SQ College Football Top-25 Preview: #11 Florida State
The college football staff at SQ have put together a ranking of the top-25 teams heading into 2015. To get our readers prepared for the upcoming season, the staff has created a preview for each one of these teams. Today’s focus is on #11 Florida State.
Team: Florida State Seminoles
SQ Ranking: 11
2014 record: 13-1
Finish in AP Poll: 5
Head coach: Jimbo Fisher (6th season)
Key Arrivals: QB Everett Golson, RB Jacque Patrick, WR George Campbell, S Derwin James, DE Josh Sweat, CB Tarvarus McFadden, QB Deondre Francois, LB Lorenzo Phillips
Key Departures: QB Jameis Winston, OT Cameron Erving, TE Nick O'Leary, CB P.J. Williams, CB Ronald Darby, WR Rashad Greene, DT Eddie Goldman, DE Mario Edwards, LB Matthew Thomas (declared ineligible for 2015)
Previewing the Florida State Offense: No matter your opinion of Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston, his tremendous football acumen and command of the Seminoles' playbook were invaluable to a program that won 28 of 29 games the past two seasons. However, the quarterback battle between redshirt junior Sean Maguire, redshirt freshman J.J. Cosentino and Notre Dame transfer redshirt senior Everett Golson has yet to reveal a winner.
The easy choice would be Golson, given his championship experience, dual-threat ability and accumulation of 5,850 passing yards and 41 TD passes in 25 career games. Despite Golson's impressive resume, Maguire is a locker room favorite among Seminoles players and the media, and likely has a leg-up in the competition as he enters his fourth year in Tallahassee. No matter who Jimbo Fisher anoints to be Winston's successor, the loss of the NFL's first-overall pick will bring decreased production at the game's most important position.
Star sophomore running back Dalvin Cook is currently suspended indefinitely, and has a hearing set for his alleged battery of a woman outside a bar near Florida State campus. His fate for this season and beyond is unknown, but as good a runner as Cook is, the Seminoles aren't lacking depth in the backfield.
Redshirt junior Mario Pender played well in limited action a season ago, running 41 times for 206 yards (5.0 YPC average) with 4 TDs. According to Safid Deen of the Tallahassee Democrat, Cook "might have been less of a factor" had Pender not missed a majority of the year with an ankle injury, and it seems Fisher remains confident the balanced runner is no slouch. True freshman Jacque Patrick is a 6'1, 230 lbs. bowling ball that runs with a burst, and is likely to see playing time as well.
And you wonder why...
Along with Pender and Patrick, human Swiss Army Knife Kermit Whitfield will also have a chance to showcase his home run abilities. All-in-all, with or without Cook, the Seminoles are not lacking depth nor talent at the running back position.
Speaking of talent, the group that owns the majority of it on offense lies on the outside among the wide receivers, though last year's performances probably wouldn't indicate such.
Newcomers Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph both saw significant playing time in 2014, but a lot of ups and downs forced Jameis Winston to key in on his favorite collegiate target Rashad Greene more often than not. Sophomores Lane and Rudolph are among the veterans of a young, but talented group that also includes junior Bobo Wilson, true freshman George Campbell and sophomore Ja'Vonn Harrison. The Seminoles may be relying on youth yet again, but the abundance of size will certainly help either quarterback take advantage of a bevy of mismatches.
Lane: 6'3, 206 lbs.
Rudolph: 6'1, 186 lbs.
Wilson: 5'9, 185 lbs.
Campbell: 6'3, 197 lbs.
Harrison: 6'2, 202 lbs.
For the Seminoles, the real progression will be made in the maturation department, as there were a lot of communication and effort issues at times, but the talent is there.
Winston had the luxury of taking snaps behind one of college football's most experienced and dependable offensive lines, but Golson or Maguire won't have that luxury. Only sophomore Rod Johnson returns at left tackle, as Chad Mavety, Kareem Are, Wilson Bell and Alec Eberle currently sit atop the O-line depth chart, though none have started a game other than Johnson.
