Even if he lost both of last season’s starters, Florida Gators coach Jim McElwain seems to be on stable footing at the quarterback position as the 2016 season nears.
Oregon State transfer Luke Del Rio, Purdue transfer Austin Appleby and a couple of talented freshmen have restocked the Gators’ depth chart with talent and know-how, even if their SEC experience is nonexistent.
Let’s take a look at Florida’s quarterback situation with the season just around the corner:
2015 in review: McElwain seemed to have found his quarterback of the future when redshirt freshman Will Grier (106-for-161, 1,204 yards, 10 touchdowns, three interceptions) grabbed the starting position early in the year. However, Grier tested positive for performance-enhancing drug use and earned a one-year NCAA suspension before opting to transfer. His replacement, Treon Harris (119-235, 1,676 yards, nine TDs, six INTs), helped the Gators claim an SEC East title, but the offense sputtered under his leadership and Harris eventually left the program, too.
What’s the buzz? “We’ve got great arm talent and some guys that really understand how to study what we’re trying to do offensively, and the exposure has been really good to them. Austin, the guy that was his offensive coordinator [at Purdue, John Shoop] and I worked together at the Raiders. There’s a lot of similarity there. And obviously in Luke’s case, he was at Alabama the year after I left with Nuss [Florida offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier], so there’s some familiarity with what we try to do, which I think is really good.” -- McElwain
Key weapons: Let’s assume that leading receiver Antonio Callaway (35 receptions, 678 yards, four touchdowns) will be available all season. If he’s in the lineup after months of off-the-field questions, that will give the Gators’ passing game a shot in the arm. Without Callaway, the pecking order would be murkier. Florida also lost Demarcus Robinson (48-522, two TDs) and tight end Jake McGee (41-381, four TDs), while it returns wideouts Brandon Powell (29-390, three TDs), Ahmad Fulwood (6-61) and tight end DeAndre Goolsby (17-277, one TD). The Gators also signed several blue-chip receiver prospects -- ESPN 300 honorees Tyrie Cleveland, Josh Hammond and Freddie Swain, plus four-star Rick Wells -- and junior college standout Dre Massey.
What to watch: Del Rio was the presumed starter throughout the summer after an outstanding spring game and McElwain finally made it official last week. Will he ride with veterans Del Rio and Appleby throughout 2016 or will impressive freshman Kyle Trask make it onto the field at some point? That's worth watching in the Sept. 3 opener against UMass.
Next in line: Del Rio is a redshirt sophomore and Appleby is a graduate transfer playing his final college season. Trask and Feleipe Franks, the No. 65 overall prospect on the ESPN 300 in 2016, are both true freshmen.
Grade: C-plus. Del Rio had limited game experience in two previous college stops (Alabama and Oregon State) and Appleby completed 55 percent of his passes for 2,777 yards, 19 touchdowns and 19 interceptions in parts of three seasons (11 starts) at Purdue. There’s limited game experience here, but enough to feel good about this season and the future.