Gators QB battle just starting

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The offensive line needs to be revamped.

A running back needs to emerge as a go-to ball carrier.

The receivers have to improve tremendously.

But even if all those issues resolve themselves, Florida's 2012 season might not be any better than 2011 if the quarterback situation doesn't sort itself out.

Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel will battle in spring and preseason practices to become the replacement for the graduating John Brantley. Neither has been particularly impressive in limited playing time this season, but the coaching staff likes what it has seen from both freshmen in terms of the non-mechanical aspects of playing quarterback.

"I think they both have natural leadership ability because of their presence," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "They're both competitive. They're very well-liked on the team and very well-respected on the team for a freshman, which is hard. It's hard at that age to have the command and the respect and the presence, and I think both guys have that. They have the 'it' factor, in my opinion. They have a lot of the intangibles that you look for at that position.

"They certainly are guys I am very pleased with, and I think the future is bright as far as those two young men are concerned."

It's hard to separate the two players based on what they did on the field in limited opportunities this season. They have similar numbers, although Brissett has accounted for four touchdowns and Driskel none. Driskel turned the ball over twice and Brissett four times.

Brissett, who started the LSU and Auburn games, completed 18 of 39 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns with four interceptions. He also ran for two short-yardage touchdowns.

Driskel completed 16 of 24 passes for 148 yards with two interceptions. He was going to start the LSU game but couldn't because of an ankle injury, but he played the second half of the Auburn game in relief of Brissett.

The Gators scored a combined 17 points against LSU and Auburn on the road.

The only concrete conclusion to draw about the two is that Brissett has made more progress because he caught and passed Driskel on the depth chart, despite the fact that Driskel enrolled in January and Brissett did not arrive until summertime. Both quarterbacks are now healthy, and it was Brissett who played the second half of the Florida State game after Brantley went down late in the first half with a concussion.

However, that doesn't mean Brissett's lead over Driskel is significant, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis said.

"I'm not down on Jeff, now," Weis said. "I think that it's a combination of Jacoby getting better and Jeff getting banged up. It was a combination of the two that closed the gap."

Both players are similar in size (Brissett is 6-foot-5, 225 pounds; Driskel is 6-4, 235), arm strength and athleticism. The only difference is that Driskel was more of a runner in high school and has a skill set that resembles that of Tim Tebow.

That would make him a natural fit in a spread offense, but he said earlier this week that he's not following former UF coach Urban Meyer -- to whom he originally committed -- to Ohio State. He's going to remain at Florida and battle Brissett to be the starter in Weis' pro-style offense.

Muschamp said Driskel is just as good a fit as Brissett in Weis' offense, and he believes there isn't anyone better to tutor them in the offseason.

"You look at the development of quarterbacks and young quarterbacks [and Weis has] brought guys along and had great success with them," Muschamp said. "He knows what he's doing as far as the teaching, the fundamentals, the development of the game, learning the game.

"The great thing about both guys, for us, is they have a similar skill set. They're very similar players. They're both guys that can throw it, both good athletes, both smart. So you're not dealing with a guy that's a certain kind of quarterback and this guy is a different quarterback, and you've got really two offenses you're trying to co-mingle."

Weis already has cleared one hurdle with both players. They've already gotten game experience in hostile environments and they handled themselves pretty well. That's not something he has to worry about next season, and it gives the two a head start in terms of preparing to be a starting quarterback in the Southeastern Conference.

"I can't tell you the invaluable price you can put on experience. It's a big difference-maker," Weis said. "The down side of John getting hurt is you lose your starting quarterback when things were going pretty well, especially in the passing game. The flip side of it is those two guys get some experience that you don't have to go through next year. They've already experienced it here."

The obvious question is what happens with the quarterback who doesn't win the starting job. Do you redshirt him to create some separation? Or does he transfer someplace he can become the starter? Muschamp and Weis said they're not worrying about those questions yet. The first thing is to figure out who will take the first snap against Bowling Green on Sept. 1, 2012.

"Both these young men have a very, very bright future," Weis said. "I'm really looking forward to what's going to come with these two guys."

Michael DiRocco covers University of Florida sports for GatorNation. He can be reached at espndirocco@gmail.com or on Twitter @ESPNdirocco.