GAINESVILLE, Fla. – I’m clearly on record in my belief that Jim McElwain should start backup QB Austin Appleby for the remainder of the season. If he was the better option against South Carolina, I see no reason why he wouldn’t be the better option against South Carolina or at LSU.
However, Coach McElwain has opened up the competition to true freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask. Thus, I wanted to understand how Gators QBs have performed in their first start historically to help predict what realistic expectations could be for either of the freshmen.
To do this, I examined the first start for every Gators QB going back to Rex Grossman in 2000. I then compared the QB rating of their first start to their career QB rating.
Just looking at the difference column, there’s a large spread for some of the QBs. Some of this is due to the cupcake nature of some first starts. Some of it is due to unbelievable performances (Tim Tebow’s start specifically).
However, the difference between the first start and actual QB ratings on average is only 12.9 points. That shrinks to 4.9 if we remove Tebow’s performance against Western Kentucky. It appears that this is a fairly decent way of predicting what Gators fans can expect from one of the true freshmen should McElwain pick Franks or Trask to start against South Carolina.
Either freshman should do quite well should one of them get the start. Outside of the Treon Harris game against Georgia where he was only asked to throw 6 times, the lowest QB rating of a first time starter belongs to Jacoby Brissett (108.5). Recall that Brissett was forced into action on the road against top-ranked LSU. Obviously a home game against South Carolina is a completely different animal.
The average of 147.4 for this group is quite good. That rating would rank 33rd in the country (out of 128 qualified QBs) and would be significantly better than Del Rio’s performance this year (118.6).
Finally, the numbers here indicate that after the first start, we’ll have a pretty good idea of whether these QBs are elite. The best two QBs Florida has had in the last 15 years are Tim Tebow and Rex Grossman. While Tebow got to make his first start against an inferior opponent, his efficiency in that start turned out to be a harbinger of things to come.
As for Grossman, he posted an elite QB rating his first two years (167.6) before faltering his junior season in the first year of Ron Zook’s tenure (121.5). His first game with Spurrier as head coach was representative of his career under Spurrier as well.
The rest of the players on this list had pretty average first starts and pretty average careers, indicating that we should know relatively quickly whether Franks or Trask are special. The question is whether finding that out at this time is wise.
I don’t believe it is, for reasons I’ve stated previously. But if McElwain decides to start either Trask or Franks, history suggests we’ll find out on Saturday whether he is the next Tim Tebow.