After addressing reporters on Wednesday about the suspension of his star running back, Jordan Scarlett, Florida coach Jim McElwain then took the opportunity to make a surprise announcement on the Gators’ quarterback situation.
Redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks will start the season opener against the Michigan Wolverines on Saturday in Arlington, Texas. Franks won the starting gig after competing with graduate transfer Malik Zaire and 2016 starter Luke Del Rio during the preseason.
“There are no secrets in this business, as you guys know. I met with the quarterbacks this morning. We’ll start Feleipe,” McElwain said in his opening statements after commenting on the suspensions. “We still have a plan moving forward with everything that we have. … We met this morning and practiced that way this afternoon and will continue moving forward.”
McElwain explained his decision, citing how much work Franks has put in since the spring compared to the other two candidates.
“Him (Franks) being there, being a part of it, I think he was a little bit ahead, and you know what, he deserves it. He’s done a really good job. Not to say the other guys didn’t. There’s still a little bit there obviously with late start on the injury (Del Rio) and obviously the late start getting here in the middle of the summer (Zaire).”
Franks had won a quarterback competition with fellow redshirt freshman, Kyle Trask, in the spring. However, when Malik Zaire came over as a graduate transfer from Notre Dame this summer, the Gators’ quarterback situation became more interesting. Zaire arrived searching for the opportunity that he never got at Notre Dame. Zaire had started three games for the Fighting Irish before suffering a broken ankle and being relegated to the role of backup behind eventual second-round NFL Draft pick, DeShone Kizer.
That addition to the team, coupled with the decision by last season’s starter, Luke Del Rio, to take another crack at the job. Del Rio had missed the last five games of the 2016 season and contemplated his future in football following an injury to his throwing shoulder which required him to undergo two operations. This might have given some the impression that there would be a quarterback controversy in Florida this season, but Jim McElwain has selected the player he believes is the most qualified man for the job.
Despite the fact that the three young men split first-team reps most of the preseason, earlier in the week, McElwain refused to give away any details on his quarterback situation; only saying that he had a plan for the position.
So, Franks will make his first college start against a No. 11-ranked Michigan team on a national stage inside AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Jim Harbaugh will no doubt have his guys ready to rock and roll Saturday as losing their top 10 spot will only cause the Wolverines to play with even more urgency.
As for having a red-shirt freshman make his debut in such a marquee game under a national spotlight, McElwain did not sound concerned.
“That kind of shows what you’re made of. And, no,” he said. “I think the big thing in that, he’s going to be excited, there’s no doubt about it, but in that big stage the guy’s got a big arm, too. You know what, he’s been in those, he’s played in state championship games. He’ll be ready to go.”
Jim McElwain feels that his young signal caller will be ready to go on Saturday because of his experience in big games on the high school level. While that experience is valuable, college football in front of, in all likelihood, 100,000 people at Jerry World is a different environment altogether. But Franks has clearly demonstrated in training camp and practice something that the other two, more experienced men have not, and that quality has allowed coach McElwain to put the team in his hands.
[Featured Image by Joe Robbins/Getty Images]