FSU faces a tough slate of quarterbacks in 2016

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At first glance, Florida State’s 2016 schedule looks fairly reasonable. They only travel outside the state three times and they get their biggest games (Clemson and Florida) at home in Doak Campbell Stadium. For a team that is expected to again contend for the ACC title, this is a pretty favorable outcome.

But upon closer inspection, one factor that stands out when looking at the schedule is the quality of quarterbacks that Florida State faces. Last year, the ‘Noles lucked out by facing several true freshman or first year starting quarterbacks. This year, Florida State won’t be facing freshmen. Of the 12 projected starting quarterbacks that Florida State will face in 2016, 10 of them are at least three years into their individual programs. Of the two that remain, one of them is Lamar Jackson, the talented Louisville sophomore that had a very exciting true freshman season.

So what does this mean for Florida State? For starters, it means that their schedule isn’t as soft as it looked at first glance. Yes, several of their key games are at home or in the state of Florida, but many of the quarterbacks that they will face are veterans at this point, not easily fazed by loud home crowds. To get a better look at what the ‘Noles will be facing in 2016, let’s take a look at each quarterback FSU have the pleasure of lining up against.

Ole Miss (Sept. 5) – Chad Kelly, redshirt senior

2015 Stats: 298/458 (65%), 4,042 passing yards, 31 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 500 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns

Florida State fans are very familiar with Chad Kelly’s story. The nephew of NFL Hall of Famer Jim Kelly began his career at Clemson, backing up Tajh Boyd. However, he was dismissed from the program prior to the 2014 season and ended up at a junior college. Kelly lead his junior college team to a national championship and was eventually offered a scholarship to play at Ole Miss.

His junior season at Ole Miss was a successful one. Kelly started all 13 games for the Rebels and completed 65 percent of his passes for 4,042 yards and 31 touchdowns. He also added 500 yards on the ground and 10 scores as well. Kelly also thrived in some of Ole Miss’ biggest games of the season. He passed for 341 yards and scored four total touchdowns on the road against eventual national champion Alabama, had 361 total yards and four touchdowns against LSU, had 310 total yards and three touchdowns in the Egg Bowl versus Mississippi State, and lit up the Sugar Bowl with 302 passing yards and four touchdowns versus Oklahoma State.

Kelly was voted to the All-Sec Second Team as a junior and most certainly enters the 2016 as the best quarterback in the conference. While Ole Miss will have to replace several key players on offense, most notably first-round draft picks Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil, Kelly is primed to have a successful senior season. Many draft analysts have him pegged as a future first round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.


Charleston Southern (Sept. 10) – Kyle Copeland, junior

2015 Stats: 31/52 (59%), 425 passing yards, 5 touchdowns, 1 interception, 247 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns

While Florida State will be facing another junior quarterback in their annual FCS tuneup game, ‘Nole fans should not have to worry too much. Kyle Copeland is entering his first season as a full-time starter for the Bucs, having previously backed up former UAB quarterback Austin Brown at the school. Charleston Southern utilizes a run-first offense, so more of the pressure will be on the running backs rather than the passing abilities of Copeland. For a Charleston Southern squad that finished 10-3 and made it to the FCS Playoffs in 2015, they will most certainly want to come out of this game with their starting quarterback in one piece.


Louisville (Sept. 17) – Lamar Jackson, sophomore

2015 Stats: 135/247 (54%), 1.840 passing yards, 12 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 960 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns

The first familiar starting quarterback that Florida State will face in 2016 is Lamar Jackson, the talented Louisville sophomore. Jackson emerged as Louisville’s best quarterback last season as a true freshman, presenting a dynamic option in both the passing and running game. He threw for 307 yards and three scores versus Florida State last year and ended the season with an impressive 453-total yard and four touchdown performance versus Texas A&M in the Music City Bowl.

What makes Jackson so good as a quarterback is his ability to create plays where other quarterbacks would take a sack or tackle for loss. This Johnny Manziel-like ability makes Jackson hard to bring down in the backfield. While Florida State contained Jackson for the most part on the ground last year, it then opened up the passing attack in the air for the young signal caller. Jackson should present a serious problem for Florida State next year in their first true road game of the season.


