We’re used to Florida State being good, and often great. We’re used to Bobby Bowden and massive recruiting classes with crazy athletes, and tomahawk chops, and all the rest. We are not used to the team needing to beat Louisiana-Monroe in a make-up game that was scheduled just to be able to play in a bowl. That was a new one last season.
Gone is Bowden-appointed successor, head coach Jimbo Fisher, and in comes Willie Taggart for Year 1, with a brand new staff and only 4 returning starters on defense. Quarterback Deondre Francois, injured in the opener last year against Alabama (which essentially sent the team completely off the rails) returns and has a small amount of preseason Heisman buzz because we’ve seen his talents on the field before, 2 years ago. The name Florida State carries with it not only the trademark items in the intro, but also perhaps an inflated sense of pre-ordained success. Despite a tremendous amount of turnover everywhere (except QB, but even Francois didn’t really play last year), the Seminoles win total is set at 8.5 at BetOnline (-140 on the under), 7.5 at 5Dimes (-145 on the over), and 8 at BetDSI (-125 on the under). There’s still plenty of faith in the betting community that this team can put together an impressive season, and not have to schedule Louisiana-Monroe at the end to salvage it.
|9/3 (M)||Virginia Tech||-4.5|
|10/6||@ Miami (FL)||+5|
|11/3||@ NC State||-6|
|11/10||@ Notre Dame||+1.5|
So you want your team to schedule a tough non-conference slate do you? What could go wrong? Either you win and get a feather in your cap or you lose and your strength-of-schedule gets much better. Or, in Florida State’s case, you fight tooth-and-nail with Alabama only to have your quarterback’s season end and send your team completely into a tailspin. James Blackmon wasn’t really supposed to see the field last year, and instead he saw plenty of it. The good news is, he can study a lot more because this is Deondre Francois’s team. He has all the tools, it’s really just a matter of how he and Taggart and new OC Walt Bell (from Maryland) fit together. One thing you should see – much more pace. Even at his introductory press conference Taggart said “We want to score fast. And often.” The Seminoles were 4th-to-last in pace last season so that would be a welcome change for FSU fans. The running game is what I’m really excited about, with 4 returning starters on the offensive line and a pair of improving, potentially-game-breaking runningbacks in Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick, who complement each other well. Akers was a huge recruit who showed flashes last season. It should take pressure of Francois to have to thread the needle, because his receivers are a lot of unknown high-level recruits, and the offense could sputter if they need to create separation with frequency.
This was a unit that was absolutely ferocious last year, holding opponents to just 21.3 ppg. Some of that is helped by the pace of the games they played, which were agonizingly slow and limited the number of possessions. But they had a lot of talent. What remains are just 4 starters but a lot of “maybe’s” for new DC Harlon Bennett, who comes over after more than a decade at Michigan State (who has had quite formidable defenses these past few years as well). With the number of great recruits still remaining on the roster, it’s probably just a matter of how quickly they can pick up the changes that Bennett will install and allow the defense to gel. All reports are that Bennett was very highly regarded by the Spartans, so it will be interesting to see what he does in Tallahassee.
5 true road games and honestly, none of them are very much fun. Early in the season they head to the Carrier Dome, a place where weird things are known to happen with great frequency (Syracuse beat Clemson in that building last year). Then at the end of September, back-to-back road trips to Louisville and Miami heading into a bye. After the bye, it starts easy enough (vs Wake Forest) but then the team closes with a brutal 5 straight games – vs Clemson, at NC State, at Notre Dame, vs Boston College, vs Florida. Florida and Boston College will absolutely be better than they were last year, and Clemson and Notre Dame are likely to be the same, which is problematic enough. This is a rough slate, and even Week 4 vs Northern Illinois is no picnic, as that team is usually among the best in the MAC and has 14 returning starters. Week 1 against Virginia Tech looks like a superfight, but considering how young and raw both teams are going to be, my guess is that game is much sloppier than advertised.
