After a brutal inaugural campaign, which ended with a 5–7 record and saw Florida State's consecutive bowl appearance streak end at 36, Willie Taggart has pushed the reset button heading into his second season as the Seminoles head coach.
Very few things went well for Taggart in his first season. He lost to all three major rivals — Miami, Florida and Clemson — and he endured an embarrassing string of blowout defeats. Five opponents blasted FSU by at least 21 points; included in that list was a 59–10 rout in Tallahassee by the eventual national champion Tigers.
As soon as the 2018 campaign ended, Taggart began making changes to every aspect of his program. The overhaul includes three new coaches on offense, a new special teams coordinator and a shuffling of coaching responsibilities on defense.
In the second year of a six-year contract, Taggart is certainly not on the hot seat just yet. But the former USF and Oregon head coach needs to show real progress in 2019 for the sake of recruiting and season ticket sales.
Previewing Florida State's Offense for 2019
Aide from the names of a few key players, very little will look familiar about FSU’s offense this fall — and that should be a good thing. Sophomore James Blackman — he preserved a year of eligibility by playing in only four games in 2018 — is expected to take over at quarterback, assuming he can hold off the challenge from Wisconsin grad transfer Alex Hornibrook. The offensive line is getting a much-needed overhaul. And new assistant coaches will be working with that group, the quarterbacks and the wide receivers.
Kendal Briles, son of former Baylor head coach Art Briles, has taken over as offensive coordinator and hopes to breathe life into the spread attack that sputtered under Taggart and former offensive coordinator Walt Bell. The younger Briles has produced high-powered offenses during previous stints at Baylor, FAU and Houston, and he’ll have some very nice skill players with whom to work.
Sophomore Tamorrion Terry is one of the most dynamic receivers in the country — he averaged 21.3 yards per catch and hauled in eight touchdowns on 35 receptions — and junior tailback Cam Akers broke FSU’s freshman rushing record in 2017. Akers struggled behind a poor offensive line last season, and the improvement of that group likely will determine FSU’s overall success.
Look for Northern Illinois grad transfer Ryan Roberts to help at tackle, but another key is the health of senior guard Cole Minshew (neck), who missed part of last season and most of spring drills.
Previewing Florida State's Defense for 2019
Defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett's group has major room for improvement. The good news is that the Seminoles return eight of their top 10 tacklers; the bad news is that they ranked last in the ACC in pass defense and were mediocre against the run.
With star pass rusher Brian Burns leaving early for the NFL, junior Marvin Wilson takes over as the leader of the defensive front, and FSU’s coaches believe he will emerge as the next great Seminole defensive tackle. The former five-star recruit led FSU's interior linemen with 42 tackles and 3.5 sacks, despite coming off the bench and missing months in the spring and summer with a knee injury.
Florida State's linebacking corps has struggled for several years, but senior Dontavious Jackson leads what could be a major resurgence at the position. Junior Hamsah Nasirildeen, who was the team’s leading tackler as a safety in '18, moved to outside linebacker in the spring and appears well suited to that role. FSU’s coaches are so enamored with the improved depth and talent at the position that they are looking at switching — at least part-time — from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4.
There is shuffling in the back end as well, with former starting cornerback Levonta Taylor making the move to safety in spring drills. Junior Stanford Samuels III and sophomore Asante Samuel Jr. settled into the starting cornerback roles late last season, and they’ll strive to shore up a secondary that surrendered 30 touchdown passes in 2018, tied for fifth worst in the FBS.
Previewing Florida State's Specialists for 2019
After firing special teams coordinator Alonzo Hampton after the season, Taggart asked veteran assistant Mark Snyder to clean up this struggling unit. It will be no small task.
The Seminoles are OK in the kicking department, with seniors Ricky Aguayo and Logan Tyler back at placekicker and punter, respectively. But the coverage units were awful — only six FBS schools allowed more yards per kickoff return — and the return teams weren’t much better.
Snyder, who coordinated Michigan State’s special teams from 2015-17, has prior experience as a head coach and defensive coordinator on the FBS level. Tops on his list will be eliminating penalties and poor decisions.
With improved coaching and chemistry — Taggart has acknowledged that the Seminoles players took longer than he expected to buy in — FSU should put a better product on the field. And that improvement, coupled with a much more manageable schedule, should get the Seminoles back to bowl eligibility. Eight or nine wins aren't out of the question, but even seven victories would be seen as an improvement.