Quarterback. It is called the single most important position in all of team sports for a good reason. While it is strongly advisable to have a superstar at the position if at all possible, it’s not exactly a necessity. You can get by with someone who simply understands what he’s supposed to do and gets the ball to people who can make plays flawlessly. Take the 2008 and 2009 college football national championships as the perfect example. Florida won the 2008 national title with the superstar, Tim Tebow. Tebow made plays, inspired confidence and was at his best in the fourth quarter when the Gators needed him most (see Alabama in the SEC title game and Oklahoma in the national championship game). Alabama won the 2009 national championship with the game manager, Greg McElroy, whose job was to get the ball in the hands of Mark Ingram and Julio Jones as often as possible and to not make mistakes that could put the Alabama defense in bad position.
So here we are on the verge of spring practice beginning for the Florida Gators and all eyes will be on the quarterback position where we don’t know if we have a potential superstar, genuine playmakers or a combination of superstars and game managers on our hands. What we do know is that one – or more – of Luke Del Rio, Austin Appleby, Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask needs to assert himself during the 15 allotted practice days.
Whether it’s fair or not, all eyes will be on the quarterback battle. The offensive line has experience and more depth than last year so figure it’s going to be better. The addition of Mark Thompson and a year of maturity for The Two Jordans should make the running back position more explosive than last year. Antonio Callaway will benefit from more speed at the wide receiver position and the field should be balanced as far as defensive alignments because newbies like Dre Massey should change how the secondary elects to cover.
Every position should be upgraded substantially. We could say that about quarterback since all four guys who will be competing for the starting job bear far more resemblance to departed Will Grier than Treon Harris, who is expected to spend the spring finding a new position. If these four can get the job done, chances are Florida’s offense will hum along next season like it did the first six games of 2015 instead of the way it did the last half of 2014 and the last half of last season when Treon Harris was simply good enough to be out there, just not good enough to win football games.
From an experience standpoint, Appleby (6-4, 238, GRSR) has it all over the other three guys. He’s actually started games and lest we forget, coming out of high school he had the big arm reputation since he was an Elite Eleven finalist. Appleby made the mistake of signing with Purdue where the skill positions were woefully slow and the offensive line was famous for missing more assignments than actually putting a D-lineman on his back. After four years of losing and no improvement in the personnel, Appleby made the choice to transfer to UF where he is immediately eligible as a graduate transfer. Although he has experience, will all the Purdue negatives linger for Appleby or will he benefit from a fresh start with new coaches? He will certainly be throwing to faster and more talented receivers than he ever had at Purdue and should be playing behind a better offensive line that will give him the running game the Boilermakers never had. Film shows Appleby to still have the big arm, but we don’t know about the confidence to use it. Spring practice will help us gauge the amount of damage four years at Purdue did to him. We will probably know more about Appleby in August than we will in March since he will have the summer months to absorb the offense and develop timing with the receivers.
So, here is the assessment of the QB position with less than 48 hours until practice begins:
1. There is more talent and depth at QB than there was last spring, so the offense as a whole should make far more progress over the 15 practices than last year.
2. All four quarterbacks are better fits physically for the Florida offense than Harris and all four are certainly better physical specimens even than Grier, who had a big arm but was skinny.
3. Even though Del Rio has never started a college game, he was a winner in high school in Colorado where he threw and handed the ball to Stanford Heisman finalist Christian McCaffrey. He has a high football IQ, knows the offense through and through and is said to maximize his arm strength by making intelligent decisions about where to go with the football. He should start and finish the spring as the #1.
4. Appleby will give Del Rio plenty of spring competition but if he’s going to emerge as the starter, it’s likely to be in August. By then he should have mastered the mental part of the offense so it will be a matter of showing he can put it all together physically.
5. Franks doesn’t have the pressure of starting from day one. He can move at his own pace and build plenty of confidence every day in practice. It would be the shock of the spring if Franks breaks into the top two in the QB rotation but don’t rule out that possibility in August.
6. Trask has the least pressure of all four quarterbacks but he also could be a guy who shakes up the other three. Since they have no clue what Trask is capable of doing, if he lights it up from day one it will indeed put a lot of pressure on the other three.
7. I expect the spring to begin and end with Del Rio as the #1 followed in order by Appleby, Franks and Trask. If there are any changes in the order it will be (a) surprising in the spring and (b) more likely in the fall.
NOTHING TO LOSE IN NASHVILLE
This is a confounding Florida basketball team. We saw against West Virginia what the Gators can do against top notch competition when they play great defense, hit their outside shots and remember to make their free throws. We also saw the Gators brick 21 of 37 free throws against Kentucky, a game UF certainly could have won, and we saw so many other games when just a decent night at the foul line could have altered things considerably.
It’s not beyond the total realm of possibility that the Gators could put together an astonishing SEC Tournament run like the ones South Carolina and Auburn did last year, but it would take this team playing with energy and focus for two or three straight days and I’m just not sure these guys are capable of doing it.
GATOR BASEBALL: The Gators (12-1) play the first game of an in-state rival home and home at UNF tonight. The two teams play at McKethan Stadium Wednesday night. Harvard comes to Gainesville for a three-game weekend series that starts on Friday.
MEN’S GOLF: The Gators are in seventh place, four strokes behind leader Arizona State at the Southern Highlands Collegiate Tournament in Las Vegas. Freshman Sam Horsfield shot a 3-under par 69 for a share of first place on the individual leaderboard.
The Big 12 will once again consider expansion when its presidents and athletic directors meet this week in Kansas City for the Big 12 Conference Basketball Tournament. Florida schools UCF and USF hold the appeal of expanding the conference TV footprint into Florida but smart money – if the league does expand – should be on Houston and Memphis.
The jury came back with a $55 million award to Erin Andrews in her lawsuit against a stalker who manipulated the Nashville Marriott hotel into giving him the room next to her so he could get videos of her naked. Stalker Michael David Barrett, who is in prison, is responsible for $28 million of the judgment while West End Hotel Partners and Windsor Capitol, the two corporations that own and operate the Marriott next to Vanderbilt University, are responsible for the rest.
Louisiana Lafayette is vacating 22 wins including the 2011 and 2013 New Orleans Bowl victories because forer assistant coach David Saunders falsified ACT scores for several players. Head coach Mark Hudspeth was in no way implicated.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
When spring practice ends, how do you see the quarterback depth chart?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
The original Blood, Sweat and Tears featured the genius of Al Kooper. “Child Is the Father to Man” is one of the truly great albums of the 1960s featuring two truly great songs in “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” and “I Can’t Quit Her.”