Win/Total pick: Under 8.5 (-140)
I think paying a little more for the extra 0.5-1 win here is a good idea with this schedule. I would consider 8-4 against this 12-game slate to be a reasonable success for Taggart, as his entire staff is only in Year 1 and is really just trying to re-establish a good culture, and all the players are learning new systems on the both sides of the ball. Speaking of Taggart, I also think he is a bit of an unknown as a coaching quantity. If you love him as a hire, you’re really hanging a lot on his time at USF, which is nice but it’s still just USF, and he steadily improved over 4 years there. Even his season at Oregon last year was a mixed bag, and with Justin Herbert playing so little of it we never got the chance to see what that team really was. It was an odd year, and then he bolted. I’m not saying Taggart isn’t a good coach, I just think we don’t know what he is really in a big-time environment, and to assume this team just waltzes to a double-digit win season like Seminole teams of old would be naïve. The schedule and all of the unknowns a tough schedule and year 1 of new systems present makes this an under play for me.
-END OF 2018 PREVIEW-
Florida State Seminoles
ACC – Atlantic
2016 record: 10-3 SU & 8-5 ATS
Head Coach: Jimbo Fisher – Head Coaching Experience: 8 years (8th with Florida State)
Season Over/Under Win Total: Over 10.5 -140 Under 10.5 +110
Odds to win 2017 College Football Championship game: 8/1 (4th Best odds)
Returning Starters: 15 (Offense: 6 Defense: 9)
Rivals 2017 Recruiting ranking: #5 (total recruits: 23, 5-star: 4)
Sep. 2 Alabama (Neutral)
Sep. 9 ULM
Sep. 16 Miami, FL
Sep. 23 NC State
Sep. 30 @ Wake Forest
Oct. 7 Bye
Oct. 14 @ Duke
Oct. 21 Louisville
Oct. 27 @ Boston College
Nov. 4 Syracuse
Nov. 11 @ Clemson
Nov. 18 Delaware St.
Nov. 25 @ Florida
Coming off a season which saw the offense return 10 starters and put up 35.1 ppg, Jimbo Fisher along with Co-Offensive Coordinators Randy Sanders and Lawrence Dawsey, will look to keep the now Dalvin Cook-less offense on track. This year 6 starters are back; one of which is Sophomore QB Deondre Francois, who as a redshirt Freshman put up impressive numbers (3350 YDS, 20 TD, 7 INT, 198 RushYDs). With a year of experience now in the books and a wealth of talent as his disposal, Francois is a legitimate Heisman Contender.
Last year Dalvin Cook surpassed Warrick Dunn as the all-time career leading rusher at Florida State with his 1765 rushing yards, setting his career mark at 4,464 yards. But it’s not just the 2nd round NFL talent and 1765 rushing yards that FSU will have to replace, it’s also their second leading receiver (33 REC, 3468 YDS) as Cook was the main focal point of this offense. Luckily for the Seminoles they do have some talent waiting in the wings with 2 top-3 High School RB recruits in Freshman Cameron Akers (5’11’’ 213 lbs), and Junior Jacques Patrick (6’2’’ 231 lbs), but replacing an all-time great is never easy.
At WR, FSU will lose 3 of their top 5 receivers from 2016 with Kermit Whitfield graduating, while Jesus “Bobo” Wilson and 2x All-ACC Travis Rudolph both left for the NFL. Per usual, Florida State will certainly have the talent to compensate for these losses in 2017. Look 6’5’’ 225lb Junior Auden Tate and Junior Da’Vante Phillips to start, along with arguably the #1 High School WR recruit in the nation in 2015, 6’4’’ 207 lb Sophomore George Campbell (injured last year for season), finally getting a chance to make his mark as well. With an experienced QB, and Dalvin Cook now gone, look for this WR unit to have a bigger impact on the offense than last year’s WR corps.
