Mullen and Gators need to join SEC’s parade of true freshman quarterbacks

If Dan Mullen doesn’t start Emory Jones at quarterback next season, the Florida Gators hired the wrong coach.

That’s because freshmen are all the rage in college football these days. No more waiting around to get the system completely down. These big, strong, smart kids are having systems built around them, improvisations and mistakes included.

Former Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen gives the scoreboard in the closing seconds of the team’s 31-28 loss to Mississippi on Nov. 23, 2017. Three days later he was hired to coach the Florida Gators. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Is this any way to run a major college program?

Well, Nick Saban went 14-1 at Alabama in 2016 with true freshman Jalen Hurts. On Monday night he benched Hurts at halftime and got just enough from Tua Tagovailoa, another true freshman, to win the 2017 national championship over Georgia and Kirby Smart’s true freshman quarterback, Jake Fromm.

Now comes word from FAU coach Lane Kiffin that Tagovailoa probably would have transferred if he hadn’t gotten into that title game. That’s insider knowledge from Alabama’s former playcaller, as announced on Dan Patrick’s national radio show.

What’s more, the Seattle Times is reporting that Jacob Eason, a former freshman starter at Georgia, is expected to transfer to Washington rather than sit the bench behind Fromm.

Young people are impatient by nature, of course. They want to play. They want to know that the promises they heard during recruiting were genuine, and that they won’t be left out when all the high-profile signees start stacking up at quarterback.

More important to this discussion, Mullen needs to shake things up at Florida with a bold approach that has nothing in common with the cautious offenses that Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain rolled out before him.

If Jones, the nation’s No. 4 dual-threat prospect, was good enough to get offers from Alabama and Ohio State and FSU, he’s good enough to start for the Gators against Charleston Southern on Sept. 1.

After all, Florida made a coaching change because 4-7 doesn’t work around there. Mullen was the choice because he develops dual-threat quarterbacks into big winners. Jones was Mullen’s choice in his first round of Gator recruiting because the top target of the former Florida staff, Matt Corral, is more of a pro-style quarterback.

Add it all up and there’s no reason for the Gators to look toward anyone but Jones, who as a January enrollee is already on hand and ready to dive into offseason workouts and spring practice.

Feleipe Franks is brawny and can run but his decision-making is spotty and often too slow. It figures that McElwain would have played any of the other underclassmen last year if they were ready, if only to save his own job. If this isn’t the time for a fresh look at a freshman quarterback, when will it ever be?

The need is not so urgent for Mark Richt at Miami. He’s got a returning starter in Malik Rosier who has flaws but also has wins over Notre Dame and Virginia Tech and the honor of clinching the program’s first ACC Coastal Division title. Still, N’Kosi Perry spent his freshman season watching from the sidelines last season and Jarren Williams, the highlight of a great early signing period for UM, may prove to be better than both of them if given a chance.

It’s a risk playing freshmen at quarterback, but a waste to keep the best ones idle.

Most have forgotten this, but freshmen weren’t eligible to play varsity football or basketball until the NCAA approved the idea in 1972. The old Big Eight Conference voted against it at the time but in 1985 one of its members, Oklahoma, turned to true freshman quarterback Jamelle Holieway when Troy Aikman broke a leg in an October game against Miami.

Holieway, a great option quarterback, led the Sooners the rest of the season, helping Barry Switzer to the last of his three national titles.

[Somehow, the latest national title in Bama’s dynastic run came as a shock]

[Richt next task is to surpass his Season 2 highlights at Georgia and UM]

[$10 million sure didn’t buy Dolphins much with Jay Cutler]