The Sugar Bowl in New Orleans between Louisville and Florida was the site of two aspiring passing aficionados on diverging tracks. Most will harken back to it as the genesis of Teddy Bridgewater’s rise into the national college football fan’s consciousness. Struggling under center for the blue and orange was Jeff Driskel, a quarterback Bridgewater and every other signal caller in the class of 2011 once looked up to in the recruiting rankings. That night in New Orleans, Driskel completed his meteoric descent by chucking incompletion after incompletion and by committing three turnovers in the loss.
2012 was nearly an unmitigated success for the resurgence of Gators football. Florida surged to No. 2 in the BCS, Mike Gillislee became Florida’s first 1,000-yard tailback since 2004 and coach Will Muschamp’s defense established itself as the backbone the Florida program under his direction.
Unfortunately, as the 2013 season nears, quarterback play remains the biggest mystery for the Gators entering next season. The Gators lifeless passing offense swam with the fishes last season. 2013 is Driskel’s waterloo though. If the Gators are going to challenge the SEC’s heavyweight division, Driskel has to look less like a fish out of water in Muschamp’s pro-style system and start swimming above the competition like the National Player of the Year Urban Meyer recruited to operate his spread offense three years ago.
The Driskel era has been underwhelming considering his promise as Meyer’s next Tim Tebow . So far his career track has mirrored Chris Leak’s – plodding along in an offensive system he didn’t originally sign up for.
Leak concluded his high school playing career as the all-time leader in touchdown passes, but he arrived at Florida after Steve Spurrier took his Fun N’ Gun offense to the NFL. While he was far from the prototypical mobile quarterback Meyer’s offenses usually thrived with, he managed to win a national title with a young Tebow acting as his situational backup.
Even if Meyer had stuck around to coach Driskel, the Tebow-lite aspirations were much too lofty. In high school, Driskel lacked ideal accuracy, instead churning out explosive runs with his legs. Now he just has to learn the ropes as a passer. Driskel has superior physical tools and a stronger arm than Tebow, but the 6-4, 237 pounder with 4.5 speed led the SEC’s worst passing offense.
"As I go into 2013, the most important player in the SEC is Driskel," CBS college football analyst Gary Danielson opined to the Orlando Sentinel. "He is the key player for Florida to be a dynamic football team this year. He must come through. He's the key."
With a year of starting experience under his belt, youth is no longer an excuse for his shortcomings in the upcoming season if he can’t stretch the field vertically. Lesser hailed 2011 prospects like Brett Hundley, Kevin Hogan, Braxton Miller and Bridgewater have already surpassed Driskel as offensive aces for Top-15 programs. But, don’t throw in the towel on Driskel yet.
Tebow may have won the Heisman as a true sophomore, but he also created unrealistic expectations for future Gators. Driskel just turned 21 and never used a redshirt season. Although his career arc may end up mirroring Leak’s instead of Tebow’s, that’s okay. The Gators defense will continue to disorient opposing offenses, but Driskel will have to make a quantum leap forward to navigate Florida’s offense out of its swampy depths and back to the glory days of Wuerffel and Tebow.