Emory Jones or Anthony Richardson?

That is the question following Florida’s 42-20 win at South Florida Saturday. Dan Mullen might have deflected the question in his postgame radio interview following Florida’s win, but no one else in Florida’s fan base or nationally will.

There is no running back controversy, but it also is malpractice for media members to not ask about one at quarterback. How could they, considering the elephant in the room- or, in Florida’s case, the herd of elephants that next Saturday will be in The Swamp?

Jones struggled in his first Gators start against Florida Atlantic a week ago while Richardson shined, leading many Gators fans and analysts alike to wonder if Florida had a quarterback controversy, no matter how many times Mullen insisted the job belonged to Emory Jones, the heralded recruit and hero of Mullen’s transitional recruiting class who waited 4 years to have his turn.

All week, Jones handled a disappointing Week 1 performance as maturely as possible. He called his performance and mistakes “disappointing” and promised it would get better. For at least one half, he kept his promise. Jones was terrific in the first half, tossing a touchdown pass and adding almost 70 yards rushing in helping Florida to a 35-3 halftime lead.

Then the second half happened, and once again, Jones seemed ill-equipped, or not quite ready, for a moment as big as the one that will face this Gators team next Saturday, when No. 1 Alabama rolls into Gainesville.

Jones threw interceptions on Florida’s first two third-quarter possessions, both miserable throws where Jones held the ball too long and failed to look off a cheating USF safety. Both interceptions resulted in long runbacks and, ultimately, 10 USF points. Jones’ errors were preventable and they were costly, and least of all because they allowed a woefully overmatched South Florida team to hang around into the fourth quarter on a steamy September day in Tampa.

Instead, Jones’ mistakes were kindling or kerosene on the quarterback controversy fire, given another gargantuan effort from Richardson.

Richardson played 11 snaps Saturday, but the size and scale of his play was monumental.

His first play of the game? How about a 75-yard touchdown strike to Jacob Copeland that set the tone for the Gators early and proved Florida still had a vertical passing game a week after it went quiet in the opener against Florida Atlantic?

Richardson’s second drive took 6 plays — the nerve of the young man!! — but Florida hit paydirt again when Richardson found Copeland for another deep touchdown. After Jones and Florida turned the ball over and came up empty on the Gators’ first 3 second-half possessions, it took Richardson all of 3 plays to drive Florida inside the Bulls’ 10-yard line. Unfortunately for Florida, Richardson lost his helmet on the third play and by rule, had to leave the game. Jones entered, and USF stuffed 4 plays in the red zone thereafter, leaving the Gators empty-handed through 4 second-half possessions as a result.

No matter. Richardson’s next drive would be a 1-play touchdown, on this 80-yard jaunt where he ran over linebackers and past safeties and corners en route to his third produced touchdown of the afternoon.

Richardson strained his hamstring on that play, which meant the end of his day and perhaps calls his status ahead of the Alabama game into some question. But he stayed on the sideline and a Florida spokesperson denied it was a muscle pull, so ice and rest should have Richardson available for Alabama.

If Richardson is available, Mullen faces a choice. It isn’t an easy one. On the one hand, does he stick with a kid in Jones who has the respect of the locker room, the trust of the coaching staff, plenty of talent and who waited patiently for moments like the one coming Saturday? Mullen is famously loyal — sometimes to his own detriment — and in sticking with the talented but struggling Jones — he would in many ways be staying on brand. He’d also be keeping his word to Jones that he’d be given a chance to develop, improve and play, which matters to Mullen.

On the other hand, how do you keep a stallion like Richardson locked in the stable for much longer?

Richardson’s numbers, from even a mildly advanced metrics standpoint, are staggering. On Saturday, Richardson was involved in only 11 snaps. Of those snaps, 10 were successful plays and 6 were “explosive” (15 yards or more). There were 3 touchdowns and Richardson averaged 51 yards per pass attempt and 28.8 yards per rush attempt. Richardson became the first Gators quarterback ever — yes, ever, Tebow fans — to run for 100 yards in back-to-back games and, for those keeping tabs at home, he’s managed back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances on a total of 11 rushing attempts. He’s out there doing Cam Newton things while wearing Tebow’s number. And he’s doing it while Jones has struggled to move the team for large periods of consecutive starts.

Which gets us back to the elephants in The Swamp.

Florida isn’t likely to beat Alabama. They’ll be a double-digit home underdog for just the 4th time in 30 years on Saturday and they’ll need to play beautifully in all three phases to win. They’ll also need a difference-maker, the guy that can put the game on his back and will the Gators to a win.

It almost always takes a transcendental effort from someone to beat Alabama, whether it’s Justyn Ross or the “Cam” Back or Joe Burrow or Johnny Manziel. Often, the “transcendental” effort comes from a quarterback. Manziel, the lone redshirt freshman in the grouping above, is perhaps the most fascinating comparison in the bunch. Johnny Football wasn’t ever supposed to be an elite college quarterback as a first-year starter in 2012, it just kind of happened organically. First, he won the job and then he confounded defense after defense with his ability to keep plays alive with his feet, sense danger, and deliver precision passes in tight windows. Against Alabama, he led the Aggies to a thrilling 29-24 win by throwing for 253 yards and 2 touchdowns and adding 93 yards rushing.

More vitally, he repeatedly created something from nothing, converting third down after third down by either extending the play and using his arm or making magic with his legs.

Football was different then, of course. Nick Saban has changed the way he approaches offenses with dual-threat quarterbacks and teams that use tempo. But in the end, an incredible athlete is still that — an incredible athlete.

Is Richardson a Newton, Tebow or Manziel? No — he’s Anthony Richardson, a 6-4, 240-pound honors student with 4.5 speed who will have every opportunity at Florida to be himself, which should be more than enough to carve out quite a legacy in Gainesville.

It’s just fair to wonder if that legacy should begin Saturday against Alabama. Richardson will have to beat Alabama eventually, if he’s to deliver on the promise he’s already showing on Saturdays. After all, to become the best you have to beat the best.

Why not start Saturday?