Most football games — college and pro and even high school — come down to the play of the quarterbacks. It’s why the network infographics usually show them when they are promoting the games and at some point the lead announcer will turn to the analyst in the pregame and say (in my best Keith Jackson voice), “Let’s talk about the quarterbacks.”
In this game tonight, we have two guys who couldn’t be much more similar … or much more different.
I love it when I contradict myself, but I digress.
Feleipe Franks will get his 24th start for a Power Five school tonight. Sawyer Smith will get his first.
They have baseball in common. Franks was drafted by the Boston Red Sox this summer and Smith originally committed as a high school sophomore to Alabama to play baseball.
“I haven’t swung a bat in five or six years,” said the Kentucky quarterback. “But it’s paying off.”
Franks was a big-time recruit. Smith was not, committing in football to UCF before going to Troy.
Franks won the job at Florida as a redshirt freshman. Smith has never won the job in college. Last year at Troy and this year at Kentucky, he inherited the job because of injuries to the starter.
They were both stars in their bowl games last year. Smith was the MVP of the Dollar General Bowl. Franks led his team to a win over Michigan in the Peach Bowl.
And there’s this. They both are Panhandle guys, Smith from the Pensacola suburb of Cantonment where he played for Tate and Franks from Crawfordville where he played for Wakulla.
The quarterbacks are the backdrop to an SEC opener for both teams with fans who will be on edge for both sides.
Because neither one is sure what their quarterback will deliver.
That may seem harsh when it comes to Franks, who is coming off a 25-of-27 performance last week.
“He looks very comfortable,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said this week. “Second year, you know, starting with Dan (Mullen) being there, and he has a big arm, that’s for sure.”
But Stoops and his defense have had a knack for making Franks uncomfortable.
Two years ago, Franks was so ineffective he got benched by Jim McElwain and Luke Del Rio came in to take the UF win streak to 31 against the Wildcats. Take away a 50-yard TD pass to Tyrie Cleveland when Kentucky forgot to cover the Florida receiver and Franks threw for 35 yards the last time he was in Lexington.
Then there was last year, when he was 17-of-38 with a pick. Combined, his two performances against Kentucky have resulted in a completion percentage under .500.
“I remember a lot of disappointments,” Franks said. “But I don’t think they define me as a person.”
They do, however, define him as a quarterback. And because of his many ups and downs, I’m betting Gator Nation would not be surprised if goes all yin or all yang tonight.
One would think Florida has a huge advantage at the position, especially because UK quarterback Terry Wilson was a difference-maker in last year’s game.
But Smith does have experience, going 5-2 as a starter in 2018, and came to Kentucky for this kind of opportunity. I have a close friend who taught him at Pace who said he always wanted to play for “a big-time school.”
So he ended up in the SEC at a school that was looking for a backup for a number of reasons.
Remember that Miami starter Jarren Williams was a Kentucky commit and Alabama flipped Mac Jones late during that recruiting cycle. The Wildcats took a big swing at signing Joe Burrow before he ended up at Ohio State (and now at LSU) and Kentucky has lost two quarterbacks to transfers in the last year and another to a knee injury.
Then came the injury to Wilson, who has been giving advice to Smith this week after suffering a torn knee ligament last week.
“I’m getting comfortable out there with the game plan,” Smith said Wednesday. “I’ve been practicing like I was the starter since fall camp.”
Smith also said he thought the team was ready to rally around him “but me saying it really doesn’t matter.”
Yeah, we will see. The word on the 6-foot-3 Smith is that he has a big arm, can run a little bit and is calm in the huddle. You can expect some Wildcat offense from Kentucky with receiver Lynn Bowden at quarterback (he’s done it before against Florida and was a high school quarterback).
And you can expect Florida, which is leading the nation with 15 sacks, to get after Smith.
“They’re pretty good on the pass rush,” he said. “But I’m standing behind five guys who are pretty good at pass protection.
“I’ve played against Nebraska and some other good teams. I’ve seen speed and I’ve seen size. Now I’m going to see it put together.”
And it will see you.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.