Saturday's matchup in Gainesville represents the third meeting between Dan Mullen and Ed Orgeron as head coaches of the Florida Gators and LSU Tigers.
While the Gators are heavily favored to give Dan Mullen the lead in this series, Orgeron comes into the game with bragging rights as the coach of the defending national champions. So who is the better coach, and how do they compare moving beyond 2020?
The reality is that until Mullen matches Orgeron and wins a title, neutral parties can always argue for the latter. Mullen is in his third year as head coach -- the same year Coach O delivered a championship in his head coaching tenure at LSU. (Oregon was only an interim coach for most of the 2016 season after the Tigers fired Les Miles).
However, let's say the Gators don't win -- or even make -- the College Football Playoff this year. Does anyone really think Dan Mullen's Gators are capable of the type of immediate drop-off LSU is experiencing this year? A year after one of the most dominant season performances in college football history, LSU is on track to finish below .500 for the first time since 1999.
Orgeron is an emotional leader of his football program, but his fingerprints are not all over the team the way that Mullen's are at Florida. Orgeron brought a Cajun drawl and a gritty attitude to Baton Rouge, but has never been an elite "X's and O's" coach. He was promoted from Defensive Line coach to Interim Head Coach in 2016, and prior to that, he had not been a Defensive Coordinator since 2013 at USC. His reputation mostly comes from his likability among players and his ability to recruit.
Mullen, on the other hand, has been known for his offensive play-calling and an ability to get the most of talent on that side of the ball. Sure enough, he took a Florida program who had been inept on offense for nearly a decade and turned them into a scoring powerhouse. (Never mind the two-star career backup in Heisman contention his first full year as a starter.)
The importance in having the kind of identity that Mullen has creates a high floor for a football program. Gators fans can expect to have a team that is consistently contending for the SEC East crown, and with great quarterback play like this year, have a chance to compete for a national title sooner rather than later. It's hard to envision a Dan Mullen Florida team ever finishing with less than nine wins, let alone under .500 like LSU this year.
On the contrary, Orgeron will often be at the mercy of his personnel and coaching staff. LSU did lose an exodus of offensive talent in QB Joe Burrow, WR Justin Jefferson and RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire as first-round draft picks, Biletnikoff-winning WR Ja'marr Chase opting out, and Offensive Coordinator Joe Brady leaving for the Carolina Panthers. But recent recruiting rankings show that LSU should have had enough talent to avoid the type of season they're currently having.
Orgeron has a national championship under his belt, and that can't be taken away from him. But the drop-off in 2020 shows that he is at risk of becoming a "one & done" coach, just like when Auburn coach Gene Chizik rode Cam Newton to a national championship in 2010, just to be fired two years later.
The jury is out on whether Mullen can deliver a championship to Gainesville. But, the consistency he's shown throughout his career proves that the coaching situation in Gainesville is brighter than the one in Baton Rouge.
Photo Credit: Jordan Herald/@JordanHerald5/UF Football
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