FSU coach Willie Taggart spoke about the early signing period class.
Wayne McGahee III, Tallahassee Democrat
Florida State desperately needed to land a quarterback this recruiting cycle.
Not only that, the Seminoles needed to land one that’s ready to come in and compete.
FSU had that for eight months with the commitment of four-star quarterback Sam Howell of Monroe, North Carolina. Howell finished fourth at the Elite II camp in July and is ranked as the No. 3 pro-style quarterback in the country. He was also an early enrollee, which meant he could have gone through the off-season workout program and spring practice.
But on the day that it actually mattered, Howell signed elsewhere.
Howell announced his decision Wednesday to stay close to home and play quarterback for recently-hired coach Mack Brown at North Carolina. He spurned the Seminoles in the final hours before the early signing period.
Former offensive coordinator Walt Bell’s leaving FSU to become the head coach at UMass played a major role in Howell’s flip. Bell was the primary relationship for Howell at FSU, and his departure left a void that FSU and coach Willie Taggart wasn’t able to fill.
Taggart and members of his staff made an in-home visit to Howell earlier this month in an attempt to solidify his commitment.
Losing Howell is a disaster for Taggart’s Seminoles in more ways than one.
FSU didn’t sign a quarterback in the 2018 recruiting class after James Foster of Montgomery, Alabama, signed with Texas A&M instead of FSU at the last minute.
It wasn’t a big deal then, because FSU had a number of quarterbacks it was evaluating for the 2019 class and had three already on campus.
Now, the numbers game doesn’t favor the Seminoles.
Redshirt freshman Bailey Hockman transferred before the 2018 season began and redshirt junior quarterback Deondre Francois — who started 11 games for FSU in 2018 and graduated last weekend — is expected to transfer. That would leave sophomore James Blackman as the only scholarship quarterback on the roster for spring practice.
FSU had put all its eggs in the Howell basket and was counting on him to sign with FSU. Taggart losing him puts the Seminoles in a very precarious position.
The Seminoles could be in the market for a graduate transfer at quarterback. Alabama’s Jalen Hurts — assuming he transfers — is considered the top player FSU could focus on. While Georgia freshman quarterback Justin Fields intends to transfer — he may also receive an NCAA waiver to play immediately — Fields is expected to land elsewhere.
FSU faces a problem that doesn’t have an easy answer.
Signing a grad transfer at quarterback could push Blackman out the door, too. He was passed over for the starting job in 2018. Would he be willing to sit behind another quarterback for another season?
I find that hard to believe.
If FSU goes the freshman route, there are plenty of other problems that accompany it.
Most of the quality quarterbacks in this class will already be signed by the end of the week. That leaves a very small pool of players to go after with many suitors.
It also means that none of those players will be early enrolling. That would leave FSU with just one quarterback on the roster for the spring, assuming Francois transfers.
The freshman would also have just a month of practice under his belt before the season began. We saw what happens in that situation when Blackman was thrown into the fire one game into the 2017 season after Francois went down.
Howell was the key to FSU’s quarterback recruiting and now that key is lost, and FSU has to find another way to get through that door.
Neither of the options on the table are good options. And neither option solves FSU’s problem of a quarterback room that will likely consist of one scholarship quarterback in the spring.
Does FSU go the grad transfer route and risk pushing Blackman away? Do the Seminoles go with a high school recruit that won’t have the time to get ready in case he’s needed?
Taggart and Co. have a lot of questions left to answer heading into January – and not a lot of answers available.
Read more FSU early signing period news:
FSU coach Willie Taggart speaks to the media on Wednesday morning.
Wayne McGahee III, Tallahassee Democrat