The Seminoles saw their streak of 36 straight bowl appearances come to an end last season
It was a rough debut for Florida State head coach Willie Taggart as two longstanding streaks came to an end following the Seminoles' 5-7 finish in 2018. FSU's first losing season since 1976 (Bobby Bowden's first year at the school), it also put an end to the nation's longest bowl streak at 36 seasons.
Obviously, Taggart is facing a lot of criticism and doubts about whether he can turn things around in Tallahassee. But before, we even broach the subject about when the Noles will be ready to challenge Clemson for supremacy in the ACC Atlantic Division, let alone be considered a national title contender, how about we start with something simpler, say bowl eligibility?
Once considered a foregone conclusion, the current state of Florida State's program is perhaps encapsulated best by wondering aloud if the team can simply win six games. Talent has never really been in an issue for FSU, but the transition from Jimbo Fisher to Taggart obviously went anything but smoothly. Both sides of the ball need to show improvement, but especially the offensive line and when it comes to defending the pass.
Then there's the schedule. Besides having to face the aforementioned Tigers (on the road no less), the Noles also have to do battle with a Syracuse team that won 10 games last season. There's the annual crossover game with Miami as well as a trip to Virginia, a team some are picking to win the Coastal Division. The truth is outside of a home date with a rebuilding Louisville team none of Florida State's ACC matchups can be taken lightly. The non-conference schedule doesn't offer much relief either with games against Boise State (in Jacksonville, Fla.) and at rival Florida bookending the slate.
So with that as the setup, let's revisit the original query. Can the Seminoles get back to a bowl game in 2019? That's what we asked a group of Athlon editors and college football contributors.
Will Florida State Make a Bowl Game in 2019?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I think Florida State will rebound and make a bowl game in coach Willie Taggart’s second year. While the Seminoles have ranked high in recruiting rankings, some of that talent hasn’t developed as expected, and the offensive line eroded under the previous staff, which largely factored into last season’s 5-7 mark. Florida State’s offensive line is still a concern — but it can’t really get any worse either. Quarterback James Blackman should thrive under new coordinator Kendal Briles, and running back Cam Akers is one of the ACC’s most-talented playmakers. The Seminoles have plenty of room to improve on defense after finishing 11th in the ACC in points allowed. Tackle Marvin Wilson and safety Jaiden Lars-Woodbey are two building blocks for coordinator Harlon Barnett.
The opener against Boise State should provide a good litmus test for a rebuilt offensive line, and the schedule also includes games against Virginia, Louisville and NC State before a matchup at Clemson on Oct. 12. Florida State isn’t likely to rebound into the top 25, but Taggart’s team should have a good shot at 7-5 and a return to the postseason in 2019.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
I am in the group that thinks Florida State made the right move in hiring Willie Taggart following Jimbo Fisher's departure to Texas A&M. However, Taggart has dug himself a sizeable hole already and it would behoove him to, at minimum, start another bowl streak this season.
Unfortunately, the schedule doesn't do the Seminoles a lot of favors as there are basically three "gimmes" on the slate — Alabama State, ULM and Louisville. The good news is, in theory, that means Taggart and company only need to win three out of the remaining nine to go bowling.
Let's not forget that for all of the things that went wrong last season, the Noles still managed to win five games. Do I think this team will earn six victories? I do but seven is probably the ceiling right now, although check back with me after the opener with Boise State.
Mike Ferguson (@MikeWFerguson)
Whether or not Willie Taggart can get Florida State back to national prominence remains to be seen, but he should be able to get the Seminoles to a football game after November this season. The schedule isn’t an easy one with matchups against Boise State, Clemson and Florida — all away from home — but home games against ULM and Alabama State should be easy victories.
FSU will also play host to NC State, Syracuse, Louisville and Miami. The Wolfpack and Orange are both replacing very accomplished and experienced quarterbacks in Ryan Finley and Eric Dungey, respectively. FSU should be the favorite to top Louisville as it did last season and the Seminoles lost by just one at Miami last season in South Florida. The Hurricanes are replacing a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball.
Even if the Seminoles are only able to split those four ACC home contests, trips to Wake Forest, Virginia and Boston College all seem winnable. How FSU fares in the opener against Boise State in Jacksonville will go a long way in shaping the outlook for 2019.
Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB)
Simply put, last year stunk for Florida State, and the season before that wasn’t much better. But Willie Taggart has a track record of improving his programs over time, and I think Florida State takes a few significant steps forward this season. While still a good distance from catching Clemson, a solid start to the season is not out of the question and picking up six wins should be well within reason. Florida State’s bowl streak will be one after this season.
Antwan Staley (@antwanstaley)
Last year was a nightmare for the Florida State Seminoles as they finished 5-7, which was their first losing season since 1976. Although they're entering a year of uncertainty, there's a reason to be optimistic in Tallahassee these days.
Head coach Willie Taggart brought in Kendal Briles as offensive coordinator, which should help quarterback James Blackman and the Seminoles offense. Last season, Florida State ranked near the bottom of the country in total offense (361.2 ypg), scoring offense (21.9 ppg) and rushing offense (91.1 ypg).
Although last year was a down season for Florida State, the Noles certainly have enough talent to get back to a bowl game in 2019. Especially with their schedule that includes games against ULM and Alabama State. But it is hard to expect more than eight wins from FSU.
Kyle Kensing (@kensing45)
Expectations were set unreasonably high for Willie Taggart in his first season at Florida State, with the Seminoles kicking off ranked in the Top 25. Chalk that up as one more reminder that polls are pretty worthless until about Halloween. Anyway, Jimbo Fisher won a national championship at Florida State, but the program needed a major overhaul, particularly on the line. What's more, Taggart's career has seen his tenures begin with some rough patches. Only the 7-5 finish at Oregon in 2017 (which would have been even better, had Justin Herbert not been injured midway through the season) was above .500.
Florida State's not the level of rebuild Taggart faced at Western Kentucky or USF; then again, the program's expectations are considerably higher, so he won't be afforded much patience if the Seminoles don't show marked improvement. That includes restarting the bowl streak that ended unceremoniously in 2018 (although it should have the year before). With the pressure on to deliver, and a year of the new staff in the books, Florida State should rise to the occasion.
Jon Kinne (@JonRKinne)
I believe they will, but it won't be easy. The defense will have to overcome the losses of three important pieces in Brian Burns, Demarcus Christmas, and A.J. Westbrook, but there is plenty of talent returning. Dontavoius Jackson heads up a solid linebacker group and Hamsah Nasirildeen is back in the secondary. Ideally, defensive lineman Joshua Kaindoh will finally live up to his recruiting hype and become a force off the edge.
The Seminoles' challenge will be to revitalize the offense, specifically what has been an underwhelming offensive line. If they can clean up that area a bit, FSU has a dynamic running back in Cam Akers. The quarterback position at least has some depth with Wisconsin graduate transfer Alex Hornibrook ready to challenge James Blackman for snaps.
Games against ULM, Louisville, and Alabama State should be easy wins .At Clemson and at Florida are games that will most likely go the other way. That leaves seven games that will be up for grabs, with four of those to be played at Doak Campbell Stadium. It's doubtful that the Noles win enough games to ease the pressure off Willie Taggart, but they will be bowl eligible in 2019.
Nicholas Ian Allen (@NicholasIAllen)
The 2018 season was a disaster for Willie Taggart and the Florida State football program. Nevertheless, there is hope the Seminoles can bounce back in '19.
Florida State has elite talent. At CFB Winning Edge, I developed a team talent ratings system. By compiling the recruiting talent projections for each player on every FBS roster, and adjusting for experience and on-field production, I developed a Roster Strength rating for all 130 programs. Roster Strength is calculated on a 70-100 scale, but only five teams enter the 2019 season with a Roster Strength rating greater than 90.
Florida State ranks No. 5 with a 90.21 rating — behind only national title contenders Alabama (92.56), Ohio State (91.55), Clemson (91.18), and Georgia (90.86). In other words, FSU will have the most talented team on the field in 11 of its 12 regular season games. The Seminoles should be favored in 10 of 12, with trips to Clemson and Florida (No. 8 in Roster Strength at 89.51) as the only exceptions.
Of course, talent wasn’t the issue last year as the Noles dropped to 5-7, and Taggart has received most of the blame for the disappointing results. But remember, Taggart has been through worse before. He was 2-10 in his first season as head coach at both USF in 2013 and WKU in '10. The Bulls improved to win four, eight and 11 games in each of the next three years with Taggart on the sidelines, and the Hilltoppers won seven games in both 2011 and '12 under his direction.
With national championship-level talent on hand and a track record for Year 2 success, Taggart should have the Seminoles back in a bowl game with ease in 2019. A 10-win season is a reasonable goal.