2016 Season Preview: Quarterbacks

Photo by Logan Stanford

As soon as Florida State’s 2015 season ended, the major narrative that was pushed by the national media was of a quarterback “competition” between the incumbent senior starter and a talented freshman.

Nine months later, there wasn’t ever really a competition at all.

From the moment that the Seminoles’ walked out of the Georgia Dome after their loss to Houston to the moment that Jimbo Fisher announced him as the starter one day after fall practice, it’s been the Deondre Francois (12) show in Tallahassee.

Now, Jimbo Fisher would have named Francois the starter without determining that the redshirt freshman had truly earned the job, but the notion of a quarterback “competition” has been slightly overblown by the media.

Florida State fans will remember the serious injury that Sean Maguire (10) suffered in the Peach Bowl. Rolling out of the pocket while driving down the field, Maguire threw a pass and came down hard on his right ankle. Immediately, everyone watching the game and in attendance could tell it was a horrific injury. Maguire was carted off the field and his leg was firmly wrapped in a cast.

But Maguire defied all expectations and returned to the game, his ankle wrapped in an Iron Man-like casing. Florida State did not pull out the victory over Houston in that game, but Maguire’s efforts certainly did not go unnoticed.

Shortly after the game, Fisher confirmed that Maguire would be out for all of spring practice. This opened up the door for Francois to take No. 1 reps during spring practice. The redshirt freshman quickly took over the No. 1 reps and was by far and away the best quarterback throughout the spring and in the Garnet and Gold spring game.

Maguire would return for fall camp, but another ankle injury cut short his attempts at holding onto his job. With Maguire out, Francois would resume taking all of the No. 1 reps up until the point that Fisher officially named the redshirt freshman the starting quarterback versus Ole Miss.

In short, Francois has been prepped to be this team’s starting quarterback since January.

There is a lot to like about what Francois brings to the table.

The first is arm strength. Despite being listed at 6-2, 205-pounds per Florida State’s official roster, Francois has a cannon for an arm. He is capable of making all the throws required from a quarterback in Jimbo Fisher’s offense and this has been one of his biggest strengths ever since high school.

In the spring game, Francois showed that he has a good understanding of Florida State’s offense. The coaching staff threw more at him than other quarterbacks, and more of his plays were about reading the defense rather than designed throws to certain players. He had a couple of turnovers, one on an under-thrown ball in the end zone and the other on a missed read, but overall was very impressive at driving the offense up and down the field.

Francois’ legs will also be an x-factor for Florida State’s offense this year. While Fisher will never make designed quarterback runs a major part of his offense, Francois is capable of extending plays with his legs and tucking the ball and running for a first down or two if the defenses loses contain on him.

Florida State will need Francois to be hitting on all cylinders immediately, because we don’t yet have a timetable for Sean Maguire’s return.

Maguire injured his left ankle in fall practice (his right ankle was the one he fractured in the Peach Bowl) and Fisher announced that the redshirt senior would miss the first couple of games to begin the season. However, there have been recent reports that Maguire has been practicing with the team and some have speculated that he could be back in time for the season opener against Ole Miss.

We have a pretty good understanding of who Maguire is as a quarterback. He is a strong-armed pocket passer who struggles with accuracy issues and decision making. He has the arm talent to be a starter, but turnovers have doomed him in the past. He also is not a quarterback who can “create.” If you go back and look at the games that Maguire has started over the past couple of years, games have not been won by plays created by his arm. Rather, the talent around him has helped lead the Seminoles to victory.

If Maguire is healthy, then he is one of the best backup quarterbacks in the nation and a huge asset for Florida State’s offense moving forward. Maguire is a player that Jimbo Fisher would not hesitate to trot out there if Francois were to go down with injury. While the ceiling for this team isn’t as high with Maguire under center, he is certainly a much better option than the other two reserves on Florida State’s roster.

The first is J.J. Cosentino (16). There was actually quite a large contingent of fans who believed Cosentino was the future of this program, but that hype train derailed almost immediately when he saw the field in the Peach Bowl. Granted, Cosentino was not put in the best situation versus a very tough Houston defense, but the then-redshirt freshman looked rattled, confused and downright scared on the field. Not an encouraging sign from a player entering his third year in the program.

Currently, Cosentino is listed as the backup to Francois entering the Ole Miss game. Because we don’t yet know the status of Maguire, we can take this with a grain of salt. If Francois were to go down with injury, Fisher would have to make the determination to play either Cosentino or an injured Maguire.

Again, this is all just hypothetical. Knock on wood that Francois stays healthy.

The last scholarship quarterback on Florida State’s roster is Malik Henry (6).

Henry is currently under suspension for a violation of team rules with no official timetable given for his return. While he was seen at an official luncheon kickoff for the team, he has not been practicing with the team.

His off-the-field issues have been well chronicled. Originally from California, Henry transferred to IMG Academy in Florida for his senior season. However, IMG head coach Chris Weinke, a Heisman winning quarterback at Florida State, left for a job with the St. Louis Rams shortly after Henry enrolled. The young signal caller reportedly did not mesh with the new coaching staff and left IMG to return to California.

Henry was an early enrollee this summer and looked impressive in the spring game. He showed great playmaking abilities and had many thinking that he could possibly challenge Francois and Maguire in fall camp. However, he showed up to fall camp severely underweight and never made a serious push for the job.

There is no doubt that Henry has all the tools to be a future college starter. He is only a true freshman and has plenty of time to put it all together, but it is doubtful that Henry will see the field for Florida State this year. Of course, pretty much every quarterback that has enrolled at Florida State has redshirted in their first year so this should not be a surprise.

If Francois can live up the hype, than this Florida State team has national championship aspirations. Their season opener against Ole Miss will be a great test to see if the redshirt freshman is adequately prepared for the job. Don’t expect Jimbo Fisher to hold anything back from the playbook. Florida State will come out throwing, even with a Heisman-caliber talent at running back.

Ultimately, this team will go as far as the quarterback position takes them.

Will it be a berth in the College Football Playoff?

Only time will tell.

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