There is a buzz in the air in Tallahassee with the hire of new Florida State head coach Willie Taggart. Taggart has brought enthusiasm back to the program and so far, has been excellent on the recruiting trail.
For Taggart to keep the favor he’s wasted little time earning from the fans, his teams ultimately must win on the field. FSU is coming off its worst season since 2009, but still has the best record of any team Taggart has ever inherited.
Big things are expected of Taggart during his tenure with the Seminoles, but how quickly is the question. FSU has fallen behind Clemson in the ACC, but that can quickly change. Here are three reasons each why the Seminoles will or won’t return to the College Football Playoff for the first time since 2014.
Three Reasons Why Florida State Will Make it to the College Football Playoff in 2018
New head coach Willie Taggart has breathed energy into a traditional power coming off its worst season in eight years. There was speculation last season that former FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher’s message had gone stale. By all accounts this offseason, the Seminoles have built in to what Taggart has preached both in terms of scheme and intangibles. Taggart has consciously brought former FSU greats, including the legendary Bobby Bowden, on campus in hopes of restoring pride and tradition in the program.
2. Returning talent
Florida State’s 7-6 season last year was certainly disappointing and perhaps the biggest reason was the amount of talent that the Seminoles failed to utilize. For the first time since 2012, FSU will return its leading passer, rusher and receiver from the previous season. Running back Cam Akers has a chance to be the best back in the ACC and one of the best in the country. Nyqwan Murray returns after leading the Seminoles in receiving and it doesn’t appear that they can go wrong at quarterback with either James Blackman (above, right) or Deondre Francois.
On the defensive side of the ball, defensive end Brian Burns appears poised for a breakout season as a pass rusher while senior defensive tackle Demarcus Christmas has 26 straight starts under his belt. Levonta Taylor, a junior from Virginia, was a lockdown cornerback last season and headlines a deep, athletic group of defensive backs. Kicker Ricky Aguayo was an All-ACC selection last year as well.
3. The “Gulf Coast Offense”
Although it didn’t quite live up to expectations either, Florida State posted a top-25 total defense for a third straight season in 2017. The biggest issue for the Seminoles was the offense, which ranked just 13th in the ACC in total offense and eighth in scoring. Since implementing the “Gulf Coast Offense” at South Florida, Taggart’s teams have been known for their ability to score. In 2016, the Bulls ranked 11th in the country in yards per game and fourth in points per game. When quarterback Justin Herbert played, the Ducks were exceptionally potent, averaging 52.1 points per game in his seven contests.
Taggart’s offense is a run-heavy attack and the Seminoles are deep in the backfield with Akers, Khalan Laborn and Jacques Patrick all expected to see carries. The scheme also relies a lot on throws down the field. Although the playbook may be different based on the starter, both Francois and Blackman have the tools to successfully run the offense.
Three Reasons Why Florida State Won’t Make it to the College Football Playoff in 2018
According to Phil Steele, Florida State will play the toughest scheduled in 2018 based on opponents’ winning percentage from last season. The Seminoles will be tested from the get-go with a Labor Day contest against Virginia Tech. During the month of September, FSU will have to take long trips to Syracuse and Louisville.
The October slate includes contests with each of last year’s ACC Championship Game participants. FSU will visit Miami before concluding the month at home with three-time defending conference champion Clemson. The Seminoles start November at NC State and Notre Dame before concluding the regular season at home with Boston College and rival Florida, which will not be gimmes.
2. Offensive line
The biggest factor in determining at how high of a capacity that the “Gulf Coast Offense” can function will be the play of the offensive line. Losing tackle Josh Ball to a university suspension is a big blow to the Seminoles, who also have to replace Rick Leonard on the other side. Center Alec Eberle, guard Cole Minshew and hybrid Derrick Kelly return after starting all 13 games last season. That unit however, wasn’t very good and the other spots along the line remain question marks. It should be noted that Landon Dickerson is coming off consecutive season-ending injuries.
Florida State should be solid this season up front and in the secondary, but the Seminoles are essentially starting from scratch at the linebacker position. FSU is talented at the positions with juniors Adonis Thomas, Dontavious Jackson, Josh Brown and Emmett Rice all vying for time along with sophomore Leonard Warner and freshmen Amari Gainer and DeCalon Brooks.
Among returning linebackers however, Jackson was the leading tackler last season with just 17 total stops. The Seminoles will have to replace Matthew Thomas, Ro’Derrick Hoskins and Jacob Pugh, who combined for more than 150 tackles last season and more than 350 for their careers. Talent won't be an issue, but with little meaningful experience, there could be a learning curve.
While talent won't be an issue for Florida State in 2018, going from 7-6 to the national semifinals is a daunting task and it's even more daunting when one looks at the slate of games facing the Seminoles this coming season. Willie Taggart is off to a great start early in his tenure and big things will certainly be expected down the road. A realistic goal for now for FSU would be getting to 10 wins and maybe sneaking into a New Year's Six bowl.
Athlon’s Projected Final Ranking: 13
Athlon’s Projected Final Record: 9-3 (6-2, ACC)
Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds: 7.5
5 Dimes Over/Under Odds: 7
(Top photo by Don Juan Moore, courtesy of seminoles.com)