When you look at Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio’s resume, you might get dizzy.
You also might rack up a few frequent-flier miles.
The former walk-on at Alabama, originally from Littleton, Colorado, transferred to Oregon State and backed up Sean Mannion in 2014 before transferring to Florida in 2015 and sitting out.
Now that he’s maintained the same area code for more than a calendar year, the redshirt sophomore is ready to keep the Gators in contention in the SEC East.
Head coach Jim McElwain named Del Rio—the son of Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio—the starter for the season opener against UMass on Thursday afternoon. The 6’1″, 211-pounder beat out Purdue graduate transfer Austin Appleby and true freshmen Kyle Trask and Feleipe Franks for the job.
“Luke is going to work as the starter the rest of camp and start in the season opener, barring any unforeseen development,” head coach Jim McElwain said in the press release. “Our other quarterbacks remain in the plans and are ready to move forward and help the Gators any way they can.”
They won’t be needed all that much.
While quarterback has been a sore spot in Gainesville ever since Tim Tebow left in 2009—save for the six games Will Grier played in last year—Del Rio is actually in a perfect position to keep the Gators in contention in the SEC East, a division it won in McElwain’s first season with the program in 2015.
He has already proved that he can manage the game.
Del Rio calmly completed 10 of his 11 passes and tossed two touchdowns in Florida’s spring game in April, and he looked fully capable of operating within the offense at a fairly high level after just 14 practices in the battle to win the starting job.
If he can do that after spring practice, he should be able to become much more than just a game manager with unquestioned first-team snaps and a cupcake in the opener.
One side of the ball is elite in Gainesville.
With Caleb Brantley and Bryan Cox up front on the defensive line, Jarrad Davis at linebacker and a loaded secondary that includes Marcus Maye, Quincy Wilson, Duke Dawson and Jalen Tabor once he returns from his suspension, McElwain and Del Rio can rest easy knowing that the offense doesn’t exactly have to set program records in order to contend for the division.
The offensive line should be more consistent now that younger potential stars like Martez Ivey took their lumps late last season and have junior David Sharpe to lead the way. Del Rio has already earned the respect of the big men who are charged with keeping his jersey clean.
“[Del Rio] is a good guy and a great quarterback,” Sharpe said at SEC media days in July. “He’s a great leader, a vocal leader.”
With a leader in place more than two weeks prior to the opener, it will give the offense time to jell with the weapons around the quarterback.
Contrary to popular belief, those weapons do exist.
Brandon Powell is a dangerous slot receiver who can factor into the ground game, Antonio Callaway will be back after 678 receiving yards as a true freshman last year, Ahmad Fulwood is a matchup nightmare downfield due to his height and McElwain has high hopes for junior college transfer Dre Massey.
“Going back to the scrimmage, a guy that’s kind of really developing for us and you’ll see touching the ball in a lot of different ways will be Dre Massey,” McElwain said on Wednesday, according to Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports. “Really happy with how far he has come since spring and really having a good feel for what we’re doing. That’s a good thing.”
Couple that with a three-headed running back group that includes Jordan Cronkrite, Jordan Scarlett and 237-pound monster Mark Thompson, and the offense should be able to be more consistent this year.
Plus, it’s not like the SEC East is filled with traps at every turn.
Georgia is still a mystery under first-year head coach Kirby Smart and an ongoing quarterback battle, South Carolina and Missouri are undergoing coaching transitions too, Kentucky and Vanderbilt are fighting a talent gap between them and the Gators and Florida has won 11 straight over division favorite Tennessee.
If Del Rio can lead the Gators to another win over the Vols on Rocky Top in Week 4, another division title should be in the cards.
Florida doesn’t need a superstar as its signal-caller. If Del Rio evolves into one, that’d be a bonus.
It needs a quarterback who can manage the game, keep the chains moving and provide at least a minor threat of stretching the field deep.
Del Rio can do that and will keep the Gators as major players in the SEC East for the second straight season.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.
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Source: Bleacher Report -SEC Football