The pre-season previews continue with Florida State! We try to look past last year’s debacle, and prepare for the late-season bout. We’re back at Alumni Stadium for the inaugural Red Bandana Game, so it should be an electric atmosphere. This game is sandwiched right between Syracuse and Notre Dame, but the motivation should be high no less given the occasion.
Shoutout to Jon Marchant and our pals at Tomahawk Nation for sharing some thoughts on FSU’s season outlook and the November 9th Eagles-Seminoles clash.
Last year, FSU went 5-7 overall and 3-5 in the ACC. It was the first losing season since 1976, but given that it was Coach Willie Taggert’s first season on the job, how do you look back on the season?
TN: It was disappointing for sure, but I looked at it as Taggart’s Year Zero on the job. It’s hard to remember that FSU almost missed a bowl game the year prior, in Jimbo Fisher’s last season. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say FSU missed a bowl last year for the first time in 36 years in part because its offensive line was so bad, and that wasn’t Willie Taggart’s fault. Nor was the culture he also inherited. But he is responsible for fixing all of it. So I’m viewing this season as Year One for Taggart. He has a history of turning around broken programs, so I’m still optimistic; but it’s a process that takes time. Last season was just the first step.
With Deondre Francois dismissed from the team, redshirt sophomore James Blackman will be taking over the starting job, with Wisconsin grad transfer Alex Hornibrook right behind him if things go south. How do you think the quarterback position will play out as the season progresses?
TN: I think everyone expects Blackman to win the job. Many called for him to replace Francois last season, but Blackman redshirted instead. He throws a great deep ball and this offense seems to be somewhat predicated on chunk plays. I think Blackman has the higher ceiling of the two, and not just because he’s younger. But if he were to disappoint or get injured, having someone with the experience that Hornibrook brings isn’t a bad thing. Also, Louisville transfer Jordan Travis’ waiver was finally approved, so FSU went from no depth at QB a few months ago to a couple decent options.
Offensive line play was a huge problem last year. With Art Briles’s son, Kendal, in as the new offensive coordinator coming from Houston, do you think the overall offense will improve this season to counter this issue, and who are some names to watch out for?
TN: Kendal Briles has an impressive on-field resume. His offenses have performed extremely well everywhere he’s been. That has allowed Coach Taggart to transition to more of a CEO-type role this season where he can focus on the whole team. Briles also brought offensive line coach Randy Clements with him, which is huge. Clements and Briles worked together at Baylor and Houston, and the offensive line seems to be responding to his coaching. I think the offense will improve, if only because it can’t get any worse. The offensive line - and arguably also the QB play - handcuffed everything this unit tried to do last season. A new scheme, QB, and OL coach should pay dividends, but even a tremendous improvement by this OL would be going from awful to just bad or below average, and that’s probably all we can expect from them this year.
I think the biggest name to watch for is again wide receiver Tamorrion Terry. He possesses a rare combination of size, speed, and physicality, and seems like a perfect fit for this explosive offense. It seems impossible to cover him in jump ball situations 40 yards down the field. They are going to need him so they don’t have to march down the field with this OL. The rest of the ‘Noles receiving corp is very talented too. DJ Matthews is great in the slot, and they have big guys across from Terry in Keith Gavin and/or Warren Thompson, who are both 6’3 or taller. Cam Akers is also very talented.
Cam Akers vs AJ Dillon. Who ya got?
TN: This is tough because I think AJ Dillon is a great player, but also I’m a total homer. Is Dillon the best running back in BC school history? Being the first to have back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons is really impressive. Akers is really talented too; he has a burst that is fun to watch and a surprising amount of power for someone who weighs 30 lbs less than Dillon. Akers might have NFL 2nd-round ability, but he hasn’t been able to show it much because of the struggles with the offensive line. The vast majority of his yards last year came after contact, and most of that contact happened at or behind the line of scrimmage.
The defense seemed to consistently be put in very tough situations last season. Apart from first-round pass rusher Brian Burns leaving early, the team seems to be bringing back many starters. What is the outlook on them and how do you think they can improve?
TN: I think being in the second year of a scheme always helps. Players process things quicker. They were 37th in S&P+ last year. I think a modest improvement is expected, maybe top 30 or top 25? They have talent in the secondary, are rebuilding the linebacking corp perhaps faster than expected, and on the interior of the line Big Marvin Wilson is tremendous and there’s depth there. The issue lies at edge rusher, where there isn’t a standout player to replace Burns and not much depth. They may try to compensate by being extremely aggressive in their pass rush. So they may get turnovers and quick 3&outs but also will give up some big plays. They may end up copying some of those Oregon and Baylor teams where if your defense gives up a quick score it just means your offense is going back out there.
But you hit the nail on the head with the question - I think if the offense stops giving them so many short fields they could appear to improve a ton even if they aren’t actually measurably better. And if they are also actually better, well, that could be fun.
After really just the worst game ever last year, Florida State is coming back up to Boston this season on November 9th. Last time they faced off in Alumni Stadium, BC put on a spectacular performance and won for the first time since 2009. How do you see this one playing out? Care to venture a guess what you think the line on this game will be?
TN: More good tough questions here, as FSU could be very different in November than what they will be next weekend when they kick off against Boise State. I think Boston College was favored last year by 2.5 or 3 points, so I’ll go FSU -3 this time. Whatever happens, AJ Dillon is sure to get at least a 100 yards rushing and a touchdown, and it’s gonna be a slugfest down to the fourth quarter. In close games like that anything can happen.
Over/Under 7.5 wins?
TN: I think FSU is most likely to go 8-4, with 7-5 as the next most likely outcome, sooo both? I’m gonna let my optimism get the best of me and say over. But even if they fall under, I still think 7 wins is a big improvement and I’d probably be happy with it if the team shows progress.