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Florida State's ready for another Playoff push, if it can find a steady QB

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The Seminoles should again be one of the country's 10 best teams. A crucial position and a tricky schedule will determine whether they're even more.

Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.

1. The power of consistency

When Jimbo Fisher took over for Bobby Bowden in 2009, he inherited one of the most fragile bluebloods in the country. Over Bowden's final five years, FSU had lost at least four games every season and had gone 7-6 three times.

The Seminoles would prove their upside, then fall asleep.

They beat No. 5 Virginia Tech and No. 9 Miami in 2005 but lost to three unranked teams and got thumped by three touchdowns against Clemson. In 2006, they won at No. 12 Miami, lost to unranked Clemson and Maryland, and got rocked 30-0 by Wake Forest. In 2007, they won at No. 2 Boston College by 10 points, beat No. 22 Alabama, and lost to four unranked teams. In 2008, they beat No. 22 Maryland by 34 and lost to two unranked foes. 2009: win at No. 7 BYU by 26, lose to three unranked opponents (two by double digits).

Fisher didn't fix this overnight. His Noles beat two ranked teams and lost to four unranked ones in 2010-11. But a last-second loss to Mike Glennon and unranked NC State in October 2012 was the last time they would fall asleep for quite a while. The Seminoles would win 28 straight games against ACC foes and 40 of 42 games overall. And it took the most awesomely fluky finish for that conference streak to end.

Since the start of 2012, FSU is 49-6 with four straight top-15 poll finishes. That might not sound necessarily good enough for a program that recruits the way the Seminoles recruit -- with all the winning and consistent play, they have only once ranked better than seventh in S&P+. But their average S&P+ over the last four years ranks fourth, because outside of Tuscaloosa, Columbus, and maybe Palo Alto, no team has put as consistently strong a team on the field year-to-year.

More importantly, FSU has been as consistent week-to-week as anybody but Alabama. Even while struggling to play elite ball in 2014, the Seminoles hit at least the 70th percentile in 11 of 14 games. Then, despite inconsistent quarterback play, a young offensive line, and a lack of depth in the defensive front seven, they hit the 70th percentile 10 of 13 times and never fell below the 59th. Yeah, that opened the door for a fluky loss to Georgia Tech and an error-prone loss to Houston. Still, almost everybody suffers a complete dud each year. FSU does not.

In previewing the Noles last year, I noted that 2015 was the time to take them down.

The rest of the ACC is blowing it. After three straight conference titles, Florida State is in full rebuild mode. The Seminoles will be breaking in a new quarterback and offensive line, and the defensive front seven is searching for new stars. There is too much upside for them to fall far, but a top-15 team could easily end FSU's streak.

Considering how many key pieces will return in 2016, another FSU title would represent one hell of a missed opportunity for the rest of the league.

This is a legacy year for Fisher. Even if FSU wasn't as good as it should have been last year, the Noles have won 58 games in five years, and with consistent top-5 recruiting, they will keep winning. Any major 2015 success would be a bonus.

Clemson was very much a top-15 team (to put it lightly) and ended FSU's conference title streak. But if the Tigers slip at all, if they suffer any sort of hangover after nearly winning the national title, their reign atop the ACC will be short.

FSU still has plenty of questions, but whatever level the Noles establish, they'll probably hit that mark week after week. There is such comfort in that.

This is Bill C's daily preview series, working its way through every 2016 team. Catch up on the ACC so far!

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 10-3 | Adj. Record: 13-0 | Final F/+ Rk: 12 | Final S&P+ Rk: 7
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
5-Sep Texas State 116 59-16 W 94% 100% +18.6 +14.0
12-Sep South Florida 44 34-14 W 91% 96% -14.3 -8.0
18-Sep at Boston College 70 14-0 W 86% 95% +3.6 +6.5
3-Oct at Wake Forest 92 24-16 W 74% 93% -23.4 -11.0
10-Oct Miami-FL 62 29-24 W 86% 95% -12.1 -4.0
17-Oct Louisville 39 41-21 W 87% 94% +7.2 +13.0
24-Oct at Georgia Tech 64 16-22 L 63% 70% -15.3 -12.5
31-Oct Syracuse 85 45-21 W 91% 100% +3.8 +3.5
7-Nov at Clemson 2 13-23 L 59% 21% +6.2 +2.5
14-Nov NC State 49 34-17 W 93% 99% +11.5 +7.5
21-Nov Chattanooga N/A 52-13 W 95% 100% +3.8
28-Nov at Florida 27 27-2 W 97% 100% +26.2 +23.0
31-Dec vs. Houston 26 24-38 L 59% 31% -28.7 -21.5

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 38.1 22 18.1 10
Points Per Game 31.7 47 17.5 9

2. Defense travels

It is a coaching cliché that rang particularly true.

