Austin Appleby had guarantees and promises to consider while pondering where to play his final year of college football last December.

Some schools guaranteed the Purdue quarterback would see immediate playing time. Others promised he would step right in and be the starter.

Florida offered neither.

The only guarantee Appleby got from Florida was that he would have a fair chance to compete for the starting role. Nothing more, nothing less.

His head, quite naturally, said go with the promises and guarantees, but his gut told him Gators.

His gut turned out to be right.

"Yeah, there was no guarantee ever, where a lot of places I had that guarantee,” Appleby said. “But there's something about this place. I couldn't pass it up. It had been my dream to come here ever since I was yay big. I just worked hard, stayed faithful in God and, you know, he's revealed himself to me in ways that I couldn't even dream of. Yeah, I'm right where I'm supposed to be and I couldn't be more thrilled."

Back in late August, Appleby had to be wondering if his gut had betrayed him, sent him to the wrong school where he would never see the playing field.

The graduate transfer enrolled at UF in January and immediately began competing with Oregon State transfer Luke Del Rio and true freshmen and early enrollees Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask.

Throughout the spring and summer, Del Rio and Appleby remained locked in a tight race for the starting role, with Del Rio being the presumptive starter because he had been in the offense longer and had outperformed Appleby in the spring game.

Late in preseason camp in August, Del Rio was named the starter, and Appleby quickly slipped into the background, where instead of pouting and feeling sorry for himself, he kept practicing and preparing himself as if he was the starter.

When his opportunity came after Del Rio sprained his knee in the second half of the third game, Appleby was primed to take over.

In his first start, he threw for 296 yards and three touchdowns against Tennessee, and helped orchestrate probably the best half of offensive football the Gators have had this season, leading the Gators to a 21-0 lead late in the second quarter.

After getting his second start a week later against Vanderbilt, Appleby went back to the bench when Del Rio returned. It looked like that might be where he stayed for the rest of the season after Del Rio led the Gators to back-to-back wins over Missouri and Georgia.

But Appleby would get his second opportunity. It came when Del Rio injured his throwing shoulder in the dismal 31-10 loss at Arkansas.

Appleby’s return seemed to spark what had been a stagnant offense.

He threw for 201 yards and two touchdowns in a 20-7 win over South Carolina.

Then, in the biggest game of the season, Appleby produced the biggest offensive play of the season -- a 98-yard TD pass to Tyrie Cleveland that swung the game in UF’s favor and led the Gators to a stunning upset of LSU that clinched the SEC East title.

He hasn’t stopped smiling since.

“Yeah, no doubt,” he said. “If you would have told me I would have been, No. 1, at Florida, but the starting quarterback for the Florida Gators and just clinched the SEC East, I would have told you you were nuts this time last year.

“I'm enjoying every second of it. I love my teammates. I love this place. I'm just going to cherish every second."

UF coach Jim McElwain said Appleby deserves it because of all the hard work he’s put in since he’s been here, even when it looked like his gut was wrong and he might not ever see the field at Florida.

“I’m excited for him,” McElwain said. “You guys have been around him. You talk about a great guy. And really, something that's really important to him and that's what we're doing here. And for him to be able to do what he's doing, guys around him believe in him. And that has to do more so because they see the work that he puts in studying, playing and affecting the people around him in a positive way.

“This guy, man he loves to play, loves to compete. The game is very important to him, and this opportunity is very important to him. As we talk all the time as an organization, taking advantage of the opportunities you’re given, you never know when that’s going to be and he’s really done that.”

Appleby began to emerge as a leader late in the spring and in preseason camp. Now, he is THE leader on offense.

“We saw it all year,” slot receiver Brandon Powell said. “Since he got here, he’s been leading us. It’s really no surprise, the success he’s having on the field and what he’s doing now, because he’s been showing it all year.

“He’s just playing with so much confidence right now. That’s good. That’s helping us out.”

With that ever-present smile on his face, Appleby seems to be having the time of his football life.