A hard reality for Florida Gators fans: through two weeks of the 2019 college football season, the UCF Knights still run the state of Florida.
Sure, UCF hasn’t played tough opponents, but the Knights have roared past the competition with an offense which still looks potent. The reality might not mean much in the middle of September, but as any Gator football fan could tell you, perception is part of the reality in Gainesville.
Remember this: Florida was not a bad program under former coach Jim McElwain. It wasn’t a great program – and that is part of why many people legitimately felt McElwain wasn’t doing the job – but it wasn’t horrible. Multiple SEC East championships represented a noticeable improvement from the awful Will Muschamp years. Gator fans expect to be in Atlanta, and McElwain – for all his many faults – enabled UF to attain that standard.
One of the several crucial sins McElwain committed as Florida’s coach – not the only one, but important enough to matter – is that his teams were boring.
At Florida, winning isn’t the only requirement for a head coach; winning in an attractive way is also demanded.
You might not think that’s fair, but that IS the reality for Gator football.
Steve Spurrier and then Urban Meyer (with Dan Mullen calling plays for Urban) spoiled Florida fans, but in defense of Gator fans, we can acknowledge that if you witnessed aesthetically pleasing football over two decades from two separate coaching staffs, you would also think that visually sexy football should be a requirement for a Gator head coach.
The added fact that Mullen was part of that previously established Gator legacy makes him well aware of the demands of the Florida job. He knew this when he returned. He signed up for the scrutiny and the added expectation to not only win, but entertain.
Right now, UCF is winning the battle for entertainment in the Sunshine State, with Miami and Florida State still struggling.
The Gators get their big chance to change that equation this Saturday in Lexington, Kentucky.
Yes, first things first: Florida would much rather win an ugly game against Kentucky than lose a pretty one. After losing to Kentucky a year ago in the Swamp, Florida simply can’t lose back-to-back games to Big Blue. A dark cloud would hang over the rest of the season, and only a win over Georgia could remove it. UF better win this game, and if it has to be a rock fight, so be it.
However: Florida could take a huge step forward in its evolution if it can win this game and look good doing so.
Kentucky wants a rock fight. Coach Mark Stoops always wants to drag other teams into the mud and play a slugfest. His programs always rely on defense first. Going into Lexington at night is not the toughest road trip in the SEC, but it has not been a picnic in recent years, either – for the Gators or anyone else.
Feleipe Franks – the player who will determine how far Florida travels this year – faces a lot of questions entering Week 3. One would be correct to say that Franks has to answer fundamental questions about his capacity to lead this team with consistency and reliability.
Franks’s ability to address fundamental questions will likely determine whether Florida wins this game in Lexington A competent Franks will create a win.
The step beyond that? Mastery.
A competent Franks will enable Florida to get by. A masterful Franks will enable the Gators to thrive.
Kentucky is the perfect opponent for Franks early in the season, because it will enable us to see where Franks stands on the spectrum between “UGH!” on one end and “mastery” on the other.
Tennessee, Vanderbilt and South Carolina aren’t playing well enough right now to test Franks in full. Kentucky’s offense – without injured quarterback Terry Wilson – is a
complete mystery, but Kentucky’s defense offers a more robust test than the other non-Georgia SEC East foes could provide.
We will find out if Florida is competent enough to win more of the games it is supposed to win this season. We will find out if Feleipe Franks is masterful enough to give Florida a legitimate chance to win in an entertaining fashion.
The status of Florida football under Dan Mullen will probably be easier to measure after Week 3. The Gators can only hope they will change the conversation relative to UCF in the state of Florida.
Former Gators QB Franks transfers to Arkansas
Florida Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks has decided on a new spot for his final year of eligibility and he won’t even leave the SEC. The Gators starting quarterback on and off for the last three years announced on Monday night that he will be transferring to the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Franks help lead the Gators resurgence two years ago under first-year coach Dan Mullen, including a Peach Bowl New Year’s Six game victory over the Michigan Wolverines. Florida finished 10-3 with momentum headed into this season.
However, with sky high expectations for Franks, Mullen and the Gators this past season (they were a preseason top 10 team) Franks played inconsistently for a lot of the early part of the season. Then, things ended horrifically as Franks suffered a nasty fractured leg at Kentucky ending his season.
The 6’6 Franks finished his Gator career with 28 starts 4,500+ yards passing and 28 TDs. However, his at times poor play, including crucial interceptions enraged Gator fans. Next, he announced December 1st that he would be transferring for one more season, as a graduate to be eligible immediately.
