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"Luke played – he started – played some dang good football games,” Nussmeier said.
That didn’t answer the question. So Nussmeier was pressed to further explain. He was asked if Del Rio would go into the spring as the incumbent or would there be wide open competition for the starting job.
“Well, we’ll evaluate that,” Nussmeier said.
That’s not exactly a vote of confidence for someone who will be the only quarterback on the spring roster who has started and won – 5-1 record as Florida’s starting QB – college football games. In his six games as a starter, Del Rio threw for 1,358 yards (6.8 yards per attempt) and 8 touchdowns with 8 interceptions. In SEC games, he was 2-1 as a starter, throwing for 596 yards with 2 TDs and 6 INTs. He injured his shoulder in a loss to Arkansas and didn’t play in the final four regular season games.
Heading into Monday’s Outback Bowl game with Iowa (1 p.m., Raymond James Stadium), Del Rio is listed as the backup to Austin Appleby, who will be playing his final collegiate game.
At 6-1, 211, Del Rio is not the ideal size for a pro style quarterback. He doesn’t have much in the way of mobility nor does he have the big arm to throw the deep out patterns and seam routes that are a staple of the offense. Franks is listed at 6-6, 219 while Trask is 6-4, 238. Both of the freshmen can make all the throws and have shown decent mobility. Apparently they have used their redshirt seasons to soak in the offense and take the steps necessary to play next season.
When asked Saturday if Franks is ready to step in and compete for the job next season, Nussmeier didn’t hesitate.
“I think he’s ready,” was the reply.
When it comes to Franks, Nussmeier gushes.
“You’re talking about a guy, ultra-talented that came in and we threw a lot at him early and he’s really, really learned how to prepare and how to take the offense and take the tools we're giving him and now apply him to the field," Nussmeier said.
Nussmeier sounds nearly as confident in Trask. Whereas Franks (Crawfordville Wakulla) was considered one of the top five quarterback recruits in the country for the class of 2016, Trask (Manvel, TX) was barely a blip on the radar. He didn’t even start for his high school because he was a pro style quarterback in a system tailored to dual threat D’Eriq King, who signed with Houston. However, Trask played enough to show off a strong, accurate arm that caught the attention of Nussmeier when he was recruiting someone else in the Houston area.
Like Franks, Trask enrolled last spring and showed surprising skills. He actually outperformed Franks during the15 spring practices and spring game. He has continued to develop since then although Franks is thought to be further along at this point.
Nussmeier doesn’t seem the least bit surprised that Trask is a serious prospect.
"Kyle is a guy that when you tell him it one time, he gets it right now,” Nussmeier said. “He can process information very, very well, his accuracy is unbelievable and he's just done a really, really good job for a guy that doesn't have a ton of snaps. When you put him in situations, he reacts very, very well."
Barring transfers, Appleby is the only player the Gators will lose from the offense. A year older doesn’t necessarily make you a year better, but there is no substitute for actual game experience in football. On paper, the Gators should be a much improved team in 2017.
Nussmeier has to be optimistic that the Gators will be a much better offensive team next year.
“We’ve got all our players back … that’s a positive thing,” Nussmeier said. “We played a lot of guys, played a lot of young players, you know? And we’ve done some things really, really well in stretches this season. It’s just, like I said, you’ve gotta find that consistency. To be an elite team on offense, you’ve gotta do it day-in, day-out, week-in, week-out.”
Consistency on offense will require all those returning players to improve and take their game to another level. For the Gators to become an elite offensive unit, it’s going to take improved play from the quarterback position where there seems to be very little doubt the future is entrusted to Feleipe Franks or Kyle Trask.