Given the amount of returning talent and remaining eligibility plus the transitory nature of the position, something had to give in the Gators’ 2020 quarterback room.
Sunday, it did.
Former starter Feleipe Franks announced via Instagram his intention to leave the program next year. He plans to explore the NFL draft or transfer away from a program where he has started 24 games.
“My heart is heavy…” the redshirt junior wrote. “There will be a lot that is missed.”
If the timing — less than 24 hours after his No. 7 Gators ended their regular season with a 40-17 shellacking of Florida State —was a surprise, the move itself was not. If one of the Gators’ promising passers was going to leave before next fall, Franks was the most likely candidate.
The Crawfordville native never seemed fully accepted by a fan base that craves points. Maybe it’s because it took him too long to live up to the blue-chip buzz he gained by spurning LSU to sign with UF in 2016. He started eight games as a redshirt freshman but lost the job repeatedly and struggled (nine touchdowns, eight interceptions) during the Gators’ 4-7 flop.
Franks improved drastically in 2018, throwing 24 touchdowns and six interceptions (one of the top 20 ratios in the nation). But he was booed and benched in a brutal home loss to Missouri and responded the next week by shushing his home crowd against South Carolina. He went on to lead the Gators to a 10-win season and earn offensive MVP honors in the Peach Bowl blowout of Michigan.
He looked better this season, too, until he fractured/dislocated his ankle at Kentucky. His replacement, Kyle Trask, hasn’t missed a beat. Trask ranks No. 13 nationally in passing efficiency (159.24) and on Saturday became the first UF quarterback since Tim Tebow to post three 300-yard passing games in the same season.
Even if Trask hadn’t had a breakout season for a team in contention for a New Year’s Six bowl game, he was unlikely to leave. If he wanted to bolt to start somewhere else, he would have gone a year or two ago, back when he was stuck on the bench behind Franks.
Redshirt freshman Emory Jones wouldn’t be the first blue-chip quarterback from his signing class to leave a major program. But he has been a valuable contributor as a change-of-pace option this season and has given no indication he wants to transfer.
In a position where only one player can take the snap at a time and a room where three’s a crowd, Franks always looked like the odd man out.
His awful ankle injury was going to keep him sidelined into the spring, and probably for all of spring practice. Franks was going to fall farther behind Trask and Jones in what still could be a fascinating quarterback competition for 2020.
Besides, Franks had other options. He signed with the Boston Red Sox in the offseason and could pursue a minor-league baseball career. He’s expected to graduate later this month, which would allow him to be eligible immediately elsewhere as a transfer.
The NFL, however, was his top goal. Franks is draft-eligible and admitted at SEC media days that he thought 2019 could be his final year with the Gators.
It was after all. It just didn’t go quite the way anyone expected.