Can FSU overcome a tough schedule and get back to the College Football Playoff?
After a disappointing 5-3 start, Florida State finished the 2016 season strong. The Seminoles won their final five games to get to 10 wins, capped with a thrilling 33-32 victory over Michigan in the Orange Bowl.
FSU finished No. 8 in the final polls, but after a two-year hiatus, the Seminoles are expected to return to the College Football Playoff this year. The schedule however, won’t be easy as Jimbo Fisher's team faces both of last year’s national championship participants and SEC East champion Florida in addition to four other bowl teams.
Florida State will be replacing a pair of consensus All-Americans in running back Dalvin Cook and defensive end DeMarcus Walker. FSU however, returns nine starters on defense, headlined by safety Derwin James, and last year’s ACC Rookie of the Year in quarterback Deondre Francois.
So can Florida State live up to the preseason hype? Athlon polled a few writers for their thoughts on the Seminoles’ realistic win/loss projection in 2017.
Florida State Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2017
Mike Ferguson (@MikeWFerguson)
If Florida State can get past Alabama in one of the most anticipated openers ever in Atlanta on Sept. 2, confidence for the remainder of the year should be sky high. Alabama has been especially tough in neutral-site openers under head coach Nick Saban and dropping the first game would greatly reduce FSU’s margin for error if it wants to get back to the College Football Playoff.
From there on out, FSU will still have a tough slate with rival Miami coming in its ACC opener, followed by Atlantic division dark horse, NC State. Things lighten up a bit in October, although the home contest against reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson and Louisville won’t be easy.
Florida State will have to visit Clemson on Nov. 11 in a contest that has decided the ACC every year since 2011 and the Atlantic division every year since ‘09. The regular season ends with a contest at rival Florida, who has lost at home just once under head coach Jim McElwain. That loss did come courtesy of the Seminoles.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The path to a CFB Playoff for the Seminoles is among the toughest in the nation. I gave Florida State a loss in the opener against Alabama and wins the rest of the way but another defeat in ACC play wouldn’t be a surprise. Quarterback Deondre Francois should take a step forward in his second year as the starter, and the tandem of Jacques Patrick and Cam Akers should keep the ground game performing at a high level with Dalvin Cook in the NFL. The biggest concerns on offense remain up front and with the depth at receiver. With nine starters back, along with the return of safety Derwin James from injury, expect this defense to rank among the best in the nation. The Nov. 11 showdown at Clemson could decide the Atlantic Division title but conference matchups against NC State, Louisville and Miami are also tough matchups for coach Jimbo Fisher's team. And of course, there's the road trip to Gainesville against Florida for the regular season finale. Even if Florida State finishes with two losses, I still expect this team to earn a spot in the CFB Playoff.
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
It’s easy to understand all of the hype around the Seminoles this season. They have tons of talent from a number of top-five recruiting classes, a coach who has a national title ring on his finger, and a host of returning starters who all should vie for awards at their various positions. Derwin James is may be the best defensive player in the game right now and you can expect a big jump in production and efficiency out of QB Deondre Francois. The schedule is rough at the beginning and end of the year but I still think FSU can navigate things well enough to win the ACC and make the playoff when all is said and done. This team is definitely among the handful of title contenders we’ll be talking about throughout 2017, even if FSU happens to lose that epic tilt to Alabama to open the year.
Adam Kurkjian (@AdamKurkjian)
The Seminoles will and probably should be underdogs against Alabama to open the season.
After that, the schedule seems perfectly set up for a College Football Playoff run, even with a loss in the season opener.
This is a team that has the experience, talent and coaching to possibly even the score with the Crimson Tide should the two meet again in the postseason (presuming, like each year in the playoff’s existence, that Alabama gets there). Quarterback Deondre Francois is a tough signal-caller who should come into his own this season, while true freshman Cam Akers appears to be a capable replacement for Dalvin Cook at running back. And with the return of safety Derwin James from injury, the defense should be able to improve too.
The rest of the schedule has its landmines in trips to Clemson and Florida and home dates with Miami and Louisville. But the Seminoles are the best team in the ACC this year, and that should be readily apparent over the next few months.
Jon Kinne (@JonRKinne)
The Seminoles have an abundance of talent and have to be considered among the favorites to reach the College Football Playoff. Quarterback Deondre Francois showed his poise as a freshman last year and there are stars all over the defense, including defensive end Josh Sweat and safety Derwin James, who is returning from a knee injury. But the weakest part of this Florida State team is unquestionably the offensive line and these issues up front could keep the Noles on the outside of the playoff picture. Francois was pounded continuously last year and only two of the starters on the line return. That is problematic considering a schedule that features several teams with outstanding defensive front sevens, including Alabama, Miami, NC State, Boston College, Clemson and Florida.