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FSU/Gators both starting inexperienced quarterbacks

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A young, inexperienced starting quarterback is the talk of college football in the state of Florida. How will Florida State true freshman James Blackman do this weekend as he steps in for the injured Deondre Francois?

The Seminoles are not the only ones starting a signal caller with precious little experience. Though he is now a legend among the Florida faithful, the Gators’ redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks has started a grand total of two games.

The Florida offense has not set the world on fire, to say the least. The biggest touchdown producer is CJ Henderson, who leads the team with two. Henderson, of course, plays cornerback and has returned two interceptions for scores.

Both of Florida’s offensive touchdowns so far have come from touchdown passes. Franks hit Brandon Powell for one score and the miracle heave to Tyrie Cleveland to win last week’s game against Tennessee.

The running game is not offering Franks any cover. Malik Davis leads the team with 102 yards in two games, but 72 of those came on one play, which ended with a fumble.

Franks, who played his high school football just a few minutes from the FSU campus, still has a lot to learn, but he appears to be the future for the Gators. The thought was that when Malik Zaire transferred from Notre Dame, Franks could learn from the sidelines, then be ready to take over next season.

McElwain instead went with youth over experience as the starter against Michigan. Neither quarterback showed much in the 33-17 wipeout against Michigan with both Gator touchdowns coming on interception returns.

Heading into this Saturday’s game at Kentucky, Franks is firmly entrenched as the starter while Zaire is now third on the depth chart behind Franks and Luke Del Rio. McElwain is doing his best to prop up his third-stringer.

Zaire played the role of Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson in practice this week with McElwain letting everyone know the fifth-year senior did a good job. He also praised Zaire for his attitude under the circumstances.

“He’s dealing with it like a pro,” McElwain said. “He’s doing a good job.”

How does McElwain assess the play of Franks after two games. He was asked by CBS following last week’s miracle ending whether Franks had turned a corner and was playing like a veteran.

“No, but he showed he can throw it a long way,” he quipped.

Both Florida and Florida State and their two young quarterbacks will follow different roads before the Seminoles wind up in Tallahassee on November 25. Florida does not play Alabama and has only two more true road games following Saturday’s game in Lexington. Those are against Missouri and South Carolina, teams they should be able to handle no matter where the games played.

With Alabama in the rearview mirror, the Blackman and the Seminoles are looking at playing the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Lamar Jackson, and Louisville at home in October and defending national champion Clemson on the road in November. Miami, currently ranked 14th, comes to Tallahassee in October.

What appears to be the most difficult tests for Florida – LSU, Texas A&M and FSU, will all be played in The Swamp while they will meet Georgia in Jacksonville.

Franks and the Gators will be trying to make it 31 wins in a row against Kentucky on Saturday. McElwain and his team hopes another Hail Mary from his freshman quarterback will not be needed.

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Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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