GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s quarterback situation has been mostly a mess since Tim Tebow’s college career ended seven years ago.
Injuries, benchings, suspensions, transfers, the Gators have endured them all while witnessing firsthand how instability at the premier position can negatively affect points and public perception.
Despite continued upheaval under center, Florida coach Jim McElwain managed to win the Southeastern Conference’s watered-down East Division in back-to-back years. But his approval rating keeps sliding because of lopsided losses to rival Florida State and power Alabama in consecutive years that showcased his failure to fix a lackluster offense that was downright embarrassing during former coach Will Muschamp’s tenure.
Quarterback woes haven’t been McElwain’s only issue, but they surely top the list. McElwain has used four starting quarterbacks in 27 games and likely will have another when his third season begins in September.
Redshirt freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask are at the center of the latest competition, vying to become the program’s 10th starting quarterback since Tebow left after the 2009 season. Franks worked solely with the first-team offense in Florida’s annual spring game Friday night, completing 8 of 14 passes for 119 yards and a touchdown.
Trask was 6-of-16 passing for 66 yards.
McElwain said after the game that there’s “no doubt” Franks has pulled ahead, partly because of his athleticism.
“He’s kind of a sneaky athlete,” McElwain said. “I thought that was something that kind of helped him.”
Regardless of the rationale, the Gators need better play at the position.
Treon Harris, Will Grier, Luke Del Rio and Austin Appleby all served as stop-gaps for McElwain, who is still looking for a long-term solution to his biggest problem.
Del Rio opened last year as the starter, but spent more time on the sideline than the field because of knee and shoulder injuries. Harris (Tennessee State) and Grier (West Virginia) transferred, and Appleby is now trying to make it to the NFL.
A college journeyman and the son of Oakland Raiders coach Jack Del Rio, Luke Del Rio still could re-enter the competition this fall depending on how he recovers from surgery on both shoulders. Florida also could end up with Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire, who has yet to pick a landing spot and expressed interest in playing for the Gators.
McElwain would need the Southeastern Conference to change a rule penalizing its schools from accepting graduate transfers if previous ones didn’t reach certain academic benchmarks at their new institutions.
For now, though, Franks and Trask have the competition to themselves.
Both have ideal size and plenty of arm talent. The 6-foot-6, 219-pound Franks has a penchant for deep balls, but needs to improve short and intermediate throws. The 6-foot-4, 238-pound Trask is more accurate, but lacks experience since he was a backup in high school and worked in a spread system.
“Every season is a new season,” offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said. “We’ve won 19 games in two years. Obviously, every game you look at and say, `What can we do better? What do we want to do more of? What do we need to develop?’ Really feel good about the weapons we have and the ability to do some things up front. … The overall big picture of where we’re headed and the guys understanding how we’re trying to accomplish it, I feel real good about it.”
There hasn’t been much to feel good about in Gainesville in nearly a decade.
Florida scored three offensive touchdowns in November finished the season ranked 116th out of 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in total offense. That’s the worst showing in the post-Tebow era, continuing an alarming trend of ineptitude that has the “Fun `N’ Gun” looking more like the “Bore `N’ Snore.”
Defense has been the crux of the team’s recent success. But now the unit has to replace eight starters as well as coordinator Geoff Collins, who left to become Temple’s head coach.
So it could be up to Florida’s offense — finally — to do more.