Everett Golson. Jameis Winston. EJ Manuel. Christian Ponder. Each year of Jimbo Fisher’s tenure as head coach of Florida State football has seen the ‘Noles begin the season with a starting signal-caller known to most fans. Winston, while lacking experience entering 2013, became a popular name among fans after his standout spring game.
Deondre Francois enters 2016 with considerably less hype and name recognition than the Tampa Bay Bucs’ overall No. 1 pick did entering 2013. That is probably a good thing— comparing Francois to the generational talent, Heisman winner, and BCS champion Winston is simply unrealistic and unfair.
Francois enrolled at FSU as a consensus four-star prospect in the fall semester of 2015 and redshirted his true freshman year. He began the fall of 2016 in a tight battle with redshirt senior Sean Maguire. Practice reports indicated Francois and Maguire split repetitions fairly evenly, and sources indicate that parity was indeed the case on the field and in the locker room.
The quarterback battle was tight. Then Sean Maguire injured his ankle.
Maguire’s injury makes Francois the de facto starter. While injury won Francois the job, Fisher has publicly indicated that Francois has the talent and grasp of the offense to impress fans. With his characteristic brevity and understated tone, Fisher said “you’ll like what you see” when asked to compare Francois to Winston.
There is no competitive footage of Francois at the college level. But evaluating his style from high school and spring-game footage can give a glimpse of how he may play in 2016.
Francois has above-average arm strength and can make every throw Jimbo Fisher’s offense will ask of him. The redshirt freshman does not have the raw arm strength of Sean Maguire or Jacob Coker, but he doesn’t need that. In limited footage, he flashed plus-level ball placement, which Maguire has never been able to consistently display. Francois also appears to have above-average deep-ball accuracy— which will be important with the veteran group of receivers around him. Francois also has the mobility to escape the pocket and pick up first downs when necessary. Expect Fisher to use his legs. But, as always, only to establish a threat to run rather than as a primary runner.
Francois begins his career in a great situation: with veteran receivers, an experienced offensive line, and the generational talent of Dalvin Cook. The redshirt-freshman signal-caller will simply have to avoid mistakes and play within Jimbo Fisher’s offense.
The injury to Maguire and the indefinite suspension of Malik Henry make J.J. Cosentino the clear backup. Cosentino’s limited appearances, particularly in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, did little to inspire ‘Noles fans that the redshirt sophomore from Pittsburgh can provide adequate relief. Cosentino has a strong arm, but notably turned the wrong way on simple hand-offs on run plays.
Maguire’s return from injury will improve depth from poor to quite good; Maguire would start for a considerable amount of Power-Five teams. With a strong arm and a solid grasp of Fisher’s offense, Maguire can offer solid play in the case of an injury to Francois, despite his limitations. His lack of mobility and poor accuracy often betray his strong arm and understanding of the offense.
Henry enters his first fall suspended indefinitely and underweight. The blue-chip talent still has many years to grow. As always in college football, however, the clock is ticking.
The Seminoles begin their 2016 national-title hunt with a two-man quarterback group. Francois will lead the ‘Noles into their battle in Orlando with Ole Miss and will likely continue to do so the rest of the year. Maguire’s return will improve depth, and with it, the chances at an inspired run at a conference title— and maybe more.