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Florida (Feleipe Franks) and FSU (Deondre Francois) name starting quarterbacks

Both moves were expected, because Francois and Franks have the most immediate upside.
Two big quarterback questions are out of the way: Feleipe Franks will start for the Florida Gators, and Deondre Francois will start at Florida State. [ TIMES FILE ]
Two big quarterback questions are out of the way: Feleipe Franks will start for the Florida Gators, and Deondre Francois will start at Florida State. [ TIMES FILE ]
Published Aug. 27, 2018

Months of uncertainty surrounding two of the biggest battles in the state ended with two unsurprising announcements Monday.

First, new Florida State coach Willie Taggart announced redshirt junior Deondre Francois will start at quarterback in the No. 19 Seminoles' Labor Day home opener against No. 20 Virginia Tech.

Three and a half hours later, the Gators listed redshirt sophomore Feleipe Franks as their top quarterback for Saturday's opener against Charleston Southern and (barring disaster) beyond.

Both moves were widely expected, because Francois and Franks have the most immediate upside on traditional powers that enter reboot seasons with muted expectations.

"When he's in there running the offense, it's a lot more efficient and a lot less mistakes," Taggart told reporters in Tallahassee.

The last part is key for Francois, on and off the field.

On the field, Francois seems to fit the Gulf Coast Offense Taggart began to use at USF.

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Francois looked sharper than last year's starter, James Blackman, and redshirt freshman Bailey Hockman during preseason camp. He showed accuracy on the kind of short, quick passes Taggart requires, and he proved during his sack-filled season as the starter in 2016 that he can take the hits required of Taggart's mobile quarterbacks.

Francois also proved himself mentally, rebounding from the knee injury that ended his season 12 games early last year, then recovering from the reps he lost as a limited participant in spring practice.

"It's a lot of gray area in this offense," Francois said at FSU's media day earlier this month. "I feel like I manage that gray area well."

Francois must also continue to prove that he can manage things off the field. In January, police investigated a domestic violence accusation leveled against him (he was not arrested or charged because of conflicting statements and a lack of independent witnesses). Three months later, he accepted a pre-arrest diversion program after police found marijuana in his bedroom.

Francois said the long offseason forced him to mature. One tangible change: He moved back on campus to be with his team more.

"My decision making has improved a lot," Francois said at media day. "Just growing up, knowing that my team comes first."

In Gainesville, the immediate needs of the team led first-year coach Dan Mullen to pick Franks as the starter, ahead of backup Kyle Trask and blue-chip freshman Emory Jones.

RELATED: Florida Gators' quarterback battle will be won by routine plays, not extraordinary ones

Although Mullen has said that his first year will be a balance between winning now and fixing the program's shaky foundation, coaches felt confident that Franks' athleticism and strong arm will help them the most now, as the entire quarterback room develops.

"It was pretty close," Mullen said. "If you go to the grades, they were right there. It was the extra little things of the extending plays, the intangibles."

Franks showed flashes of success last year, like his 79-yard rush against Texas A&M and the 63-yard touchdown pass to Tyrie Cleveland that beat Tennessee. But he also struggled at times. He threw almost as many interceptions (eight) as touchdowns (nine) and lost the starting job twice.

Although Franks is the only quarterback on the roster with game experience, Mullen said that wasn't a factor because he wasn't at UF last year. Instead of considering their pasts, Mullen only looked ahead, starting this weekend.

"They're still a long way to go in all their futures," Mullen said. "It came down to just watching what Feleipe can do within the offense right now, where they're all at in their development stages. He gives (us) the best chance to win."

With those decisions out of the way, USF remains the only one of the state's top five programs that has not formally announced a starter. Coach Charlie Strong said Monday that he has decided on a starter and will reveal him later this week (although the Tampa Bay Times reported last week that graduate transfer Blake Barnett has been told he'll start Saturday against Elon).

"We had a chance to sit down with them, but it was a tough decision to be made," Strong said.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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