Florida coach Billy Napier was playing quarterback roulette even before his team arrived in Nevada for the Las Vegas Bowl.
The Gators (6-6 overall) opted to give third-year sophomore Jack Miller III his first collegiate start when they face No. 14 Oregon State (9-3) on Saturday.
Miller will get the nod after starter Anthony Richardson, who threw for 2,549 yards and 17 touchdowns this season, left school last week to begin preparing for the NFL draft. Backup Jalen Kitna was kicked off the team in connection with his arrest on child pornography charges.
Miller, who transferred from Ohio State, played sparingly behind Heisman Trophy finalist C.J. Stroud for the Buckeyes, completing 7 of 14 passes for 101 yards.
He was going to be Richardson’s backup until suffering a right thumb injury in August that required surgery.
“He has been participating in practice for a number of weeks,” Napier said. “He’s perfectly healthy. … While he was rehabbing, we were very intentional about keeping those guys engaged. He’s traveled with us. He’s went through the process of prepping each week, watching the cut-ups, all those things at the end of the week from a test and tips standpoint.
“So he’s been through the prep for a game. Obviously, the volume of work will be a little bit different for him. That’ll be the biggest challenge.”
A strong performance in the Las Vegas Bowl could make Miller the favorite for the starting job next fall, though Napier said the Gators will keep an eye on the transfer portal.
“I think we all would agree that this game, the quarterback position’s effect on your team with not only the production part but the leadership part, it’s critical,” Napier said. “We’ll be working hard to address some of the issues at that position.”
In addition to Richardson, the Gators had three other players opt out of the bowl: All-Southeastern Conference guard O’Cyrus Torrence, linebacker Ventrell Miller and receiver Justin Shorter.
The Beavers, meanwhile, seek only their third 10-win season.
“Our players are excited about the opponent,” said Oregon State’s Jonathan Smith, the Pacific-12 Conference’s co-coach of the year. “Our players are excited to go to Las Vegas. A big-time stadium on the West Coast. I couldn’t be looking forward to it more.”
The Beavers also will start a backup quarterback, but for different reasons. Ben Gulbranson took over after Chance Nolan suffered a season-ending neck injury Oct. 1 against Utah and has won six of seven starts.
Oregon State is led by running back Damien Martinez, the Pac-12’s co-freshman of the year, who has six consecutive 100-yard rushing games, including 103 in a come-from-behind, 38-34 victory against rival Oregon on Nov. 26.
Smith, who quarterbacked the Beavers to their first 10-win season in 2001, was rewarded for the program’s first back-to-back winning seasons since 2012-13 with a six-year, $30.6 million contract extension.
“Coach Smith has taken the Oregon State football program to new heights, and we knew it was important to reward him and his staff to keep the momentum moving forward,” athletic director Scott Barnes said in a news release this week.
–Field Level Media