With his first career start on tap this Saturday, Florida State true freshman quarterback James Blackman is the most intriguing player to watch in college football’s Week 4 slate. The Seminoles open ACC play in Tallahassee with a tough matchup against NC State. Due to Hurricane Irma, Florida State’s game against Miami was postponed and the one with ULM was canceled, so Blackman enters the ACC opener without taking major snaps in a contest.
Just who is James Blackman? The Belle Glade, Florida, native ranked as a three-star prospect and as the No. 389 overall player by the 247Sports Composite for the 2017 signing class. As a senior at Glades Central High School, Blackman threw for 2,511 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2016. As the film below shows, the true freshman has a big-time arm and plenty of mobility. At 6-foot-5 and 185 pounds, it’s clear Blackman could use a little time to bulk up and work on his strength in the weight room. And realistically, a redshirt year would probably be the preferred path for coach Jimbo Fisher.
As if being a true freshman and starting in the ACC wasn’t enough, Blackman has big shoes to fill in replacing Deondre Francois. The sophomore suffered a season-ending leg injury in the Week 1 loss to Alabama. With Francois out, the keys to Florida State’s offense are firmly entrenched in Blackman’s hands for the rest of 2017.
The good? Blackman has had two weeks to prepare with Fisher – one of college football’s top quarterback gurus – as the starter. He’s also surrounded by a strong supporting cast, including running backs Jacques Patrick and Cam Akers, along with receivers Nyqwan Murray, Auden Tate and Keith Gavin. The offensive line is still a question mark, but this unit showed some promise in the opener against Alabama. The front five will have another tough assignment up next, as NC State’s defensive front is also one of the best in the nation. End Bradley Chubb is one of the ACC’s top defenders and has 1.5 sacks through three games.
The bad? Blackman has only a couple of snaps of experience versus Alabama and has yet to attempt a pass at the FBS level. NC State’s front four will present plenty of challenges for Blackman, and the schedule doesn’t get any easier with a trip to Wake Forest in Week 5, followed by a game against Miami in Week 6.
Florida State was considered by most to be one of the front-runners to claim a spot in the College Football Playoff entering this season. Fisher’s team returned 14 starters, and standout safety Derwin James was back from injury. Additionally, the development of Francois, with Clemson breaking in a new starting quarterback, was expected to give Florida State a slight edge within the ACC.
But just three weeks into the season, no one is really sure what to make of the Seminoles. Between the opening loss to Alabama and Francois' season-ending injury, it remains to be seen if Florida State is still a playoff contender and can push Clemson for the ACC Atlantic title.
While Francois is a huge loss, the Seminoles still have enough pieces in place to challenge the Tigers for the top spot in the ACC. For one, Florida State will face Clemson in Death Valley in early November, but that's after playing NC State, making up a postponed game with Miami and squaring off with Louisville.
College football has seen its share of surprises among first-year quarterbacks or new starters leading teams to the playoff. It’s a lot to ask Blackman to be the next to do so, but he won’t be forced to shoulder the entire workload of the offense. If Fisher can bring Blackman along, while leaning on the defense to carry the team, the Nov. 11 showdown in the Tigers' den will once again have major playoff implications.
Florida State doesn’t need Blackman to carry the offense or the team the rest of the year. But his development will be one of the ACC’s most intriguing storylines to watch over the next few weeks.