Florida State Seminoles
2014 Record: 13-1
F/+ Rank: 15
Wins: Oklahoma State, The Citadel, Clemson, NC State, Wake Forest, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Louisville, Virginia, Miami, Boston College, Florida, Georgia Tech
Coming off of an undefeated national championship season, most, if not all, prognosticators predicted much of the same for Florida State. The Seminoles returned nearly all major parts, including Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston. Opening the season in the Cowboys Classic in Arlington, Texas, FSU announced their candidacy for back-to-back championships with a 37-31 win over Oklahoma State. A week later, they pushed past FCS-level The Citadel, 37-12.
Following The Citadel game, though, controversy began swirling around the team. In the two weeks prior to their third game, Winston got himself suspended for the Clemson game. With Sean Maguire starting at quarterback, Florida State found themselves in a dog fight, winning in overtime, 23-17.
The winning continued a week later with a 56-41 shootout victory at NC State, followed by a decimation of the anemic Wake Forest offense, 43-3. But FSU, consistently ranked #1, fell to #2 after beating Syracuse in the Carrier Dome, 38-20.
That led to a titan matchup with fifth-ranked Notre Dame in Tallahassee. Up 31-27 in the fourth quarter, Notre Dame scored an apparent game-winning touchdown against the Seminole defense. But officials called offensive pass interference and the Irish failed to get into the end zone, giving the Seminoles to 7-0 on the season but keeping them at #2 in the polls.
The 'Noles continued to rattle off victories, beating Louisville (42-31), Virginia (34-20), and Miami (30-26) to get to 10 games and elevate back to the top-ranked team in the nation. Escaping a scare from Boston College (20-17) and beating Florida (24-19), FSU upended Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game to qualify as the only undefeated team in the inaugural College Football Playoff.
In the national semifinals at the Rose Bowl, FSU, ranked #2 in the poll, met #3 Oregon. With FSU trailing at the half, 18-13, the teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter make the score 25-20 in favor of Oregon. But the Seminoles completely unraveled, giving up 20 points in five minutes time to take a 45-20 lead.
Series: Florida State leads, 9-4
First matchup: 1957 (BC won, 20-7)
Last matchup: 2014 (FSU won, 20-17)
You would be hard pressed to find a coach as successful on the field as Jimbo Fisher. Taking over for Bobby Bowden in 2010, he's led the Seminoles to at least 10 wins in every season except for one - when the team won nine games. In five seasons, Fisher led the Seminoles to bowl wins in each of his first four seasons, conference championships in each of the last three seasons, and a national championship in 2013. Despite last year's bowl loss, FSU hasn't lost a conference game since losing to NC State, 17-16, on October 6, 2012. At 58-11, he has one of the five best winning percentages among active coaches.
Seemingly the perfect coach, Fisher has one major knock against him - his control over his program. Jameis Winston's well-documented issues are the most public and most-often debated, but other issues within the Florida State program reared their ugly head over the past couple of seasons. From Karlos Williams to the latest string of domestic abuse allegations, the negative publicity has Fisher under the public microscope. And although he's taken measures to secure his team (such as banning them from all bars and establishments), the off-field issues are enough to provide ammo against a coach whose on-field exploits are among the best in the nation.
Dalvin Cook is the most visible player returning, provided he can escape his incident with the law unscathed. Having lost Winston and the bulk of his receiving corps (including tight end Nick O'Leary), the offensive workload was expected to fall, initially at least, on Cook. But Cook, a 19-year old sophomore from Miami, is alleged to have punched a woman in the face several times. The second such allegation against a Seminole this offseason, he's suspended pending the outcome of his case - which may keep him off the field.
That may make FSU focus on their defense, a unit that struggled last year. Seven starters are back, including consensus best-DB-in-the-ACC Jalen Ramsey. For a unit that was surprisingly vulnerable in 2014 (63rd in total defense with about 26 points per game allowed), improvement in the back is tantamount to their success.
FSU is going to need to do some work to make sure their starting QB, whoever that is (more on that in a little bit), is kept upright. Chad Mavety and Kareem Are redshirted last year as junior college transfers, and they were brought in specifically to help replenish a unit that will need to replace four starters. Roderick Johnson will protect the blindside, but otherwise, the Seminoles could be porous up front.
Returning Quarterback: No
There isn't a soul watching or paying attention this year who doesn't know FSU has to replace Famous Jameis. Winston is gone, and although he was a complete diva at times, he was still a Heisman Trophy-winning signal caller who lost one game as a starter - the CFP game last season. The #1 overall pick, that's a massive hole to fill.
Maguire would have been slotted in this spot, but the addition of Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson likely means he'll hold a clipboard. Golson is capable of putting up monster numbers, but he's also capable of flat out losing football games. If he falters, Maguire is the most obvious guy to come off the bench, especially since potential QB of the future De'Andre Johnson isn't exactly available anymore.
Biggest Problem for 2015:
Florida State is one of those teams playing every single game with a gigantic target on its back. Everyone is chomping at the bit for them to fail. That puts intense pressure on an offensive unit featuring new starters at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and offensive line. Unless someone can go perform alchemy with the raw talent they have, the Seminoles are going to take a huge step back. Even with the addition of Golson, I can't see this team being the same powerhouse it was last year.
Biggest Strength for 2015:
The defense is going to be the team's biggest positive on snap-to-snap playability, but the real king on the field is placekicker Roberto Aguayo. Aguayo converted all 55 of his PATs last year, going 27-for-30 in field goals. He's never missed a field goal inside of 40 yards, and, as we've learned the hard way at Boston College, that's something that can make or break winning games.
It's not common for us to say, "Well the best player on the team might be the kicker." It's especially rare when we're talking about a team contending year after year for a conference (and national) championship. But Aguayo is the real deal, and he's the type of guy Al Davis would spend a first round pick on (cough cough Janikowski cough cough). In a game filled with nuances and idiosyncrasies, you really get an appreciation for a guy who boot the absolute hell out of the pigskin.