TALLAHASSEE, Fla.—Tom D’Angelo, the veteran scribe from The Palm Beach Post, asked the question with an entirely straight face. This could not have been easy considering the query’s payload. “Everett,” D’Angelo said Sunday. “Was it pass interference?”
Florida State quarterback Everett Golson answered with a belly laugh. Even the Notre Dame graduate transfer, in the thick of a quarterback competition with his new team, can appreciate the absurdity. The next-to-last pass Golson threw on Oct. 18 at Doak Campbell Stadium came on fourth-and-goal with 17 seconds remaining. It landed in the hands of wideout Corey Robinson, and the Fighting Irish sideline erupted in celebration of what appeared to be a miraculous win that would make Notre Dame’s record 7-0. But a flag lay on the field. An official had spotted another Irish receiver setting what a basketball player would call a moving screen on Florida State safety Jalen Ramsey. Pick plays rarely get called in football, but they’re still banned. The touchdown was wiped off the board because of offensive pass interference. Jacob Pugh intercepted Golson’s desperation heave on the next play, and the Seminoles continued their heart-attack run to the inaugural College Football Playoff. Notre Dame would go on to lose four of its next five games. Irish coach Brian Kelly would start Malik Zaire over Golson in the Music City Bowl, and this spring Golson would decide to play his final season elsewhere after acquiring his degree from Notre Dame.
Golson, who given his current position can satisfy exactly zero people with a candid response to D’Angelo’s question, took the diplomatic approach. “I don’t know,” he said. “The ref made the call. It’s up for a lot of debate.” What is also up for debate is Golson’s role in Tallahassee this fall. The next pass he completes to a Seminole in a game will be intentional, but will it come as the starter, as one of two quarterbacks locked in a duel for playing time or as a backup? Golson will spend this month competing with fourth-year junior Sean Maguire, whose only college start was a 23-17 win over Clemson last season that came when—on extremely short notice—he filled in for the suspended Jameis Winston.
While it is logical to suggest that a team planning to start a player who has been on the roster doesn’t usually seek a high-profile transfer in May, Golson swears he was given no assurances that he would win the job. In fact, Golson said it was a lack of assurance from Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher that cinched Golson’s choice to come to Florida State this spring. “He told me there were no promises,” Golson said. “You weren’t going to get the starting spot [automatically]. That attracted me to him so much more. You can go anywhere and they fill your head up with different things. You’re going to do this. You’re going to do that. They can really come out to be broken promises at the end of the day.”
Golson had other options, though he would have had more if not for an SEC rule that bans one-year graduate transfers. An SEC coach said Golson likely would not have received a waiver from the conference because he was suspended from Notre Dame for the fall semester of 2013 after he was caught cheating on a test. Alabama, Florida and Georgia all wanted Golson, who is the highest-profile football player to use the NCAA’s graduate transfer rule. But Golson landed at Florida State, where the Seminoles are talented but inexperienced on offense.
Further complicating matters is the uncertainty surrounding star tailback Dalvin Cook, who was expected to be the surest thing in the offense. Cook was charged with battery last month after he was accused of hitting a woman outside a bar in late June. When Cook’s case came to light, the Seminoles had just booted quarterback De’Andre Johnson for punching a woman at a bar. Cook has maintained his innocence, but he will have to wait weeks for an opportunity to prove that at trial. (More on that in First-and-10.) An acquittal could pave the way for Cook to return, but a conviction would mean an almost-certain dismissal after Florida State president John Thrasher said in a statement that he had “no tolerance for the type of behavior alleged in these cases.”
Late last season Cook emerged as a security blanket for an offense led by Winston, the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner. Cook’s absence puts even more pressure on the quarterback who wins Florida State’s competition this fall. For his part, Maguire isn’t conceding anything to Golson. He understands the optics of the situation, and he is happy to help Golson learn the finer points of the offense. But Maguire made clear on Sunday that he still intends to win the job. “Coach Fisher kept me in the loop the whole time throughout the process—even before [Golson] was coming,” Maguire said. “The initial thing was, ‘All right, it’s a big competition.’ I didn’t come to Florida State to say, ‘Here you go. You’re the starting quarterback.’ When I came here, I signed [in the same class] with Jameis. I’m not afraid of competition at all.”
