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History of missed QB evaluations lead to FSU’s struggles

Florida State will face off against another familiar face at quarterback this week.

In week 1, Jeff Sims led Georgia Tech to a surprising win. In October, Sam Howell led a second-half rally that fell just short for North Carolina. And on Saturday, the Seminoles will see Bailey Hockman. All three were Seminoles’ commitments and, in Hockman’s case, a signee who departed in Aug. 2018.

The circumstances are different but the emotions are uncomfortable, especially factoring in James Blackman’s performance in his career — early success but little growth under multiple coaching staffs in the face of a constant pass rush. Jordan Travis, Chubba Purdy and Tate Rodemaker are so early in their careers that it’s hard to evaluate their development and if they are the long-term answer. But it’s also magnified by the curiosity — could Hockman, Howell or Sims have been that guy?

Let’s start with Hockman, who has taken over the starting job after Devin Leary’s injury and will face the Seminoles on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. (ACC Network). Hockman has been up and down but is coming off a game in which he went 19 of 28 for 248 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in the 44-41 loss to Miami last week.

A few days ago, Hockman described his decision to leave FSU after signing with Jimbo Fisher as part of the 2017 class before taking a redshirt.

“There’s a lot that went into it,” Hockman told NC State beat writers. “But obviously I went to Florida State to play for Jimbo. When he left that was kind of hard. But me and (Willie) Taggart just kind of ended up having a little bit of a disagreement on things. And ultimately I just felt like it wasn’t where I was supposed to be at. And I felt like I just needed a change. it ended up working out pretty good.”

Hockman transferred in Aug. 2018 as Taggart opted to go with Deondre Francois over Blackman and Hockman. He landed at a junior college before signing with NC State in the 2019 class. He faced FSU in 2019, completing just 21 of 40 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown in the Seminoles’ win. Hockman took his lumps that day. Now he will face an FSU defense that has a number of new faces.

“I don’t know nearly as much of the players as I did last year just because they’re younger,” Hockman said. “A lot of the guys left.”

From Howell, Sims and Hockman to the commitments, signees and other misses, let’s take a look back at FSU’s classes.

2013: Jameis Winston

Jameis Winston stepped onto Heinz field and dominated a University of Pittsburgh team that was supposed to give Florida State a challenge. That night Winston was introduced to the world. The redshirt freshman went 25 of 27 for 356 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Winston had one of the best debuts ever for a freshman quarterback. Winston did not stop there as he led FSU to a national championship and won the Heisman Trophy. Since Winston has left FSU in 2014, the Seminoles have had multiple starting quarterbacks, none of which came even close to Winston.

2014: JJ Cosentino

With Winston returning for 2014 after a record-setting freshman season, FSU was not really on any great quarterbacks. The class of 2014 nationally was not very good. When you look back the top-rated quarterback was Kyle Allen of Scottsdale, Ariz. The five-star quarterback committed to Texas A&M and ended up transferring to University of Houston. Allen is now in the NFL. Deshaun Watson was rated the No. 2 quarterback in the 2014 class. Watson committed to Clemson early and the Seminoles were never really in the picture. FSU went into their summer camps without a signal caller committed. JJ Cosentino put on a show and was offered a scholarship by Fisher and he committed on the spot. JJ was one of those players who looked great throwing in shorts but never was able to duplicate that once the pads came on. His high school ran the Wing-T and Cosentino was unable to adapt to Fisher’s pro-style scheme. 

2015: Deondre Francois, DeAndre Johnson

This class had some big-name prospects. Josh Rosen was a five-star quarterback that committed early to UCLA. Kyler Murray was a five-star quarterback who committed to Texas A&M. Jarret Stidham committed to play at Baylor and eventually landed at Auburn. Those three are all in the NFL and two of them became first-round picks. Brady White was the No. 3 pro style quarterback in this class. He committed to Arizona State before following Mike Norvell to Memphis, where he has had a great career. Drew Luck went to Missouri, Jake Browning (Washington), Sam Darnold (USC), Brett Rypien (Boise State), Joe Burrow (Ohio State), Lamar Jackson (Louisville) and Kelly Byrant (Clemson/Missouri) were among the top names. FSU never left the state of Florida and ended up taking Deondre Francois and DeAndre Johnson. This was the start of FSU’s issues at quarterback. Along with Cosentino they took three quarterbacks over two years who never panned out.