  • FSU at home:
    Record: 7-0 | Average percentile performance: 91% (~top 10) | Yards per play: FSU 7.3, Opp 4.8 (+2.5) | Points per game: FSU 42, Opp 18
  • FSU away from Tallahassee:
    Record: 3-3 | Average percentile performance: 73% (~top 35) | Yards per play: FSU 5.4, Opp 4.6 (+0.8) | Points per game: FSU 20, Opp 17

Granted, the home averages include romps over Texas State and Chattanooga, but FSU was nearly flawless at home in 2015. It took them a little while to build space against teams like USF and Louisville, but aside from Miami, every opponent was put away well before the end.

On the road, FSU revealed itself to be young and flawed, at least on offense. With a pair of quarterbacks alternating and a green offensive line looking like a green offensive line, the Seminole offense was shut down. The defense, meanwhile, got even better.

FSU had basically one reliable offensive weapon: Cook. And Cook missed considerable time because of an ongoing hamstring issue. He was a really good dimension, but FSU was one-dimensional despite wanting to be a pass-first offense. Quarterbacks Everett Golson and Sean Maguire split time on the first string, and neither seriously progressed. And when Maguire got hurt early in the Peach Bowl, with Golson not in uniform, everything went to hell quickly.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.39 18 IsoPPP+ 118.7 20
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 42.8% 52 Succ. Rt. + 112.2 24
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 26.5 8 Def. FP+ 24.7 3
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 5.1 16 Redzone S&P+ 126.8 4
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 17.4 ACTUAL 15 -2.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 51 21 24 20
RUSHING 69 11 29 7
PASSING 38 39 32 47
Standard Downs 45 63 38
Passing Downs 8 3 8
Q1 Rk 11 1st Down Rk 23
Q2 Rk 35 2nd Down Rk 9
Q3 Rk 15 3rd Down Rk 9
Q4 Rk 9

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Everett Golson 147 219 1778 11 3 67.1% 17 7.2% 6.9
Sean Maguire 6'3, 223 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8704 112 189 1520 11 6 59.3% 6 3.1% 7.4
J.J. Cosentino 6'4, 239 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9066 5 10 27 0 0 50.0% 2 16.7% 1.3
Deondre Francois 6'1, 214 RSFr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9671
Malik Henry 6'2, 185 Fr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9744

3. Everything hinges on the QB

Maguire suffered a fractured ankle against Houston; when he went down, FSU was down 7-3 but was averaging 8.9 yards per play and was driving. Over the rest of the half, FSU lost 10 yards in 17 plays and fell behind, 21-3. J.J. Cosentino was completely overwhelmed. A one-legged Maguire returned and fared no better.

FSU would rally for three touchdowns in the second half, but Maguire threw three more interceptions. Houston was able to put the game away against a wilting FSU defense.

This was a microcosm. We saw a lot of good Maguire and a lot of bad Maguire once he took the job from Golson. Against Syracuse and NC State, he completed 41 of 63 passes for 579 yards, five touchdowns, and just one pick. Against Clemson and Florida, he was 30-for-57 with 324 yards, a score, and an interception. And in the bowl, both his ankle and Houston's deceptive secondary got into his head.

Maguire enters the fall as the presumptive sole starter, but thanks in part to his injury, he has to look over his shoulder. [Update: Maguire be out for at least the first few games with a stress fracture in his foot.] Redshirt freshman Deondre Francois looked solid this spring while Maguire sat out, so "presumptive" is a loose term. We saw with Jameis Winston that Fisher will hand the reins to a freshman if he needs to.

Whoever wins the job just has to be solid. You don't have to be a Heisman-level QB when you're sharing a backfield with Cook. That Maguire was really good on longer third downs -- 26-for-45 for 335 yards, three touchdowns, and just one interception on third-and-4 or more while taking few sacks overall -- is encouraging. It's a sign that, when combined with a receiving corps that returns everyone, a good passing game could be right around the corner.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Dalvin Cook RB 5'11, 206 Jr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9937 231 1683 19 7.3 10.1 41.1% 3 1
Jacques Patrick RB 6'2, 233 So. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9821 63 314 5 5.0 3.5 44.4% 1 1
Mario Pender RB 30 140 1 4.7 5.3 33.3% 0 0
Everett Golson QB 30 124 0 4.1 3.8 40.0% 3 1
Johnathan Vickers RB 6'1, 227 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8697 23 111 1 4.8 5.4 34.8% 0 0
Kermit Whitfield WR 5'8, 180 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9011 5 29 0 5.8 5.6 40.0% 1 1
Steven Williams RB 5'8, 164 Sr. NR NR 4 10 0 2.5 0.0 0.0% 0 0
Ryan Green RB 5'11, 205 Sr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9740
Amir Rasul RB 5'10, 203 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9142







4. Ode to Dalvin

Not only is the entire receiving corps back, the entire offensive line is, too. The Noles returned just nine career starts heading into last season, all from guys who were freshmen in 2014. They had to shuffle things around a bit, starting nine different guys at least three times. Still, they protected Maguire well (the more scrambly Golson, not so much) even while the run blocking was inconsistent.

Continuity often lends to consistency. And all nine of the starters are back, including potential All-American tackle Roderick Johnson.

In theory, Cook might be healthy, too. He would rip off 40-yard runs in 2015, limp to the sideline with a re-aggravated leg, then come back in and rip off another 40-yarder. Against Wake, Miami, and Louisville, he carried 46 times for 479 yards and five touchdowns.

Here's the list of players who carried at least 225 times last year and averaged better than 9 highlight yards per opportunity:

  1. Cook (231 carries, 10.1 highlight yards per opp)

That's it. No one else averaged better than 8.9, and among power-conference backs, Fournette was second in this sample at 6.8. Cook was absurdly explosive despite the limp. And if having two fresh legs allows him to better skate out of trouble, that's even better. He was stopped for a loss a lot, especially in the bowl game (18 carries, 33 yards). But still, he averaged 7.4 yards per carry for the season.

Cook might be better than Leonard Fournette (LSU) or Nick Chubb (Georgia). And if the injury bug is kinder, he might have more of an opportunity to prove it.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Travis Rudolph WR-X 6'1, 189 Jr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9781 93 59 916 63.4% 23.4% 9.8 50.5% 50.5% 1.82
Jesus Wilson WR-Z 5'10, 186 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8681 86 58 629 67.4% 21.6% 7.3 55.8% 47.7% 1.38
Kermit Whitfield WR-Y 5'8, 180 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9011 70 57 791 81.4% 17.6% 11.3 48.6% 61.4% 1.78
Dalvin Cook RB 5'11, 206 Jr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9937 34 24 244 70.6% 8.5% 7.2 64.7% 50.0% 1.20
Ryan Izzo TE 6'5, 243 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8715 24 14 210 58.3% 6.0% 8.8 66.7% 50.0% 1.52
Ermon Lane WR-Z 6'3, 203 Jr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9889 19 6 50 31.6% 4.8% 2.6 52.6% 31.6% 0.77
Freddie Stevenson FB 6'1, 243 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8861 11 9 64 81.8% 2.8% 5.8 54.5% 45.5% 1.14
Jacques Patrick RB 6'2, 233 So. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9821 11 6 62 54.5% 2.8% 5.6 63.6% 36.4% 1.21
Mavin Saunders TE 6'5, 253 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9017 11 6 52 54.5% 2.8% 4.7 81.8% 27.3% 1.53
Ja'Vonn Harrison WR-X 6'2, 196 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9187 9 6 129 66.7% 2.3% 14.3 22.2% 55.6% 2.42
Nyqwan Murray WR-Y 5'11, 179 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8575 7 6 65 85.7% 1.8% 9.3 85.7% 57.1% 1.49
George Campbell WR-X 6'4, 192 So. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9902 7 3 42 42.9% 1.8% 6.0 71.4% 42.9% 1.49
Chris Casher TE 6'4, 256 Sr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9866
Jeremy Kerr TE 6'6, 250 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8170
Da'Vante Phillips WR-X 6'1, 204 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9526
Auden Tate WR-Z 6'5, 218 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9025
Jalen Wilkerson TE 6'4, 278 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8727
Keith Gavin WR 6'3, 219 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9457
Naseir Upshur TE 6'2, 245 Fr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9286

5. Getting more out of the Z

If Cook and the line are healthy, and Maguire pulls off typical year-to-year improvement, this offense will be dangerous enough to win a lot of games. But for as good as the passing game could be on passing downs, FSU ranked 45th in Standard Downs S&P+. That's unacceptable.

