It’s no secret the Gators haven’t had a consistent starting quarterback since 2009 with Tim Tebow.
The last seven seasons under center for UF have been full of busts, injuries and transfers, so when Feleipe Franks announced he was decommitting from LSU and would be attending Florida, Gators fans were hopeful that their QB woes were finally behind them.
Then, Franks played poorly in the 2016 Orange and Blue Debut, throwing three interceptions in his first four pass attempts, before ultimately redshirting his freshman year and sitting behind Luke Del Rio and Austin Appleby on the depth chart.
He then showed improvement in this year’s Spring game, completing 8-of-14 passes and one touchdown to take a commanding lead in Florida’s quarterback battle.
“He’s ahead,” coach Jim McElwain confirmed after the game. “No doubt about it.”
However, reports surfaced on Sunday that Notre Dame redshirt junior quarterback Malik Zaire has decided to transfer to UF as a graduate student, sparking a huge debate at the SEC spring meetings in Destin, Florida. Under a current rule, schools in the SEC can’t sign a graduate transfer for three years if its previous grad transfer doesn't meet certain academic requirements.
You know, the whole student-before-athlete thing.
Unfortunately for the Gators, former offensive lineman Mason Halter violated this rule in 2015, leaving UF in a state of limbo.
Consequently, McElwain is in Destin arguing the rule should be changed, and if it does, Florida could be one of the earliest schools to benefit from it. But Florida’s coach fighting so hard to put Zaire in an orange and blue jersey prompts a thought: McElwain must not be sold on Franks being his guy, at least not yet anyway.
If he was, there's no reason for him to pursue a graduate-transfer quarterback.
It doesn't make any sense for him to do so.
Zaire only has one year of eligibility remaining, while Franks has four years left, assuming he doesn’t declare for the NFL Draft or fall victim to injury.
Bottom line: If Franks is ready now, there's no reason to put him through another competition for the starting spot.
This situation also raises questions about McElwain as a recruiter.
If Zaire ends up at Florida, he will be the sixth quarterback under scholarship on its roster. That means that, assuming Zaire won the starting job, the five quarterbacks UF has aren't living up to expectations.
While getting the Notre Dame transfer might turn out to be the answer the Gators were looking for, it only buys them time for one season.
If McElwain doesn't trust Franks as his starter, that's not a good sign moving forward that Florida is any closer to finally escaping its never-ending quarterback battle.
Jake Dreilinger is assistant sports editor of the Alligator. His columns will appear frequently on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @DreilingerJake.
UF quarterback Feleipe Franks during Florida’s Orange and Blue Debut on April 7, 2017, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.