs. 

While people may talk about recent losses, many are simply still trying to get to the big stage that Florida has long been on. The last three games, for the Gators, have been as a top ten team hosting the defending national champions, as a division-winner playing top-ranked Alabama in the SEC Championship Game and as a New Year's Six participant facing Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. The fact that just getting to those points isn't enough is part of what makes Florida a leading program in college football. 

What's next, even with a successful start to the Mullen era, is what matters and the Gators are ready for more.  

"I came back for some unfinished business, man," Miller acknowledged. "Try to go out there and win the SEC and just some things I want to do personally, get my degree and stuff like that."

There is plenty of excitement in Gainesville, an eagerness to get back onto the field and promptly return to form. Florida was, at one point, 8-1 last year and a fixture near the top of the national polls for much of the season; clearly, there is confidence that the Gators can have that type of success once again. The process, from spring ball to summer workouts to the upcoming start of fall camp, is well underway. A new energy and momentum has Florida looking forward.    

"The Gators, we are excited for this year," Carter added. "We plan to play hard every week and give it all we got." 

If Florida is indeed being overlooked, upcoming games against the likes of Alabama, LSU and Georgia will come with opportunities to make a national statement. After a 44-28 victory over the Bulldogs a year ago, the Gators will take the field in Jacksonville feeling like they are the team to beat. It goes without saying that Florida has the talent, experience and mindset to continue to compete and win. This is a program with a purpose; and that goal is to get to an even higher level. 

The Gators are more concerned about the national narrative in the fall than the pre-season talking points in the summer. Florida enters this season with more to accomplish and a point to prove. 

"It's all good, man," Miller smiled. "I've been the underdog for a long time and it just fuels the boat a little bit more."

Don't forget about Florida. Mullen and the Gators have earned the benefit of the doubt and are still working hard to add to it.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports