Injured Aggies QB Nick Starkel might be back sooner than expected

Oh, the quarterback intrigue. It’s picked up again at Texas A&M.

True freshman Kellen Mond has started every game since first-teamer Nick Starkel broke his ankle in the season opener against UCLA on Sept 3. Now, Starkel may be healing quickly enough that he could return to action, perhaps as soon as later this month.

In the days after Starkel’s injury, which required surgery to repair, A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin talked as if the redshirt freshman quarterback would be out for the season.

But during the telecast of the Aggies’ game against Alabama on Saturday, ESPN reported that Starkel’s recovery was going so well that he could return to play after A&M’s bye week. The Aggies are off Oct. 21 before returning to action at home against Mississippi State the following Saturday.

On Tuesday, as Sumlin talked about a looming road game at Florida (3-2, 3-1 SEC) on Saturday, he was asked about Starkel’s recovery and what ESPN had reported.

He played coy.

“We’ll see what happens,” he said, smiling.

Aggies receiver Damion Ratley was asked how much Starkel was doing in practice. He replied: “I can’t talk about that.”

Starkel was throwing the ball in relaxed warmups before the South Carolina game on Sept. 30. He also was with the team in pregame warmups before the 27-19 loss to top-ranked Alabama. He wasn’t wearing a protective boot.

Meanwhile, Mond has led the Aggies to a 3-1 record, including a 2-1 mark in SEC games. After struggling in the second half against UCLA — he was 3-of-17 passing against the Bruins — he’s shown improvement each week.

Against Louisiana-Lafayette, Mond became the first A&M true freshman to throw for more than 300 yards in a game. He passed for 216 yards and rushed for 109 in a 50-43 overtime victory against Arkansas. He then helped lead the Aggies to a come-from-behind victory over South Carolina, throwing for 159 yards and rushing for 95.

Mond showed flashes of brilliance against Alabama. His best play of the season came in the second half, when on a fourth-and-goal play he spun away from two would-be tacklers, kept his balance and threw a touchdown pass to Christian Kirk.

Mond ranks eighth in the SEC with a quarterback rating of 124.44. His 266 yards rushing is 20th best in the SEC, but third highest among quarterbacks, behind Alabama’s Jalen Hurts (517) and Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald (343).

Florida, A&M’s next opponent, is struggling at quarterback, and it’s possible the Gators could have a controversy brewing of their own. Still, oddsmakers have established the Gators as a 3½-point favorite over the Aggies.

With redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks running the show, Florida threw for only 108 yards in their 17-16 home loss to LSU. It was the fewest passing yards in the three-year tenure of Gators coach Jim McElwain.

For the season, Franks has completed 63 percent of his passes. He’s thrown for 665 yards, with three touchdowns and an interception. Luke Del Rio, who briefly won the starting QB job, suffered a season-ending injury earlier this month.

Malik Zaire, the former starter at Notre Dame, also is on Florida’s roster, but McElwain didn’t indicate whether Zaire is in the mix for the starting job.

“Look, he’s working his tail off,” McElwain said of Franks at his weekly news conference. “We’ve got to give him some time to be able to deliver as well. Those are all pieces that need to come together, and we also need to go get open against man-to-man coverage.”

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