Texas Bowl likely the final chapter in Feleipe Franks' collegiate journey with Florida Gators, Arkansas Razorbacks
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Texas Bowl likely the final chapter in Franks' collegiate journey

Feleipe Franks is not expected to return to Arkansas in 2021.
Feleipe Franks is not expected to return to Arkansas in 2021. (Courtney Culbreath-Handout Photo)

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FAYETTEVILLE — Barring any unforeseen developments, the Feleipe Franks era at Arkansas will come to an end Thursday night.

The graduate transfer from Florida is expected to be the Razorbacks’ starting quarterback against TCU in the 2020 Texas Bowl, but he will likely shift his focus to the NFL Draft afterward.

Although listed as a fifth-year senior on Arkansas’ roster, Franks would be a prime candidate to receive a medical redshirt for his 2019 season with the Gators that was cut short, plus all players in college football have been granted an extra year by the NCAA in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, head coach Sam Pittman said in a Zoom videoconference Monday that he doesn’t believe Franks will pursue any additional years of eligibility.

“I don't anticipate him coming back,” Pittman said. “We've got KJ (Jefferson) and Malik (Hornsby) and those guys for our future and we feel we're in good shape there at quarterback. But Feleipe has done everything he can do for us and I think he'll have a really good game on Thursday, as well.”

This is not a surprising development, as Pittman and Franks have each been open since the beginning that he planned to play just one year at Arkansas before beginning his professional career.

With the news last Wednesday that he had accepted an invitation to play in this year’s Senior Bowl, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that his time with the Razorbacks was coming to a close.

“I was so excited to see that he got the invite to the Senior Bowl,” Pittman said. “I believe that he belongs there, I believe that he'll do really well there, but he came here to play well enough to be talked about in the NFL Draft.

“Now with the Senior Bowl, they'll be able to see him live, see how strong his arm really is and get to know him as a person. I think that will also up his draft stock, just getting to know him as a young man.”

Entering the Texas Bowl, Franks has 2,107 passing yards with 17 touchdowns and only four interceptions. His 163.1 passer rating ranks fourth in the SEC and he’s on track to shatter the UA single-season completion percentage by completing 68.5 percent of his passes.

Excluding sacks, Franks has added 359 yards and one touchdown on 75 carries. That’s an average of 4.8 yards per attempt and more rushing production Arkansas has seen out of the quarterback position since Matt Jones from 2001-04.

Despite battling a rib injury that caused him to miss the Missouri game and limited him against Alabama, Franks has stuck around and not taken the opt out route that has become a trend in the sport. That has made an impact on his teammates.

“He could have opted out and just prepared for the draft and everything,” left tackle Myron Cunningham said. “I think it says a lot about his leadership and his want to. He wants to be here and wants to play with us and finish the season the right way.”

When asked last week why he didn’t just leave the team and start training for the NFL Draft following his injury, Franks said he felt like it was his duty to finish the season with the Razorbacks.

“I want to finish what I started,” Franks said. “I came here to compete for a season and that’s what I’m going to do. At the end of the day, I feel like I’ve gone to work week in and week out with these guys for 10 straight games, so why stop on the 11th?”

Pittman couldn’t say enough positive things about his quarterback Monday afternoon. Even after praising him for the Senior Bowl invitation, the first-year coach interrupted the next reporter because he wanted to add one more thing about Franks.

“There's a lot of different guys opting out and this, that, and the other, but Feleipe Franks with an opportunity to go to the Senior Bowl and what he's done, and he did not,” Pittman said. “I think that shows a lot toward his character. I'm really proud of him that he decided to play in the Texas Bowl."

Thursday’s matchup with TCU, which kicks off at 7 p.m. CT on ESPN, will be Franks’ final opportunity to add to his personal journey from a highly touted four-star recruit, to a criticized starter who was eventually injured and replaced at Florida and finally to Arkansas.

Nothing he does on the field at NRG Stadium in Houston, though, will change his legacy as a team captain and key figure in helping Pittman get the Razorbacks’ program back on track.

“It means a lot to me as a person, as a player, just being part of this program,” Franks said. “It’s bigger than me and I think the faster you can realize that the picture is bigger than you, the better off things will be.”