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Gators can’t escape “Year of Quarterbacks living dangerously”

Matt Zemek

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Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

As Election Night once again showed, Florida has a hard time making up its mind. One of the most split states in the nation, yet again, delivered a very close set of elections which entered the national spotlight. Broward and Dade Counties made the national news. We know the drill by now.

We also know that in 2018, Florida-based college football programs in Power 5 conferences have caused similar levels of angst and division. Unimpressive performances rile up constituents at a level matched by politics.

In the Sunshine state this year, those performances — while hardly limited to one position — have all involved profound struggles at quarterback.

The Florida Gators were not exempt from this dynamic earlier in the year, but their quarterback woes had not been fully exposed.

Now, they have been.

The quarterback problems which were apparent at Miami in September, and which have lingered over Florida State for much of the season, have now hit Gainesville at full force. Florida coach Dan Mullen — immediately after this past Saturday’s blowout loss to Missouri, and then in the early parts of this week at subsequent sessions with the press — danced around the quarterback question after starter Feleipe Franks struggled once again, and backup Kyle Trask won loud cheers at The Swamp when replacing Franks in Week 10.

Mullen is caught in the middle of several crosscurrents, all carrying their own legitimate arguments in support of a particular approach to this situation:

Thought Process No. 1: Stick with Franks because his upside (arm strength and mobility) offers Florida the best chance to win, even with all of Franks’ limitations, chiefly his inaccuracy and his struggles in reading defenses The Gators can still get a January bowl. They still need to beat South Carolina and Florida State. They still need to finish this season well to generate momentum heading into the offseason.

Thought Process No. 2: Start Trask. No, finishing 9-3 doesn’t mean a whole lot in college football these days — at least not at a program such as Florida. Ask Mark Richt how valuable or beneficial it was to finish 9-3 at Georgia. Dawg fans got tired of 9-3 seasons, and UGA administration wanted him gone… and then upgraded the program by hiring Kirby Smart. A 9-3 season is not worth pursuing at all costs.

A Citrus Bowl bid is not worth keeping Franks on the field all the time Give Trask meaningful snaps. Give him the experience of preparing for a game knowing he will be the starter entrusted with, at the very least, the first quarter of the game. Explore how the offense can work differently with Trask so that one knows what Trask can bring to the table. Finding out what you have with Trask is the most important task for Mullen in November and the bowl game.

Thought Process No. 3: Stick with Franks not out of a desire to maximize chances of winning, but to express faith in a starting quarterback and thereby boost his confidence, which sends a message to other players that they won’t have to live in constant fear of a quick hook if they struggle. Franks always was a limited quarterback. He came up with a clutch fourth-quarter drive to beat LSU, but he threw a critical interception in that game and did not exhibit considerable efficiency.

He was a bystander in the win over Mississippi State simply hasn’t done much this season as a downfield passer. Those limitations were always there, but against Georgia and Missouri, they were exposed to a noticeable degree.

Interestingly enough, the very fact that Florida was 6-1 and owned a higher national profile before the Georgia game is precisely why the blowback against Franks — much like the pressure to have to do something about the Gators’ quarterback situation — is especially intense right now. This was never a crisis for Mullen.

Moreover, it still isn’t. This is what Mullen is inheriting, not what he recruited. Nevertheless, it FEELS more like a crisis because Florida had a 6-1 record and is now 6-3, its season standing on shaky ground.

Mullen has compelling reasons for standing his ground… and shifting his view of this situation.

It isn’t easy… but it is very much in line with Miami and Florida State, which have also been hounded by instability at football’s most important position.

Quarterbacks are leaders defined by the quality of their performances. In football as in politics, the state of Florida’s leaders elicit sharply divided and profoundly passionate reactions in 2018.

The University of Florida could not escape what befell Miami and FSU earlier in the season. Dan Mullen is left to handle a mess for a few more weeks. The one thing he knows, deep down: He has to recruit The Next Great Florida Quarterback, the field general he can trust, if his Florida tenure is to get off the ground in the next two years.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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