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Quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders admitted that Golson’s experience gives him an edge. After all, Golson started as a redshirt freshman in 2012 for a team that went 12-0 before losing the BCS title game to Alabama. Golson has won at Oklahoma. He has beaten Stanford twice. If not for that illegal pick, he might have won at Florida State. But Sanders was also quick to point out that Maguire played well under extraordinarily difficult circumstances last year against a Clemson defense that finished first in the nation in yards per play allowed. Maguire is more comfortable with Florida State’s offense after three years in the system, but Golson and Sanders said that Notre Dame and Florida State’s offenses use similar concepts with different verbiage, so the learning curve is not as steep. “It’s not so much learning new plays,” Sanders said. “It’s learning a new language. It’s like moving from the United States to Mexico.” Besides, Fisher pointed out that no quarterback needs to completely master a playbook. “It’s not handling the playbook. It’s what you do well,” Fisher said. “That’s the thing in coaching. What does that guy do well? … Then you feature that and minimize the other things unless you need them in the game plan.”
There is also the matter of Golson’s fumbles. Kelly grew increasingly frustrated last year with Golson’s inability to hang on to the football. In 25 games at Notre Dame, Golson fumbled 20 times and lost 12. Kelly’s frustration boiled over on Nov. 8 after Golson lost a fumble and threw four interceptions in a 55-31 loss to Arizona State. The week the Irish played Florida State, Kelly outlined all the ball-security drills his staff had prescribed for Golson. But less than a month later the coach seemed at the end of his rope. “We’ve been working with him,” Kelly told reporters after the loss to Arizona State. “Sooner or later, he’s got to take it on himself to take care of the football. I don’t know what else to do. We’re at that point now where it hurt us in the game, obviously.” Sunday, Golson quickly dismissed a question about his fumbling habits at Notre Dame. “Yeah. I’ve got that straight,” he said. “I’ll leave it at that.”
If Golson has indeed corrected his ball-security issues, he could provide a calming veteran presence for an offense replacing four starting offensive linemen (Cam Erving, Josue Matias, Tre’ Jackson and Bobby Hart), a stalwart tight end (Nick O’Leary) and a record-breaking receiver (Rashad Greene). Still, left tackle Rod Johnson looks like a future first-round NFL draft pick and Golson—or Maguire—should have reliable targets in Ermon Lane, Bobo Wilson and Travis Rudolph. Lane, who averaged 20.5 yards on 13 catches as a freshman, could take special advantage of Golson’s superior arm strength.
Golson said Sunday that it felt like ages since he started for Notre Dame against Alabama in the BCS championship game on Jan. 8, 2013. It has been less than three years, but it may as well be another lifetime. Since then, Golson has been suspended, reinstated, celebrated, benched and re-recruited. “I’ve been at every end of that spectrum,” Golson said. Now he’s starting over, happy to get another chance to throw a touchdown that counts at Doak Campbell Stadium.
A random ranking
In honor of walking unexpectedly into chicken and waffles for breakfast this morning, here is a list of the top 10 duos.
1. Peanut butter and jelly
2. André 3000 and Big Boi
3. Han Solo and Chewbacca
4. Joe Montana and Jerry Rice
5. Simon and Garfunkel
6. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson
7. Macaroni and cheese
8. Chicken and waffles
9. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen
10. Statler and Waldorf
1. Looking for obvious symbolism? Then look no further than Florida State’s team photo shoot on Sunday morning. Cook emerged wearing his jersey after most of his teammates had already sat down for the photo. A sports information official noticed everyone noticing Cook and announced the Seminoles would be taking two team photos—one with Cook and one without.
The photographer snapped the first version of the photo. Then this happened.
Then the photographer shot another version of the photo.
