Somewhere between shushing the home crowd at The Swamp after scoring a touchdown against South Carolina in 2018 and dropping a dime to Treylon Burks in a comeback win against Tennessee on Saturday night, it became undeniably clear.

Feleipe Franks turned into a good SEC quarterback.

If there’s an SEC Comeback Player of the Year award, it belongs to Franks so far. You could make the case he’s among the league’s most valuable players, too.

If you rolled your eyes at that sentiment, you probably did so because of 1 of 2 things. Either you cited the whole “he got benched and then lost his job when he got injured” thing, which is a pretty weak argument when you consider that Kyle Trask is now in the Heisman Trophy race after becoming the first SEC quarterback to throw for 4 touchdowns in each of his first 5 games. Or perhaps you just didn’t like the way that he carried himself in the spotlight.

What both of those things ignored was that — to put it bluntly — Franks has been better than you realize. Like, way better. And no, I’m not just saying that because he’s leading a 3-3 Arkansas team that should be 4-2 after going over 1,000 days without an SEC win. As we know, wins don’t tell the full story with quarterbacks.

These numbers don’t tell the full story, either, but remember that aforementioned stretch I referenced in the lede? Here are Franks’ numbers during that time in his 13 games of action:

  • 25-6 TD-INT
  • 66% completion rate
  • 2,988 passing yards
  • 9.2 yards per attempt
  • 382 rushing yards, 5 TDs
  • 3,370 scrimmage yards
  • 30 total TDs

And in case you were wondering, his teams went 10-3 in that stretch. You could argue they should have been 11-2 because of the recent Auburn ending, but I’d argue Franks getting credit for Florida’s 2019 win against Kentucky when Trask led the comeback after his injury evens that out back to 10-3.

Perhaps with the exception of him jawing with the crowd during the Miami win to open 2019, there also haven’t been those head-scratching moments from Franks. He kept his head down when he saw the writing on the wall in Gainesville and transferred to Arkansas. It didn’t matter to him that under the previous regime, Arkansas shuffled through quarterbacks like playing cards. In an offseason in which he didn’t get even a spring game to develop in Kendal Briles’ offense, Franks didn’t make excuses; he has just made plays.

You won’t find 5 throws in all of college football this year that were better than the one Franks made this past Saturday:

I mean, what more do you want? Franks didn’t like what he saw on the right side of the field, so he bought time to move to his left and then squared his shoulders to put air under an absolute dime 50 yards downfield to an in-stride Burks. That’s what veterans are supposed to do, even when they have a pass-rusher closing in on them.

You’d never know that was the same guy who dislocated his ankle and missed nearly all of the 2019 season. You’d also never know that Franks has just 1 interception in 147 passing attempts since Arkansas’ season opening loss to Georgia. In that 5-game stretch, Franks has a 13-1 TD-INT ratio with 4 games of 71% accuracy and multiple touchdown passes and no interceptions. Entering 2020, Franks had never hit all 3 of those numbers in a game against Power 5 competition.

Franks didn’t just return to his late-2018 form post-injury. He’s better now.

You heard Pittman echo that heading into the Tennessee game:

“He was a team captain during COVID without spring ball, that tells you something… he takes care of the football,.. leadership skills, we were very fortunate that he transferred to Arkansas.”

Florida fans who watched Franks’ up-and-down ways probably would’ve never believed that “taking care of the football” and “leadership skills” would be described as his strengths. Now, those same Florida fans will get an up-close look at Franks in action for the first time in over a year.

What they’ll see is someone who has become immensely important to his team’s success. Franks is a slam dunk for the unofficial SEC Comeback Player of the Year award — Matt Corral and Larry Rountree III are also worthy of consideration — and you could also make the case he’s among the most valuable players in the league.

No, I wouldn’t put him ahead of the likes of Trask, Mac Jones and Kellen Mond in that category. I’d also probably put non-quarterbacks like DeVonta Smith and Nick Bolton ahead of Franks among the SEC’s most valuable players, and plenty of Arkansas fans would bang the drum for Grant Morgan, too. But Franks has a clear argument that he’s somewhere among the top 5-7 most valuable players in the conference in 2020.

When Arkansas tailback Rakeem Boyd was banged up to start the year, it was Franks who still gave the Razorbacks an option to stretch the field vertically. He also took on an increased role in the ground game with 67 carries in the 5 games post-Georgia. Franks has started and played nearly every meaningful snap for an Arkansas team that started 8 (!) quarterbacks in a 2-year stretch, including 5 in 2019.

Take Franks off the Arkansas roster and suddenly, that passing attack is a major liability in the hands of K.J. Jefferson, who has seen extremely limited time in this offense. Take Franks away and Arkansas fans will be reminded why Burks somehow didn’t have a touchdown as a true freshman in 2019.

Well, besides the fact that he played in Chad Morris’ offense.

The point is, Franks has been making that thing go. He opens up the playbook, he allows talented skill players to actually look the part and at this stage of his career, he understands how fleeting success can be. That’s immensely valuable for a team that was once considered to be in total rebuild mode.

Franks has exceeded expectations. He hasn’t been the roller coaster that many — myself included — assumed he’d be. Instead of being the guy who spirals when things aren’t going his way, he’s now the guy who can be relied on to lead comebacks against quality SEC defenses.

He’ll earn a different sort of praise if he can do that to his former team as a 3-score road underdog on Saturday.

And this time around, silencing The Swamp would be considered the ultimate feather in his cap.