A big arm for a big game.
Three days away from his team’s high-profile matchup with Michigan, University of Florida coach Jim McElwain announced Wednesday that redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks will start at quarterback, ending a three-player competition with redshirt junior Luke Del Rio and graduate senior transfer Malik Zaire.
Franks will be UF’s first opening-game freshman starter at the position since Kerwin Bell in 1984, under almost the same circumstances.
Bell played 10th-ranked Miami at a neutral site (Tampa). Franks is leading the No. 17 Gators against the No. 11 Wolverines on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“He’s going to be excited, there’s no doubt about it,” McElwain said. “In that big stage, the guy’s got a big arm, too. You know what, he’s been in those (big moments). He’s played in state championship games. He’ll be ready to go.”
In the 1984 game, Bell threw a TD pass to Frankie Neal with 41 seconds left to give UF a 20-19 lead, but Bernie Kosar countered with a 12-yard scoring pass to Eddie Brown with seven seconds left. Tolbert Bain intercepted Bell and returned the ball 59 yards for a touchdown on the final play for a 32-20 UM victory.
The difference is Bell was forced into the situation when several players ahead of him on the depth chart were injured. Franks, who has yet to take his first college snap, beat out two players who had a combined 22 games of experience.
McElwain hinted that Franks benefited from being the only candidate for the job who practiced in the spring. Zaire was still at Notre Dame and Del Rio, 5-1 as a starter for the Gators last season, was on the mend from a shoulder injury that eventually knocked him out for the season.
“The whole body of work from spring on,” McElwaine said after practice in explaining his decision — a bombshell he dropped to overshadow an earlier announcement that running back Jordan Scarlet and receiver Rick Wells became the ninth and 10th players to be suspended for the Michigan game.
“Him being there and being a part of that, I think he’s a little bit ahead. He deserves it. He’s done a really good job. Not to say the other guys didn’t.”
Franks arrived at UF as a heralded four-star recruit out of Crawfordville and certainly looks the part.
Listed at 6-foot-5 and 227 pounds, he has a prototypical frame and decent mobility to go along with outstanding arm strength.
He was rated the No. 5 pro-style quarterback in the class of 2016, according to 247’s composite rankings, after throwing for 2,766 yards and 35 touchdowns while leading Wakulla to the Class 5A state championship game.
McElwain has not ruled out playing Del Rio or Zaire against the Wolverines.