South Florida (Sept. 24) – Quinton Flowers, junior

2015 Stats: 163/276 (59%), 2,296 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 991 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns

Quinton Flowers is another quarterback that Florida State has a lot of familiarity with. While Flowers struggled versus Florida State early last year (only completing 50 percent of his passes for 125 yards), he turned his game on towards the end of the season. He totaled 320 yards and three scores versus No. 22 Temple and passed for four touchdowns in a blowout win over Cincinnati.

While some had projected that UCLA transfer Asiantii Woulard would take over at quarterback to enter 2016 given that he might be a more natural passer, Flowers held onto his job throughout spring. Flowers might not be the greatest passer in college football, but South Florida found a great way to utilize his running ability into their offense as the season progressed. If he continues to improve as a passer, him and All-AAC running back Marlon Mack could give Florida State some serious trouble when the ‘Noles head down to Tampa.


North Carolina (Oct. 1) – Mitch Trubisky, redshirt junior

2015 Stats: 40/47 (85%), 555 passing yards, 6 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 101 rushing yards, 3 touchdowns

With Marquise Williams departed, Mitch Trubisky steps up at quarterback for the Tar Heels. Trubisky served as Williams’ backup throughout the past two seasons and has seen plenty of game time. His first major playing time came against Delaware last year where he completed 85 percent of his passes for 312 yards and four touchdowns. Many analysts have projected that Trubisky could be an upgrade over Williams. He is a dual-threat quarterback and North Carolina’s offense should not take a step back with him at the helm.


Miami (Oct. 8) – Brad Kaaya, junior

2015 Stats: 238/389 (61%), 3,238 passing yards, 16 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, -119 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns

Another year, another dual with Brad Kaaya. Florida State will face Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya for the third time next year and both sides should be equally familiar with each other. Statistically, Kaaya did not live up to his impressive freshman campaign, but still had a great performance versus the ‘Noles. He threw for 409 yards and three touchdowns in Doak Campbell Stadium in what was by far his best game of the year.

While the talent around Kaaya might be a bit lacking, he has still managed to perform at a very high level throughout his two years in college football. He averaged 269 passing yards per game last year and many draft analysts have praised Kaaya for his play. ESPN’s Mel Kiper recently listed Kaaya as his #13 overall prospect for the 2017 NFL Draft.

One factor working in Kaaya’s favor next year is the addition of new head coach Mark Richt. A quarterback at heart, Richt has been known to be a great quarterback developer and his influence and tutelage could mean everything for Kaaya heading into his junior year. Kaaya could have a nice bounce back year after his unimpressive 2015 campaign.


Wake Forest (Oct. 15) – John Wolford, junior

While John Wolford faced Florida State as a true freshman back in 2014, he was relegated to backup duties versus the ‘Noles in 2015. He took over again as the starter to close out last season and is projected to be the starter heading into 2016. Wolford isn’t overly impressive as a quarterback and has struggled throughout his career at Wake Forest. However, he has shown flashes of talent. He passed for 219 yards versus Notre Dame and 338 yards versus Duke last year. All in all, Wolford doesn’t bring much to the table that Florida State hasn’t seen already and the Wake Forest game should serve as a nice tune up before the real test arrives two weeks later.


Clemson (Oct. 29) – Deshaun Watson, junior

2015 Stats: 333/491 (67%), 4,104 passing yards, 35 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 1,105 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns

Deshaun Watson is the best quarterback in college football. There’s really no other way to put it.

Last year, Watson became the first quarterback in FBS history to pass for 4,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards. Watson also finished third in Heisman voting. He lead Clemson to an undefeated record, an ACC title and a win over Oklahoma in the College Football before finally falling to Alabama in the national championship. In that game versus Nick Saban’s defense, Watson broke Vince Young’s famous record with 478 total yards and four touchdowns.

Watson will be, by far, the best quarterback Florida State will face in 2016, even if they make it into the playoffs. He is the perfect signal caller for that Clemson offense. As a passer, he makes smart decisions, buys time for receivers to get open and throws the ball with accuracy and power. As a runner, he is elusive and has the potential to take it to the house on every carry. Something even more scarier? Clemson returns basically all of their receivers and running backs from last year, including 6-4, 220-pound receiver Mike Williams whom Florida State did not see last year.

