University of Florida

Could Jim McElwain start a freshman QB in the Outback Bowl? He hasn’t ruled it out

Florida quarterback Austin Appleby (12) and quarterback Feleipe Franks (13) signal in a play from the sideline during the first half of an NCAA college football game against North Texas in Gainesville, Fla., Sat., Sept. 17, 2016.
Florida quarterback Austin Appleby (12) and quarterback Feleipe Franks (13) signal in a play from the sideline during the first half of an NCAA college football game against North Texas in Gainesville, Fla., Sat., Sept. 17, 2016. AP

Austin Appleby only has one more game of eligibility at Florida.

Luke Del Rio’s game status is still up in the air.

Which begs the question: Could UF coach Jim McElwain burn a freshman quarterback’s redshirt for the Gators’ Jan. 2 Outback Bowl matchup against Iowa?

He hasn’t ruled out the option yet, and he said he would spend the next month figuring out the best plan for all parties involved.

“That’s one of those deals I think we have to sit down with them and their parents and handlers and all that,” McElwain said after Florida’s 54-16 loss to Alabama in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game on Saturday. “I’m not sure it’s fair, but at the same time, I know they want to play. So we’ll see.”

What happens over Florida’s 15 bowl practices, which McElwain said will begin Dec. 15, will decide a lot for those freshmen — Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask.

McElwain split the team up during the first week of bowl practices last year. Those who were returning to the team next year and were healthy went through practice as normal. The seniors and the juniors who have already declared for the NFL Draft spent that week in the weight room and focused on conditioning.

As game day got closer, McElwain re-integrated the group and focused on preparing specifically

It was a chance for McElwain to get a glimpse at what he would have to work with in the spring, an early indication of the returning talent for next season. And this time around, next season begins with a trip to Arlington, Texas, to face Michigan.

“It’s an opportunity for you to really get some of those young guys who have been doing a great job for you, but get them prepared as we move forward as a program looking for the following year,” McElwain said. “And yet staying sharp with the guys who are going to go out and play is very important. So, anybody will tell you, these 15 days you get to practice really helps your program.”

And with Appleby on the way out and Del Rio still dealing with a shoulder injury, that means Franks and Trask would receive the majority — if not all — of the first- and second-team quarterback repetitions.

McElwain had opportunities to give Franks or Trask playing time earlier in the year, notably after Del Rio was ruled out following the Arkansas game.

But with the SEC East still in the Gators’ grasp, the coach stuck with Appleby for the final four weeks of the season. The graduate transfer from Purdue won the first two games against South Carolina and LSU to clinch the division before Florida fell to Florida State and Alabama by a combined score of 85-29.

“It’s never about the redshirt,” Trask said. “It’s always about what the team needs. If that’s what Coach wants, he’s going to make whatever decision he wants to make and we’re going to roll with it.”

Franks said even though his only collegiate experience has come during practice, Del Rio and Appleby have helped him with his maturity and his knowledge of the game.

“Just being around them is a tremendous help in everything that I do,” Franks said, “so just continually being around them will help me out a lot going into the spring and throughout the rest of my career here.”

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