After a QB goes down, title contenders scramble for Plan B

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Throughout the first half against No. 1 Alabama, Florida State sophomore Deondre Francois looked like the best quarterback on the field.

Francois bravely stood in the pocket, taking shot after shot from the Crimson Tide’s menacing defense, like he’d done in nearly every game as a freshman in 2016. No freshman quarterback passed for more yards than Francois last year, and few quarterbacks anywhere took as many hits. Francois was sacked or hit on dropbacks an ACC-high 81 times. They were the kind of vicious hits that often sideline players, but Francois kept getting up and coming back for more.

“He did a really good job of taking all the blows that we gave him,” Crimson Tide All-America safety Minkah Fitzpatrick said. “But we’re Alabama. We put a lot on him.”

In a duel with Alabama quarterback and reigning SEC Offensive Player of the Year Jalen Hurts, Francois showed more accuracy and consistency than he had a year ago. He threw for 161 yards and a touchdown in the first half and the Seminoles trailed 10-7 at halftime.

Eventually, like so many opponents before them, the No. 3 Seminoles and Francois succumbed to Alabama’s relentless pressure. With less than six minutes to go, and FSU trailing 24-7, Francois took a snap, rolled to his right and looked down the field for an open receiver. He didn’t see Alabama safety Ronnie Harrison, who was barreling down on him from behind. Just as Francois cocked his right arm back to throw, Harrison dove at the back of his legs and pulled him down to the turf.

Just like that, Florida State’s ACC championship and College Football Playoff hopes are all but over. If losing to Alabama wasn’t enough, the Seminoles will now have to play the rest of the season without their promising quarterback.

Francois will probably be replaced by freshman James Blackman, who has yet to attempt a pass in college. As Francois is lost for the season, so too is any chance that Florida State can realistically fulfill its CFP ambition. Maybe Blackman will surprise us, like Francois did a year ago, but he can’t be expected to match Francois’ contribution.

“What Deondre gives you is hope, hope that he’s always going to make a play and hope that you’re never out of a game,” Fisher told ESPN’s Chris Low in August. “And when your quarterback is one of the toughest guys on your team, that’s when you’ve really got something.”

College football is unlike the NFL — there are no players to be picked up off the waiver wire. You’re only as good as your backup quarterback, and in Florida State’s case, despite its plethora of talent, that is likely not good enough to meet its own expectations. That’s probably the reason Francois was still playing late in the fourth quarter in a game that already had been decided — the guys behind him weren’t ready to play against a team like Alabama.

Make no mistake: The quarterback position in college football is fragile and unpredictable. No. 15 Georgia learned that lesson as well in Week 1, although the consequences are not as devastating as they were for Florida State. Sophomore Jacob Eason went down in the first quarter of Saturday’s 31-10 victory over Appalachian State. Eason, the No. 1 quarterback in the 2016 ESPN 300, has a sprained knee ligament and will be sidelined for an undetermined amount of time.

“I think anytime you have injuries, especially at the quarterback position, it tests your mettle a little bit,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said.

Smart said Eason won’t need surgery and has already started rehabilitation.

“He will be back,” Smart said. “He will be back this year. We feel very, very fortunate. It could have been much worse.”

Maybe the Bulldogs will survive with their backup, true freshman Jake Fromm, who passed for 143 yards and a touchdown after replacing Eason. Maybe they can still contend for an SEC East title. Regardless, Smart is likely will have a freshman quarterback leading his offense for the second season in a row, starting with Week 2’s highly anticipated trip to Notre Dame.

“Jake Fromm is a mature freshman,” Smart said. “He’s got good players around him, and he needs to take advantage of them. Jake does a good job. I think he’s a very mature kid. We’re excited about where he’s at.”


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