It’s that time of year again, Gator fans. Not something we look forward to, mind you, but the time of year when we longingly dream of the next football season and the hope that the next great (or even serviceable) Gator quarterback is ready to lead the charge and bring us back to National prominence.
Every year brings with it a new name, many of which we may not even remember. Allow for me to take us on a slightly miserable trip down memory lane before looking forward to a (hopefully) much brighter future: After Tim Tebow left with his rings and bronze trophy it was John Brantley who gave the Gators two relatively forgettable seasons from 2010 to 2011, followed by 2011’s top QB recruit Jeff Driskel, who became synonymous with being a ’round peg’ trying to fit into Will Muschamp’s ‘square-hole’ of an offense. And lumped in between Driskel’s injured tenure was Jacoby Brissett (transferred to NC State and now starting QB for the Indianapolis Colts), Tyler Murphy (transferred to Boston College), Skyler Mornhinweg (hahaha – oh and apparently he transferred to Columbia?), and Treon Harris (transferred to Tennessee State).
When those multiple failures led to Will Muschamp’s firing, a ray of hope briefly emerged in 2015 under Jim McElwain when gun-slinging Will Grier showed promise and skill in his pro-style offense. But alas the curse continued and Grier transferred to West Virginia after being suspended for a calendar year for getting caught using performance enhancing substances. After losing what could have been ‘his guy’, McElwain attempted to patch together the 2016 season with grad-transfers Luke Del Rio and Austin Appleby. Even though McElwain was able to claw his way to two SEC East Championship runs with less than ideal signal callers, his ultimate demise came in 2017 when preseason battles between Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask, and then again between Franks, Del Rio, and famed grad-transfer Malik Zaire, failed to stabilize the position… eventually leading to the wheels coming completely off.
And now, here we are. The 2018 season is right around the corner and with it our old friends Excitement and Optimism. Dan Mullen walked off the plane and ignited a fanbase who has been longing for the days of Chris Leak and Tim Tebow, both of whom he coached up as the Gators offensive coordinator during their National Championship runs.
Mullen’s track record with quarterbacks has left fans drooling at the possibilities he might bring the position; we already mentioned Leak and Tebow, but he also coached Alex Smith, 1st overall NFL draft pick and likely to be the Washington Redskins starting quarterback, Dak Prescott, who was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the 4th round of the 2016 draft and became a huge success as a rookie starter, and most recently 3-star Nick Fitzgerald, who replaced Prescott at Mississippi State and broke out last season with 2,423 passing yards, 21 TDs, 10 INTs and an unbelievable 1,375 rushing yards.
Point being – the man can coach quarterbacks and there are not many people out there who would dare argue. Now, here we are with the question everyone will be analyzing and debating for the next several months – who will be the quarterback at Florida that Mullen will choose to make his flagship starter?
[Enter Stage Left Emory Jones]
The Gator fan base was ignited this past December when 4-star quarterback recruit, Emory Jones, made the decision to flip from the Ohio State Buckeyes and Urban Meyer to head to the warmth of Gainesville and join Mullen’s new regime. In channeling a Star Wars classic, Jones brings with him, whether he chooses to or not… ‘A New Hope’. But does the Gator’s new coach give the reins to an unproven padawan, or someone who has some experience guiding the Force. Okay, that’s enough geeking out, time for the serious talk…
With Luke Del Rio and Malik Zaire both passing on opportunities to stay at Florida and potentially play another year, the Gators are left with only one quarterback with any collegiate experience in Franks, who passed for 1,438 yards, 9 touchdowns and 8 interceptions during a very rough debut season as a redshirt Freshman. Lack of experience certainly played an issue – it was Franks’ first college season after all and he did not have a dedicated coordinator or quarterbacks coach in high school so was always going to have to be developed off of his raw talent. But even after a season in which many Gator fans would certainly rather move on from the Franks-experiment, he does stand at the front of the line due to his experience alone. And when you add in the fact that he did not get the best tutelage and support under McElwain and Nussmeier, Dan Mullen and new quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson may be able to pick up the pieces and make improvements to Feleipe’s game.
I can already feel your eyes rolling at the thought of another season with Feleipe Franks at the helm, and even though I suggested he may have an edge, I’m going to stick to my guns on this one and say with confidence that new quarterback Emory Jones should be and likely will be the man behind center when the Gators take on Charleston Southern on September 1st. And the reasons are pretty obvious…
Experience alone is simply not enough to make Franks the incumbent starter. Time and again he failed to be able to learn and progress in the offensive plan given to him, often being missing reads or relying on one target prior to the snap. The plan against him was simple – get any kind of pressure at all, take away his favorite receiver, and let him implode. Combine his lack of leadership and ownership over his mistakes, as well as the inherent need to improve and we can guess that he may not be Mullen’s guy moving forward. Need one more reason? He’s a pure pocket passer that needs time to let plays develop – this applies to the other returning quarterbacks Kyle Trask and Jake Allen. While I do believe that Mullen could get by with these guys for a year, they don’t possess the dual-threat skills that makes his offenses flourish. Emory Jones does.
Jones is not only one of the top dual-threat recruits in the 2017-2018 cycle, but he has experience running a significant amount of plays straight out of Mullen’s own play book. Having a good understanding of how the spread offense is run and having success with it puts Emory in the drivers seat. He has shown the ability to be able to throw on the run, which is a great asset for a number of reasons; more play options in the spread, ability to make plays when things fall apart or rookies mistakes occur, and escaping pressure while the Gators offensive line gets retooled.
Dan Mullen (apologies for this haunting analogy in advance) can take the square pegs that are Franks, Trask, and Allen and shave them down to sort of fit into the basic intended offense, but why do that when you have your own sought-after recruit who fits perfectly. What’s that about Trask and Allen? Nothing more than serviceable backups. Nothing against them, they have great personalities and work hard to make the team better, but neither have experience or fit the offense.
The Gators will take their lumps with Jones as the starter – true Freshman quarterbacks can be a scary thing, there is no doubt about that. But when you combine his raw talent with Mullen’s ability to mold quarterbacks and the fact that Florida will have one of the best running back stables in the country, critical for a successful spread offense, starting Emory Jones not only makes the most sense, but it’s really the only option moving forward. The sooner Mullen is able to establish his philosophy and game plan into the team, the better the football will be in both the long-term and short-term.
Book it, Gator fans. Emory Jones is here and I cannot wait to see him lead the charge in the upcoming season. Is it September yet…?