Jeff Driskel’s Emergence Makes Gators the New Quarterback U.

Once upon a time, Miami was known as Quarterback U. From the end of the 1970s to the early 1990s, Miami cranked out Heisman Trophy candidates, National Championship winners and future NFLers every couple of years. Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, Vinny Testaverde, Steve Walsh, Craig Erickson and Gino Torretta all played in the pros for many years or won the hardware while at Miami. Not much has been written or said about Florida’s quarterback legacy for the past 20 years, but in comparison, it holds up pretty well.

In 1992, Shane Matthews was wrapping up what was at that time the second or third most successful QB stint in Gainesville ever. He finished it off with the first ever SEC East championship and almost pulled off the impossible by taking future national champ Alabama to the final whistle in the inaugural SEC Championship Game (damn you, Antonio Langham). Matthews went onto a longtime career in the NFL, mostly as a backup.

After Matthews, Danny Wuerrfel eventually took over the reigns and all he did was win a national title, a Heisman, four SEC titles and set every major QB record in SEC history. Wuerrfel’s level of success in the NFL was on par with Erickson and Torretta’s, meaning there were a few years of absolute mediocrity before slipping out of the league.

A few years passed before Rex Grossman became the next to ascend to the Gator quarterback throne. Grossman’s sophomore season was certainly the strongest at such a young age for any player on the list to this point. After finishing a close second in the Heisman balloting, he finished out his Gators career as a junior and was a first-round draft choice in the NFL. There he equaled Kelly in taking his team to the Super Bowl and losing. Of course, Kelly did that three more times than Grossman. Sexy Rexy is still playing, helping mentor RGIII in the District (and by mentor, I mean only in picking out the right ladies to get with).

Chris Leak arrived in Gainesville as the most highly recruited of any of the guys on this list. Leak’s career at Florida saw more ups and downs than a pool after a fat guy cannonballs. But despite the turmoil, Leak persevered, improving every year, becoming one of the strongest leaders in Gators history and calmly guiding the Gators to the national title. Leak’s size made him the only guy on this list never to get a sniff of the NFL.

Overlapping with Leak was the Chosen One. From the moment he stepped foot on campus, Tim Tebow took his place with the greats of the game. His impact was vital to the 2006 title team’s offense despite the limited playing time. And his 2007 season is the greatest ever put together by a college football player in shear numbers. Tebow’s second national title the following year cemented his status as one of the best college football players ever. Of course, the jury is still out on Tebow in the NFL, although I’m on record with my doubts.

There were six quarterbacks in the Hurricanes 12-year run of greatness. I’ve mentioned five Gators quarterbacks in the past 20 years. The tallies in those runs: Miami 4 national titles, 2 Heismans, 4 NFL first-round picks, 36,372 passing yards, 261 TDs; Florida 3 national titles, 2 Heismans, 2 NFL first-round picks, 49,824 passing yards, 441 TDs. The Hurricanes have the advantage in national titles by one and certainly in NFL success. The Gators, though, were almost twice as productive as the Canes at the collegiate level. Some of that of course is offset by the differences in offensive philosophy and eras but not enough to account for the huge discrepancy. And the Gators are also one quarterback short in the comparison.

Which brings us to why I am writing this now. After seven weeks of evidence, I feel confident saying that Jeff Driskel has made the leap and will be the next great Florida quarterback. Although I didn’t research game logs, I feel confident saying none of these other guys had three straight games with less than 100 yards passing in which their team won all three. Few quarterbacks outside of heavy option attacks have. So why does Driskel belong with the greats above? How many quarterbacks have rushed for 177 yards one week and thrown 4 touchdowns the next? When his offensive line figures out how to pass block and his coaches finally take off the training wheels, Driskel will be putting up 300+ yards of total offense every week. He can make all the throws, as evidenced by his TD pass to Jordan Reed against Tennessee and the called back TD to Omarius Hines against South Carolina. And those jets? Not even Tebow had wheels like Driskel. With the rocket arm, pocket presence, blazing speed and quiet demeanor, he’s closer to RGIII than he is to Tebow.

I think Driskel is ready for a breakout all-around game against Georgia and I hope Brent Pease and Will Muschamp give him the chance. Pease said earlier this week that Florida is running the Boise State offense and that Driskel is doing things that Kellen Moore couldn’t do. With his legs, yes, but whether it is because of the struggles of the offensive line or the lack of trust in Driskel and the receivers down the field, this offense has displayed little of the ingenuity of the Boise passing attack. Now it is time for Pease to let him do what Moore did through the air. Double team Jarvis Jones, give Driskel time and watch for the big plays in the passing game.

After this weekend, I think Driskel makes the leap with another in the long line of great sophomore seasons by Florida QBs and secures his place as the next great quarterback at the new Quarterback U.

Some other notes:

-Florida’s season hangs in the balance on Saturday. A win equals Atlanta. A loss likely ends the magic. There should be some fear that Florida will underestimate Georgia based on South Carolina’s 35-7 win over the Bulldogs and Florida’s 44-11 win over the Cocks, which by the transitive theory of college football scores means the Gators should win by 61. Georgia is a dangerous team. And speaking of quarterbacks, Georgia has a great one. Aaron Murray is not the kid who turned it over four times in the Gator Bowl back in 2010. His knock is that he doesn’t win the big one but that’s on Richt, not Murray. We’ve seen Florida’s secondary get beat with big plays and pass interference fouls. We know the defensive line struggles to get any pass rush without blitz support. If Florida can’t rush Murray, he can pick them apart.

-With that weakened pass rush, I hope we see a lot more of Dante Fowler. The freshman is exciting and needs to get some reps on the edge.

-Hard to believe, Florida was on an 0-9 streak against Top 25 teams entering this season. They had been outscored in those games by an average score of 30-13. This year, 3-0 (A&M wasn’t ranked when we played) and outscoring opponents by an average of 32-12.

-Lastly, I consider myself a pretty good writer. Hopefully you find something entertaining and interesting when you click on my posts. I wish I had more time to write instead of ripping these things out late out night after work and with an early call time in the morning. But then I go and read this and… FUCK YOU SPENCER HALL… you beautiful wordsmith. True genius.

On to this week’s OTB Top 25:

1. Alabama
2. Kansas State
3. Florida
4. Oregon
5. Notre Dame
6. Oregon State
7. LSU
8. Mississippi State
9. Louisville
10. Oklahoma
11. Rutgers
12. Ohio State
13. Georgia
14. Florida State
15. Southern Cal
16. Ohio
17. Texas Tech
18. South Carolina
19. Boise State
20. Clemson
21. Texas A&M
22. Louisiana Tech
23. Stanford
24. Michigan
25. Nebraska

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