Arkansas is in desperation to rebuild after having fired coach Chad Morris after two horrible seasons. They hired Georgia former offensive line coach Sam Pittman at their head coach and Franks will be playing for new offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, who spent last season with FSU.
Arkansas is in desperate need of a quality proven quarterback, as they had just three scholarship signal caller options in senior Jack Lindsey, redshirt-sophomore John Stephen Jones and redshirt-freshman K.J. Jefferson. Jones, who is the grandson of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, is considered the most experienced of the group. But to show how bad it is, he’s thrown for just 106 yards and 2 touchdowns with 2 interceptions in six career games.
So, clearly Franks, if/when fully healed from the ankle fracture will be heavily counted on for 2020.
Gators face annual challenge of who’s leaving?
The Gators end to the season was just as predicted, and now, so too is the leaving of significant players for the NFL, etc.
Florida ended up getting the Virginia Cavaliers in the Orange Bowl and the second-best team in the weakest conference in Power 5 football was no match for the strong talented Gators.
Just before the conference championship games, it was predicted almost everywehre that Virginia would get trounced by the Clemson Tigers, but still be the most likely candidate to face the Gators in a “New Year’s Six Bowl”.
Once the game was confirmed and the lines came out, the Gators were listed as massive 16 point favorites at the best Sportsbooks around the nation.
And, when it came time to tee it up? Florida delivered a win.
— Orange Bowl (@OrangeBowl) January 9, 2020
The final score was 36-28, as Virginia hung tough by scoring 14 in the 4th quarter and got the backdoor cover on the point spread. Still, the Gators finished sandwiched between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Oregon Ducks at No.6 in the AP Top 25. But, will the Gators still be as good next season?
Will they be better? And who might they be missing?
That brings us to a few key players that have declared for the 2020 NFL Draft. Let’s start by taking a look at them.
It seems that as receivers get bigger, corners have been getting smaller. So, C.J. Henderson (above) at 6’1” and 191 pounds is almost an oddity nowadays. He is long, athletic and extremely fast. In short, he was one of the best corners in college football. He’s declared for the 2020 draft and could go in the first round.
But with so much talent at QB, we could see Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, and Tua Tagavoilva all go in the Top-10. Then, when you factor in team needs and a few other great corners from Alabama, LSU, and Clemson in Treveon Diggs, Kristian Fulton, and A.J. Terrell, Henderson could fall into the second round. And, it could end up being a steal for some lucky team if that happened.
That said, the Broncos, Seahawks, Vikings, 49ers, and Dolphins all need help at corner. And the Seahawks would be a great landing spot, as they may favor him over some of the other top contenders for his excellent ability in man coverage. That is, if they don’t fill another position need such as DE or OLB – which would make sense as well since they had the leagues lowest number of sacks during the regular season.
Seniors who will go on are Van Jefferson, Josh Grimes, Freddie Swain, and Tyrie Cleveland. And the Gators will lose some talent in their TE depth with Lucas Krull hitting the bricks. He was usurped by Kyle Pitts but still caught nine balls for nearly 110 yards.
It isn’t a huge loss, as Pitts is one of the best TE in the SEC. But not having that extra option with experience at TE will hurt a bit. A handful of QBs will also be leaving. For starters Nick Sproles, a walk-on back-up out of Winter Park has been sitting behind both Franks and Trask. So, he elected to hit the transfer portal and take off.
QB Feleipe Franks will also step through the transfer portal to another school. His horrible ankle injury opened the door for Kyle Trask to take over. Now, we very well could see Franks move over to Kansas, as he had originally committed to former LSU coach, Les Miles, who’s now there.
Although Trask is on the rise, this does hurt the depth chart. Emory Jones is reliable, but he’s no Franks … at least not yet.
On top of this, Chris Bleich and Umstead Sanders both hit the transfer list. But, the Gators actually are not hurt by this, as they picked up Brenton Cox at OLB which is probably a big part of why Umstead elected to transfer.
Cox has solid experience at Georgia and will likely earn a starting spot with the Gators. He tallied 20 tackles, a sack, a pair for loss, and six tackles in the Sugar Bowl alone! Then, he also racked up three pass deflections on top of all that.
The Gators lost a lot of depth at receiver, but they pick up one with Jordan Pouncy. He’s big at 6’2” and 205 and has decent speed.
All in all, the Gators won’t be too much worse for the wear. And, with the shift in emphasis to the SEC West, they have great shot at winning the East and to play for the SEC title next season.
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