Florida State won 10 games and reached a New Year’s Six bowl in what was considered a rebuilding year in 2015, but the Seminoles will have no excuses this season.
In six years under head coach Jimbo Fisher, FSU has finished ranked each season and in the top 15 in each of the last four years. Though expectations are high for 2016, the schedule is beefed up as the Seminoles face reigning ACC champion and national runner-up Clemson, reigning ACC Coastal champ North Carolina, reigning SEC East champion Florida and Ole Miss, a Sugar Bowl winner and the only team to beat eventual national champion Alabama last season.
The Seminoles return virtually everyone on offense led by running back Dalvin Cook, a Heisman Trophy candidate. They’re also expected to have one of the nation’s best defenses led by end DeMarcus Walker and sophomore safety Derwin James. The biggest question is probably how redshirt freshman Deondre Francois performs at the quarterback position. With Ole Miss and Louisville on the schedule for September, he looks to be tested early.
Athlon Sports writers and contributors project whether or not the Seminoles can live up to their lofty expectations this season.
Florida State Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2016
Mike Ferguson (@MikeWFerguson)
Looking at the schedule for Florida State, there are several contests where the Seminoles should be on upset alert. Fortunately for FSU, contests against North Carolina, Clemson and Florida are all at home and the opener against Ole Miss should bring a pro-Seminole crowd. The Oct. 29 contest with the Tigers is likely to decide the ACC Atlantic and perhaps a College Football Playoff berth.
Tricky contests will include visits to Louisville and Miami. Louisville will be FSU’s first true road game and the hostile crowd will only add to the degree of difficulty for redshirt freshman QB Deondre Francois, who will be making his first road start. Rival Miami has played the Seminoles tough in each of the last two years, but late long touchdown runs from Cook have allowed FSU to prevail. If ever there was a season where the Noles could afford to lose a game and still get into the Playoff, it’s this one.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
After finishing 10-3 in a “rebuilding year,” Florida State is reloaded for another run at the national title. Head coach Jimbo Fisher’s team doesn’t have many holes in 2016 and the toughest game of the year – Oct. 29 against Clemson — takes place in Tallahassee. The biggest question marks surrounding this team revolve around the progress of redshirt freshman quarterback Deondre Francois and the development of the offensive line and receiving corps. Considering the talent in place, combined with the experience gained by the returning players in both of those groups, the Seminoles should see improvement from those two position groups this fall. While Francois is inexperienced, Florida State won its last title with a freshman quarterback (Jameis Winston) leading the way. With a standout defense and running back Dalvin Cook to lean on, Francois won’t have to carry the load for this team. One potential road block to picking Florida State over Clemson in the ACC Atlantic: the schedule. The Seminoles play Ole Miss in the opener, and also must navigate road trips to Louisville, USF, Miami and NC State. The guess here is Florida State loses a game along the way but beats Clemson to claim the division title.
Bryan Fischer (BryanDFischer)
The last three national titles have been won by a first-year starting quarterback and it wouldn't surprise me at all if Florida State makes it four in a row, which would be the Seminoles’ second in the last four years too. There is just a ton of talent on the roster and being able to run the ball with a Heisman candidate in Dalvin Cook and play really great defense will help ease Deondre Francois into the starting quarterback role. The schedule is really, really rough early on but they could lose a game, beat Clemson – at home – and still and make it into the Playoff. If everything clicks, watch out.
Kevin McGuire (KevinOnCFB)
We'll get a real good idea just how good this Florida State team may be in the very first game of the season, in Orlando against Ole Miss. Florida State's defense could be pretty nasty, and the key players on that side of the ball will need to make some plays against the Rebels. They will. The offense will be in terrific shape starting with running back Dalvin Cook, who will make his case to be considered the top player in the ACC (challenging Deshaun Watson of Clemson). Having Cook and wide receiver Travis Rudolph on the same field is unfair to most teams. The only concern should be at quarterback, but trust Jimbo Fisher to figure that one out and protect his QB behind a tested and experienced offensive line.
The season really boils down to one game for Florida State. That will be the home game against Clemson. Even if the Seminoles stumble on the road against Louisville in Week 3 or take the loss against Ole Miss, a victory over Clemson should help negate any negative impact from an early defeat. Getting the Tigers at home will be nice, and this year more than Cook should be expected to show up and play against Clemson. Florida State is ready for a return to the top of the ACC, and could place itself in the College Football Playoff picture in the process.
Jon Kinne (@JonRKinne)
New starting quarterback Deondre Francois couldn’t be walking into a much better situation. The redshirt freshman takes over a team with a good offensive line, veteran receivers, and a top-of-the-line running back in Dalvin Cook. The Seminoles also have young playmakers on defense in Derwin James and Josh Sweat to go along with senior defensive end DeMarcus Walker.
The schedule is not easy. FSU starts out with Ole Miss and a tough stretch that begins with a visit to Louisville on Sept. 17 and runs through the Oct. 8 games at Miami. The Seminoles close the season at home against rival Florida, but the game everyone will be eyeballing is the one versus Clemson at the end of October. Even if Florida State drops a game early on, a victory over Clemson would in all likelihood put the ‘Noles on the path to an ACC title and a spot in the College Football Playoff. But I don't think they will suffer a loss and will go through the regular season unscathed.