Which version will Florida State use? That depends on what happens with Cook’s case. His attorney filed a demand for speedy trial on Friday. According to Florida’s rules of criminal procedure, that gives the court five days to hold a calendar call to set a trial date. At that point the court may set the trial for any date between five and 45 days after the calendar call. That means Cook’s trial could start some time between Aug. 17 (less likely) and Sept. 25 (more likely). The demand also binds the defendant and the state, meaning the defendant must be ready for trial as early as five days after the calendar call. If the prosecutor feels the defendant isn’t prepared for trial, he or she can file a motion with the court to strike the demand.
The Seminoles have an open date on Sept. 26 after playing their first three games.
2. LSU coach Les Miles has opted not to wait for the legal system to run its course before reinstating backup offensive lineman Jevonte Domond. Miles allowed the 6’ 6”, 310-pound Domond back on the team last week even though Domond could still potentially face a felony charge of domestic battery.
Prosecutors have yet to decide whether to move forward with a charge against Domond, who was arrested May 25. According to a police report obtained by Ross Dellenger of The Advocate in Baton Rouge, La., Domond is accused of grabbing his fiancée from behind by the neck while she leaned over the crib of their newborn baby. This, Domond’s fiancée told police, caused her to begin to lose consciousness. Domond is then accused of dropping his fiancée. He is also accused of slamming her on to a couch in response to her using pepper spray against him. Domond’s fiancée also accused him of biting her on the hip, causing her to pepper spray him again.
Domond told police he did not choke or bite his fiancée. He also said he lifted her up to get her to stop spraying him with pepper spray, according to the report. He also told police that his fiancée threatened him with a kitchen knife. The woman admitted to pulling the knife, telling police it was in self-defense.
3. I provided some fodder for the talk radio stations in the Peach State last week after mentioning during an appearance on The Paul Finebaum Show that I thought Georgia was the best job in the country and that the Bulldogs might need to ask some hard questions if they underachieve—in other words, don’t win the SEC East—this season. I haven’t written my job rankings in a few years, but Georgia has supplanted Texas as the top position in my mind for a variety of reasons. William McFadden from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution emailed Wednesday asking me to provide context, so I fleshed it out a little. McFadden used only a few quotes, so I figured I’d lay out the whole thing here. Feel free to disagree with any of the points.
First, here were McFadden’s questions:
• What in your mind makes UGA the nation's premier job?
• Why do you think the Bulldogs have been unable to take that next step nationally?
• What is your opinion of Mark Richt?
Here’s what I wrote back:
• I used to consider Texas the best job in the country, but now I think it's Georgia, followed by Ohio State. Why Georgia? My top criterion is access to players relative to competitors, and Georgia is in a really enviable position. In the past five recruiting classes, an average of 113.6 high-schoolers from the state of Georgia have signed with Power Five schools each year. (Note that we're talking Power Five, not all of the FBS.) That number is third behind Texas (179.4) and Florida (164.4) and ahead of California (100.4). The competition between state schools in those states is far more intense than it is in Georgia. With Georgia Tech running the option, the schools aren't really going head-to-head on offensive players because of different needs, and Georgia is the bigger brand name. It's also in the conference that more recruits consider desirable. Georgia's situation is closer to Ohio State's. In Ohio, kids grow up wanting to be Buckeyes. In Georgia, they grow up wanting to be Bulldogs. Ohio State was very good under Jim Tressel, but you didn't see the Buckeyes take the next step until Urban Meyer came along. Now, they have the most talented team in the country. Meanwhile, the state of Ohio produced 64.6 Power Five signees a year over that same five-year period.
Do Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Tennessee, South Carolina and others come in and poach Georgia talent? Absolutely. But there's such an abundance of it in the state that Georgia can afford to lose a few top in-state targets and still field a team capable of competing for SEC and national titles. Alabama and Auburn have to invade Georgia. During that five-year period, their state produced 36.4 Power Five signees a year. People talk about LSU's monopoly in its state, but the numbers between Louisiana and Georgia aren’t even close. Louisiana's average number of Power Five signees during that span was 38.6 a year.