A lot of FSU's issues came down to a lack of efficiency targets. After so many years of being able to rely on tight end Nick O'Leary (77 targets, 48 catches, 618 yards in 2014), FSU only got 35 targets, 20 catches, and 260 yards out of the TE position last fall. That left the slot and flanker positions to field shorter, possession-based passes.

Kermit Whitfield was great in the slot, but while Jesus Wilson caught 67 percent of his passes, his success rate was only 48 percent (solid, not great), and backup Ermon Lane caught just six of 19 passes. At times, this resulted in too much of a load for then-sophomore Travis Rudolph.

Rudolph, Whitfield, and Cook each averaged 8.8 yards per target or better. That will play. But the top two Zs averaged just 6.5. Lane, a former blue-chipper, averaged 2.6. This unit clearly has a world of potential (and now experience, too), but having strong possession men is important.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 108.8 2.8 3.07 39.8% 56.2% 23.1% 120.9 4.2% 7.6%
Rank 31 75 80 54 114 107 39 49 74
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Roderick Johnson LT 6'7, 307 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9415 13 18 2015 1st All-ACC
Wilson Bell RG 6'5, 313 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8415 13 13
Chad Mavety RT 6'5, 344 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9190 9 9
Kareem Are LG 6'6, 334 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8715 8 8
Ryan Hoefeld C 6'2, 305 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8585 4 8
Alec Eberle C 6'4, 287 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8727 6 6
Brock Ruble RT 6'8, 293 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8675 5 5
Derrick Kelly RT 6'5, 321 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8623 4 4
Corey Martinez C 6'4, 297 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9061 3 3
Rick Leonard RT 6'7, 287 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8878 0 0
Ethan Frith LT 6'7, 317 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8554 0 0
Cole Minshew RG 6'5, 337 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8672

David Robbins LG 6'4, 326 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8625

Landon Dickerson OL 6'5, 315 Fr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9803

Baveon Johnson C 6'3, 346 Fr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9769

Jauan Williams OL 6'6, 296 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9270

Josh Ball OL 6'8, 311 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9192

Andrew Boselli C 6'4, 303 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8545


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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.12 10 IsoPPP+ 131.0 4
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 35.4% 14 Succ. Rt. + 113.9 24
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 29.4 78 Off. FP+ 31.1 38
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.4 72 Redzone S&P+ 105.5 45
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 19.2 ACTUAL 15.0 -4.2
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 19 8 24 4
RUSHING 37 24 46 16
PASSING 21 5 9 4
Standard Downs 3 16 3
Passing Downs 24 45 19
Q1 Rk 5 1st Down Rk 10
Q2 Rk 24 2nd Down Rk 5
Q3 Rk 11 3rd Down Rk 21
Q4 Rk 60

6. Improvement without depth

FSU's defense ranked just 40th in Def. S&P+ in 2014, forcing Winston and a strong offense to make play after play to keep the Noles undefeated.

In 2015, the offense predictably regressed, at least on the road. But the more experienced defense improved dramatically. Despite efficiency issues against the run, FSU improved to 10th in Def. S&P+, powered by incredible pass defense and big-play prevention. After allowing 68 gains of 20-plus yards in 2014 (103rd in FBS), the Noles allowed just 44 (12th).

The improvement was obvious, but there were still issues, particularly up front. FSU by nature isn't a super-aggressive defense, but the Noles ranked 91st in stuff rate and 57th in passing downs sack rate. Pure talent should result in better numbers than that.

Plus, there's the issue of fading. FSU ranked fifth in first-quarter S&P+ and 24th in the second quarter. They improved to 11th in third quarter, then dropped to 60th in the fourth.

