NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The race to replace Anthony Richardson as Florida’s starting quarterback will be over “when we see fit for the team,” according to coach Billy Napier, who provided an update while speaking Wednesday at SEC media days. Here’s what you need to know:
- Graham Mertz, the transfer from Wisconsin, has been regarded as the favorite. Mertz started every game the past three seasons for the Badgers; as a junior last year, Mertz passed for 2,136 yards and 19 touchdowns while throwing 10 interceptions.
- The other top candidate is Jack Miller, who transferred from Ohio State after the 2021 season, then made his Florida debut when he started the Las Vegas Bowl last December. Florida lost the game, 30-3 to Oregon State, with Wilson passing for 180 yards and rushing for 13.
- Napier also mentioned Max Brown, a redshirt freshman who was a three-star recruit in the 2021 class and didn’t play last year: Brown “had a good summer, he’s impressed the staff, he’s impressed his teammates.”
The Athletic’s instant analysis:
What is the timeline for a decision?
Florida’s opener is at Utah on Aug. 28, so this wouldn’t seem like a decision Napier will want to draw out. He may try to keep it under wraps to keep the Utes guessing, but if he follows the timeline of other coaches, the first and second preseason scrimmages will be about a competition, and the final one will be a preparation for the opener. So the final one would be when the starter is in place.
Of course, it could also be that Napier, who doubles as the play-caller, already knows who he’s going to pick. The assumption has been that Mertz would not transfer in from Wisconsin without some assurance, but so far Napier hasn’t provided that, at least publicly.
But Mertz was the first one Napier mentioned on Wednesday.
“I’ve been very impressed with Graham. Graham’s a 32-start player, he’s played over 2,000 snaps at a really established program at Wisconsin,” Napier said. “We went through an extensive process to make that decision. I think Graham’s an accomplished player, but more importantly I’ve been impressed with the person, the leader. He has an incredible motor and work ethic. He is in the building, he is fanatical about his preparation. I think that has helped the competition.
“I think it has caused Jack to respond. Jack’s had an incredible offseason, and he’s in position for a great camp. And we’ve been really pleased with the young player, Max Brown … So we’re excited about that competition. It’ll go into training camp and we’ll make a decision when we see fit for the team.”
Why is this an important decision for Napier?
Coming off a rough first season — Florida went 6-7, finishing with three straight losses, including at Vanderbilt — there’s already some pressure on Napier. At minimum, Florida fans would like to see some evidence that Napier, an offensive coach, will get that side of the ball straight.
Richardson had the talent to eventually be drafted fourth overall by the Indianapolis Colts. But while he had some great performances last year he was uneven at other times, including his final game against Florida State.
Florida is expected to be picked to finish somewhere after second in the SEC East, behind Georgia and probably Tennessee, and perhaps Kentucky or even South Carolina. It’s not where the Gators were used to finishing, and with things about to get even tougher in the SEC in 2024, a good second season under Napier would go a long way towards infusing some optimism in Gainesville.
(Photo: James Gilbert / Getty Images)