Youth vs. experience: QBs center stage in FSU-Ole Miss game
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Jimbo Fisher has spent most of the preseason thinking about two quarterbacks he knows fairly well: Ole Miss' Chad Kelly and the Seminoles' Deondre Francois.
The Florida State coach has been working on a game plan to try to contain Kelly while preparing Francois for his first college start. Fisher actively recruited both players, who square off on Monday when fourth-ranked Florida State takes on No. 11 Mississippi in Orlando, Florida.
Both quarterbacks have a reputation as strong passers and above-average runners. That might be where the similarities end.
Kelly is on many preseason watch lists after he led the Rebels to a 10-3 record last season and a win in the Sugar Bowl. Francois is the second freshman QB to start for Seminoles in the past four seasons, though he will step into the spotlight in his hometown.
Kelly can empathize slightly with what Francois might be going through.
The Ole Miss starter said the biggest adjustment QBs face making their first start is "not really knowing what the speed of a real, live game is going to be."
"There are no coaches behind you, so instead of 15, 20 people on the field, there's just 11," Kelly said. "Any time you get to go out, be the starter and be the man it's fun."
Francois was recruited out of Bradenton, Florida's, IMG Academy as the nation's top dual threat quarterback in 2015. He was redshirted last season but teammates were impressed with how he ran the scout team.
When Sean Maguire missed the spring with a broken ankle, Francois put himself into the mix for the starting job with consistent practices and two touchdowns in the spring game. Maguire and Francois began preseason camp with both listed first on the depth chart, but Francois moved to the front after Maguire fractured his right foot on the third day of practice.
Fisher has continued to be impressed with Francois' poise and how he has been able to control the offense.
"It's not about being physical and throwing the ball. You've got to have presence in the huddle, you've got to have presence on the field, you've got have command," Fisher said. "I think that's continually growing and I'm grinding on him."
Francois is the fourth freshman to start an opener for Florida State. The last one, Jameis Winston, also got his first start on Labor Day and ended up doing pretty well.
Against Pittsburgh in 2013, Winston completed all but two of his 27 passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns, and also had one rushing. The 41-13 win over the Panthers was the start of a 14-0 national championship season for the Seminoles as Winston became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.
Francois knows about the comparisons and has not shied away from them.
"I don't think the lights will be too bright. I believe in my preparation," Francois said during media day. "The spring was very important. I earned a lot of trust from older guys, from staying after practice late and putting in extra work. Doing everything I can to put the team in a position to be successful."
Francois doesn't have to do it all by himself. Florida State is returning several players on offense, including running back Dalvin Cook, who is a Heisman contender, and wide receivers Travis Rudolph, Kermit Whitfield and Bobo Wilson, who each caught 57 or more passes last season.
Florida State's preparations have been disrupted a little bit by Hurricane Hermine. The campus closed at 12 p.m. on Thursday and Fisher moved up practice both days. Most of Tallahassee has also been without power since Hermine made landfall early Friday morning.
Fisher tried to recruit Kelly in 2013 before he decided to go to Clemson. A couple stops later, Kelly found a home at Ole Miss with eight 300-yard passing games and a school record 4,542 yards of total offense.
The Florida State coach said the Seminoles will need to pressure Kelly with a disciplined pass rush where defenders remain in their lanes.
"I mean, you rush crazy and give him run lanes, that's where he makes tons of plays scrambling, getting the ball down the field and keeping his eyes up," Fisher said. "He's a great competitor."