Florida has undergone a turbulent season in 2019.
It has seen dramatic comebacks, backup quarterback heroics, a slew of injuries and disappointing losses.
But as the season winds down, a hard truth must be accepted by the UF fanbase: The Gators will not be contending for a National Championship this season.
That’s not to say they don’t have anything to play for. Florida still has its in-state rival in two weeks and possibly a New Year’s Six Bowl, though it will need help. But all that aside, it’s almost time for the coaches to begin planning toward next year for another championship try.
The question that will need addressing before the first game against Eastern Washington on Sept. 5, 2020, is who will be the starting quarterback? And there are plenty of candidates.
At the beginning of the season, Feleipe Franks was the sure-fire frontrunner. He started all 13 games in 2018, threw for 2,457 yards with 24 touchdowns and six interceptions using his strong arm and playmaking ability. But a gruesome ankle injury at the end of the third quarter against Kentucky on Sept. 14 sidelined him for the remainder of the season after amassing just 698 yards and five touchdowns three games into his 2019 campaign.
In stepped Kyle Trask, a career backup in his fourth season with the team who appeared in just four games last year.
Expectations were low, and the season appeared lost with Franks’ injury. Still, Trask stepped in and far exceeded those expectations from his first snaps, reviving a team down 11 points in the fourth quarter against Kentucky to a 9-2 record with its only losses being to two top-five opponents.
Since taking over Florida’s offense, Trask has a 66.5 completion percentage for 2,253 yards and 20 touchdowns as well as three rushing touchdowns. His quick release and quicker decision making has been a perfect fit for coach Dan Mullen’s quick-hitting offensive scheme to move the ball effectively down the field better than any UF offense has this decade with the most yards through the air (3,215), touchdowns (28) and completion percentage (67.9) since the 2009 season.
Trask's one shortcoming, though, is that he lacks the mobility to extend plays and fully execute the system to its potential in a way Mullen’s past quarterbacks could.
Luckily for Florida, a third quarterback on the roster succeeds where Trask fails.
Considered to be the quarterback-in-waiting, redshirt freshman Emory Jones came to Florida a four-star prospect and one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks.
After playing in four games in 2018, he was redshirted. But he garnered more playing time in 2019, mostly in packages on obvious running downs in short-yardage situations, totaling 191 rushing yards and four touchdowns on the ground so far this season.
The few times Jones has been allowed to throw the ball, he has impressed with a 62.5 percent completion rate, 220 yards and two touchdowns. Against Missouri, he had just one throw that was completed for 48 yards to receiver Kadarius Toney and led the team in rushing with 39 yards on six carries.
“I think he’s really done a good job of being ready,” Mullen said after Saturday’s game. “I haven’t opened it up completely for him in the pass game fully, but I think it’s starting to build and build.”
The young quarterback has shown a unique toughness in the middle of the field, even with a 199-pound frame. His strong arm and big-play ability has UF fans dreaming of a Fun ‘n’ Gun Part 2 in the near future.
Jones’ increased playing time prompts the question of who exactly will take the first snap for the Gators in 2020.
Barring a transfer from any of the three, Mullen has a tough decision to make. He has two more meaningful games and a whole offseason to come to a verdict. It’s a good problem to have, but one he’ll need to start deliberating sooner rather than later.
Follow Dylan Rudolph on Twitter @dyrudolph. Contact him at [email protected]