Many draft analysts project that Deshaun Watson could be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. Although he does not possess the ideal measurables (6-2, 210-pounds) for an NFL quarterback, his intangibles and playmaking abilities more than make up for it.

For the most part, Florida State held Watson in check during their 2015 matchup. He totaled 404 yards on the day, but only accounted for one touchdown and large majority of those yards came in the second half. Florida State will need to repeat their 2015 performance if they want to defeat the defending ACC Champions.


North Carolina State (Nov. 5) – Jalan McClendon, redshirt sophomore

2015 Stats: 8/14 (57%), 69 passing yards, 11 rushing yards

With the departure of Jacoby Brissett to the NFL, the Wolfpack are left with a void at quarterback. Jalan McClendon, who served as Brissett’s backup in 2015, is projected to be the starter but redshirt freshman Jakobi Meyers is also competing for the job. McClendon was ranked as the #15 pro-style quarterback coming out of high school and brings a lot of the same elements as Brissett did to the offense in terms of size (6-5, 212-pounds) and arm strength.


Boston College (Nov. 11) – Patrick Towles, redshirt senior

2015 Stats (at Kentucky): 183/326 (56%), 2,148 passing yards, 9 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 64 rushing yards, 5 touchdowns

A two year starter for Kentucky, Towles elected to transfer to Boston College after he was benched late last season. As a grad transfer, he has one year of eligibility left for the Eagles and will use it to try to reclaim whatever hope of an NFL future he has left.

Early on in his tenure at the Wildcat’s starting quarterback, he showed flashes of potential NFL talent. He has impressive size at 6-5, 236-pounds and is very mobile, but inconsistencies in his passing game have held his potential back. He threw more interceptions than touchdowns last year at Kentucky and was unable to push the ball down the field. At Boston College, the talent around him will not be much better but at least Towles will have a great defense to turn to. Florida State had no problem in stopping Boston College’s offense last year, so Towles will need to drastically improve his game in order for the Eagles to have a fighting chance against the ‘Noles.


Syracuse (Nov. 19) – Eric Dungey, sophomore

2015 Stats: 105/176 (59%), 1,298 passing yards, 11 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, 351 rushing yards, 5 touchdowns

Eric Dungey was thrust into the starting job at Syracuse in their season opener due to injuries at the quarterback position. He impressed early on in the season, but eventually injuries ended his true freshman campaign. Dungey is a very mobile quarterback but also improved as a passer as the season progressed. Florida State largely contained Dungey through the air last year, but he did gash them for two rushing touchdowns.

Syracuse brought in Dino Babers, formerly of Bowling Green, as their head coach and his new fast-paced, no-huddle offense should suit nicely with Dungey’s skill set. This will be a completely new Syracuse offense than the one that Florida State faced last year and the Orange could sting Florida State if they are looking ahead to their next matchup too much.


Florida (Nov. 26) – Luke Del Rio, redshirt junior

2015 Stats: Sat out due to transfer rules.

The son of Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio, Luke took a long and winding path to end up as Florida’s starting quarterback. He originally committed and enrolled at Alabama out of high school, but transferred to Oregon State shortly afterwards. Then, after failing to make an impact for the Beavers, he transferred to Florida but sat out the entirety of the 2015 season due to transfer rules. However, after an entire years in the system, he is primed to become Jim McElwain’s next signal caller.

With Treon Harris suspended and Will Grier departed, Del Rio has firmly established himself as the Gators’ quarterback. He completed 10 of 11 passes for 176 yards and two scores in the spring game while operating with the first team offense. While his true in-game experience is limited (he threw 14 passes as a backup at Oregon State), Del Rio looked comfortable running the offense in Gainesville.

Florida State was lucky to have faced Treon Harris twice in a row, but it looks as if the ‘Noles will finally face a true quarterback when the Gators come up to Tallahassee on Thanksgiving weekend.


Credit to ESPN, the ACC Network, the SEC Network, the American Digital Network, Hudl, and Charleston Southern for the gifs.

Dakota Moyer
Florida State student and writer for NoleGameday.

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