Some of those fourth-quarter numbers can be explained by garbage time, but this was still a thin front seven. Only four linemen recorded more than 14 tackles, only six more than 4.5. And at linebacker, FSU was paper-thin, with only two of the top eight LBs playing in all 13 games and only four managing more than nine tackles. This likely resulted in some slippage as a half wore on and fatigue became a factor.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 95.8 3.01 3.37 37.7% 67.7% 18.1% 104.3 7.4% 7.8%
Rank 84 85 81 61 78 91 55 9 57
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
DeMarcus Walker DE 6'3, 273 Sr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9822 13 42.0 6.0% 15.5 10.5 1 5 4 0
Derrick Nnadi NG 6'1, 303 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9514 13 31.5 4.5% 2.0 2.0 0 0 0 0
Josh Sweat DE 6'5, 236 So. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9948 13 31.0 4.4% 5.0 2.0 1 2 0 1
Nile Lawrence-Stample DT 13 29.5 4.2% 3.5 2.5 0 1 0 0
Giorgio Newberry DE 13 14.0 2.0% 3.0 2.0 0 6 0 0
Demarcus Christmas DT 6'4, 290 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9363 13 11.5 1.6% 0.5 0.5 0 2 0 0
Rick Leonard DE



13 4.5 0.6% 2.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Fredrick Jones NG 6'2, 311 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8033 10 4.5 0.6% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Keith Bryant DE 6'2, 281 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9205 2 3.5 0.5% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Derrick Mitchell, Jr. NG 8 3.5 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Lorenzo Featherston DE 6'7, 218 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9121
Adam Torres DT 6'4, 274 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8569
Arthur Williams NG 6'4, 325 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8445
Walvenski Aimé DT 6'4, 289 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8758
Brian Burns DE 6'5, 222 Fr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9734








Janarius Robinson DE 6'5, 244 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9554
Cedric Wood DT 6'3, 309 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9191

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Reggie Northrup MLB 13 69.5 9.9% 1.0 0.0 0 3 0 0
Terrance Smith WLB 9 49.5 7.0% 4.5 1.0 0 0 1 0
Ro'Derrick Hoskins MLB 6'2, 245 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8760 12 41.5 5.9% 6.5 0.0 0 2 0 0
Jacob Pugh SLB 6'4, 232 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9657 13 25.0 3.6% 3.0 3.0 0 1 0 0
Matthew Thomas
(2014)
WLB 6'3, 225 Jr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9956 8 23.5 3.1% 2.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Lorenzo Phillips WLB
12 9.0 1.3% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Tyrell Lyons LB



2 7.0 1.0% 0.5 0 0 0 0 0
Chris Casher BUCK
8 5.5 0.8% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Sh'Mar Kilby-Lane MLB 6'1, 223 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8993 11 3.5 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Josh Brown WLB 6'2, 217 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9177
Dontavious Jackson LB 6'2, 252 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9540
Keion Joyner LB 6'3, 230 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9170








Emmett Rice LB 6'3, 195 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8810








7. No linebacker is allowed to get hurt

The line should probably be fine with the trio of DeMarcus Walker (an excellent pass rusher) and sophomore Josh Sweat at end and Derrick Nnadi and sophomore Demarcus Christmas at tackle. Those are the only particularly experienced linemen, but they are excellent, and newcomers like freshman end Brian Burns and super-quick JUCO tackle Wally Aimé could make an immediate impact. This unit is a couple of injuries away from having to play a lot of freshmen, but it seems solid.

Linebacker could be an issue. Only four played much last year (in what is often a 3-4 defense), and two of the four are gone. Sophomore Sh'Mar Kilby-Lane is the third leading returning tackler among LBs, and he had 3.5 tackles.

The return of Matthew Thomas after suffering through injury/eligibility issues will help. He's strong enough to defend the run and quick enough to play in a nickel alignment if need be. Combined with Jacob Pugh's potential blitzing ability and Ro'Derrick Hoskins' ability to defend the run, the likely top three at LB are strong and exciting. But it's possible that the backups will all be freshmen. So uh, nobody can get hurt.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Derwin James SS 6'3, 213 So. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9981 13 71.5 10.2% 9.5 4.5 0 4 2 1
Lamarcus Brutus FS 13 57.0 8.1% 0 0 3 1 0 0
Jalen Ramsey CB 13 44.5 6.3% 3.5 1 0 10 0 1
Javien Elliott STAR 12 33.0 4.7% 4 1 1 3 2 0
Marquez White CB 6'0, 181 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8926 13 22.5 3.2% 2 0 1 2 0 0
Nate Andrews SS 6'0, 210 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8560 13 21.0 3.0% 3 1 0 3 1 0
Tyler Hunter STAR 12 18.5 2.6% 0.5 0 1 0 0 0
Trey Marshall FS 6'0, 209 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9265 6 17.5 2.5% 1 1 0 1 0 0
Keelin Smith FS 10 8.5 1.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Tarvarus McFadden CB 6'2, 201 So. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9908 7 4.0 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Malique Jackson CB 6'0, 163 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8643 8 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
A.J. Westbrook FS 6'0, 182 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8787 6 1.5 0.2% 0.5 0 0 0 0 0
Marcus Lewis CB 6'1, 196 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9354
Calvin Brewton FS 6'0, 181 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8957
Levonta Taylor STAR 5'10, 175 Fr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9966
Carlos Becker III CB 6'2, 183 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9287
Kyle Meyers CB 6'0, 167 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9076

