Can FSU contend without Deondre Francois? Rash of QB injuries shows why depth is vital

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Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (ball security training videos sold separately at Georgia State, the only team in the nation to be a minus-four turnover margin after one game):

DASH THIRD QUARTER: HOW GOOD IS YOUR BACKUP QB?

It’s an unfortunate fact of football life: Players get hurt. When those players are quarterbacks, the injuries tend to have outsized importance that correlates to the importance of the position. And in college football, where quarterbacks run more, the injuries can pile up and profoundly affect the trajectory of a season.

The Dash assesses several key QB situations:

Florida State (21) lost starter Deondre Francois on Saturday night to the relentless pass rush of Alabama. The absurdly tough sophomore has bounced back from hit after hit as a Seminole, but there was no getting up after suffering a torn patellar tendon. Jimbo Fisher announced this week that James Blackman will start this week against Louisiana-Monroe – becoming the first true freshman to start at QB for Florida State in more than 30 years, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. Blackman is 6-foot-5 and has a powerful arm, but he’s also listed as 180 pounds – that’s a fragile weight, and it will put more pressure on an FSU offensive line that wasn’t very good against Alabama to limit the hits Blackman takes.

Bottom line: Florida State’s season is on the brink. Francois was the hub of the offense, passing or running on 54 percent of the Seminoles’ offensive plays last year and 70 percent of their plays against Alabama. That’s far too much to put on a skinny true freshman – which means a running back corps featuring another true freshman, Cam Akers, must take on a bigger role immediately.

Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois (12) reacts to his injury against Alabama defensive back Ronnie Harrison. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Georgia (22) lost Jacob Eason early Saturday against Appalachian State to a left knee sprain suffered while scrambling, and he will be out for an undisclosed amount of time. This much is sure: He’s not playing Saturday against Notre Dame. That opened the door for freshman Jake Fromm, and he arguably looked better than Eason has at any time as the Bulldogs’ starter. Fromm was 10-of-15 for 143 yards and a touchdown, making accurate throws and quick decisions. Like Eason before him, Fromm was an early enrollee and had the benefit of spring practice to prepare for this season.

Bottom line: Fromm may be the bomb. But it is asking a lot for a true freshman to make his first start in the shadow of Touchdown Jesus. Fortunately for him, he has the dynamic running back tandem of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel to rely on. The seniors combined for 31 carries and 183 yards against App State and will be the centerpieces of the offense at Notre Dame. Of course, the Fighting Irish know that, too, and will plan accordingly.

Maryland (23) got its biggest season-opening win in a long time at Texas, but lost starter Tyrrell Pigrome to a leg injury in the process. The dual-threat QB, known as “Piggy,” is done for the season with an ACL tear after playing very well against the Longhorns. His backup, highly touted freshman Kasim Hill, was a capable emergency replacement, completing all three of his passes and leading a pair of scoring drives. His skill set is similar to Pigrome’s, which means the Terrapins shouldn’t have to radically alter their offense to suit Hill.

Bottom line: Hill has the benefit of a soft-launch first start against FCS Towson. That’s followed by a bye week, which would give the Terrapins adequate time to figure out how to maximize Hill’s skills before Central Florida’s visit on Sept. 23.

At Clemson (24), do they have too much quarterback depth? The Dash knows some other college programs are keeping an eye on freshman Hunter Johnson, a five-star recruit who enrolled early but has not risen higher than third on the depth chart to date. Starter Kelly Bryant did nothing to lose his grip on the position against Kent State. Backup Zerrick Cooper and Johnson both saw time against the Golden Flashes and were about equally effective. The added wrinkle is this: The nation’s top QB recruit, Trevor Lawrence, is committed to Clemson. It seems highly likely that someone is transferring in 2018. In the meantime, Bryant will be the go-to guy Saturday against Auburn.

