Welcome to the Deadspin 25, a college football poll that strives to be more democratic and less useless than every other preseason poll. Leading up to the college football season kickoff, we will give you previews of the 25 teams that you, the readers, voted to be most worthy of writing about. Now, No. 20 Florida State.
There’s not much to say about Florida State that hasn’t already been said or written—the Tallahassee program is one of the nation’s premiere groups, constructed to produce very good football teams and future NFL draft picks while simultaneously infecting its fans with the absolute worst and most destructive strain of shameless homerism. #FSUTwitter is the dark heart of the internet, full of people who will tattle to your employer for tweeting a harmless joke about Jimbo Fisher.
As for the actual football team, Fisher’s squad will be among the best to take the field this season. The Seminoles return all 11 starters on offense and have a defense headed by a bevy of future NFL players, including six returning starters. Last year was supposed to be an off-year for FSU and the fuckers still won 10 games and made a New Year’s Six bowl game.
Thank God for Georgia Tech:
There’s likely change coming under center, which, given last year’s options, is likely a welcome sign in Tallahassee. Redshirt senior quarterback Sean Maguire was very alright in 2015. He finished with 11 scores to six picks with a 59.3 completion percentage. See, very alright.
Redshirt freshman Deondre Francois is the future. And he better be—fellow redshirt freshman Malik Henry, a top recruit at the position like Francois, was suspended indefinitely by Jimbo Fisher last week for violating team rules, and Maguire is out with a broken foot. Francois had a nice showing in Florida State’s spring game, but not nice enough to lock down the starting role. He and Maguire were actually competing for the starting slot all the way up to when Maguire busted his foot, so Francois might not be 100-percent ready to take over the offense, but that doesn’t matter anymore. He’s the only option FSU has left, and he’ll be the starter come the Sept. 5 kickoff against Ole Miss.
The Seminoles’ receiving corps was fine in 2015, but if Florida State wants to reclaim the ACC crown from Clemson, its wideouts will have to be better than fine. The team didn’t have any receivers that demanded extra attention from defenses in 2015, and that left running back Dalvin Cook to carry the load almost by himself. That may change this year, depending on the development of sophomore Auden Tate, who ESPN posited could be the next Kelvin Benjamin. The 6-foot-5 athletic receiver had a monster spring game and Seminole fans are plenty excited to have a big guy out wide once again. Aside from Tate, junior Travis Rudolph returns fresh off a 2015 season that saw him nearly crack 1,000 receiving yards in the No. 1 slot—he finished with 916 yards and seven scores. He’ll be backed by senior Kermit Whitfield, another small and speedy receiver.
Luckily for Francois, the Seminoles offensive line returns eight players who started a game in 2015, and will be anchored by left tackle Roderick Johnson. Florida State is practically two-deep at each slot on the line, which bodes especially well for an offense boasting a new quarterback and junior running back Dalvin Cook. The coaches are still shuffling the line’s starting group around looking for the best combination, but given the experience and talent the group possesses this year, the unit, viewed last year as a weakness, heads into this season as one of the team’s top groups.
Nose guard Derrick Nnadi will lead the Seminoles’ interior defensive line alongside tackle Demarcus Christmas. Nnadi, a junior, is heavy-footed—being 6-foot 1 and 312 pounds tends to have that effect—but maintains excellent hands and consistently demands and receives double-teams, freeing up Christmas and the FSU linebackers to attack the line of scrimmage. Nnadi’s numbers aren’t going to jump off the page—last year he had 45 tackles and 2.5 sacks—but when the guys around him, like standout defensive end Demarcus Walker, go on to rack up sacks and tackles for losses this season, know Nnadi is there chewing up his offensive counterparts to make that possible.
Sophomore Derwin James returns at safety for the Seminoles, thus making the FSU secondary one of the most dangerous units in the nation. James is being touted as the team’s next defensive superstar, a replacement for Jalen Ramsey, who the Jacksonville Jaguars nabbed with the third overall pick in the 2015 draft. James didn’t notch a single interception last year, but he didn’t need the picks to be effective; he forced two fumbles and was second on the team with 91 tackles at season’s end. James also didn’t have his greatest game in Florida State’s bowl loss to Houston (though the same could be said of a number of Seminoles on both sides of the ball), but he still managed to lead the team with 14 tackles in that game.
A Guy To Know
Dalvin Cook is one of the best backs in college football. Considering we’ve already covered Christian McCaffrey and Nick Chubb, that descriptor is getting worn, but it’s true once again. What separates Cook is his ability to do just that—his explosion once he goes vertical almost always guarantees him five yards; unless a defender is planted directly in front of him, Cook will be out reach before they have a chance to react. He’s most dangerous on zone runs, when his line gives him the option of where to attack. As soon as he chooses where he wants to go, he hits the hole with a quickness normally reserved for sports cars, and the list of defenders capable of hawking him down is short.
The main issue with Cook is his health. Hamstring issues lingered throughout the course of the 2015 season, keeping him out of two games; even still, Cook managed to claim the school’s single-season rushing title from Warrick Dunn with 1,691 rushing yards to go along with 19 scores. He’ll need 1,260 to claim the all-time record from Dunn, a total Cook will almost certainly surpass at some point during his junior season. If Cook is around for a full season and can stave off those pesky hamstring injuries, this team’s offense will be cooking from day one.
Can Florida State Make The Playoff
Yes, the playoff is possible for FSU. The Seminoles have the pieces to make a big run—a top-5 running back, two experienced lines, playmakers out wide on both sides, another Aguayo kicking the ball, etc. But if they want to earn one of the four spots, Francois will need to establish himself as the next program quarterback and do so throughout a fun, yet rough, schedule. If the passing game is average, the team can still win 10 games, it just won’t win the ACC.
FSU has to open against Ole Miss in Orlando, and after a Week 2 game against Charleston Southern, the Seminoles hit the road to take on Louisville and South Florida before hosting North Carolina. You shouldn’t expect any of those latter three teams to down FSU, but they’ll all provide tests for the Florida State defense ahead of its most important game of the year. Come Oct. 29, Clemson superstar quarterback Deshaun Watson will swagger into Tallahassee. I know you’ve probably never heard about him, but you’ll have to take me at my word when I say Watson and the Tigers are the shit. And Florida State will have to somehow find a way to stop the man even Alabama’s voodoo magic couldn’t slow down.