Add to this great facilities (now that the Bulldogs are building an indoor), great tradition, a sharp athletic director, possibly the best college town in America and the fact that they play in the easier division of the nation's deepest conference. That's the recipe for a great job that just about every coach in America would crawl over broken glass to take.
• As far as taking the next step, there are a lot of factors. But let's be honest. If some things break differently in the 2012 SEC title game, Georgia has a national title under Mark Richt and we're probably not having this conversation. But the fact is Georgia has been the best team in the East on paper for most of the years since Tim Tebow left Florida and has two East titles and no SEC titles to show for it. Given its advantages and the current state of the SEC East, Georgia should be in the national title hunt most years.
• Mark Richt is on a very short list of coaches I'd want my kid to play for. He is secure in who he is and how he wants to run the program. He clearly cares about his players, and the program he created to help transition to life after football is a prime example. He hasn't compromised what he considers his mission for the sake of winning. That's great from a human standpoint and tough from a professional one, because he gets paid a healthy salary to win titles. I know no school president or athletic director will ever say it out loud, but coaches almost always get fired because of their win-loss record—not because they didn't mold enough men.
4. The father of Oregon tailback Thomas Tynertold Aaron Fentress of Comcast SportsNet Northwest that the junior would miss the 2015 season after undergoing shoulder surgery on Friday.
Tyner backed up freshman Royce Freeman in 2014, running for 573 yards with five touchdowns. Tyner was expected to spell Freeman again this season. Fentress reported that Tyner’s injury could force Byron Marshall to return to tailback after spending a season at receiver.
5. Alabama’s coordinators aren’t available for interviews very often, so it’s a popular sport to parse the statements in those rare interviews like the text of the Dead Sea Scrolls. But offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who spoke before the Crimson Tide’s fan day on Sunday, made a few things quite plain.
Yes, Alabama relied heavily on Amari Cooper last year. The offense was essentially built around him, which is pretty amazing for a receiver. “We’re going to find our players and get them the ball the best way we can,” Kiffin told reporters. “It’s not Little League, where everyone gets the same amount of touches. You saw it last year with Amari and everything being so lopsided. It came down to ‘O.K., if he's your best player, give him the ball.’ It's a basketball mentality. If LeBron's got 30 [points] at half, you're not going to stop passing it to him. I think Amari had 47 catches in the first quarter of games alone. Now he’s gone, so where are those catches going to go?”
Kiffin said one potential target for some of those passes is tight O.J. Howard. A 6’ 6”, 242-pound junior, Howard is too big for most safeties to cover and too fast for most linebackers to cover. The bigger question: Who throws those passes? Like his boss, Nick Saban, Kiffin offered little clue as to which quarterback will start or when the coaches will make that decision. “The best guy will win it whenever he wins it,” Kiffin said. “We don’t have a timetable on when that’s going to be.”
7. Watch Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez do the Whip with the Wildcats’ gymnastics team. Then watch him Nae Nae.
8. Junior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes took the bulk of the first-team reps when Texas held an open practice Sunday, but Longhorns offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said on Thursday that Swoopes and redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard would both play in the season opener at Notre Dame on Sept. 5.
“You always want to make sure your other guy is ready to play and give him a series at the beginning of the season. It serves a lot of purposes,” Watson said. “One, they are getting developed in a game situation, which is totally different than what you do in practice. Secondly, when that voice and person walks in the huddle, it's not new to the unit. We did that with Teddy [Bridgewater] at Louisville and it helped his development. We’ll see how things work out through camp and who wins the starting job.”
9. Sure, we already discussed Alabama earlier. But this is video of Saban in a mascot head.
10. I’ll be doing some radio work this season, so those who would rather me pollute your ears can listen on the College Sports Nation channel on SiriusXM. This is my first week, and I’ll be on at 1 p.m. ET on Wednesday and Thursday alongside Jack Arute and at 10 a.m. ET on Friday alongside Ian Fitzsimmons. Feel free to call in seeking restaurant recommendations. We’ll drive Jack crazy.
What’s eating Andy?
