Florida football preview 2016: Gators, McElwain plan to stretch the field

Published 4:58 pm Monday, July 11, 2016

HOOVER, Ala. (AP) — Florida won 10 games and advanced to the Southeastern Conference title game despite a sputtering passing offense that fell apart during the season’s most important games.

Thanks to four new quarterbacks — including two transfers and two freshmen — coach Jim McElwain is confident he’ll find somebody who can fling the ball downfield.

“Here’s the good thing — we’ve really got good arm talent,” McElwain said. “I’m excited about being able to stretch the field vertically. Should be a lot of fun.”

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Junior Luke Del Rio appears to be the leading candidate at quarterback after an impressive spring game, though McElwain has not made a final decision. Austin Appleby, a graduate transfer from Purdue, and freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask are also in the mix.

Del Rio is the son of Oakland Raiders’ coach Jack Del Rio. The 6-foot-1 quarterback was at Alabama and Oregon State before transferring to Florida in 2015. He sat out last season per NCAA transfer rules.

“He is a good guy and a great quarterback,” Florida junior offensive lineman David Sharpe said. “He’s a great leader — a vocal leader.”

Florida hopes an infusion of better quarterback play can help the Gators avoid a collapse similar to last year, when they lost three straight lopsided games against Florida State, Alabama and Michigan to end the season.

“Very disappointed in how we finished,” McElwain said. “Not something that we’re proud of, and not something that, you know, I take very lightly. Yet, at the same time, it was an opportunity for us to kind of learn.”

The SEC Eastern Division race appears wide open with Florida trying to fend off an improved Tennessee program. Georgia, South Carolina and Missouri all have new coaches while Kentucky and Vanderbilt haven’t shown much reason for optimism.

Maybe that’s why McElwain is so optimistic despite returning just 10 starters from last season.

“Things are good at the University of Florida,” McElwain said. “And that’s the way it should be.”

One unresolved piece of business for the Gators involves two suspended players: receiver Antonio Callaway and quarterback Treon Harris. Both players were suspended in January for violating the university’s code of conduct policy.

Callaway caught 35 passes for a team-high 678 yards last season and four touchdowns. Harris started nine games at quarterback, but is expected to switch positions if he returns.

“They are back on campus, using the academic center and working out, and yet nothing has been resolved yet,” McElwain said. “And there really isn’t — there isn’t a time table on it. So that’s about what it is right now.”