For several Florida State players, including star running back Dalvin Cook, Saturday’s trip to South Florida was a chance to spend Christmas in their hometown.
But once the holiday is over, the Seminoles plan to get back to business.
The Seminoles (9-3), ranked No. 11 in the College Football Playoff poll, landed at Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport Saturday afternoon to begin their on-site preparations to face the No. 6 Wolverines (10-2) Friday night at 8 p.m. in the Capital One Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium.
FSU is playing in its 10th Orange Bowl and will face Michigan for the first time since 1991.
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The Seminoles will play in Miami for the second time this season, having defeated the University of Miami in a 20-19 thriller on Oct. 8.
Cook, a Miami Central alum, leads FSU’s potent offense against a punishing Michigan defense led by linebacker Jabrill Peppers.
Here’s a closer look at the Seminoles:
▪ Offense: FSU ranks 24th in total offense and has been extremely efficient in the red zone, converting 52 of 54 opportunities (.963). The Seminoles will have a big challenge against a Michigan defense that ranks second in red zone defense. Led by Cook (1,620 yards, 18 touchdowns), FSU is averaging 35.3 points per game. Quarterback Deondre Francois is the only freshman to eclipse the 3,000-yard passing mark this season (3,128) and has thrown 18 touchdowns and six interceptions. Junior Travis Rudolph (53 catches, 807 yards, 7 TDs) is FSU’s leading receiver for the second year in a row.
▪ Defense: The Seminoles lead the nation in team sacks with 47 and are one of two FBS teams that have two players with 9 ½ or more. Senior DeMarcus Walker, a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award, leads the team with 15, which is tied for most in the nation. University of Miami fans remember Walker as the one who blocked the would-be game-tying extra point in FSU’s win earlier this season. Freshman Brian Burns (Plantation American Heritage alum) leads all freshmen in the country with 9½. FSU’s secondary is also one of its biggest strengths with another freshman from American Heritage, Tarvarus McFadden leading the way with eight interceptions – tied for most in the nation.
▪ Special teams: FSU ranks among the top 10 in the nation in blocked punts (eight) and kicks (10th). Long distance field goals could be a concern with freshman Ricky Aguayo struggling this season from 40 yards or more. Aguayo, who succeeded his older brother, Roberto, now the starting kicker for the Tampa Bay Bucs, is 17 of 24, but all of his conversions have been from 39 yards or less. Kermit Whitfield (22.9 kickoff return yards average) has helped carry the load in the return game after losing Columbus alum Jesus Wilson (17.2 punt return yard average) to a foot injury.
▪ Future watch: With Cook figured to declare for the NFL Draft after this season, the Seminoles are hoping Orlando native Jacques Patrick can step in as a potential feature back. Coral Gables alum Amir Rasul has also shown promise and could step in to a more prominent role especially if the Noles go with options already on the roster. Among its high school targets, FSU is hoping to land five-star running back Cam Akers out of Clinton, Mississippi. Burns and sophomore Josh Sweat, who was the nation’s top-rated defensive end out of Virginia’s Oscar Smith High, could emerge as defensive leaders up front with a secondary powered by sophomore Derwin James (Haines City) and McFadden.
▪ Locals watch: Cook makes his third and possibly final collegiate appearance at Hard Rock Stadium where he has twice put up huge numbers in victories over UM. Cook ran for 150 yards on 27 carries and caught a 59-yard touchdown pass against the Hurricanes this year and headlines the 21 players on the roster from Miami-Dade, Broward or Monroe County schools. The Seminoles are stacked with Florida talent with 88 in-state players overall.