New head coach Willie Taggart looks to rejuvenate talented program
It's a new era in Tallahassee or as some as calling it "Taggahassee". Willie Taggart has begun his tenure as Florida State head coach following the departure of Jimbo Fisher to Texas A&M. Fisher led the Seminoles to four top-10 finishes, three ACC titles and a national championship in eight seasons.
FSU had its worst season since 2009 — the final year of Bobby Bowden's legendary career — as it finished just 7-6, but managed to cap the season with an Independence Bowl victory over Southern Miss. There are reasons to believe that the 7-6 campaign was an outlier rather than the new normal.
As the calendar year turns to 2018, here are five reasons for optimism for the Seminoles:
Although the 2017 campaign for Florida State wasn't one for the history books, it did end on a positive note as the Seminoles won their final four games to complete a 41st straight winning season. Although the competition was nothing to rave about, FSU won by an average of 37 points, which included a 38-22 win over Florida for a school-record fifth straight win over the in-state rival Gators.
At 41 years old, Willie Taggart has seemed to have rejuvenated the program. Staffed with a team of young, innovative recruiters, excitement seems to be back in Tallahassee after sensing things had gone stale under Jimbo Fisher. Taggart has embraced his new gig, has worked hard to salvage a recruiting class in retreat mode following Fisher's departure and has shown an affinity for the traditions. Whether or not Taggart was the right hire will ultimately be decided on the field, but there is little else he could've done to win over the fan base as quickly as he has.
2. "Experienced youth"
As the old adage goes, the good thing about freshmen is they become sophomores. For FSU, freshmen saw a ton of the football field in 2017. Running back Cam Akers broke Dalvin Cook's FSU freshman rushing record while James Blackman, who looks to be in a quarterback competition with Deondre Francois, became the first true freshman to start for the Seminoles under center in 32 years.
On the defensive side of the ball, linemen Joshua Kaindoh and Marvin Wilson were mainstays in the rotation up front and are expected to be starters in 2018. In the secondary, cornerback Stanford Samuels III and safeties Cyrus Fagan and Hamsah Nasirildeen were three players who saw a lot of reps in the secondary. While FSU will be playing a lot of underclassmen next season, very few will be raw at the FBS level.
3. Depth at running back
Fisher was known as a quarterback guru for having players like Christian Ponder, EJ Manuel and No. 1 overall picks JaMarcus Russell and Jameis Winston picked in the first round. Taggart, on the other hand, is known for his propensity to run the football. With that said, he'll have plenty to work with in the backfield for 2018. As previously mentioned, Akers set a new school freshman rushing record this past season, but it doesn't stop there.
The Seminoles also return senior Jacques Patrick, a power back who has drawn comparisons to Oregon's Royce Freeman. Last season, Patrick rushed for 748 yards and seven touchdowns on a team-high 5.6 yards per carry. In addition to those two, junior Amir Rasul is a speedy back and redshirt freshmen Khalan Laborn and Zaquandre White are immensely talented.
4. Talent on defense
Some might think Florida State is set to take a step back on defense with losses like Derwin James, Tarvarus McFadden, Derrick Nnadi and Matthew Thomas, but when it comes to talent, the cupboard is hardly bare. Up front, defensive tackle DeMarcus Christmas (above, right) returns for a senior season after a solid campaign while Brian Burns is lightning-quick on the outside. Kaindoh and Wilson also were very good as freshmen.
In the back seven, there are also plenty of reasons for optimism. At linebacker, Leonard Warner, a sophomore, is a promising young player while others like Josh Brown, Emmett Rice and Adonis Thomas have potential. Cornerback Levonta Taylor locked opponents down on the outside in 2017 and will return in the secondary as will Samuels, Fagan, Nasirildeen, Carlos Becker and Kyle Meyers. None of those players are seniors. The Seminoles are also set to bring in at least three blue-chip cornerbacks.
5. Somewhat favorable schedule
Looking ahead to 2018, it should be comforting to Florida State fans that the stiffest competition appears to be coming to Tallahassee. The Seminoles will have to travel to face Miami, where they haven't lost since 2004, and to Notre Dame in November, but Virginia Tech, Clemson and Florida all have to come to Doak Campbell Stadium this season.
With the exception of the Labor Day opener against the Hokies, the schedule for FSU is back-loaded. In September, the Seminoles will get FCS opponent Samford, Northern Illinois and trips to Syracuse and a Louisville team replacing the best player in program history. When it comes to breaking in a new system, being able to ease into it should be a positive for the Seminoles.