Florida vs. Arkansas: The Feleipe Franks Story and his Upcoming Return

Donavon Keiser

Throughout his four-year college career, Feleipe Franks has welcomed a variety of trials and tribulations playing quarterback in the SEC.  

It all started when in 2014 when Franks had made his first commitment to the LSU Tigers. The pledge stayed strong for over a year but wasn't strong enough to fend off the in-state Gators when they came calling. Franks flipped his commitment in late November of 2015 and did not look back, going on to sign with Florida just a few weeks later. 

After redshirting his true freshman season, Franks had won the job in 2017 by beating out Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire and previous starter Luke Del Rio. 

In his first start with the Gators, Franks struggled early and often versus a well-prepared, talented No. 11 Michigan. The Florida offense, then led by offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, looked horrendous. Franks looked like a freshman, and the offense was locked down the entire game, a trend that would continue throughout the rest of the season. To put it into perspective: The most points the Gators scored in a single game that year was 38, against Vanderbilt.

Despite his struggles in his first start, Franks had shown flashes of his potential throughout the year, including an early victory against SEC rival Tennessee, in which he famously ended the game on "The Heave To Cleve". 

Besides the sweet 26-20 victory over Tennessee, 2017 was a season filled with turmoil for the Gators. The Gators escaped close games against Kentucky and Vanderbilt but looked inept against any other SEC competition. Head coach Jim McElwain quickly found himself out of a job, after an embarrassing 42-7 loss in Jacksonville against Georgia. 

Behind the Gators 2017 offensive line, Franks took 29 sacks and could not find a rhythm at all during the year. In his final game as a redshirt freshman, Franks threw three interceptions against Florida State in the Swamp. Things were looking bleak for Gator fans, but shortly after the FSU game, the Gators had found their new coach to right the ship.  

Enter Dan Mullen, who had put together an impressive resume of coaching some of the games' elite quarterbacks, including Heisman winner Tim Tebow, Alex Smith, and Dak Prescott. Mullen got to Gainesville and immediately accepted the challenge of turning around a broken Florida program. 

Mullen quickly chose Franks as his signal-caller to mentor and roll with to start off 2018. Franks was the most talented quarterback in the room with measurables that were off the charts and arm strength to make any throw he was tasked with. The 6-6, 238-pound quarterback was comfortable with being a pocket passer but also adjusted to Mullen's "willing runner" concepts. 

Franks kicked off his redshirt-sophomore campaign with a stellar five-touchdown game against cupcake Charleston Southern and things were looking promising for the Wakulla native. Franks showed improvement from his redshirt freshman season but still had plenty to work on to become a top SEC QB. The 6-6, 238 lb. gunslinger managed the game correctly but faced adversity early and often in his time at UF. Florida dropped their first SEC game under Dan Mullen to Kentucky, who shocked the Gators in The Swamp. Franks only completed 44% of his passes that night, and the Gators shot themselves in the foot multiple times due to miscues in all three phases of the game. 

The Gators got back on track, rattling off a streak of wins against Colorado State, Tennessee, Mississippi State, LSU, and Vanderbilt. Franks played well in each of these games, throwing for over 160 yards in each SEC matchup, eclipsing 200+ yards against Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. Franks was leading the offense with a balanced attack, keeping the defense guessing between run and pass. 

After an aggravating 36-17 loss against arch-rival Georgia a week before, Florida welcomed SEC West foe Missouri into the Swamp for a cross-division showdown. Florida was blown out, at home, in the worst loss of the Dan Mullen era. The whole team was unprepared and the offense sputtered to a halt, behind a rough day from Franks, where he posted 84 yards on 9-22 passing in a 38-17 loss. 

Franks was pulled in the second half and now-starting QB Kyle Trask entered the game, with 5 minutes left in the third, down 35-10. Trask posted a respectable stat line of 10-18 passing, with 150 yards, many of which came on Missouri's second-team defense. Trask did was he does best, which is nickel and diming the ball down the field with quick developing pass concepts. 

After the game, Mullen was posed with multiple questions about the quarterback position, where he was quick to defend Franks, blaming the offensive line for allowing pressure. 

"I don't blame a lot of that on Feleipe, I mean he missed a throw or two here, but he's also getting hit... we got guys open, and the ball sails and you all want to jump on him, but he's got three guys getting pulled off the top of him."

Mullen insisted that he would play the guy that gives his team the best team to win but also stood firmly behind Franks, standing up for his QB. 

Despite the fans bugging for a QB change, it appears as Mullen did not feel the same way. Regardless, all talks of change at the quarterback position were ended shortly after, when Trask injured his foot in practice the following week and was out for the rest of the season. 

Franks was out to prove his doubters wrong, and he played lights out after a slow start. Then the infamous hush happened, twice. After scoring two touchdowns in the South Carolina game, Franks shushed his own crowd at the Swamp. 

Mullen, being the competitor that he is, was not overly emotional about the gesture itself, as he told Franks prior to the game that the boos would come. Instead, Mullen used the question to ask Franks "to stay the hell off of social media."

