Florida State University

Florida State Seminoles: Breaking down the 2017 season

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher with the Orange Bowl trophy after the Seminoles beat Michigan on December 31, 2016.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher with the Orange Bowl trophy after the Seminoles beat Michigan on December 31, 2016. adiaz@miamiherald.com

THE 2017 FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES

HEAD COACH

Jimbo Fisher

▪ Age: 51.

▪ Resume — Head coach: Florida State (2010-present). Assistant coach: Florida State (2007-09); Louisiana State (2000-06); Cincinnati (1999); Auburn (1993-98); Samford (1991-98).

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Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher talks with quarterback Deondre Francois during the first half of an last year’s opener against Mississippi on Sept. 5, 2016. Florida State won 45-34. Phelan M. Ebenhack AP

▪ Career highlights: Since taking over for the legendary Bobby Bowden following the 2009 season, Fisher has been on one heck of a roll. The Seminoles not only won a national championship in 2013 with Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston, but have gone 13-1 against rivals Miami and Florida under Fisher and have won the ACC three times. Fisher is 78-17 as head coach of the Seminoles, FSU has gone 5-2 in bowl games and he also won a national championship as an assistant under Les Miles at LSU in 2003.

▪ What keeps Jimbo up at night: Alabama. The Seminoles play two of their biggest games of the season in the first three weeks of the season with the biggest game right out of the chute as FSU heads to Atlanta for a monster opening-weekend showdown with Nick Saban and Alabama’s Crimson Tide. The winner of that game goes into Week 2 as the top-rated team in the country and may set the tone for their season. An FSU loss won’t keep the Seminoles out of the final four, not if they win out with a heavy-handed lineup which includes the rival Hurricanes (in Week 3), Louisville, Clemson and Florida.

GRADING THE SEMINOLES

▪ Quarterback | A

Sophomore quarterback Deondre Francois got off to a bit of a rocky start as the Seminoles struggled early on last year, but he definitely took control of his team and position in a comeback win against the Hurricanes in October. Francois ended up with 3,350 yards, 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions while showing toughness and poise.

▪ Running back | Grade A

Dalvin Cook headed to the Minnesota Vikings may be a relief to opposing defenses, but the Seminoles are pretty loaded in their backfield so no one should be smiling. While junior Jacques Patrick (350 yards, four TDs last season) could open as FSU’s feature back against Alabama, heralded freshman Cam Akers (the top-ranked running back recruit in the nation out of Mississippi) could be the next big thing in Tallahassee.

▪ Wide receiver | C-

Francois is going to be looking for more targets as a large chunk of his receiving corps from last season have moved on. Travis Rudolph and Cook accounted for 89 catches last year; FSU is looking at juniors Nyqwan Murray and Auden Tate to pick up some of the slack.

▪ Tight ends | Grade B

The Seminoles don’t appear to have a tight end who will dazzle, yet in the offensive they run, juniors Ryan Izzo and Mavin Saunders fit the bill. Rizzo enters his third season as a starter with Saunders getting more looks last year with 10 catches. Junior Da'Vante Phillips can also catch the ball.

▪ Offensive line | Grade B

Alabama’s big defensive front is going to be a huge early test for a Florida State offensive line which has four of five starters back from last season. The loss, however, is a big one as Roderick Johnson was drafted by Cleveland. Left guard Landon Dickerson (6-6, 310) was lost for the season after tearing his right ACL in a November practice but has looked good in fall camp and will retake his position.

▪ Linebackers | B

The Seminoles seemed to have fixed their linebacker problem with strong coaching and recruiting. Experience doesn’t hurt, either. FSU is expected to start seniors Matthew Thomas, Ro'Derrick Hoskins and Jacob Pugh against the Crimson Tide in Atlanta. Sophomore Dontavious Jackson should also see a lot of playing time.

▪ Defensive backs | A

It’s going to be hard to throw on the Seminoles this season, especially with American Heritage’s Tarvarus McFadden and safety Derwin James returning to a stacked defensive backfield. James returns after missing most of last season with a knee injury suffered in the second week; as a freshman he had 91 tackles. McFadden had eight picks last season as a sophomore.

▪ Special teams | Grade B

Sophomore Ricky Aguayo followed brother (and former Bucs kicker) Roberto into Tallahassee last fall and made his Seminoles debut by setting the program record with six field goals in his opening game against Mississippi. Ricky would find things get tougher as he missed all three chances in a two-point loss to North Carolina. Still, he ended up connecting on 19 of his 26 attempts — all seven misses from 40-yards or more. Punter Logan Tyler (1-for-2 on field goals) averaged a shade over 40 yards per punt.

▪ Coaching | Grade A

Hard to argue with the success of the Seminoles under former coach-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher. Since coming to Tallahassee to serve as Bobby Bowden’s offensive coordinator/successor, Fisher has endeared himself to the FSU faithful. Winning in truckloads hasn’t hurt his popularity. Fisher’s worst season was 9-4 in his second year in 2011; Fisher’s Seminoles have won at least 10 games in six of his seven seasons, have won a national title and made it to the playoffs in 2014. They could be a playoff team again this season.

THE GAMES THE SEMINOLES PLAY

ALABAMA

▪ When, where: Sept. 2; Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, 8 p.m. (ABC).