2016: Malik Henry 

FSU was on some big time quarterbacks in 2016. They offered Shea Patterson from IMG. They also offered Jacob Eason from Lake Stevens, Wash. KJ Costello had an offer from FSU. Malik Henry was also offered and was one of the top quarterbacks in the country. Henry was not only the No. 1 quarterback on Jimbo Fisher’s board but the Sooners had him at the top of their recruiting board. Dwayne Haskins was a prospect FSU offered but never got any traction. When Fisher had his football summer camp Eason, Henry, Francois and Johnson all attended. The most talented quarterback at all their camps was Henry. He displayed great touch and accuracy on his passes. With all of his talent there were red flags with Henry. FSU ignored them and took a flyer on Henry. He showcased his talents in FSU’s spring game. After that performance we never got to see him again. Henry could not stay out of trouble and ended up leaving FSU for junior college. This class was loaded with talented signal callers but many of them were not as well known. The players in this class who stood out: Felipe Franks (from nearby Wakulla), Shane Buechele (Texas), Jalen Hurts (Alabama), Riley Ferguson (Memphis), Skylar Thompson (Kansas State), Ian Book (Notre Dame), Nate Stanley (Iowa), Tyler Huntley (Utah-Hallandale HS), Jamie Newman (Wake Forest) and Justin Herbert (Oregon). Just think in 2017 that 1,832 quarterbacks were rated higher than Jordan Love (Utah State), who ended up getting drafted in the first round. Love may be one of the biggest misses in the history of college football.

2017: Hockman, Blackman

After signing Francois, Henry and Johnson, FSU thought they had the quarterback positon figured out. They could not be more wrong. Three years after each had signed at FSU not one of them was still on the roster. You want to know why FSU has struggled so bad at quarterback look no further than the 2016 and 2017 classes. Three quarterbacks in two years and not one of the stood out. FSU offered Jake Fromm from Georgia. FSU turned its focus early on Hockman. The four-star quarterback was a coach’s son. Jimbo thought he had another Christian Ponder. During their summer camp Jimbo scouted and evaluated James Blackman. The Glades Central quarterback performed very well at FSU’s camp and earned himself an offer. He was recruited to redshirt and then play later in his career. An injury to Francois against Alabama in the season opener and Hockman’s preseason camp injury put Blackman in a position he was never supposed to be in. That early start had a major impact on the rest of his career. 

2018: None

Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields were the two headliners in this class. Fields was seriously considering FSU until Fisher left. He had the Seminoles at the top of his list. Land Fields and FSU would not be in the shape they are today. Lawrence committed as a junior for Clemson and never wavered. Dorian Thompson Robinson was very interested in FSU but once Chip Kelly got the UCLA job he was done and committed to the Bruins. When you look at this class FSU could have gone after Devin Leary, who performed very well for NC State before getting an injury. Michael Penix was on the cusp of getting offered by Indiana but decided against it as OC Walt Bell did not want to scare off Sam Howell, who committed early for the 2019 class and FSU. There were some prospects like Joe Milton (Olympia HS), who was never looked at and is now starting at Michigan. James Foster was a kid that FSU tried to get on and land but he ended up choosing Texas A&M. Ironically this is the class Jordan Travis was in. He signed with Louisville only to end up at FSU a year later. The best quarterback in this class not named Lawrence or Fields may end up Zach Wilson. He starts for BYU this year and may move into the first round of next year’s draft. 

2019: None

Not to be outdone by not signing a quarterback in 2018, FSU followed up with no one in 2019. Sam Howell flipped to UNC in December 2018. Early on FSU offered Taisun Phommachanh. He ended up committing to Clemson. They also offered Jayden Daniels. Howell pulled the trigger first and Taggart told the talented signal caller he would be the only quarterback in the class. Howell never showed loyalty as he continued to show up on UNC’s campus multiple times after committing to FSU. Daniels wanted to come but Bell convinced Taggart that Howell was the only guy to take and Daniels ended up committing to Arizona State. Even until the end Daniels wanted to come but FSU would not take his commitment. By the time Howell pulled the trigger on NSD for UNC, it was too late and Daniels committed to Arizona State. FSU tried to get on Lance LeGendre but he ended up signing with Maryland. Grant Gunnell camped at FSU and wanted to pull the trigger but decided against it after Jimbo left and picked Arizona.

2020: Rodemaker, Purdy

Sims and Norvell met a few days after the coach’s arrival and the quarterback de-committed. Norvell arrived and quickly re-connected with Rodemaker, who had visited Memphis. Rodemaker was a USF commitment but wanted to be close to home and picked FSU. Purdy flipped from Louisville to FSU on the first day of the early signing period. It’s way too early to take stock of Rodemaker and Purdy.

Osceola editor Bob Ferrante contributed. Comment on this story on the Osceola’s message board