An offensive line that rushed for 202 yards per game – while allowing 36 sacks in 2016, will lose 2-time All-american LT Roderick Johnson to the NFL (5th round), 2nd Team All-American LG Kareem Are to graduation, and RG Senior Graduate Wilson Bell, who has officially transferred to Auburn. They will return 57 career starts, however, with Defensive Lineman turned Right Tackle, Senior Rick Leonard starting at RT and Junior Brock Ruble starting at LT, with Junior Alec Elerbe starting at center. With more experience at tackle as well as the quarterback position, this unit should take a step forward this year, at least in the number of sacks allowed.
2016 was a year of growing pains for a younger, inexperienced Seminoles defense, which began with losing FS Derwin James for the year in week 2, and spiraled into FSU allowing 42.3 PPG and 474.5 YPG for the first 4 weeks of the season. They would take their lumps, and turn things around in their last 8, giving up 18.5 PPG and 293.2 YPG. Now in 2017, not only is James back, but 8 other starters are as well in what may be one of the more dangerous defenses in the country.
It starts in the trenches for the Seminole defense, where last year they lead the FBS in sacks with 51 and will return all but 3rd Team All-American and ACC Co-Defensive Player of the year DE DeMarcus Walker. Walker is obviously a huge loss, but as a true freshman DE Brian Burns recorded 9.5 sacks as a backup and NG Derrick Nnadi was 1st team All-ACC at his position, so talent is returning. With 6’5’’ 250 lb Buck Josh Sweat and DT Demarcus Christmas both returning as juniors, the addition of possibly the number one defensive lineman recruit in the country, Marvin Wilson, makes this one of the better defensive lines in the nation once again.
The linebacking unit for FSU is suddenly as experienced as any unit on the team with seniors starting at every position. WLB Matthew Thomas returns as the team’s leading tackler, along with MLB Ro’Derrick Hoskins, the teams 4th leading tackler from a year ago. Not only are they experienced, but they are also deep at linebacker, with 3 highly recruited backups getting time last year. Look for this unit to take a giant leap forward for the ‘Noles, and improving upon the 349 YPG given up in 2016.
The FSU secondary got off to a very rocky start in 2016 with the loss of star FS Derwin James in week 2 for the year. The unit was already replacing a 1st round NFL Cornerback and a FS from 2015, so they were inexperienced and slow to rebound from the loss of James. A bright spot would eventually emerge in 1st team All-American Tarvarus McFadden, who will return as a junior along with 8 of their top 9 corners on roster. With Senior Trey Marshall and Junior AJ Westbrook projected to start alongside of James and McFadden, supplemented by a deep pool of highly touted prospects, this projects to be quite possibly the best secondary in the country.
Known for consistently producing one of the top Special Teams units, the trend should continue this year with the return of Sophomore K Ricky Aguayo (19-26 FG) and P Logan Tyler (40.3 Avg.). They will have to recover from the loss of their Kick Returner Kermit Whitfield and Punt Returner Jesus Wilson, but should do so in typical FSU fashion.
2017 Season Outlook
Returning 16 starters from its young team in 2016, Florida State, projects to bounce back in a big way this year, as one of the more talented and experienced teams in the nation. With the 4th best odds to win the National Championship at 8/1, and a season win total set at 10.5, the betting market agrees that FSU should be one of the more dangerous teams in the country. Before placing that season win total bet on the over, however, I would take a look a FSU’s daunting 2017 schedule. Set at 10.5, if the Noles lose 2 games the total goes under, and though they may be a dangerous team indeed, finding a couple of potential pitfalls on the schedule is easy to do. It starts with the obvious week 1 neutral site matchup with Alabama. Enough said. And then you have road games at two potential top 10 teams in Clemson and Florida, as well as tough matchups against the Lamar Jackson lead Louisville Cardinals and the improving Miami Hurricanes, both of which are home, but certainly no easy out. All things considered, I’m looking under here, especially if you are seeing extra juice on the over bet.
Season Win Total Prediction: Under 10.5