At Florida (25), like Clemson, they also have three QBs. But the question is different: Are any of them any good? Feleipe Franks started against Michigan, was benched, but now will start again Saturday when Northern Colorado visits for a Gators get-well game. Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire relieved Franks against the Wolverines and was frankly abysmal. Luke Del Rio, who started in 2016 until a season-ending injury, never got on the field. One game in, Florida is 100th in pass efficiency. The caveat everyone should keep in mind is that the Gators had 10 players suspended for the opener, including top receiver Antonio Callaway and leading rusher Jordan Scarlett. Those QBs didn’t have a lot to work with – and it appears that will be the case this week as well. Neither Callaway nor Scarlett were on the depth chart Florida released Tuesday.

Texas A&M and possibly Texas will be testing their quarterback depth this week as well. Aggies starter Nick Starkel broke his ankle early in the third quarter against UCLA, a factor that would loom large in the fourth quarter as their offense stalled and momentum shifted. And Longhorns starter Shane Buechele has a bruised throwing shoulder that will limit his prep for their Saturday game against San Jose State.

Will Texas turn away from Shane Buechele (7) and use the more mobile Sam Ehlinger? (AP)

Texas A&M went with freshman Kellen Mond when Starkel went down, and the results were grim: 3-for-17 passing, including 0-for-4 on third down. Mond showed some running ability, but that was about it. If the Aggies can’t throw it well enough to incorporate receiver Christian Kirk into the offense, it’s a huge waste of talent.

For Texas, Tom Herman might have to decide how much of his desired read option he can run with Buechele. It’s not his strength, and his 15 carries against Maryland were a career high. Freshman backup Sam Ehlinger, who will take first-team reps at least early in the week, is more of a dual-threat QB, and ultimately fits the Herman offense better. But Buechele is believed to be the far more polished passer.

HOWARD WINS ONE FOR THE MEAC, AND HBCUs EVERYWHERE

Howard (26) scored its first win in school history over an FBS opponent, shocking UNLV 43-40 as a 45-point underdog. It was the biggest upset, by point spread, ever.

The victory also served as another rallying cry and point of pride for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and for FCS Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, which has struggled to keep pace in the athletic arms race. MEAC teams are routinely served up as non-conference cannon fodder for FBS programs, pulling in six-figure guarantees in exchange for taking a beating. (Howard was paid $600,000 to play at UNLV, which makes the loss doubly painful for the Rebels.)

Even by FCS standards, the MEAC is a humble league. In the past five years, it has consistently ranked among the bottom three conferences in Division I in the Sagarin Ratings.

But there is hope in the form of Howard, and others. This marks the second straight season that a MEAC team has beaten an FBS school: North Carolina A&T won at Kent State last year as a 13-point underdog.

For Howard, it’s the biggest football achievement in a long time – maybe ever. Certainly, recent history has not been kind. The Bison were 3-19 the previous two seasons, with losses to FBS opponents Boston College, Rutgers, Maryland and Appalachian State in that time by a combined 202 points.

But new coach Mike London, who formerly was at Virginia and once won an FCS national title at Richmond, has breathed new life into the Howard program. And a big part of that was recruiting quarterback Caylin Newton (27), Cam’s little brother. Newton had 330 yards of total offense against UNLV.

Howard’s win wasn’t the only football highlight for a Historically Black College last week. Tennessee State (28) of the Ohio Valley Conference actually scored the first FCS-over-FBS victory of the season by beating Georgia State last Thursday. It was the Tigers’ first win over an FBS opponent since 1984.

THIS WEEK IN RULE APPLICATION OUTRAGE

There were two prime examples Saturday of why fans throw their remotes at the TV and rage at either the college football rules or the application of them.

The first: This play was reviewed for a potential targeting violation. Targeting was not called, and thus Michigan’s Devin Bush (29) was allowed to stay in the game. If that’s not targeting, then The Dash is a Mongolian sheep herder.

While the officials didn’t call that foul, they were ALL OVER this one. Diving into the end zone cost Missouri’s Damarea Crockett (30) a touchdown due to excessive celebration. While there has been a clearly announced crackdown on players unnecessarily diving into the end zone, the question is … why? Don’t blame the refs for throwing the flag; blame college football for having the rule.

Of the penalty that wasn’t called and the one that was, which play was a more pronounced threat to the game?

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