Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks insists he has nothing to prove.
Coaches, teammates and close to 90,000 fans at Florida Field on Saturday probably would disagree.
Franks was benched three times last season, went 3-5 as the starter and finished with more turnovers (11) than touchdown passes (9). The Gators (4-7) posted their second losing record in five years, and the offense ranked in triple digits nationally for the sixth time in the last seven seasons.
Nothing to prove? It wasn’t all Franks’ fault, but he was often criticized for lacking situational awareness and having poor pocket presence.
Some even expected Franks to transfer after Florida hired coach Dan Mullen to replace Jim McElwain.
Franks stuck around and was named the starter Monday after five months of competition against high school backup Kyle Trask and freshman Emory Jones, who has a ways to go as a passer.
Mullen’s decision was hardly a surprise, but some of Franks’ responses to getting the job raised eyebrows.
“Just ready to get back out there and, not prove myself, but just kind of go back out there and build confidence back up for the team,” Franks said. “I’m not trying to prove anything to anybody. I don’t have anything to prove to anybody.”
Franks ended last season by throwing three interceptions and getting sacked five times in a loss to rival Florida State. He also fumbled early and watched helplessly as the Seminoles returned it for a touchdown.
“That was a rough one,” he said.
Franks has waited more than nine months to get back on the field.
He should get a confidence boost in the opener. The Gators host Charleston Southern of the Football Championship Subdivision. The Bucs are 0-19 against teams from the Football Bowl Subdivision, including a 49-0 loss against Mullen and Mississippi State to begin 2017.
Charleston Southern also was overmatched during its lone visit to Gainesville in 2009, a 62-3 setback in the opener.
The Gators haven’t been the same offensively since that one-loss season, which was Tim Tebow’s senior year.
Quarterback play has been shaky, at best, with 12 different starters and none of them throwing more than 12 touchdowns in any season.
Franks hopes to end the trend, and he’ll have arguably the most talent of any of the others around him.
Florida is loaded at running back, with Jordan Scarlett, Lamical Perine and Malik Davis leading the way, and has two intriguing additions to the receiving corps with Van Jefferson (Mississippi) and Trevon Grimes (Ohio State).
But the offensive line remains the biggest question mark despite having four experienced starters back.
“We’ve got to take care of our business up front,” co-offensive coordinator John Hevesy said.
If everything pans out, Franks could be the beneficiary.
“If you’re the quarterback, you’ve got everybody on your shoulders, everybody in your head,” defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson said. “I tell Feleipe every day: ‘It’s your turn. It’s your year.” So I feel like this year’s for him and it’s up there for grabs.”