After Florida State coach Willie Taggart failed to land a quarterback in his first recruiting class, then dismissed starter Deondre Francois earlier this month, the Seminoles desperately needed to sign a passer on national signing day.
Instead, FSU joined Arizona State (2012-13) as the only Power Five programs I could find in the last decade that failed to add a quarterback in back-to-back classes.
“Obviously that wasn’t the plan,” then-Arizona State coach Todd Graham said at the time.
But the plan fell apart in Tempe for the same reasons it did in Tallahassee.
Like FSU, the Sun Devils’ first quarterback-free class came during a transition year, as Graham replaced just-fired Dennis Erickson. Because quarterbacks value stability and commit early in the recruiting cycle, new staffs often have trouble signing one; Jim McElwain left the position vacant in his first Gators class after failing to poach Lamar Jackson from Louisville.
And like FSU, Arizona State thought it had a four-star commit the next year. But Joshua Dobbs flipped from the Sun Devils to Tennessee on signing day, just as Sam Howell flipped from the ’Noles to North Carolina on the first day of the December period.
“We invested in someone, and we missed on them,” Taggart said.
Then both programs missed on their backup plans: FSU lost targets Lance LeGendre to Maryland and John Rhys Plumlee to Ole Miss, and ASU couldn’t pry Phoenix native Tyler Bruggman away from Washington State.
It ended up not mattering much, if at all, in Tempe. The Sun Devils went 20-7 over the next two seasons behind a pair of successful passers, and Graham’s eventual firing in 2017 had little to do with quarterback play.
Taylor Kelly (a 2010 recruit) started 37 games from 2012-14 and left as the program’s all-time leader in total offense. Mike Bercovici (a 2011 signee) played sparingly for three seasons until filling in admirably for the injured Kelly in ’14 and tying a school record with 30 touchdown passes the next year.
The lack of depth didn’t last long. Arizona State backfilled the position by signing two passers in 2014 and two more the next year.
If there were any negative consequences of those empty quarterback classes, they showed up in 2016. Starter Manny Wilkins and Brady White both suffered injuries, forcing Graham to turn to true freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole before going back to a banged-up Wilkins during a 5-7 disappointment.
A 2013 signee might have still been around to salvage the season, but few quarterback rooms are that deep.
“When you’re playing a third-string quarterback, the season’s already gone,” said Hod Rabino, publisher of Rivals’ Devils Digest site.
So how did Arizona State survive its recruiting drought at the game’s premier position?
Rabino said the Sun Devils hit on the ones they could sign. Kelly excelled in the short term. Wilkins (a 2014 signee) was a long-term fix who became the fifth most prolific passer in school history. And Bercovici successfully bridged the gap from when Kelly left to when Wilkins was ready.
“They really dodged a bullet, because they had someone like Mike Bercovici who was very, very patient waiting his turn,” Rabino said.
And that’s the difference between Arizona State and Florida State.
The ’Noles don’t have a Bercovici.
FSU is set to begin spring practice next month with only two scholarship quarterbacks: 2017 starter James Blackman and Louisville transfer Jordan Travis (who needs an NCAA waiver to be eligible this season). Taggart’s only feasible solution is to add a graduate transfer with immediate eligibility (like Texas A&M’s Nick Starkel) and hope whatever recruits he eventually signs work out.
“To have the sky not fall, you need to have a backup quarterback either ride things out and patiently wait their turn or get some quarterback in the transfer portal…” Rabino said. “If you really have thin numbers, then the sky is falling.”
Contact Matt Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.
Among the quarterbacks FSU recruited but couldn’t land over the last two classes:
Justin Fields (2018): Jimbo Fisher’s staff heavily recruited the five-star prospect, who signed with Georgia instead. FSU couldn’t get him the second time around, either; he transferred to Ohio State this offseason.
James Foster (2018): The four-star recruit was Taggart’s top available option last February, but he chose Fisher’s Aggies instead.
Sam Howell (2019): The four-star prospect was committed to FSU for eight months until Seminoles offensive coordinator Walt Bell left to become the head coach at UMass. Howell flipped to North Carolina on the December signing day.
John Rhys Plumlee (2019): He visited FSU the weekend before the traditional signing day, but the four-star passer flipped from Georgia to Ole Miss.
Lance LeGendre (2019): The top available talent after the December period chose Maryland, which offered him less than two weeks before signing day.