After winning five straight games to close 2016, including a thrilling 33-32 Orange Bowl victory over Michigan, Florida State is expected by many to pick up where it left off. All-Americans like running back Dalvin Cook and defensive end DeMarcus Walker may be off to the NFL, but there is no shortage of talent in Tallahassee.
FSU enters 2017 having won at least 10 games in five straight seasons while appearing in what is now considered a New Year’s Six bowl every year. As the No. 3 team in this year’s Athlon Sports preseason top 25, the Seminoles are hoping to take the next step and return to the College Football Playoff after a two-year hiatus.
As head coach Jimbo Fisher and FSU hope to make the jump, here are five reasons to believe these ‘Noles can get there:
1. Deondre Francois
After being named ACC Rookie of the Year in 2016, Francois will lose a lot of pieces around him, but in the second year in head coach Jimbo Fisher’s offenses, quarterbacks almost always improve. Last season, Francois passed for 3,350 yards and accounted for 25 total touchdowns, but still has a number of areas where he can get better.
Accuracy downfield, pocket presence and anticipation are just a few of those, but with 13 games under his belt, there is reason to believe that he can do it. While certainly possible, it won’t be easy as FSU replaces its leading rusher, receiver and best offensive lineman. Among returning ACC quarterbacks however, only Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson had a higher passer rating last season.
2. The backfield
Dalvin Cook may be gone, but the drop-off in the backfield might not be as big as some would think. Returning for the Seminoles is running back Jacques Patrick, a big back who has performed well as a No. 2 behind Cook. Throughout the course of his career, Patrick has averaged 5.4 yards per carry and has eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark in the only two contests where he received at least 20 carries.
Joining Patrick in the backfield will be a pair of five-star freshmen in Khalan Laborn and Cam Akers. Akers enrolled early and was the best offensive player for FSU during the spring game in April. Those aren’t the only talented pieces however, as sophomore Amir Rasul and senior Ryan Green also could vie for carries.
3. Depth on the defensive line
Despite the loss of All-American DeMarcus Walker, Florida State has a ton of bodies it can rotate up front. On the interior, Derrick Nnadi and Demarcus Christmas should one of the best duos in the ACC. At defensive end, Josh Sweat and leading returning sack man Brian Burns bring athleticism and should apply constant pressure. They’ll be complemented by capable bodies such as senior Jacob Pugh, juniors Wally Aime and Fred Jones and redshirt freshman Janarius Robinson.
On top of what is returning, FSU brings in a pair of five-star prospects who should contribute immediately. Joshua Kaindoh, a defensive end, can play either strong or weak side. Defensive tackle Marvin Wilson also should make an immediate impact. Last season, FSU ranked second in the country in sacks and led the nation in sacks per game. Don’t expect a drastic drop-off.
4. Derwin James and the secondary
The return of James and the impact it will make for Florida State cannot be understated. James, one of the top safeties in the nation, appeared in just two games for the Seminoles last year before going down with a season-ending meniscus tear. As a freshman in 2015, James did everything for FSU and essentially takes away half the field for the opposing team. Having him back will be a huge boost for a position group that includes seniors Trey Marshall, Nate Andrews and Ermon Lane.
James however, isn’t the only potential All-American in the secondary. Junior cornerback Tarvarus McFadden led the nation in interceptions a season ago and has great technique and ball skills for a 6-foot-2 corner. On the other side, the Seminoles have a lot of young talent that includes Levonta Taylor, Kyle Meyers and Carlos Becker. FSU is good in a number of areas, but for 2017, the secondary should be the best collection of talent.
The injury bug was not kind to Florida State last season. Important players such as James, Jesus Wilson, Kareem Are and Marcus Lewis all missed time, just to name a few. In the process however, a number of young players were forced to grow up and did so while helping FSU close the year on a five-game winning streak to finish in the top 10.
On the offensive side of the ball, wide receiver Nyqwan Murray became a real asset the second half of the season and is expected to be the No. 1 receiver for the Seminoles this season. Up front, Landon Dickerson and Cole Minshew also garnered valuable experience. Defensively, injuries led to players like Taylor, Meyers, Becker and AJ Westbrook all getting valuable snaps. Despite very few seniors, that experience could help the Seminoles have the look of a veteran team in 2017.