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Michigan rematch will show us how far Florida Gators’ Feleipe Franks has come

'I never doubt my ability to play football, so I don’t want to say I wasn’t ready,' the quarterback says. But ...
Florida Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks was benched in his first career start, against Michigan. [ AP File Photo/Tony Gutierrez ]
Florida Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks was benched in his first career start, against Michigan. [ AP File Photo/Tony Gutierrez ]
Published Dec. 14, 2018|Updated Dec. 14, 2018

GAINESVILLE — When Florida coach Dan Mullen was asked earlier this season about playing blue-chip true freshman Emory Jones more, he demurred. Mullen didn't want to throw Jones in before he was ready.

That, Mullen said, is what might have happened to Feleipe Franks when he started the 2017 season opener as a redshirt freshman.

As Franks prepares to face the same Michigan team he struggled against in that first start, he acknowledged that Mullen might be right.

"I never doubt my ability to play football, so I don't want to say I wasn't ready," Franks said Friday. "But at the same time I don't think I was as smart about the game as I am now. Making smarter decisions, things like that, I don't think I was ready in that case, but you know it's a learning point for me."

And Franks has obviously learned a lot since his debut — a 5-for-9, 75-yard clunker —and his first season.

His passing efficiency (144.1) is up more than 30 points. His touchdown passes are up (from 9 to 23) while his interceptions are down (from eight to six). His completion percentage is up almost 4 points, too. He makes better decisions on pre-snap and post-snap reads.

RELATED: Mullen: Potential series with Gators would be 'good deal' for UCF 

Yet the quarterback depth chart remains an open question within the Gators' fan base. There's more buzz around Jones —whose biggest play was an incompletion against Georgia — than Franks, who has boosted the team's scoring by 12 points per game.

"I feel like I've told you guys this many times," Franks said, "but I've never shied away from a competition."

That's good, because he'll be probably be in another one this offseason. Jones is a better athlete and probably a better fit for Mullen's system. Expect the Gators to design a specialty package for him in Atlanta that's similar to the one they used against Georgia.

But only a specialty package.

This is still Franks' offense.  And the Peach Bowl represents the latest, best chance for Franks to prove that he deserves to keep it.

Michigan dominated him the first time around. Franks was benched him after losing a fumble early in the second half. His Gators finished without an offensive touchdown in a 33-17 beat-down.

That's not all on Franks. His top receiver (Antonio Callaway) was suspended, and he lost his top running back (Jordan Scarlett) to suspension only three days before the game. But Franks didn't do enough to help his team win, or even stay competitive against a top-tier program.

So his second matchup against an elite Michigan defense is an opportunity for redemption — a measuring stick of how much Franks has grown and a glimpse into how far he might be able to carry UF in the future.

Nine wins and a New Year's Six bowl is nice for Mullen's first year, but nice isn't the standard the Gators must meet. The expectation is to compete for championships. How Franks fares against Michigan will give us a better sense of whether he's the one who can lead them there.

Injury update

Mullen said there's a "good shot" backup quarterback Kyle Trask (foot) is healthy enough to play in the bowl, if necessary. Trask appeared in four games this season and replaced Franks in the Missouri loss.

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

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