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Heading into the 2017 season, Florida still needs to figure out its quarterback problem

If Florida wants to become a national championship contender heading into 2017, it will need to figure out its quarterback quandary.

NCAA Football: Outback Bowl-Florida vs Iowa Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After what was supposed to be a defensive battle, the Florida Gators offense came alive in the blue and orange’s 30-3 Outback Bowl win over the Iowa Hawkeyes. The outing against Iowa was the first time Florida reached 30 or more points since Oct. 15 when it scored 40 points in a win over the Missouri Tigers.

While the Gator offense ran all over the No. 26 total defense in the country, head coach Jim McElwain still has a deficiency problem at the most pivotal position on the field heading into next season: quarterback.

Playing in his final game of his collegiate career, Florida signal caller Austin Appleby tossed back-to-back opening game interceptions. Both were deflected before getting picked off, which forced the Gator defense to bail him and the offense out. When the defense did bail him and the offense out, Appleby failed to return the favor.

Appleby overthrew wide receiver Antonio Callaway, which stalled a promising second quarter drive. The quarterback also killed the Gators’ final drive of the half by taking a sack at midfield.

Now, some might say Appleby actually performed well enough to win the game for Florida. The signal caller was 14-of-25 for 222 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. However, an 85-yard dash by Mark Thompson helped make Appleby’s stat line look sexier than it truly was. If not for such an elite defense performance, along with a horrible day by Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard, Florida would have found itself in a closer game, due to the shakiness of Appleby.

Although Appleby did have an iffy at best performance against Iowa, he did help McElwain cap off his second season in Gainesville with at least nine wins and making a December bowl game. However, a majority of that will and should be credited to the elite Florida defense.

It wasn’t to long ago since the Gators were seen as the standard in the SEC (Alabama is now) and won two national titles in a three-year span.

Florida’s defense is already a strong unit. It has athletes all across the board. Everyone knows what is holding the blue and orange from being a contender instead of a pretender.

The nagging quarterback problem was at Florida before McElwain was the head coach. But that problem has grown even larger under him. It seemed at the beginning of his tenure at the Swamp, McElwain might have fixed the signal caller position with standout freshman, Will Grier. Grier was effective for McElwain and company. In six games, he threw for 1,204 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions while completing 65.8 percent of his passes.

Then came October of 2015. Grier was ultimately suspended for the rest of the season due to PEDs and he then transferred to West Virginia.

After Grier was suspended, Treon Harris took over the offense for the Gators. He was subpar, at best, leading the Florida offense. Almost every game that Harris was a starter in during the 2015-16 season was either a loss or a close win expect for a blowout win against Georgia and a 10-point victory against South Carolina.

This season, the quarterback position was a revolving door. It started out with Luke Del Rio, but since he couldn’t stay healthy, Appleby was an occasional starter. Both were ineffective much like Harris as Del Rio completed 56.7 percent of his throws for 1,358 yards, eight touchdowns and eight interceptions while Appleby completed 60.8 percent of his passes for 1,447 yards, 10 scores and seven interceptions.

Monday’s game against the Hawkeyes was an opportunity to see what freshman signal caller Feleipe Franks could bring to the quarterback battle heading into this offseason, but Florida passed on that idea to keep his redshirt intact.

The Gator passing offense was disappointing. It was ranked 79th in the country and will once again be the biggest question mark heading into the 2017 season. Also, not seeing what Franks could do adds to the disappointment.

Florida has several key ingredients to have a potential national championship contending offense heading into next season. They return running backs Jordan Scarlett, Lamical Perine and Mark Thompson, and wide receivers Antonio Callaway, Tyrie Cleveland and Brandon Powell. The Gators also bring back the majority of its offensive line. Left tackle David Sharpe may declare for the NFL Draft but has yet to announce his decision. The one major missing piece is the quarterback position. If McElwain and Florida don’t figure out that spot, the Gators will continue to be a pretender instead of a contender.