Is Feleipe Franks good enough to lead Florida football to an SEC East title?

By Adam Silverstein
October 18, 2018
Is Feleipe Franks good enough to lead Florida football to an SEC East title?

Image Credit: SEC Network

If you told Dan Mullen ahead of the season that the Florida Gators would be 6-1 at the halfway point, he would probably take that record and run. He may not have expected the lone loss to come at home to Kentucky, but still, Florida being a legitimate SEC East contender through seven games is beyond the expectations of most.

The Gators have won with defense, special teams and a strong running game to this point. And as has been repeated almost weekly in this space, redshirt sophomore Feleipe Franks has made major strides as a signal caller. He may not be playing quarterback as well as Florida fans want — the expectations are high, after all — but Franks to this point is a far better player than he was a year ago.

Granted, Franks is throwing more passes per game, but he has nearly reached his 2017 yardage total in just seven weeks with a quarterback rating 30 points higher and a 3.0 touchdown-to-interception ratio compared to 1.1 a year ago. He has already found the end zone 15 times with his arm (nine all of last year) and is proving to be a willing runner for Mullen when his number is called.

Franks is not great, at least not yet. But he’s not bad, at least not anymore. When you think about it, he is a top-five quarterback in the conference right now, and there are a number of reasons as to why.

Aside from the fact that Franks as a prospect was never supposed to be an SEC starter until his third season (which is now), it’s not a stretch to say that he is being coached up to a far greater degree in a more competitive room than his first two seasons. There is a better compliment of playmakers around him, a more creative offensive system and an offensive line that is slowly but surely coming together to give him additional time in the pocket.

There are still miles to go until Franks is a championship-caliber quarterback. He is doing better in his progressions than a year ago but still locks onto his first two reads far too often. Twice in as many weeks he has turned the ball over in mind-numbing fashion with Florida in the red zone. Last week, it took the air out of a tremendous opening drive and put UF in an exceedingly difficult position on the road that was easily avoided. (Franks also fumbled in that game, his only two-turnover performance of the season.)

The question, though, is whether Franks is good enough in 2018 to lead the Gators to the top of the SEC East. And that answer is yes, especially when you compare it to some off his immediate predecessors.

Through seven games, Franks has outperformed every Gators starting quarterback since Tim Tebow. That’s not necessarily a murderer’s row of competition, but it’s still a factual statement. I suspected this to be the case a couple of weeks ago, but 247Sports’ Thomas Goldkamp did the math this week.

A noticeable issue there is Franks’ rate of completion, but even that has improved within this season as he’s connected on 61 percent of his passes over the last three weeks, all difficult Florida wins. It’s not tough to tell when watching games that he’s doing a lot he failed to accomplish a year ago — fitting the ball in tight windows, connecting on back-shoulder throws, leading his receivers and even occasionally making that extra read (or finding an open pass catcher on a scramble play) when things break down.

More than anything else, though, Mullen’s unwavering confidence and support of Franks has given the quarterback reason to believe in himself. Despite a handful of mistakes, Franks has never been pulled from a game. After the first couple of weeks, there has been nary a question as to whether he was the best choice for the job. Where one can argue that mistakes were made with Will Grier and Jacoby Brissett, it was always obvious that Mullen was going to roll with Franks, even though he held his decision out until fall. That is not lost on a young man, especially one who needed his confidence built in a major way following a difficult 2017 season and the unmitigated disaster of the Jim McElwain era.

Franks is not to the level at this point where he alone can go out and win the SEC East for the Gators with his arm, particularly not when he seemingly always gives the opponent one extra possession per game via turnover. But Mullen clearly has him prepared and confident week to week, his teammates believe in him as the captain of the offense, and the game plan each week has been built to not only his strengths but those of the rest of the offense. Much of that could not have been said a year ago.

There are bigger concerns than the quarterback play at this point. Will Florida’s ailing and thin secondary be able to stand up to Jake Fromm and Justin Fields when it meets Georgia after the bye week? Can the offensive line create enough room for the Gators’ running backs — and keep the Bulldogs’ rushers off Franks — against a strong defensive front?

Franks will need to keep his nose clean against Georgia, but Florida must also fend off a preseason top-five team that will be stewing for two weeks after getting absolutely embarrassed by LSU. Should the Gators find some way to get by the Dawgs in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, this season will take on a completely different tone. And Franks will have a lot to do with it.


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