The Florida Gators have a starting quarterback — and, as expected, it’s redshirt sophomore Feleipe Franks.
Florida made that news official on Monday with the release of its depth chart for this week’s season opener against Charleston Southern, but the expectation through much of the spring and fall was that Franks would hold off fellow redshirt sophomore Kyle Trask to be named the Gators’ signal-caller, with true freshman Emory Jones set to be a third-string quarterback and a possible multi-tool at the position in specialized packages.
Franks reportedly appeared to many observers to be Florida’s best quarterback in what was seen of fall practices, with Trask — the only other player listed on Florida’s depth chart at quarterback — lagging behind his classmate while dealing with some unspecified hand injury and Jones producing more flashes than consistency.
Franks entered 2017 as Florida’s starter as well, but he did not exactly keep a tight grip on the job. In just the first month of the year, Franks was largely ineffective and replaced by Malik Zaire in Florida’s opener against Michigan, started again against Tennessee — and authored one of the greatest plays in recent Florida history by throwing a game-winning touchdown pass to Tyrie Cleveland as time expired — and then was largely ineffective and replaced by Luke Del Rio in Florida’s win at Kentucky.
Franks would ultimately start eight of Florida’s 11 games, but he threw for just 1,438 yards and nine touchdowns against eight interceptions in 2017, struggling with his accuracy (54.6 percent completion rate) and staying the Gators’ No. 1 QB by default as much as anything — both Del Rio and Zaire would ultimately sustain season-ending injuries over the course of the fall. Despite his ineffectiveness, Franks still averaged more yards per attempt than both Zaire and Del Rio on the season, and his passer rating, while second to Del Rio’s among Florida QBs, was only a couple of points off.
Against Charleston Southern, an FCS team that Florida should rout, Franks may well not play every snap. Dan Mullen has sounded open to the idea of playing multiple quarterbacks this fall, and especially to the concept of using Jones in special packages, and Florida seeing how Franks, Trask, and Jones play in a regulation game has value.
But naming Franks the starter clearly anoints him as the front-runner to remain the starter all season. And the larger hope for Florida in 2018 will now be that Franks, whose physical gifts of a big arm and a tall, lanky body that makes him an effective long-striding runner (if an ungainly one) remain prodigious, will take to Mullen’s offensive system far better than he did the one put together by Jim McElwain and Doug Nussmeier.
Mullen said in a Monday press conference that he chose Franks to start because Franks gives Florida the best chance to win now. Based solely on his experience and physical talents, there’s plenty of reason to believe that’s true.
And if Franks can speed up his decision-making and improve his accuracy, there’s reason to believe he could thrive in Mullen’s system, which has long minted good quarterbacks out of athletes who can throw and run.
But if Franks — now clearly installed as Florida’s top quarterback ahead of two largely unknown quantities, neither of whom have his experience — struggles, the Gators could be in for a long, miserable fall, and fans who believe they have Franks pegged as a player who makes poor decisions will assuredly spend it whining about him and pining for his backups.