GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Jim McElwain has been mum on updates as to who his starting quarterback will be when the No. 17 Gators open the 2017 season against No. 11 Michigan in Arlington, Texas.
The Sept. 2 showdown in AT&T Stadium will set the tone for the season, but the person leading Florida’s offense is unknown.
It could be redshirt freshman Felipe Franks. Or it could be Luke Del Rio. Or it could be Malik Zaire. We don’t know.
SEC Country’s Florida writers Zach Abolverdi, Jordan McPherson and Ryan Young made predictions as to who we think will take the first snap of the season.
Zach Abovlerdi: Feleipe Franks
As we approach the final weekend before Florida’s season opener, the Gators haven’t named a starting quarterback and the competition will carry into game week. All could play against Michigan — as McElwain alluded to Wednesday — and Florida’s QB situation may not be settled until Tennessee week. I think Franks starts and takes the most snaps not only on Sept. 2 , but throughout the 2017 season. Graduate transfer Zaire will play in every game and make an offensive impact for the Gators, but Franks is likely their long-term future. Meanwhile, 2016 starter Del Rio should only play if the redshirt freshman struggles in his debut.
Jordan McPherson: Luke Del Rio
If we were writing this at the start of fall camp, I would have said Zaire, no question about it. Why else would he have transferred to Florida as a graduate student if he wasn’t going to start? If were were writing earlier in the week, I would have said Franks, no question about it. Seeing the way his confidence has soared over the past two weeks was great to see and his command of the offense improved enough that I thought McElwain would go with the redshirt freshman that he’s been grooming for a year and a half.
But now, in this moment, I’m saying Del Rio will be the starting quarterback against Michigan. My logic for it is two-fold.
One, McElwain knows what he’s getting from Del Rio. He’s been in the system for three years and has the best grasp of the playbook. He’ll be able to make enough plays to keep Florida’s offense alive if the Gators are driving. Second, if Franks does start and has a bad game, pulling him in favor of Del Rio or Zaire will kill the confidence he has built up to this point.
Zaire will be involved in the offense as a change-of-pace/wildcat-type role, but he hasn’t done enough yet (at least from what little the media gets to see) for me to feel comfortable pegging him as the starter.
Now, whoever starts on Sept. 2 isn’t guaranteed to be the starter for the season. Remember, it took McElwain three weeks to name Will Grier the starter over Treon Harris in 2015. So the battle will play out, but for now, it looks to me like Del Rio will get the nod.
Ryan Young: Luke Del Rio
I didn’t think I’d be here at this point, but here I am. At the start of the week, I was banking on Zaire to take the first snaps for several reasons. While he wasn’t given a guarantee in coming to Florida, he had to be sold something compelling to pass on programs he could have joined in the spring to get a head start on this season.
Franks and Del Rio have made this a tighter competition than many expected, but I thought Zaire’s versatility and ability to expand plays with his feet was an extra dynamic the Gators would want available. Not to mention, he’s started big games against LSU and Texas while at Notre Dame and performed well.
I think Zaire plays and factors into this first game, but the buzz around Del Rio is strong. He’s the safest option, the one the coaches seem to trust the most at this point, and safe may be enough to earn the nod against Michigan in a game where limiting mistakes will be at a premium. I think it would be difficult to have Franks make his collegiate debut against the Wolverines defense on a magnified stage. If he were to struggle early and the Gators opted to pull him, they risk setting back the confidence he’s built.
I believe this competition will remain ongoing, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Franks in the mix to start Week 2. Or Zaire. But if I had to guess — and that’s what this is — I’ll say Del Rio starts the opener.
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