Florida State has won more games (39) in the past three seasons than any team in the country. The Seminoles have captured three consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference titles and have not lost a conference game in nearly three years, a streak of 21 consecutive wins.
But many expect 2015 to be different. FSU has had 29 players selected in the NFL Draft the past three years, a modern-day record for a three-year span. Programs typically do not lose that many quality players without some kind of reboot.
When the Seminoles take the field Thursday, they will have question marks all over the field. Gone are eight offensive starters and four defensive players selected in the first three rounds of the draft from last season’s 13-1 team that finished No. 5 in the final AP poll.
Such losses bring on many issues that must be resolved. Here are the top five for 2015.
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▪ Off-field behavior: The Seminoles had two high-profile arrests over the summer. De’Andre Johnson was dismissed from the team on July 6 after video surfaced of the incoming freshman quarterback punching a woman in a Tallahassee bar. Running back Dalvin Cook was indefinitely suspended on July 9 after allegedly striking a woman outside a bar.
Coach Jimbo Fisher and university president John Thrasher immediately took action, promising changes in the program’s infrastructure and meeting with players to voice their level of concern, and implementing programs that help continue to educate players and emphasize that certain behaviors will not be tolerated.
The Seminoles’ reputation has been tarnished and will not be restored in short time. It will take a collective effort from this team to see that FSU’s players are making headlines only for what they do on the field.
▪ Quarterback quandary: FSU has been spoiled the past two years with Jameis Winston at quarterback. Winston became one of the most decorated freshmen in NCAA history in 2013 as the first ever to win the Heisman and national championship in his first year on the field. He followed that perfect season with 13 more wins to start 2014 before the Seminoles were routed by Oregon in the College Football Playoff semifinals.
Now, FSU is back to 2013 when Winston entered as the expected starter but was in a competition with Jacob Coker. Graduate transfer Everett Golson, the former Notre Dame starter, enters camp as the one expected to win the job, but Sean Maguire, who emerged from spring practice as the No. 1 QB, will not hand over the job easily. That competition likely will come down to the final days of camp.
▪ Inexperience up front: The offensive line was among the most disappointing units in 2014. The Seminoles returned four experienced starters but never became the dominating group many predicted them to become. In fact, it took inserting true freshman Rod Johnson into the starting lineup for the line to start to resemble the group that was so productive in 2013.
Still, 2015 should test OL coach Rick Trickett. Cameron Erving, Tre Jackson, Bobby Hart and Josue Matias combined for 164 starts, but Erving, Jackson and Hart were drafted and Matias was signed as a free agent. Replacing them will not be easy but the 6-7, 323-pound Johnson, a preseason All-ACC pick, is a great place to start.
Coaches are cautiously optimistic this group will jell after seeing them in the spring. Junior guard Kareem Are and tackle Chad Mavety bring experience as junior college transfers who also were red-shirted last season. Freshman Elec Eberle rose to the top of the center depth chart, and sophomore Wilson Bell enters camp as the starting right guard.
▪ Pressuring the quarterback: Washington’s Hau’Oli Kikana had 19 sacks last season and Utah’s Nate Orchard finished with 18.5. Why do we care? Because both had more sacks than FSU had as a team.
The Seminoles dropped the quarterback 17 times in 2014, an average of 1.21 per game, which was ranked 114th in the country. Only South Carolina (12) had fewer among Power 5 schools.
Enter new defensive ends/outside linebacker coach Brad Lawing, who was hired in January and immediately identified the pass rush as “a big point of emphasis” upon his arrival.
A healthy Nile Lawrence-Stample at tackle and Lorenzo Featherston at the buck position should help. But players such as end DeMarcus Walker, linebackers Reggie Northrup and Terrance Smith and even whoever emerges as the top nickel back also need to have a bigger presence in the opponents’ backfield.
▪ Linebacker depth: The Seminoles have been hit hard at this position, its depth being stripped because of injuries and attrition.
In the past year, three linebackers have left the program — two transferring and one dismissed. Additionally, Matthew Thomas had shoulder surgery in the spring that will keep him out for several games.
All of which leaves FSU with two experienced LBs — starters Terrance Smith and Reggie Northrup. The next two players on the depth chart — sophomores Ro’Derrick Hoskins and Tyrell Lyons — have played mostly on special teams. It helps that the Seminoles are in the nickel 70 percent of the time, which requires two linebackers.