Big things are expected of Jimbo Fisher’s Florida State Seminoles in 2016 as FSU returns nine starters on offense and plenty of talent on defense. With a young squad a season ago, the Seminoles collected 10 wins and reached a New Year’s Six bowl, but this year, the expectations are higher.
As is the case with any team vying to contend for a national championship, a lot of things have to go right. Here are five things that have to happen for FSU to have a successful 2016 campaign:
1. Dalvin Cook Must Stay Healthy
The junior running back is coming off a history-making year for the Seminoles. Cook rushed for 1,691 yards in 2015, but did it on the second-most carries in FSU history with 229. Cook’s enormous season came despite battling a hamstring injury for most of the year, which limited him to two carries against Wake Forest and forced him to miss a Halloween contest against Syracuse.
For the Seminoles to make a serious run at a national championship, they will need a healthy Dalvin Cook. Sophomore Jacques Patrick and redshirt junior Ryan Green will be the two guys looked at to spell Cook. Patrick is seen as a power back while Green is a smaller back who can catch the ball out of the backfield. Regardless of how FSU goes about it, lightening Cook’s load will be extremely important.
2. Stability at Quarterback
The biggest question mark heading into the season for Florida State was without a doubt who would start at quarterback. Redshirt senior Sean Maguire is the veteran of the bunch and has six starts under his belt, but will miss the start of the year with an ankle injury. With Maguire out, the job will ultimately fall into the hands of redshirt freshman Deondre Francois, a talented athlete who can make all the throws and add an extra dimension with his legs.
Francois won’t need to be Jameis Winston, but he will need to bring FSU stability at the position. With Cook, receiver Travis Rudolph and a slew of talented, fast players at the skill positions, Francois should be in position to have a productive year. The key will be taking care of the football.
3. Cohesiveness Along the Offensive Front
Florida State returns four starters from a young offensive line that was among the best run-blocking units in the ACC. The offensive front was inconsistent at times last year and finding continuity was a real issue.
Only stud left tackle Roderick Johnson and right guard Wilson Bell started all 13 games for Florida State a season ago. In total, the Seminoles started nine different players up front last year and used five different starting combinations. Eight of those nine players return. For FSU to be a true contender this year, the offensive line must gel as a group.
4. Develop Depth Along Defensive Line and at Linebacker
Florida State’s front seven could be a huge concern in 2016, but not because of talent. Along the defensive line and at linebacker, the Seminoles have enormous depth concerns. FSU’s projected starting defensive line of ends DeMarcus Walker and Josh Sweat and tackles Derrick Nnadi and Demarcus Christmas could be one of the best in the country. Unfortunately, the rest of the depth chart behind them is largely unproven.
Linebacker is clearly the biggest question mark entering the season. Matthew Thomas is extremely talented, but has had trouble staying on the football field because of injuries, suspensions and academic issues. Ro’Derrick Hoskins is the other projected starter. Hoskins performed well early last year, but saw his role decrease as the season went on. Behind those two, FSU has a lot of young talent, but no one that has taken any meaningful snaps.
5. Convert in Red Zone
Florida State was one of the worst teams in the country last season when it came to scoring touchdowns in the red zone, ranking just 109th nationally. Failing to maximize scoring opportunities would cost FSU dearly in losses to Georgia Tech and Clemson.
Many have already started comparing the 2016 to the ‘13 squad that won the national championship, but one thing that team did was maximize scoring opportunities. With Francois now the starter, the element he brings to the table with his legs could be an added dimension near the goal line. FSU’s red zone efficiency also could receive a boost if a big target like Auden Tate or George Campbell emerged as the season progressed.