It might be difficult to curb the giddiness of Florida fans today, as they celebrate the widely reported news of Gators quarterback Treon Harris (2014-15) moving to wide receiver.
But here it comes:
Florida may have landed one of the most heralded blue-chip quarterbacks from the Class of 2016 (Feleipe Franks of Crawfordville, Fla.), but that likely won’t help the Gators achieve their immediate goal of back-to-back SEC East titles.
With or without Harris, Florida still has the look of a shorthanded or ceiling-scraping group (among veterans) at the quarterbacking slot; and short-term help isn’t necessarily on the way.
Check out this recent photo Tweet from Austin Appleby’s account (below). Yes, Harris is notably absent from the cadre of Gators quarterbacks posing at midfield, but it might also infer that Appleby — a graduate transfer from Purdue — gets first crack at the starting job in 2016. After all, why would a grad transfer go somewhere new … just to sit on the bench? (Other possible starters: Franks, Luke Del Rio)
— Austin Appleby (@AAppleby12) February 4, 2016
To be fair, Appleby (2,777 yards passing, 19 TDs, 19 INTs, 55.3-percent passer from 2013-15) has the requisite size (6-foot-5, 239 pounds) and arm strength to make an SEC roster. His playmakers at Florida will likely be an upgrade from the Purdue days, as well.
Throw in the progressive-minded acumen of Gators coach Jim McElwain … and there’s a foundation of late-bloomer potential here.
However, Appleby posted two of the ugliest Power 5 starts of the 2015 campaign, tossing four interceptions in the opener against Marshall … and then completing just 9 of 28 passes in Purdue’s wretched home loss to Virginia Tech (51-24).
The Marshall defeat was a forgettable seasonal debut for Appleby, who had attracted some NFL-draft buzz last summer. His first pass of the year (below) was returned for a touchdown; and then his last toss of the game — with the Boilermakers in position for the tying or go-ahead score — was also taken back to the house by Marshall.
Two weeks later, I had the misfortune of watching the entire Virginia Tech-Purdue game with a friend (and Boilermakers alum); and before the final gun sounded, he was hell-bent on making the seven-hour drive from Atlanta to West Lafayette, Ind. … with the irrational-fan intent of helping Appleby pack his suitcase for another college program.
In fact, I can still remember my friend shouting to no one in particular: Nine passes! Who completes just nine balls in a passing offense … on a warm, sunny day?
The lesson here: Yes, Harris (1,920 total yards, 9 TDs, 9 INTs in 2015) was an ineffectual replacement for the suspended (and eventually departed) Will Grier last season; but Appleby also has the potential to fluster Florida fans in 2016.
Let the record show: Appleby has never faced an SEC defense in his collegiate career.
In other words, this isn’t a Be careful what you wish for warning for the Gators faithful.
Rather, it’s a reminder that Harris (5-foot-11) and Appleby — disparate physical dimensions aside — might yield similar results in Florida’s work-in-progress passing attack.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.