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Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher square off in Atlanta to kick off their college football season. AP

▪ What to expect: This much-anticipated opening game could only be a preview of a playoff game come the holidays. The Seminoles finished 2016 strong with five consecutive wins including a 33-32 victory over Michigan in the Orange Bowl. Alabama, meanwhile, has won four of the past eight national championships and lost to Clemson 35-31 in a classic championship bout in January. Alabama has won 10-plus games for the past nine seasons. Yeah, this one should be fun.

▪ Prediction: Alabama 34, FSU 31.

LOUISIANA MONROE

▪ When, where: Sept. 9; Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, 7 p.m. (ACC).

▪ What to expect: The Warhawks ended up 4-8 last year with lopsided losses to Oklahoma (59-17), Auburn (58-7) and Appalachian State (42-17). Win or lose to Alabama, the Seminoles gear up for an early season showdown with the Hurricanes in high style.

▪ Prediction: FSU 62, Louisiana Monroe 6.

MIAMI

▪ When, where: Sept. 16; Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, 8 p.m. (ABC).

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Florida State defensive end DeMarcus Walker celebrates after blocking a PAT in the final minutes of FSU’s eventual victory over the Hurricanes at Hard Rock Stadium on Oct. 8, 2016. Wilfredo Lee AP

▪ What to expect: FSU escaped Hard Rock Stadium with a 20-19 win over the Hurricanes last October after DeMarcus Walker blocked Michael Badgley’s PAT try with 1:38 left in what had been a terrific game. Miami heads to Tallahassee for a primetime showdown this year with question marks behind center and elsewhere. FSU should win its eighth consecutive game against its southern rival.

▪ Prediction: FSU 23, Miami 16.

NC STATE

▪ When, where: Sept. 23; Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, TBA.

▪ What to expect: The Noles bounced back from their emotional loss to Clemson with a comeback win the following week against the Pack. This year, FSU should be feeling good after beating Miami but will be wise not to overlook an improving NC State team.

▪ Prediction: FSU 35, NC State 24.

WAKE FOREST

▪ When, where: Sept. 30; BB&T Field, Winston-Salem, N.C., TBA.

▪ What to expect: The Deacons didn’t score a touchdown against the Seminoles in their meeting last year and won’t far too much better this time around. Look for FSU to roll into its bye week.

▪ Prediction: FSU 44. Wake Forest 13.

DUKE

▪ When, where: Oct. 14; Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, N.C., TBA.

▪ What to expect: Duke didn’t exactly finish strong last season and the Blue Devils lost five of their final six games — although that win was against the rival Tar Heels so it wasn’t too bad. The Seminoles will be coming off a bye week and ready to rumble — with Louisville on their minds.

▪ Prediction: FSU 45, Duke 20.

LOUISVILLE

▪ When, where: Oct. 21; Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, TBA.

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Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois is sacked by Louisville linebacker Jonathan Greenard on Sept. 17, 2016. Louisville won 63-20. Timothy D. Easley AP

▪ What to expect: The Seminoles will be looking for a little payback after the Cards ran roughshod over FSU in a 63-20 victory last season. FSU gets Louisville at home this time around and the battle between Deondre Francois and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson should be one to savor.

▪ Prediction: FSU 41, Louisville 37.

BOSTON COLLEGE

▪ When, where: Oct. 27; Alumni Stadium, Chestnut Hill, Mass., 8 p.m. (ESPN).

▪ What to expect: The Seminoles had little problem with the Eagles last season in a 45-7 cakewalk and shouldn’t have much trouble on this Friday night special from New England.

▪ Prediction: FSU 38, Boston College 21.

SYRACUSE

▪ When, where: Nov. 4; Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, TBA.

▪ What to expect: FSU was likely pretty happy to see Syracuse join the ACC a few years back since the Orange have not beaten the Noles since 1966. FSU has won its past nine against Syracuse including last year’s 45-14 victory. The Seminoles have outscored the Orange 187-58 in their past four victories.

▪ Prediction: FSU 55, Syracuse 20.

CLEMSON

▪ When, where: Nov. 11; Memorial Stadium, Clemson, S.C., TBA.

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Florida State running back Dalvin Cook sheds Clemson safety Van Smith during a 70-yard touchdown run in the second half of FSU’s loss to the Tigers on Nov. 26, 2016. Mark Wallheiser AP

▪ What to expect: The Seminoles are back at Death Valley for the first time since losing by 10 there two seasons ago. Last year, the Tigers came to Tallahassee and beat the Noles in a classic with Deshaun Watson bringing Clemson back with a 37-34 win. Watson is gone, however, and the Seminoles are ready to end this two-game slide to their rivals.

▪ Prediction: FSU 27, Clemson 21.

DELAWARE STATE

▪ When, where: Nov. 18; Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, TBA.

▪ What to expect: The Hornets went winless last season, dropping all 11 games in lopsided fashion. The closest margin of defeat came in a three-point loss to Morgan State. A five-point loss to Howard in the season finale assured an 0-11 season. The Hornets do have a cool logo, however.

▪ Prediction: FSU 77, Delaware State 2.

FLORIDA

▪ When, where: Nov. 25; Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, TBA.

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Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois reacts to scoring a touchdown in front of Florida linebacker Kylan Johnson on Nov. 26, 2016. Florida State defeated Florida 33-13. Mark Wallheiser AP

▪ What to expect: The Gators continue to lead the all-time series against the Seminoles, something their fans are quick to point out. As far as recent success, well, there hasn’t been much. Since winning six consecutive against FSU from 2004-09, the Gators have lost their past four and six of the past seven in the series — and three of the past four haven’t been close. This one should be.

▪ Prediction: FSU 31, Florida 27.

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