GAINESVILLE — Florida Gators quarterback Jack Miller waited his entire life for the opportunity he got in December.
After spending the first 32 games of his college career buried on the depth chart, injured or both, he finally earned his first start against Oregon State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Miller led the Gators’ worst offensive performance in five years, and he’s still seething over it.
“I’ve been pissed about it since it happened,” Miller said after a recent spring practice, “so (I’m) making sure it won’t happen again.”
Whether Miller can live up to that expectation will go a long way in shaping the rest of his college career and the success of coach Billy Napier’s UF tenure.
Talent is not the issue with Miller. He was a phenom before his first high school pass, a blue-chip recruit who was once the No. 1 quarterback in his class and broke Arizona state passing records as a freshman.
Instead, his career has been hindered — at least in part — by circumstances beyond his control. In his first year at Ohio State (2020), he backed up Justin Fields, a former Heisman Trophy finalist who was picked No. 11 overall by the Bears. In 2021, he backed up C.J. Stroud, a two-time Heisman finalist who’s in contention to be this year’s No. 1 overall pick.
After transferring to Florida, Miller was stuck behind yet another likely top-12 draft pick, Anthony Richardson. Perhaps Miller would have challenged Richardson more seriously for playing time, but he tore a thumb ligament and chipped a piece of his bone in training camp. The Gators were optimistic he’d be back by Week 3, but it took almost two months before he could even grip the ball properly, let alone participate in an SEC game.
“It was really hard to get back to full-capacity strength …” Miller said. “It was definitely difficult (mentally) for me. I want to be on the field.”
When Miller finally got on the field in Las Vegas, the situation was bleak. The Gators were down 21 players who had participated in at least one game, including their top player (All-American guard O’Cyrus Torrence), another lineman with starting experience (Richie Leonard) and three of their top five receivers.
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Making your first start is hard enough. Doing so with a depleted roster against a top-20 scoring defense after being unable to throw for much of the season? That’s a recipe for failure.
“It was definitely not the performance that I wanted or how I envisioned it going at all,” Miller said.
Given those circumstances, it’s unfair to judge Miller by his 13-for-22, 180-yard game, or the fact that he quarterbacked an offense that needed a last-minute field goal to avoid Florida’s first shutout loss since 1988. Which makes next week’s spring game pivotal for Miller.
There will be no caveats or potential excuses in the exhibition, as he competes against Wisconsin transfer Graham Mertz. Though Mertz has 31 more career college starts than Miller, it’s Miller’s second year in Napier’s system. If his extra experience at Florida shows up at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, it will ease concerns in the fan base and show that Mertz shouldn’t be the presumed frontrunner to start against Utah on Aug. 31. If not, then questions will linger about the Gators’ depth at the position — and how active they should be when the transfer portal reopens May 1.
Austin Simmons commits
The Gators’ future quarterback room got a boost Tuesday with the commitment of Austin Simmons, a four-star recruit from Pahokee. His announcement gives UF pledges from quarterbacks ranked among the nation’s top-100 players in back-to-back classes, joining 2024 prospect DJ Lagway. Oral commitments are nonbinding until recruits sign with schools during their senior year.
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