It seemed the recruiting race for 5-star QB Justin Fields couldn’t get any more interesting for Georgia fans.
But then it did. Drastically. It only took one full week of college football to do so.
That’s why it always was smart for Fields (Harrison H.S./Kennesaw, Ga.) to study his three major contenders (Auburn, Florida State and Georgia) and note the discernible differences. Fields did his research and made his visits. He felt good about those relationships and opportunities.
Those schools then needed to separate from one another by what they did on the football field.
How so? Give me about six sentences of backstory — two per team here — and then you’ll see exactly what I mean.
The best Fields case for Auburn in 2017: That would’ve been for Gus Malzahn’s program to pile up the wins and put his hot seat in one of those pricey Yeti coolers on the way to a 10-win season. That also would propel first-year starting transfer quarterback Jarrett Stidham to a prime 2018 NFL Draft slot.
The best Fields case for Florida State in 2017: The Seminoles also needed to launch redshirt sophomore quarterback Deondre Francois to the NFL with a big year. The Seminoles needed to go toe-to-toe with Alabama and show they could protect their starter better than they did in 2016.
The best Fields case for UGA in 2017: Jacob Eason needed to show marked improvement under offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. He would also play so well that heralded freshman Jake Fromm would only be able to get garbage time or a scripted entrance into big games just to get his feet wet.
Gulp. Yeah, most of that is irrelevant now.
Auburn held serve after Week 1. Francois is out for the year at Florida State. My prediction is that Eason will miss most of September. Fromm will be the starter for at least the next three to four weeks.
What does this mean now? That’s the huge recruiting question.
How the Justin Fields decision will evolve going forward
DawgNation got on the phone Sunday night and rounded up as much information as possible about this supposedly new set of cards all around with this decision.
A few well-placed sources did not wish to go on the record, but I will allow their words to shape the opinions I will express here.
The more things change, the more it seems as if they will still sound the same.
Justin Fields and those close to him will now watch even more football this fall. That family DVR likely will hold the key to a lot of tells in that camp.
If anything, the developments of the weekend will slow down the process and the timeline for him to make a public decision.
The Justin Fields storyline just added a few big plot twists. (Jeff Sentell/SEC Country)
Fields is fortunate in that case. He has a lot of leverage. Auburn, Florida State and Georgia are not going anywhere.
A lot of big-time programs have their 2018 elite quarterback prospects already squared away. Those three programs do not. They can and will wait on him. They will be around all the way up to National Signing Day, or close to it, if need be.
Fields, the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect per the 247Sports composite, scored a 29 on his ACT and carries a 3.9 grade-point average at Harrison High. That gives him even more leverage.
Football is a rough game. The next man up stuff was stated over and over this weekend. The Eason and Francois cases only reinforce that.
The only reason why he would commit now is to protect himself in case of a similar injury in the high school arena. Yet Fields is a pretty big guy.
He can also clock a 4.51 laser time in the 40-yard dash, but his arm and football IQ are also pretty rare. He’d still be a top 3 quarterback prospect for the 2018 cycle even if he ran a 4.9 in the 40. That’s why he is so special.
If the 6-foot-3, 225-pound prospect did suffer a catastrophic injury this fall, then maybe the elite programs back off. Still, I say they would still be after him. He’s just that good.
But if they do go elsewhere, then the core academic schools — Duke, North Carolina, Northwestern, Wake Forest — should still be there for him as he recovers.
Where do Auburn, Florida State and UGA stand now?
Auburn, as stated before, stays on pace after Week 1. The Tigers won impressively in a paycheck game against Georgia Southern and Stidham offered a solid debut.
He completed 14 of his 24 attempts for 185 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception. The dual-threat quarterback added 17 yards on the ground and a 14-yard scoring run.
When you look at it from all angles, it seems as if Florida State’s case took on the most water.
James Blackman, a freshman, is the next man up in Tallahassee. The 6-foot-5, 195-pound QB was a 3-star prospect in 2017. He was rated by the 247Sports composite as the nation’s No. 16 overall pro-style prospect.
If he struggles this year, then Fields would like his chances in that comparison. But then there’s Francois. He will be coming off an injury and will be given every latitude to win back his starting job after missing all of 2017. Francois redshirted in 2015 and will be eligible for the NFL draft in 2018.
If Blackman does very well this fall, then I’d imagine Florida State becomes even more complicated for Fields. He’s a competitor and wants to play early in his college career. As he should.
But Fields has said several times that he doesn’t mind redshirting in college. He’s heard the stat about how the majority of NFL quarterbacks redshirted in college. He’s keenly aware of that.
It is another variable to keep in mind with all of this.
So where is Georgia with Justin Fields?
Freshman Jake Fromm had a rousing debut on Saturday against Appalachian State. Let’s all remember he faced Appalachian State. Not Auburn or Alabama.
Fields and his camp will watch to see what he does against Notre Dame. There are just too many variables at play right now. Wait and see how Fromm leads the team against the Irish.
Justin Fields has become a much better leader and a much more complete QB now three games into his senior year. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)
That’s a big hand which to be played Saturday in South Bend, Ind.
If Fromm plays well in a UGA victory, then that will cause a few ripple effects. It will show the Bulldogs have a tremendous young quarterback who can get it done. Period.
If he continues to play well enough to keep the job with a healthy Eason in the fold, then that is a tremendous recruiting windfall.
Consider that the recruiting jackpot. The Bulldogs will then have a pair of very capable passers under center.
What does that mean for Fields? Well, he did tell me something about UGA in the last week of July that now sounds awfully ironic.
“I’m not really looking at the wins and losses and how the team plays. My main thing is the quarterback position. That’s the position I play. So say if Jacob Eason gets hurt. Of course, now I don’t want him to get hurt. I don’t want that. He’s a great guy. A great guy. But for example, then in that situation maybe Jake Fromm goes in there and lights it up. Just tears it up.
Well, for me then Georgia has kind of solidified their starter. I would have to take a good look at that. Now, I’m not afraid to compete. But I feel like if he has that experience then he would have that edge over me. But if Jacob Eason plays most of the whole season, then Jake Fromm doesn’t have that edge [in playing time] on me at all.”
Let’s be clear. Fields told me that in July. I don’t expect him to answer new recruiting questions anytime soon. He did that all summer and has expressed that he wants to focus on Harrison football now.
But the way he looks at Georgia might have changed since then. That happens a lot with teenagers.
He might simply look at the UGA depth chart, see what Fromm is doing and still think he has the arm, intelligence and athletic ability to get on the field fast no matter what Eason or Fromm do this year.
If he thinks that way, he might just be right, too. That’s the right mindset for him to carry into his college career regardless.
We must also not get ahead of ourselves. Fromm could play but simply do what freshmen always do in big-time college football. They struggle. They flash and then they do dumb stuff.
Fields could see Fromm adjust to that learning curve, too. That might also cause him to think he could come in and compete right away. He might see himself as the missing ingredient for a team that should be good this year, no matter who is under center.
There’s a lot of football ahead. It will get sorted out. Eventually. There will be a lot of data to sift through about the future of the quarterback positions at Auburn, Florida State and Georgia.
When that time comes, Fields will assess and make the best decision for his future. When things get this complicated, it makes sense to just go back to the fundamental premise for every recruit.
If all those things are equal, I still like Georgia’s chances here. The on-field results in September were always going to be a factor for Fields.
They will matter even more now.
Miss a day of Intel? Well, the DawgNation recruiting archive will get you up to Mecole Hardman speed before your tailgate crew can worry anymore about all the freshman offensive linemen who will have to play this fall.