Big things are expected of Florida State in 2016 as the Seminoles look to win at least 10 games for a fifth consecutive year, reclaim the ACC and try to work their way into the College Football Playoff.
Those expectations are reflected in Athlon Sports’ Preseason Top 25, where FSU comes in second behind only defending national champion Alabama.
The non-conference schedule for Florida State is one of the nation’s toughest and FSU has its questions at quarterback, but there are plenty of reasons to believe that the Seminoles will be one of the four teams to reach the third Playoff. Here are five reasons why Florida State will be one of college football’s final four teams standing:
1. Dalvin Cook
In a country loaded with talented running backs, including Stanford’s Christian McCaffery, Oregon’s Royce Freeman and Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine, FSU may actually have the nation’s best in Cook, a junior.
Behind an offensive line with four new starters, Cook obliterated the single-season FSU rushing record in 2015, going for 1,691 yards on the ground and 19 touchdowns. Making matters more impressive is that Cook battled a hamstring injury for most of the season and missed one contest and almost all of another.
At 5-foot-11 and 206 pounds, Cook is a complete back who can catch the ball out of the backfield, pick up the tough yards and outrun defenders to the goal line. Much of Cook’s damage a season ago came after contact.
2. Experience Up Front
What was a young position for Florida State last season will likely be one of its biggest strengths in 2016 as all five starters return along the offensive line.
Tackle Roderick Johnson (6-7, 307) is the best of the bunch and has NFL scouts’ full attention. Guard Wilson Bell was the only other Seminole to start every game up front last season, but Kareem Are did enough in his nine games last year to earn third-team All-ACC honors from the conference’s coaches.
Alec Eberle will battle Corey Martinez and Ryan Hoefeld for the starting center spot while incumbent Brock Ruble and converted defensive end Rick Leonard will compete for snaps at right tackle. The Seminoles also have a lot of promising young linemen like Abdul Bello, Cole Minshew and Derrick Kelly who could see action this season.
3. Depth and Talent in the Secondary
Replacing Jalen Ramsey, the No. 5 overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft, won’t be easy, but it is conceivable that the FSU secondary could actually improve in 2016. The Seminoles have a nice mix of youth and talent in the defensive backfield and are extremely deep.
Sophomore safety Derwin James is expected to emerge as one of the best defensive players in the country while senior cornerback Marquez White performed admirably in his first season as a starter opposite Ramsey. Nate Andrews, a senior, has twice led the Seminoles in interceptions and junior Trey Marshall is back after missing the last half of 2015 with a bicep injury.
At the other cornerback position, Marcus Lewis made tremendous strides during the spring while Tarvarus McFadden, a sophomore, and incoming freshman Levonta Taylor are each former five-star prospects. Calvin Brewton, A.J. Westbrook and Carlos Becker are among other first- and second-year players who could make an impact.
4. The Pass Rush
After recording just 17 sacks in 2014, getting to the quarterback was a noticeable area of improvement last season. The Seminoles recorded 32 sacks and 24.5 of those, or about 77 percent, return this season.
The unit is led by DeMarcus Walker, who notched 10.5 sacks as a junior last season after tallying just one in each of his first two seasons in Tallahassee. Josh Sweat, a sophomore, is extremely talented on the opposite side of the line while the interior combination of Derrick Nnadi and Demarcus Christmas features two players capable of wreaking havoc.
The aforementioned James and linebacker Jacob Pugh both return after ranking second and third on the team in sacks with a combined 7.5.
5. Key Games at Home
Florida State will face four FBS schools that won at least 10 games a season ago, but fortunately for the Seminoles, none of them are on the road.
FSU will open the season in Orlando on Sept. 5 against an Ole Miss squad that was the only team to beat eventual national champion Alabama. The Rebels went 10-3 last year and defeated Oklahoma State in the Sugar Bowl.
The Seminoles also will face reigning ACC Coastal champion North Carolina on Oct. 1, reigning ACC champion and national runner-up Clemson on Oct. 29 and reigning SEC East champion Florida on Nov. 26. All three of those contests will be at home, where the Seminoles are 21-0 over the last three seasons.