The Florida State Seminoles enter the 2017 season with the same high expectations in the ACC under head coach Jimbo Fisher. The Seminoles have not won the ACC Atlantic since 2014, when the Seminoles were in the midst of a 29 game winning streak, dating back to 2012, but ultimately lost to Oregon in the debut of the College Football Playoff. The Seminoles look to get back to the playoff and are a national title contender this upcoming season after defeating Michigan in the Capital One Orange Bowl. Expectations are even higher this season, and this Seminoles team looks primed to make a national title run.
The Seminoles will open the 2017 season against Alabama at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. It has been deemed the Greatest Opener of All Time (G.O.A.T). The Crimson Tide will open at #1 in both the AP poll and coaches poll, while the Seminoles will open at #3 in both polls. This matchup has been hyped as a potential classic and a preview will be coming out later this week.
In addition to playing the Tide, the Seminoles will be visiting rivals Clemson and Florida this year and will be hosting rival Miami, Louisville, and NC State. The Seminoles look to avoid a three game losing streak against Clemson, but continue their dominant ways against Miami and Florida.
Welcome to the first installment of River City Rogue’s coverage of the Florida Seminoles 2017 football season.
As mentioned, the Seminoles enter 2017 ranked #3 in the Coaches Poll and #3 in the AP Poll. They will look to return to the top of the ACC once again, after finishing 10-3 this past season. Although the Seminoles have a lot of talent coming back from last season, there are still questions facing this very talented team.
The Seminoles have quarterback Deondre Francois returning as the starter for the second consecutive season. Francois played really well as a redshirt freshman last year, but took an insane amount of hits as a freshman quarterback and has become a leader of this team within a short period of time. Francois is the unquestioned starter going into the season, but the main concern is who will be backup. Quarterback Sean Maguire was the backup quarterback last year, but he has since graduated and now the backup position is open. There are four quarterbacks battling for the backup spot. J.J. Cosentino, who has always looked unprepared whenever he had to come in either as an emergency situation or as a garbage time backup, is an option. In addition to Cosentino, there is Bailey Hockman, James Blackman, and walk-on Jake Rizzo. These three quarterbacks are not expected to play this year, unless in garbage time, but they may need to be ready in case Francois gets injured this season if they win the backup job.
One of the main questions facing this Seminoles team is who will replace legend Dalvin Cook, who left Tallahassee as the team’s all-time leading rusher, but the cavalry is coming. The Seminoles recruited two five-star running backs and one four-star running back to add to a very solid running back corps. The Seminoles named junior Jacques Patrick as the starter entering this upcoming season. The back played in a part-time role in 2016 behind Cook, but he seems ready to take over the lead role in the position group. In addition to Patrick, there are running backs Amir Rasul and Ryan Green. While Patrick and Rasul seem like they will get the most playing time of the three backs, with a little bit of Green mixed in, they most likely won’t be the only backs used in the offense this year. As mentioned earlier, the Seminoles recruited three top running backs, Cam Akers, Khalan Laborn, and Zaquandre White. Akers will get some plays in this year, if Patrick and Rasul are banged up. Laborn and White will most likely only play in garbage time. But the future is bright at running back with the depth.
Although the running back position has depth, the wide receiver position does not. There are only two receivers on this roster that have caught a pass against a Power Five conference team. They are juniors Nyqwan Murray and Auden Tate. The issue with those two being the only players with catches is that they have combined to start a combined 6 games in 2 seasons. The receiver position is very thin in experience. In addition to those two receivers, there is George Campbell and Keith Gavin. Campbell missed the entire 2016 season due to a core injury and looks to be a factor after sitting out last year. Gavin had an impressive kick return against Michigan in the Capital One Orange Bowl, which set up the game-winning drive. The receiver position is loaded with inexperience with addition of true freshmen DJ Matthews, Tamorrion Terry, and Malique Jackson. All true freshman, and yet will most likely try to contribute this upcoming year.
The tight end position group has some talent, notably, redshirt junior Ryan Izzo and junior Mavin Saunders. Izzo is returning as starter for the third straight year. He has continually improved each year and will have to become a leader for this offense with the inexperience at receiver. Saunders took a while to adjust to being a tight end after learning how to play the position when he got to high school. There are other tight ends on the roster, but they most likely won’t contribute much with these two being healthy.
The most criticized position on a football team outside of quarterback is usually the offensive line. This is still a concern for the Seminoles. They have not found consistency on the line since the 2014 squad. Florida State lost left tackle Roderick Johnson to the NFL Draft, but the majority of starters will be returning from last year. Center Alec Eberle is a redshirt junior and will be returning with the most experience along the line. However, in order for this team to be successful, they need to play better and protect Francois this year. Francois took an unnecessary amount of hits last year, and if this line can play well this year, expect Francois to take the next step.
Switching to the other side of the ball, the defense looks to be a massive strength of this team. To be more specific, the secondary looks primed for a great season, starting with junior Tarvarus McFadden, who tied the national high for interceptions with eight. Levonta Taylor and Stanford Samuels III will battle to become the corner opposite of McFadden. In addition to the talent at corner, the Seminoles will be returning All-American and possible Heisman contender Derwin James. James will be playing the star position, which is a hybrid position in the scheme that Florida State plays. He returns to the team after suffering a season ending knee injury last season in the second game of the season. In addition to James, there is senior Trey Marshall, redshirt senior Nate Andrews, and senior receiver-turned safety Ermon Lane. The secondary is definitely loaded with depth and talent, and will be a force to be reckoned with this year.
While the secondary will be one of the strengths of the defense, the linebackers may be one of the weakest. It isn’t due to depth and talent, as there is talent at this position, but the position is a concern due to lack of playing time. The player that brings the most concern but brings the most talent is redshirt senior Matthew Thomas. He missed two seasons due to injury, and one due to an academic suspension. He played all of 2016 and played well, but has missed practice recently and yet FSU plays Alabama in just a few days, due to a “sickness”. This is worth monitoring. In addition to Thomas, there is depth at the position. Names worth watching this upcoming season is Dontavious Jackson, Ro’Derrick Hoskins, Jacob Pugh and backup to Thomas, Emmett Rice. However, if Thomas misses time, the young linebackers need to step up. They are Adonis Thomas, Leonard Warner, and DeCalon Brooks. If Thomas misses extensive time, these young linebackers need to rise to the occasion.
The defensive line last season was arguably the best unit, responsible for 41.5 of the 51 sacks produced by the defense. Of those 41.5, 25.5 that came from the defensive line are returning to Florida State this upcoming season. Those 16 sacks were produced by one player, DeMarcus Walker. Walker graduated and entered the NFL Draft. However, although losing Walker will be tough to recover from, the depth at defensive line will help make losing a Seminole stud much easier. Junior defensive end Josh Sweat will have to lead this defensive line. He is an athletic freak, who, when healthy, can be unstoppable. In addition to Sweat, expect Brian Burns to continue to develop and succeed. Burns led freshmen across the country last season with nine sacks and looks to dominate again. Pairing with Burns and Sweat, there is Derrick Nnadi and Demarcus Christmas. These players look to tear it up on the field now that there are more opportunities to play. There also is Janarius Robinson, and many others on this defensive line that could contribute this year. The Seminoles also signed the number 1 defensive tackle recruit in the 2017 recruiting class in Marvin Wilson. Wilson looks like a massive defensive tackle and looks to play a huge role this upcoming year.
This Seminoles team is loaded with talent at almost every position, but does have some concerns. If this team can stay healthy, it would not surprise me if they are among the final four in the college football playoff.