If Florida State had merely lost to Alabama, things wouldn’t be so bad for the Seminoles.
Sure, they’d be 0-1 and probably have to rattle off 12 consecutive victories to earn a playoff berth, and that’s not ideal. It also isn’t crushing for a team with a stingy defense playing in a conference that saw an exodus of capable quarterbacks after last season. The Seminoles had one of the more tested quarterbacks in the ACC in sophomore Deondre Francois, at least they did until he suffered a knee injury and was lost for the season in Saturday’s opener. True freshman James Blackman will take over, and with Saturday’s tuneup vs. Louisiana-Monroe canceled by Hurricane Irma, he’ll need to grow up in a hurry with Miami and N.C. State looming the following two weeks.
[This story was updated to reflect the cancellation of the Seminoles’ game on Saturday.]
Blackman could turn out to be incredibly advanced for a first-year college player. He already impressed many in Tallahassee by earning the backup job in his first preseason camp. But most freshmen encounter some bumpy patches, and a schedule that also includes Clemson, Florida and Louisville makes it likely Blackman will have a hiccup or two along the way this year.
Florida State harbored national title hopes so long as its offensive line could coalesce and Francois could parlay a solid debut season into something bigger. The second variable is out the door, which means the Seminoles might have absorbed the costliest loss of the season’s first week. But they weren’t the only team to lose a starting quarterback. That group includes:
>> Georgia: Sophomore Jacob Eason left the Bulldogs’ defeat of Appalachian State with a knee injury. Freshman Jake Fromm took over and completed 10 of 15 for 143 yards and a touchdown. He’ll get a greater challenge Saturday at Notre Dame.
This might not derail Georgia too much. The Bulldogs were going to rely heavily on their defense and tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel regardless of the quarterback, and the SEC East isn’t the most imposing neighborhood. But Fromm is still untested, and he’s bound to have some struggles against the top teams on Georgia’s schedule.
>> Maryland: The price of the Terrapins’ 51-41 victory at Texas was a torn anterior cruciate ligament for sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome. Enter Kasim Hill, who will become the sixth true freshman to start a game at quarterback for Maryland since 2012 on Saturday against Towson.
This probably doesn’t alter the Terps’ ceiling much (if at all) this year. Pigrome owns all of two career starts and wasn’t an obvious top option coming into the preseason, and Hill was a coveted part of Coach DJ Durkin’s first full recruiting cycle. But it does impact Maryland’s depth, and that can’t be a comforting thought for a program only five years removed from starting a linebacker for the final third of a season.
>> Texas A&M: The Aggies not only lost 45-44 to UCLA, they will be without Nick Starkel (fractured ankle) for quite awhile.
Starkel split time with true freshman Kellen Mond before his injury. Mond, meanwhile, was 3 of 17 for 27 yards while adding 54 yards rushing. That’s not an auspicious debut for a team that must still navigate the SEC West.
Speaking of the Aggies …
Texas A&M is the clubhouse leader for the biggest meltdown of the season after blowing a 34-point lead at UCLA, and the Aggies’ habit of turning 5-0 starts into 8-5 finishes placed Coach Kevin Sumlin near the top of hot seat lists throughout the offseason. So it was no secret that Sunday’s loss did not bode well for his job security.
That’s life, especially when you’re making $5 million a year and have an eight-figure buyout as protection in case your employer wishes to no longer be your employer. It’s not good, but it is business.
What isn’t business as usual (or shouldn’t be in a normal athletic department) is for a member of a university’s board of regents to pop off publicly about he will vote to fire a coach at his earliest opportunity and create a needless headache for many other people. It is reasonable to ask just who would potentially want to work with the possibility of such meaningful public threats to their employment if the Aggies’ job opened, but that’s an easy question to answer: Someone who would like to make $5 million a year.
At the very least, this brouhaha all but ensures the Lone Star State will maintain its lockdown as the home of the most dysfunction surrounding a possible coaching change after Charlie Strong’s roller-coaster ride at Texas ended after last season. Who said the Aggies-Longhorns rivalry is dead?
Look out for the little guys
Long-term memories aren’t what they used to be, so here’s a little history lesson for those inclined to blurt out that last week’s four FCS-over-FBS triumphs (Tennessee State over Georgia State, James Madison over East Carolina, Liberty over Baylor and Howard over UNLV) constituted the craziest set of upsets ever: There were four FCS-over-FBS results in the opening week last season (and 10 for the year). And four more in Week 1 in 2015. And eight in the opening set of games in 2013.
So this was really about normal. And while Howard rightfully earned attention for beating the spread and then some, James Madison was actually favored (and not by enough, it turned out) last weekend.
Chances are there will be a couple more teams that take a big check and a victory this week. Howard gets another shot, making a much shorter trip to Kent State, while New Hampshire will face Georgia Southern in Birmingham.
Then there’s Georgia Tech, which gets one of the top FCS teams in the country (Jacksonville State) as it comes off a Labor Day loss to Tennessee. The Yellow Jackets should win, of course, but a short week after a double-overtime game would make that a dicey contest for most teams.
Five games to watch
>> No. 13 Auburn at No. 3 Clemson (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN): The host Tigers (as opposed to the visiting Tigers) get their first true test in their national title defense as Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham and Auburn arrive in Death Valley.
>> No. 15 Georgia at No. 24 Notre Dame (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., NBC): The Fighting Irish looked revitalized in their opener against Temple, but they are unlikely to have three players rush for 100 yards in consecutive weeks. Georgia will play its first road game north of the Mason-Dixon Line since 1965.
>> No. 5 Oklahoma at No. 2 Ohio State (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., ABC): The Buckeyes pounced quickly last year in Norman en route to a 45-24 victory. The Sooners haven’t lost since, and QB Baker Mayfield should be better prepared for an Ohio State secondary that returns only one starter.
>> No. 14 Stanford at No. 6 Southern California (Saturday, 8:30 p.m., Fox): The best conference matchup of the week is in the Pac-12, where the Cardinal goes for its fourth in a row in the series. Stanford had last week off after its opening trip to Australia, while Southern Cal pulled away late against Western Michigan.
>> Boise State at No. 20 Washington State (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., ESPN): Now that Washington State finally has a win in a season opener under sixth-year Coach Mike Leach, it will try to keep its hopes of its first perfect nonconference record since 2006 alive as the Broncos arrive in Pullman.
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