8. A brilliant secondary rebuilds

Thanks to a combination of experience and all-world freshman, FSU improved from 50th to fifth in Passing S&P+ last season. The Noles still had corner Jalen Ramsey sticking to opponents' top receivers and still had Lamarcus Brutus roaming, but they also had the services of maybe the nation's best freshman, safety Derwin James. The blue-chipper contributed a disruptive presence to the steady lineup, recording 9.5 tackles for loss and four passes defensed and leading the team in tackles.

Continuity tends to matter quite a bit for a secondary, so losing Brutus, Ramsey, and Javien Elliott, plus backups Tyler Hunter and Keelin Smith, will hurt.

But the depth of options is thrilling. Youngsters like safeties Trey Marshall, A.J. Westbrook, and Calvin Brewton, and corners Tarvarus McFadden, Malique Jackson, and Marcus Lewis have been waiting for an opportunity, and all-world freshman Levonta Taylor is expected to make an immediate impact. In the absence of proven production, you're looking for competition. FSU has loads of the latter.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Cason Beatty 61 45.2 4 22 21 70.5%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Roberto Aguayo 84 62.8 47 4 56.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Roberto Aguayo 49-49 16-16 100.0% 5-10 50.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Kermit Whitfield KR 5'8, 180 Sr. 19 26.7 0
Jalen Ramsey KR 2 27.0 0
Jesus Wilson PR 5'10, 186 Sr. 26 4.5 0
Nyqwan Murray PR 5'11, 179 So. 3 3.7 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 1
Field Goal Efficiency 40
Punt Return Success Rate 77
Kick Return Success Rate 21
Punt Success Rate 2
Kickoff Success Rate 8

9. Replacing brilliant legs

After a maligned first few years as FSU's punter, Caston Beatty went out with a bang, providing what were on average some of the highest and longest punts in college football. Because of Beatty, FSU ranked second in punt efficiency, and because of Roberto Aguayo, the Seminoles were eighth in kickoff efficiency and were basically guaranteed three points if they reached the opponent's 25.

The loss of these two could hurt. Kermit Whitfield's still around to return kicks, though, so special teams will have at least one strength.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
5-Sep vs. Ole Miss 7 0.7 52%
10-Sep Charleston Southern NR 42.7 99%
17-Sep at Louisville 20 1.7 54%
24-Sep at South Florida 41 8.9 70%
1-Oct North Carolina 27 11.9 75%
8-Oct at Miami 30 6.1 64%
15-Oct Wake Forest 74 22.6 90%
29-Oct Clemson 3 -1.1 48%
5-Nov at N.C. State 40 8.8 69%
11-Nov Boston College 50 18.5 86%
19-Nov at Syracuse 44 10.4 73%
26-Nov Florida 19 8.6 69%
Projected wins: 8.5
Five-Year F/+ Rk 39.8% (7)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 3 / 3
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 0 / 1.8
2015 TO Luck/Game -0.6
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 63% (77%, 49%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 10.9 (-0.9)

10. What a schedule

Because of the consistent level of success, consistent quality in recruiting, and amount of returning offensive production, FSU is projected fifth in the country. I've seen the Seminoles ranked pretty close to that in a lot of preseason publications. It makes sense.

FSU's projected rankings makes me marvel that much more at the Seminoles' projected win total. Their schedule features six projected top-30 teams, three tossups (in this case, games with win probability between 48 and 54 percent) and six not-guaranteed wins (games with win probability between 64 and 75 percent).

Two of the three tossups take place in the first three weeks. The Noles get Ole Miss in Orlando and Louisville at Papa John's Stadium, and a stark narrative might have taken hold by the time they head for another tricky test at USF: either this team will be undefeated and primed for a national title run or will be 2-1 or 1-2 and playing the role of Clemson Spoiler for the rest of the season.

The Seminoles are a high-ceiling, low-variance squad, and despite win projections, I have a hard time imagining FSU losing more than twice in the regular season.