Losing your starting quarterback is never easy to recover from. Many teams become shells of themselves without their No. 1 passer under center. Some completely give up all hope.
Alabama needs Tua Tagovailoa just as much as Clemson needs Trevor Lawrence or Georgia needs Jake Fromm. The symbiotic relationship between any given NCAA football team and its leader and signal caller is simply that important.
The same goes for the Florida Gators, who were dealt a crushing blow when they lost quarterback Feleipe Franks for the rest of the season in just their third game last Saturday night against the Kentucky Wildcats in Lexington, Kentucky.
Franks dislocated his right ankle on a fourth down rushing attempt in the third quarter when all 310 pounds of Wildcat defensive lineman Calvin Taylor chased him from behind landed on it.
Franks writhed in pain and unhooked his helmet before Florida medical staff placed an air cast on his right leg and carted him off the field. As No. 13 departed Kroger Field, hope for the 2019 season began to fade.
But Gator fans, I’m here to tell you the season is not a wash.
The first reason is obvious: Backup quarterback and redshirt junior Kyle Trask played his ass off. Entering with his team down 10-21 in the start of the fourth quarter, the one-time high school backup at Texas’s Manvel High School showed poise, arm strength, accuracy, and good decision making.
The Gators marched down the field behind Trask’s 4-for-5 passing and 54 yards and went on to score three touchdowns — 19 unanswered points — against a UK defense that had stifled Franks and the offense for the three previous quarters. Franks’ play — including a bad interception on the first drive — was similar to Florida’s season opening win over Miami.
So, was Trask’s heroic play an outlier for just a capable backup quarterback? Or can the 6-foot-5 redshirt junior replicate his gunslinging, clutch comeback play down the stretch against vaunted SEC defenses?
The short answer is we don’t know. UF head coach Dan Mullen doesn’t know. Trask has a slightly different skill set than Franks, and it’s up to Mullen to maybe reconfigure the playbook now.
Mullen also said in his postgame press conference that redshirt freshman Emory Jones would also receive snaps. How I see it, that means Florida can get creative using Jones’ speed but there’s definitely uncertainty with inexperienced quarterbacks.
Every fan base is hopeful at the start of the season, but I think even the most die-hard orange and blue fans know Franks wasn’t going to be the guy to take UF on a national championship run.
That’s more of an observation on college football’s lack of parity than it is an insult to Franks. By no means am I saying Franks’ leg injury was a good thing, either. But there are probably five or less NCAA teams capable of winning a national title this year.
The second reason I think a 3-0 Florida still ranked inside the Associated Press Top 10 can at least compete in the SEC East (it would take a near miracle to get past Georgia and play in the SEC Championship) is its schedule is favorable.
Tennessee and Florida State are downright awful this year, and both of those games are in The Swamp. I’d chalk up home games against Towson and Vanderbilt as wins as well.
That leaves a tough home game against No. 8 Auburn, a neutral-site game against No. 3 Georgia and challenging road games against No. 4 LSU, Missouri and South Carolina. The Gamecocks already have two losses, including one against North Carolina, and Mizzou fell to Wyoming in its season opener.
Even if the Gators drop all three of those games to top-10 opponents, it’s not hard to envision a 9-3 regular season finish and a decent bowl game berth.
Temper your expectations. Trask is not a Heisman Trophy quarterback like some of these other top-10 teams can boast. But if Mullen can navigate his team to eight or nine wins? Consider it a success. Might as well fill up your Florida glass and get ready for the rest of the season.