Another Norwood Teague story emerged Sunday when Minneapolis Star-Tribune beat writer Amelia Rayno shared her experience with the now-former Minnesota athletic director. Given Teague's obvious pattern, it wouldn't be surprising if there are other similar stories out there. Teague can blame alcohol all he wants, but he needs to find a treatment program that can inject him with some human decency and the ability to take a hint.
What’s Andy eating?
There are a few obvious signs that a quality dining experience awaits. A barbecue joint with a backyard that looks like an abandoned lumber mill probably smokes amazing pork or beef. A farm-to-table restaurant with a farm next door probably serves truly fresh vegetables. And the building surrounded by the only packed parking lot in an otherwise deserted neighborhood probably serves some delectable dishes.
That last one describes Herby-K’s, the Shreveport, La., institution that sits just off Interstate 20 in an area that seems vacant until you turn the corner and see all the cars hugging the little building attached to the big porch. A photo of a victorious Saban—after his LSU team won the 2003 SEC title—looks down over the tiny bar area. So does an autographed photo of Travis Tritt, his mullet forever frozen at Ten Feet Tall and Bulletproof length. You’re here for the Shrimp Buster, which has been on the menu since 1945. O.K., you’re really here for the crawfish etouffee, which is thick and meaty and just spicy enough and damn near perfect. But the Shrimp Buster has been on the menu since ’45, so you have to try it.
What is a Shrimp Buster? It’s large gulf shrimp pounded flat and fried and then served open faced on French bread. Each Shrimp Buster comes with a cup of secret red sauce that feels and tastes like a thinner Heinz 57. A fried shrimp tastes like a fried shrimp pretty much anywhere, but the pounding of the shrimp creates a surplus of surface area. Meanwhile, the sauce has just the right viscosity to coat the breaded portion without becoming obnoxious. Once you’ve dipped your shrimp and all your bread in that sauce, you’ll want more. And, yes, I realize that given my philosophy on barbecue sauce (unnecessary if the meat is cooked properly), this glowing review of some other kind of sauce makes me a condiment hypocrite. So be it. The stomach wants what it wants.
After I finished at Herby-K’s, the stomach wanted pie. So I drove a few minutes to a more bustling neighborhood to try the icebox pie at Strawn’s Eat Shop. What’s an icebox pie? Imagine the cream pies you’ve seen hack comedians jam in the faces of other hack comedians, then add some attention to detail. At Strawn’s, they serve five different icebox pies (strawberry, chocolate, coconut, butterscotch and banana), but the strawberry seems to steal all the headlines.
Strawn’s was hopping when I arrived about an hour before closing time. About two and a half pounds of butter sat on a plate on the counter near the register. I didn’t ask why. I can think of many delicious reasons to have that much butter on hand, so I’m sure the folks at Strawn’s had a good one. The man behind the counter took my order (a slice of strawberry and a slice of banana), and about 90 seconds later he uttered one of the most beautiful sentences I’ve ever heard. “I cut one piece too small, so I gave you a free one.”
The popularity of Strawn’s pies is easy to explain. Most icebox pies are little more than glorified whipped cream. The cream portion of the Strawn’s pies has just a little less sweetness and a just a little more heft. Instead of a light (in weight) bite that simply floods the taste buds with sugar, a bite of Strawn’s pie has a presence about it. It sits down on the tongue and delivers the sweetness in a more prudent dose. The strawberry was excellent, but the true star was the banana. The mix of banana slices and glaze has the same just-sweet-enough quality that makes the cream section so ideal. Pile that atop a thick cracker crust, and you have a pie that might make even the most loyal cake-eater convert.
I finished my slices and walked out. The family that left ahead of me felt ripped from a Louisiana gothic soap opera. An older man implored his grown son to visit his aunt “before she dies.” The son did not want to listen. He wanted to talk. As father and mother stood by their car and stewed, the son walked away yelling, “It’s a good thing, dad!” Whatever it was, dad clearly did not consider it good. Maybe the family had come to Strawn’s wishing to recapture happier times. Maybe it was simply a convenient meeting spot. Hopefully, the pie had made them all feel a little better for a minute.