GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Matt Corral walked into Florida’s indoor football practice facility during the Gators’ Friday Night Lights recruiting camp and headed straight for midfield.
The 5-star quarterback prospect didn’t compete that night, or even throw a single pass. Instead, he spent the night talking with Florida coach Jim McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, building a bond that he’s hoping will last for the next few years and help propel him to the college football spotlight and, eventually, the NFL.
Florida passed the first test that weekend when Corral, the No. 2-ranked pro-style quarterback in the country, committed to the Gators.
The real test, however, won’t begin until Corral signs his national letter of intent, enrolls in school and steps foot on the practice field. When he does, he’ll have a chance to do what quarterbacks at Florida have failed to do since Tim Tebow left in 2009, and that’s give the Gators a successful, sustainable and effective passing game.
Over the last seven seasons, Florida has started nine different quarterbacks. A 10th — either graduate transfer Malik Zaire or redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks — is expected to start on Sept. 2 when the Gators open their season against Michigan in Arlington, Texas. Florida has not had a starting quarterback play the entire season since 2010.
And over those last seven seasons, Florida’s passing offense has been mediocre at its best times and appalling at its worst. The Gators have ranked in the bottom half of the Football Bowl Subdivision in average passing yards each of the last seven years, peaking at 79th out of 128 teams in 2016.
Florida’s passing stats since 2010
|Starting QBs||Average yards||SEC rank||National rank|
|2016||Austin Appleby |
Luke Del Rio
|2015||Will Grier |
|2014||Jeff Driskel |
|2013||Jeff Driskel |
|2012||Jacoby Brissett |
|2011||John Brantley |
The Gators are hoping the drought ends before Corral gets to campus, and McElwain is optimistic it could happen. He said at SEC Media Days that “for the first time, our [quarterback] room is really good.” There’s good reason for that. The quarterback room for the 2017 season consists of Zaire and Franks — both vying for the starting job — along with redshirt junior Luke Del Rio, redshirt freshman Kyle Trask, and true freshmen Jake Allen and Kadarius Toney.
The weapons are there, too, with the Gators getting ready to field their best wide receiver corps in 2017 since the Tebow era and with three top receivers committed to the 2018 class.
But even if the Gators have a breakthrough passing season in 2017 under Zaire — who most believe is the frontrunner for the starting job as fall camp approaches — sustaining that success for the years to come with players who are in the program from the beginning will be the key.
Corral’s commitment is the next step in that. He’s a drop-back passer who has the size, arm talent and confidence to rival Franks immediately for the starting quarterback job in 2018.
The Gators have slowly begun rebuilding their passing game under McElwain, but work still needs to be done. And if Corral can live up to the billing, it should only help McElwain and his staff bring in their quarterbacks of the future after Corral.