The Seminoles ranked 95th in rushing offense a year ago, and will certainly need to improve in that aspect as quarterback play is due to be less impactful. Rick Trickett's hogmollies have the pedigree, but what's to come is still unknown.
Previewing the Florida State Defense: The Seminoles program has become a factory for producing NFL-caliber defensive players, with the big boys in the trenches being the league's most sought-after product.
Veterans Eddie Goldman and Mario Edwards Jr. took a majority of the snaps a season ago, but like the rest of the FSU roster, there is plenty of potential ready to take flight. The middle of the Seminoles 4-3 line is likely to be made up of redshirt senior Nile Lawrence-Stample and sophomore Derrick Nnadi, both of which played as reserves in '14.
DeMarcus Walker and Lorenzo Featherston are projected as starters on the ends of the defensive line, and both act as unique counterparts. Walker (6-3, 281 lbs.) relies more on pure strength while Featherston (6'7, 230 lbs.) is still developing his pass rushing skills, but his wide frame and speed seem ready to make a splash.
Linebacker is rather thin, but leadership is plentiful. Seniors Reggie Northrup and Terrance Smith, who have started a combined 66 games, will be the men in charge of directing the operations of the Seminoles' defense. Northrup is a grinder with a never-stopping motor while Smith acts as more of a do-it-all linebacker. Matthew Thomas being declared academically ineligible is unfortunate, but JUCO-transfer Lorenzo Phillips provides experienced depth in the middle.
The Noles' secondary is where the fireworks will be, with the man holding the match being Jalen Ramsey. Also a track star, Ramsey was named First Team All-ACC last season, and has been tabbed as a preseason All-American and is on the watch-lists for the Bronco Nagurski and Jim Thorpe Awards. Moving to cornerback this season after playing primarily at safety, Ramsey will be in his more natural position, a scary proposition for ACC quarterbacks.
He's a bit of a throwback.
Junior Marquez White and converted running back Ryan Green will play opposite of Ramsey, while experienced safetie s Lamarcus Brutus and Nate Andrews are also expected to start on the backend. True freshman safety Derwin James is a name to remember, as the big battering ram has a reputation as a fearless hitter.
Three Key Games:
Florida State at Boston College, September 18- Not only is this the start of ACC play for the Noles, but it's a Friday night road game on the national stage in a place that has proven tough for FSU in recent past. Head coach Steve Addazio has built a well-coached, gritty program that tends to play things close to the wire, and this matchup shouldn't prove any different. Jimbo Fisher's bunch can do themselves a lot of good early in the year with a tough road win.
Florida State at Clemson, November 7- After last season's 23-17 overtime win over the Tigers, the Seminoles head to Death Valley for what is likely to be a primetime showing. The last time FSU went to Clemson, the Noles walked away with a monstrous 51-14 win, so the feeling between the two schools isn't one of mutual enjoyment. Tigers' quarterback DeShaun Watson will likely be the Noles' toughest test, but this game should end up being yet another annual slugfest.
Florida State at Florida, November 28- Because it's Florida State-Florida.
Final Analysis: The loss of Jameis Winston will reveal itself at times, and this is a defense that will have to improve immensely, but as is every year, the talent is in sure supply.
Expect the Noles to drop a game or two, because going undefeated or sparking yet another win-streak isn't something fans should realistically hold out hope for, but that doesn't mean these Seminoles won't be fun to watch. There will be a chance to see a few talented true freshman get some playing time, while also a last hurrah for a number of committed starters. Lowered expectations will also drop anxiety, but still, the Noles will compete.
The new quarterback will be the most gut-wrenching choice Fisher has had to make since coming to Tallahassee, and while both bring different traits, the level of play simply won't be the same as Winston's. The Noles will go as far as either Golson or Maguire take them, and even at their best, 9-10-11 wins sound just right.