Regardless of his gestures, Franks had played one of the cleanest games of his UF career, finishing 15-21 passing, throwing for 161 yards and one passing touchdown. The Wakulla native added another two touchdowns on the ground and led the Gators to an emotional 35-31 victory in The Swamp, which ended up being a turning point for the Gators. 

By the end of the 2018 season, Franks was comprehending the game much better than he was at the beginning of the year, proof that the extra work and film study was paying dividends on the field. 

To end of the impressive turnaround, Franks and Co. put on a show against Idaho, in-state rival Florida State, and an exceptional Michigan team in the Peach Bowl. Franks led the way, throwing for 701 yards and posting nine total touchdowns in the final three games of the 2018 season. 

Statistically, Feleipe Franks finished the 2018 season with one of the best seasons from a Florida QB since Tim Tebow. Franks ended his redshirt sophomore season with 2,457 passing yards on 188-322 throwing (58.4%), 24 passing touchdowns, seven rushing touchdowns, and another 350 yards on the ground. Perhaps his most impressive stat was only throwing six interceptions, which was down from eight interceptions in 2017, despite him throwing the ball over 90 times more. His 24-6 TD-INT ratio finished 17th best in the nation. 

On the field, Franks was starting to put it all together as the season came to a close. 2019 was going to be his season to show out, as he was undoubtedly the Gators' QB1 throughout spring, summer, and fall practice. 

Florida was matched up with in-state rival Miami to kick off the 150th season of College Football. Despite multiple fourth-quarter mishaps including a drop that turned into an interception, Franks and Florida escaped an ugly game, 24-20. Besides two plays that were out of his control, Franks played very well behind a young offensive line, one which couldn't establish positioning against a swarming Miami front seven. 

Franks finished the game throwing for 17-27 (63%), three (one rushing) touchdowns, and two interceptions. Once again, Franks faced criticism from CFB media and Florida fans alike, but regardless the Gators were 1-0 and were heading in the right direction to start the season. 

In his best statistical game at UF, Franks torched the University of Tennessee-Martin by completing 25 of his 27 passes (92.6%) for 270 yards and two touchdowns. The development of Franks was evident and was just reaching the beginning as 2019 rolled on. 

But then it all came to an end, just like that. 

Midway through the third quarter at Kentucky, Franks went down after his ankle was stuck between two players, causing it to dislocate. The team rallied behind the defense and Trask, and Florida mounted a comeback for their injured teammate, winning the game 29-21. 

Franks would miss the rest of the season shortly after the conclusion of the Kentucky game, and announced after the FSU contest that it was best for him to forgo his final season at Florida to find a new home. 

Fast forward to the present day, and now Kyle Trask will lead his team in his final season as a Gator, while Franks dons the Arkansas Razorback red. 

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Credit: Feleipe Franks (@18franks) on Instagram

Now fate (and COVID-19) brings them together to face each other in a cross-division game, which will now take place due to the 10 game SEC schedule. The date is to be determined, but if all goes as planned, Florida will host Arkansas in The Swamp during the 2020 season. 

Franks will return to Gainesville with his new look Razorbacks, led by former Georgia offensive line coach Sam Pittman, who took the job earlier this offseason. Arkansas will also face "the most challenging schedule in the history of college football" according to Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek. 

Needless to say, the Arkansas Razorbacks will be a battle-tested team due to their disgustingly difficult SEC schedule. Franks will have weapons such as Last Chance U star running back Raheem Boyd, wide receivers Trey Knox and Treylon Burks, and a veteran offensive line that includes four upperclassmen as projected starters. Pittman should get the most out of his offensive line and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles will get a chance to work with Franks before he takes off for the NFL after this season. Luckily for the Gators and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, the Florida staff has already scouted Briles' offense extensively while he coached at FSU. The same familiarity can be found for Pittman while he was at Georgia, and of course, Franks.

The combination of Briles and Franks will allow Franks' to put together even more film for NFL scouts, as he has the measurables to make it to the NFL. The Hogs will have a balanced offensive attack with Boyd in the backfield and Franks at QB. Briles is going to try and find one on one matchups that are favorable to the Razorbacks with Knox and Burks, and will have Franks stand tall in the pocket to make all the throws he can. Unlike Mullen, Briles isn't likely to use Franks as much in the QB run game.

Briles likes to push the pace and get aggressive with his playcalling, which fits Franks' skillset like a glove. Briles is a fan of stretching the defense vertically, which is one of Franks' biggest strengths as a quarterback provided his arm power. Arkansas will be willing to go for it all, as they will be the underdog in almost every single game they play this season. They'll play with nothing to lose, which could be dangerous for any SEC that they will face. 

On Florida's end, they return everyone on the offensive line but will have to replace many of Franks' former receivers, including four 2019 starters who are now in the NFL.

Both parties understood the decision for Franks to look elsewhere for his final season, and it appears to have been in both's best interests. Although the matchup may be lopsided in favor of the Gators, the game will be very emotional for both sides. The Florida faithful will welcome their former QB1 back to Gainesville with open arms and Franks knows that, as he ended his transfer note with "Once a Gator, always a Gator." 

Who knows, maybe Franks will hush the Gator Nation just one more time by escaping Gainesville with a win with his Razorbacks. 

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