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UF QB race important for present and future

Florida coach Jim McElwain understands that he's way behind with his new team. He hasn't coached a second of football with his Gators so he really has no idea what to fully expect until spring practice finally begins next week.

He can look at film and talk with guys to get a feel for what he can kind of expect early on, but without real hands-on experience, the Gators are as much of a mystery to him as they are to everyone on the outside.

However, there is one position that he knows more than any other has to be better, and that's quarterback.
 

[+] EnlargeTreon Harris

Scott Donaldson/Icon SportswireTreon Harris showed off his arm and his legs in Florida's Birmingham Bowl victory.

Florida has been on shaky ground at quarterback since Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow left after the 2009 season. Yes, it was going to be hard to replace one of college football's greatest players, but to still be trying to replace him is unacceptable. Even with ultra-hyped recruits such as John Brantley and Jeff Driskel making their way to Gainesville, the Gators have been incredibly inconsistent under center.

In fact, since Tebow's departure, the Gators have had just two individual 300-yard passing performances in the last five years. Brantley threw for 329 yards against Furman in 2011, and Tyler Murphy threw for 305 yards in a home loss to Vanderbilt in 2013.

So here the Gators are — trying to figure things out with a two-man quarterback battle between sophomore Treon Harris and redshirt freshman Will Grier. Harris replaced the one-time supposed savior Driskel as Florida's starter during the last month of the season, but never truly developed as a complete or consistent passer. Grier took last season to learn and bulk up after being named the Parade National Player of the Year and the Maxwell Player of the Year after his high school senior season.

There's so much on the line with this battle. For starters, McElwain's success in his first year in Gainesville rests heavily on what the offense can do, and that will be greatly determined by the guy at quarterback. Secondly — and believe me, this is not hyperbole — the future of offensive recruiting also hinges on the success at the quarterback position. This doesn't mean that Florida's next starter has to be an All-SEC performer, but he has to move the football more consistently. He has to make plays and score points. There needs to be continuity and some sort of passing threat.

There's a reason Florida hasn't succeeded in bringing high-quality offensive recruits to Gainesville since Tebow's departure. The offense just hasn't been attractive and that starts with instability at quarterback.

Wide receivers need to feel confident in the guy getting them the ball. No one has done that. Brantley, Driskel, Murphy and little-used Jacoby Brissett never took complete command of Florida's offense. It's telling that the most prolific individual passing day during the Will Muschamp era took place when Murphy threw three interceptions in a loss to Vandy in the Swamp.

Recruits aren't attracted to that, and Florida's mostly down play at quarterback has resulted in the Gators signing just four top-15 high school receiver prospects since 2010, according to ESPN recruiting services. An offense that has done no better than average 367.6 total yards (2014) and 185.7 passing yards in that span doesn't intrigue top-notch receivers, and if the Gators continue that trend, recruits are going to push further and further away from this program.

What confidence in the future will they have if an offensive-minded coach can't even muster some production out of this unit?

Of course, people will point to Muschamp's more conservative, run-first-and-often philosophy, but unfortunately for McElwain, he'll have to dig the Gators out of that offensive rut, despite not being the cause of its failures.

And if he's going to do that, the QB guru is going to have to work his magic because as unfair as this might sound for the first-year coach, this program can't afford more of this offensive free fall.

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