Why James Blackman MUST Start vs Virginia Tech

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Florida State’s three national championship-winning teams had one thing in common, a Heisman trophy winning quarterback. Ever since Jameis Winston’s departure following the 2014 season, fans have speculated as to who the next great quarterback in Tallahassee would be. That speculation began to include bouts of uncertainty, as his successors Everett Golson and Sean Maguire failed to set the world ablaze during the 2015 season. And though the Seminoles entered the 2016 season with an expectation to once again make the College Football Playoff, the first half of the season-opener seemed to promise only more of that uncertainty at the quarterback. A redshirt freshman, Deondre Francois, stood under center, took a huge blow, and threw an incredible strike to Travis Rudolph that caught the attention of those in Tallahassee and those around the country alike. After leading the ‘Noles to their largest comeback victory in history, many (including myself at the time) believed that Florida State had finally found their next great hope at quarterback

Then, Lamar Jackson and Louisville happened.  In only a matter of weeks, Francois led the ‘Noles to one of their most exciting victories, and one of the most embarrassing defeats in program history. After the let down in Louisville, Francois continued to have moments of brilliance followed by moments that would make one scratch their head. Francois had his fair share of ups and downs through the remainder of the 2016 season, but after finishing on a high note with an Orange Bowl victory over Michigan, many fans still left with optimism for the future.

September 2nd, 2017 was a date billed by many as the most anticipated opening weekend matchup in College Football history, #4 Florida State vs #1 Alabama. While the hype was unprecedented, one of the main talking points going into the matchup was how Francois and the Florida State offensive line would hold up against the Tide’s elite pass rush. And though Francois was able to absorb a number of blows as the game went on, the final one would prove to be his breaking point. The final blow would result in Francois having a torn patella tendon, which ended both his season, and the Seminoles hope for the playoffs. It didn’t help that Francois was relatively poor against Alabama, still showing inconsistencies with his accuracy and timing in the pocket.

Enter James Blackman. At 6-foot-5 and 169 pounds, no one would accuse him of being any older than a true freshman. His slight build caused many to worry about how durable he could be considering the shots Francois has been taking. Blackman, a composite three-star coming out of Belle Glade, was widely considered a project in which he would need multiple years to develop and build his frame before taking the field for the ‘Noles. After the injury to Francois, Blackman was forced to step in and become the new leader for a team that had such high hopes in the preseason. Blackman had many challenges and obstacles to overcome in a short period of time. Primarily, he had to grasp Jimbo Fisher’s offense, which is extremely complicated and takes most quarterbacks years to fully understand. This fact was not helped by the fact that he had a poor offensive line unit in front of him, and it was inevitable that his slight frame was going to take the hardest shots he has ever received. Debuting against Bradley Chubb and NC State only made matters more difficult for the true freshman. He was literally and figuratively thrown to the wolves.

While Blackman was able to put on an inspiring performance against the Wolfpack, throwing for 278 yards and a touchdown, his introduction to Chubb ended up with him being sacked twice. From a fans perspective, Blackman illustrated great toughness by absorbing those blows and getting back up to make some clutch throws. As a true freshman, in an offense that is extremely difficult to grasp, one couldn’t really ask for more out of Blackman from his first game. The signs for optimism were there, the zip on his passes, a beautiful deep ball, and great leadership ability.

Blackman experienced ups and downs throughout the 2017 season but also progressively improved and ended the season with an incredible 4-touchdown performance in the Walk On’s Independence Bowl. The signs of improvement, a better deep ball, the ability to make throws that Francois can’t, and more reliability is why I believe Florida State MUST start James Blackman for the 2018 season. James Blackman possesses the highest passer rating among returning quarterbacks in the ACC when kept clean and he also holds the highest passer rating on quick passes in the ACC according to PFF. One stat that truly stood out to me was the direct comparison between James Blackman and Deondre Francois when targeting receivers inside the numbers. Blackman beats out Francois in this category which displays another example of Blackman being able to pick out his receivers more consistently compared to Francois. Blackman has also been grinding in the weight room over the offseason. In an interview with ChopChat.com Taggart explained, “Just talking with the guys, they say they are working harder and longer than they were before … You look at a guy like James Blackman who has put on about 20 pounds since last season.” Willie Taggart also had this to say about the rising sophomore, “I love the way James competes. He’s such a competitor and a guy that always wants to do it right. He’s become a really good leader and again just continues to be more efficient with the offense and taking what the defense gives us.”

There is no guarantee that Francois will be the same player he was before the injury, and even if he is, I’m putting my chips on Blackman. Francois brings along baggage with him that Blackman does not. Instead of spending Senior Day with his teammates, Francois left Tallahassee to spend time with Davante Phillips who was dismissed from the team at the start of the season. Following that event, and a Tallahassee Police Department investigation into him involving marijuana, Francois has also been challenged by Willie Taggart multiple time to become a better leader and to be there for his teammates. Now it has been reported that Francois has responded to Taggart’s challenge well and has become more involved with his team. Bud Elliot of Tomahawknation.com also confirmed that Francois has moved back into the player dorms with his teammates. These signs are positive and encouraging that a legitimate quarterback battle is what we will have once fall camp arrives. The best situation for the Seminoles is that both quarterbacks are healthy and bought in, which leads to a competitive battle where the best man wins. In which if that’s the case, I believe Blackman’s arm and leadership ability gives him the edge to lead the ‘Noles come September 3rd when the Hokies come to town.

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