GAINESVILLE, Fla. — SEC Country’s Zach Abolverdi learned Sunday that Florida starting quarterback Luke Del Rio will miss Saturday’s SEC East showdown at Tennessee because of a knee injury, though the injury is not of the season-ending variety.
The program brought in backup QB Austin Appleby precisely for a situation like this. The question is whether he will be up to the task.
Appleby saw significant playing time in his last two years at Purdue, with 485 career passing attempts. Purdue went 5-19 in those two years and 2-10 in games when Appleby saw significant playing time.
Purdue is not Florida. The talent surrounding Appleby should be significantly better. But Appleby did not play well at Purdue by any metric (QB rating of 108.4 in his two years, 19 TD and 19 INT).
The key question is whether graduate transfers play better after they leave one situation for another.
To examine this, I looked at the QB rating of all quarterbacks who were graduate transfers and played at their new school in either 2014 or 2015. I limited the list to those who had at least 100 attempts at both schools and used QB rating because it does show a strong correlation with winning. Understandably, this list is relatively short, but it does seem instructive in terms of what Gators fans should expect from Appleby.
There were eight graduate transfer QBs in 2014 or 2015 who saw significant playing time at their first school. As shown in the table below, two showed significant improvement, one took a significant step back and the other five showed extremely small improvements in their play. On average, the QBs showed a 6.5 percent improvement in their quarterback rating.
I also examined graduate transfers who got significant playing time at their new destination but not at their previous one. There were 10 situations like this in 2014 and 2015 and combining those players with the ones above produced an average QB rating of 137.8.
In 2015, this would have ranked right around Virginia Tech’s Michael Brewer and Pitt’s Nathan Peterman (both graduate transfers coincidentally).
So, what these statistics appear to be saying is that a graduate transfer’s track record matters. It also says that graduate transfers are typically average QBs.
Both of these conclusions do not bode well for Appleby. His QB rating in 2015 for Purdue was 113.6. To put that into perspective, Appleby ranked 104 out of 124 QBs. For even more perspective, he ranked five spots below former Gators QB Treon Harris.
Yes, there are players who defy these statistics and show significant improvement after transferring. Russell Wilson — one of the first QBs to take advantage of the transfer rule — improved from 127.5 (average) to 191.8 (elite).
But Appleby was worse at Purdue than Wilson was at North Carolina State. And Wilson transferred due to a disagreement with his coach over playing minor league baseball, not because he wasn’t good enough to win the starting job.
The reality is that the Gators are in an awful situation. Appleby likely isn’t good enough to lead them into Knoxville and get a win. It’s unfair to throw true freshmen QBs Kyle Trask and Feleipe Franks into that situation.
There’s really only one option left.
Hope that Del Rio is a quick healer.