CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As much as Florida State redshirt sophomore Deondre Francois loved Saturdays last fall, he hated what the next day brought.
The ice tub. The pounding at Miami that left him feeling like he got hit by a bus. The lumps that came from playing quarterback on an offense that allowed 36 sacks — tied for 17th-most in the country.
"I didn't like Sundays, man," Francois said during Thursday's ACC kickoff.
If FSU plans to live up to preseason College Football Playoff expectations, Francois and the rest of the Seminoles will have to make sure their performances on Saturdays lead to less pain the next day.
As deep as the ACC is — and every league official at The Westin Charlotte is celebrating it as the country's best conference — it's no longer loaded at quarterback. Of the six ACC quarterbacks who had higher passer ratings than Francois last year, only reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson returns. That means Francois' experience gives the 'Noles an edge over Clemson and the rest of the league … if he stays healthy and upright.
Francois called his debut season bumpy, for good reason. His completion percentage (58.8 percent) was tied for 66th nationally. In four games against top-30 pass defenses, he was 61-of-120 with four touchdowns and three interceptions.
But coach Jimbo Fisher has another word for it: "Tremendous."
Francois led all freshmen with 3,350 passing yards (258 per game). He was tied for 18th nationally in yards per attempt. His touchdown/interception ratio (20/7) was 32nd in the country, just below second-round pick DeShone Kizer.
More importantly for Fisher, Francois shined in some of FSU's biggest moments. His offense led the country in the red zone and ranked 33rd in third downs. Fisher credits him with five fourth-quarter winning drives — it's not Francois' fault that the late defensive collapse to North Carolina negated his gritty, go-ahead touchdown run with 23 seconds left.
"He was great in all those scenarios," Fisher said. "That's what I'm so proud of. That's very rare for a freshman to be able to accomplish."
And that's perhaps the biggest reason why the Seminoles will likely be picked to win the ACC when its media days wrap up today. If Francois was that poised and successful despite taking a beating in his first year as a starter, what can he do with an extra year of seasoning?
"Every game I feel like I learned a lot," Francois said. "There were so many things I thought about the game that I didn't know."
Like how to be patient. How to remain focused. How to take hit after hit and get back up each time.
FSU has plans to correct that last problem and avoid dipping into the shallow quarterback depth chart of redshirt junior J.J. Cosentino and early enrollee Bailey Hockman. The offensive line should improve with Landon Dickerson returning from an ACL injury. Even with the loss of star running back Dalvin Cook to the NFL, a deep, talented backfield should lessen Francois' burden. And Francois has spent the offseason on moving in the pocket and keeping his eyes downfield to avoid blows.
"I'm going to push our offense to the limit and see how far we can go," Francois said.
Hopefully for Francois, that means more fun on Saturdays and fewer trips to the ice tub on Sundays.
Contact Matt Baker at [email protected] Follow @MBakerTBTimes.