Austin Appleby knew there were no guarantees when he came to Florida.
A graduate transfer with one year of collegiate eligibility remaining, the 23-year-old quarterback from a small town in north Ohio would have to battle his way to a starting job.
But the dream of playing for UF was enough for him to try.
“There’s something about this place,” Appleby said. “I couldn’t pass it up.”
Even though he began the season as the backup and has spent more time on the bench than on the field in his lone year with the Gators, Appleby’s decision seems to be paying off.
While he became the starter on two occasions after injuries to Luke Del Rio, Appleby has made the most of his chances.
And he’ll have another one on Saturday when UF (8-2) travels to Tallahassee for an 8 p.m. kickoff against Florida State (8-3). Should Florida win and somehow pull off an upset against top-ranked Alabama a week later in the Southeastern Conference Championship game, the Gators have an outside chance of making the College Football Playoffs.
“Our goals that we set in front of us, that we set in the beginning of the season, are right there for us,” Appleby said. “Our destiny is on our hands. We win and we can accomplish anything we want.”
The Gators, up to No. 13 in the AP top-25 poll, have clinched the SEC East thanks, at least in part, to Appleby’s command of the offense over the last two weeks.
He showed consistency against South Carolina. The 6-foot-4 quarterback completed 81 percent of his passes — the fifth-highest single-game completion rate in UF history — and threw for 201 yards and two touchdowns in the 20-7 win.
On Saturday, during UF’s 16-10 upset road victory against LSU, he showed off his big-play ability. Standing in his own end zone, Appleby dropped back five steps and fired a pass about 30 yards down the right sideline to receiver Tyrie Cleveland. The freshman caught the pass, ducked under LSU cornerback Donte Jackson and raced down the field for a 98-yard touchdown.
“For him to be able to do what he’s doing, guys around him believe in him,” UF coach Jim McElwain said. “And that has to do more so because they see the work that he puts in studying, playing and affecting the people around him in a positive way.”
Receiver Brandon Powell added: “It’s really no surprise, the success he’s having on the field and what he’s doing now, because he’s been showing it all year.”
Now, McElwain and the rest of the team are looking for him to show it again.
He has two games in two weeks to do it, starting with Saturday against Florida State.
Either way, good or bad, Appleby will be under center, ready to make the next play.
“I’m right where I’m supposed to be,” Appleby said, “and I couldn’t be more thrilled.”
Austin Appleby runs during Florida's 20-7 win over South Carolina on Nov. 12, 2016, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.