After what was seen by many as a rebuilding year in 2015, all systems seem to be go for Florida State to again compete for a national championship this fall. The Seminoles finished 10-3 and reached the Peach Bowl last season after winning the national title in 2013 and taking part in the first College Football Playoff a year later.
In 2016, FSU returns a lot on both sides of the ball, but head coach Jimbo Fisher’s team does have a tough schedule ahead of it and some questions that have yet to be answered. The Seminoles have finished in the top 15 in each of their six years under Fisher and have made four straight major bowls, but for Florida State to return to the Playoff, there are things that must and things that cannot happen.
Three Reasons FSU Will Reach the College Football Playoff
1. Dalvin Cook
The junior running back is one of the nation’s most explosive players and is on the verge of becoming Florida State’s all-time leading rusher. Last season, Cook finished with nearly 1,700 yards on the ground to go with 20 total touchdowns.
Cook averaged 7.4 yards per carry and is the definition of a complete back with his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, run between the tackles or away from defenders. Cook’s impressive season a year ago came on a bad hamstring and behind four new starters on the offensive line.
The good news for Cook this season is that FSU returns every starter up front. The Seminoles also appear to have more depth behind him with Jacques Patrick now a sophomore and Ryan Green moving back to offense after spending last spring in the secondary. As long as Cook stays healthy, there isn’t a game that FSU shouldn’t be capable of winning.
2. One of the Nation’s Best Secondaries
When it comes to the secondary, there might not be a team in the country better than Florida State. Sophomore safety Derwin James is the headliner. James does just about everything for the Seminoles, ranking either first or second on the team last season in tackles, sacks, tackles for a loss, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries.
FSU’s talent doesn’t stop there, however. Like James, cornerbacks Tarvarus McFadden, a sophomore, and Levtonta Taylor, a freshman, are each former 5-star prospects while Calvin Brewton, A.J. Westbrook and Marcus Lewis are all talented young guys who should see meaningful playing time.
Senior cornerback Marquez White is a dark horse to have an All-American season as opposing quarterbacks complete just over a third of their passes last year when throwing in his direction. Nate Andrews, also a senior, has twice led the team in interceptions while Trey Marshall is a very good athlete at safety.
3. Toughest Games at Home
Florida State will enter 2016 with the nation’s longest home winning streak at 21 games and fortunately for the Seminoles, their toughest games look to be at Doak Campbell Stadium. The Seminoles will host last season’s ACC Championship Game participants Clemson (Oct. 29) and North Carolina (Oct. 1) as well as close the regular season with Florida in Tallahassee. The annual contest with Clemson has decided the ACC Atlantic in each of the last seven years, and the Seminoles haven’t lost to the Tigers at home since 2006.
A September contest at Louisville won’t be easy either, but the Seminoles are 2-0 against the Cardinals since they entered the ACC and will get the luxury of having that contest be an early kickoff. FSU will open the year in Orlando against Ole Miss, but that should be a Florida State crowd.
Three Reasons FSU Won’t Reach the College Football Playoff in 2016
1. Question Marks at Quarterback
The quarterback position is the biggest question mark for Florida State entering 2016. The battle looks to be a two-man race between senior Sean Maguire and redshirt freshman Deondre Francois.
Maguire has six starts under his belt and is 4-2 with wins over Clemson and Florida, but hasn’t played great against superb competition. Against Clemson, Florida and Houston a season ago, Maguire complete just 51 percent of his passes while throwing five interceptions compared to just three touchdowns.
With the ability to make all the throws and good athleticism, Francois has huge upside. In the spring game however, Francois threw two interceptions on bad decisions. Though FSU has great talent on offense, the Seminoles do hit the ground running with five bowl teams from a year ago in their first six games and taking on that slate with an inexperienced quarterback could be problematic.
2. Depth in the Defensive Front Seven
While Florida State’s secondary is expected to be one of the best in the country, the Seminoles have real depth concerns along the defensive line and real youth concerns at linebacker.
Along the defensive front, senior end DeMarcus Walker has been pegged by many as a potential All-American. Walker is accompanied by an athletic freak on the other side in Josh Sweat and two big, physical bodies in between in Derrick Nnadi and Demarcus Christmas. The problem is there is no real meaningful experience behind them. Guys like Fred Jones, Arthur Williams, Keith Bryant and Justin Shanks have been around the program, but have very little meaningful experience.
At linebacker, Matthew Thomas and Ro’Derrick Hoskins are the expected starters. Thomas has All-American-type talent, but because of off-the-field and academic issues, has struggled to stay on the field. Hoskins started 2015 strong, but saw his reps decrease as the year went on. Josh Brown, Dontavious Jackson, Sh’Mar Kilby-Lane and Delvin Purifoy are all talented reserves, but none of them have taken meaningful snaps on defense for the Seminoles.
3. Special Teams
Over the last three decades, there may be no team that knows the difference that special teams can make like Florida State. The Seminoles are bringing in two very talented freshman specialists in Ricky Aguayo and Logan Tyler, but are replacing one of college football’s best all-time kickers in Roberto Aguayo (Ricky’s brother) and Cason Beatty, the ACC’s leader in punting average in 2015.
Despite having two really exceptional specialists a season ago, special teams was still a sore spot. The Seminoles lost at Georgia Tech on a blocked kick returned for a touchdown as time expired and were one of the worst teams in the country when it came to returning punts. Early on last season, Florida State had a tough time just catching them.
There are reasons to believe FSU could be solid on special teams this season, but that right now is as big an unknown as any area.
To some, the Seminoles actually overachieved in 2015, but 10 wins, a top-15 finish and a New Year’s Six bowl won’t be enough to quench the fan base’s thirst this season.
Big things are expected of the Seminoles and rightfully so. FSU returns nine starters on offense and defensively, FSU has one of the best starting lines and perhaps, the nation’s most complete secondary.
For Florida State in 2016, there will be no excuses for not competing for a national championship. With a beefed up schedule that includes Ole Miss and North Carolina, it’s possible the Seminoles could even have one loss and still be part of the College Football Playoff. For FSU fans, it might be a bit too early to buy tickets for Tampa, but booking a hotel room might not be the worst idea in the world.