Mike Bianchi: Hey, Gator Nation, get off Dan Mullen’s case

By Mike Bianchi

Dan Mullen has built the Florida Gators into a good football program.

A really good football program.

Just not a great football program.

At least not yet.

Not that you need to be a great football program to thrash hapless Vanderbilt, 42-0, which Mullen’s 20th-ranked Florida Gators accomplished on Saturday. It’s no secret that a homecoming game against Vandy is an age-old remedy and magical elixir for what ails your football team.

After losing at undefeated Kentucky for the first time in 35 years last week, Mullen and his team faced a barrage of negativity from UF’s ultra-spoiled fan base. Personally, I think Florida fans should lay off Mullen and feel fortunate they have one of the top coaches in college football.

I get it; Florida fans were disappointed their team was whistled for eight false starts and 15 overall penalties against the Wildcats. That’s not acceptable. Meanwhile, first-year starting quarterback Emory Jones found himself back under the microscope for dinking and dunking and not throwing the ball downfield enough against Kentucky.

Enter Vanderbilt, which has lost 30 of the last 31 meetings against the Gators. Jones completed just 14 passes but for a career-high 273 yards, four touchdowns and completions of 61, 51, 47 and 32 yards. And now you know why Vandy is still in SEC. It became clear decades ago that the Commodores don’t belong in the toughest conference in college football and are only in the SEC to serve as an in-conference homecoming cupcake while enhancing the SEC’s academic reputation.

In other words, there’s not much to take away from Saturday’s victory over Vandy, a team that has been blown out 62-0 by Georgia, couldn’t score a touchdown earlier this season in a 23-3 loss to East Tennessee State and nearly lost to pathetic UConn last week. But the Gators did what they had to do against the Commodores in preparation for a demanding duo of upcoming season-defining games at LSU and then the big one in Jacksonville against a Georgia team that has looked unbeatable thus far.

Although Florida beat Georgia last year to win the SEC East, nobody will dispute that Georgia coach Kirby Smart’s program has been better than Mullen’s UF program.

Which leads me back to my original point about Mullen having a good program, just not a great one.

Memo to Gator Nation: Being good should be good enough.

As someone who grew up following Florida football in the B.S (Before Spurrier) days, there was a time when UF’s fan base would actually get excited about going to now-defunct second-tier bowls such as the Tangerine Bowl, the Freedom Bowl or the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl. Of course, the expectations changed after Steve Spurrier arrived and won a string of SEC championships and a national title.

Now, with the playoff-ification of college football, Gator Nation can’t even get juiced up about going to major bowl games such as the Peach, Orange or Cotton. Those are the three New Year’s Six bowl games Mullen has taken the Gators to in his first three years on the job. Pretty freaking good if you ask me.

It’s true, Florida is not Alabama, but guess what? Nobody else is either. It’s also true Florida has been a notch below Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma in recent years, but other than Bama, Georgia, Clemson, Oklahoma and Ohio State, has anybody else really been better than the Gators since Mullen took over?

Florida will probably finish 9-3 this season and go to another New Year’s Six bowl game, which, of course, will not satisfy many Gator fans.

But it should.

Unless you’re Saban’s Cyborgs, you’re simply not going to win 11 or 12 games every year. Ask Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher, whose team was vying for a playoff spot last year and had lost successive games to Arkansas and Mississippi State heading into Saturday night’s game with No. 1 Alabama. Ask LSU coach Ed Orgeron, whose team won the national title two years ago but now is hearing his fan base grumble about being 8-7 since that championship season. Even ask Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, whose perennial powerhouse team has two losses and is unranked for the first time in seven years.

If Mullen’s program hangs around the top for long enough, eventually things will fall right and the Gators will get into the playoff and perhaps even win a national championship.

So get off Dan Mullen’s case, Gator Nation.

He’s built a really good football program.

If you don’t think that’s good enough, then go talk to fans at Florida State and Miami.

Email me at mbianchi@orlandosentinel.com . Hit me up on Twitter @BianchiWrites and listen to my Open Mike radio show every weekday from 6 to 9:30 a.m. on FM 96.9, AM 740 and HD 101.1-2

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