Florida State lost its all-time leading rusher, an All-American pass rusher and several other key pieces, but the Seminoles seem positioned to dethrone Clemson in the ACC and contend for another national title. A lot of the offensive burden will fall to sophomore quarterback Deondre Francois, but new playmakers need to emerge and the offensive line needs to take a step forward. The defense returns almost intact and boasts talent and depth on all three levels. Florida State opens the season against Alabama and must face Clemson and Florida on the road, so Jimbo Fisher’s team will have plenty of opportunities to show the Seminoles belong in the College Football Playoff.
Previewing Florida State Football’s Offense for 2017
After passing for 3,350 yards and 20 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman, quarterback Deondre Francois likely will be tasked with taking on an even larger role in the Seminoles’ offense this season. Gone is star tailback Dalvin Cook, top wide receiver Travis Rudolph and standout left tackle Rod Johnson. Fortunately for FSU, head coach Jimbo Fisher believes Francois is the type of quarterback he can build his offense around.
“The year he had, this guy’s a big-time player,” says Fisher, whose first three QBs at Florida State — Christian Ponder, EJ Manuel and Jameis Winston — all went on to be first-round NFL Draft picks.
The Seminoles will want to see Francois process reads quicker and get the ball out of his hands earlier. He also will look to improve upon his completion percentage (58.7), and the Seminoles likely will rely more on his running skills. Francois will be surrounded by a group that is long on talent but short on experience.
Junior wideout Nyqwan Murray has legitimate star potential, as he showed with two scores against Michigan in the Orange Bowl. But there undoubtedly will be a drop-off at running back with the departure of Cook, the school’s all-time leading rusher. Junior Jacques Patrick averaged 5.7 yards per carry as a backup in 2016, and celebrated freshman Cam Akers wowed teammates and coaches in spring drills.
The biggest question mark will be a rebuilt offensive line, which will have to be much better than a year ago for the Seminoles to become a legitimate title contender.
Previewing Florida State Football’s Defense for 2017
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Three returning starters up front provide the nucleus of what could be one of the nation’s deepest defensive line rotations. The Noles must fill a huge void left by defensive end DeMarcus Walker (16.0 sacks), but Josh Sweat and Brian Burns combined for 16.5 sacks of their own last fall. FSU’s coaches believe they have enough quality depth to go three-deep at all four spots and wear down opposing offenses.
The Seminoles are perhaps even more well stocked in the secondary, where All-America safety Derwin James returns from a season-ending knee injury last September. James is joined by several other DBs with starting experience, including junior cornerback Tarvarus McFadden, who tied for first nationally with eight interceptions in 2016.
Starting linebackers Matthew Thomas and Ro’Derrick Hoskins are both seniors, and the Seminoles have more depth at that position than they’ve enjoyed in years.
Previewing Florida State Football’s Specialists for 2017
The good news is that the Seminoles return placekicker Ricky Aguayo and punter Logan Tyler. The bad news is that both were extremely inconsistent as freshmen last fall. Aguayo, the younger brother of former Lou Groza Award winner Roberto Aguayo, struggled mightily with kicks beyond 40 yards; he was perfect on all 12 kicks inside the 40 but only 7-of-14 from that point and beyond. Tyler averaged a pedestrian 40.3 yards per punt and seldom delivered great hang time. FSU’s coaches were encouraged, however, by his improvement in the spring.
Despite a somewhat disappointing 10–3 campaign in 2016, the Seminoles again will begin the season with sky-high aspirations. They bring back nearly everyone from a defense that ranked in the top 25 nationally, as well as a talented quarterback in Francois and some dynamic skill players.
If the offensive line can jell in time for a season-opening clash with Alabama in Atlanta, the Seminoles could be a legitimate national championship contender. A loss there wouldn’t knock them out of the race, but the remaining schedule is daunting with road trips to Clemson and Florida in a span of 14 days in November.
NATIONAL RANKING: 3
ACC ATLANTIC PREDICTION: 1
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