Note: Strong language alert. Viewer discretion advised.
With two more offseason off-field incidents, this Florida State program certainly seems like it might be addicted to chaos. This time they can’t even blame it on Jameis Winston! Granted, they also can’t count on him to win them ball games when it comes time for the season either. Many people feel that eventually all of the distractions and chaos off the field has to affect the product that the Seminoles are putting on the field. In the past two seasons that hasn’t been the case though, so this year we will see if Jimbo Fisher can continue to keep his team focused on Saturdays despite multiple distractions and immense pressure.
With Braxton Miller deciding to stay in Columbus, Everett Golson earns the title of “highest profile transfer”. Golson was a highly productive player for three seasons at Notre Dame, but the fact that he turned the ball over 22 times last year is at least mildly concerning. However, Golson is one of only two active FBS quarterbacks to have started a national championship game and his veteran experience and leadership could be a key component in keeping this team composed when the going gets tough. Sean Maguire and J.J. Consentino are still technically in competition for the starting job, but given what Maguire showed last year and the fact that Consentino has never taken a college snap, I would be pretty surprised if Everett Golson wasn’t the starting quarterback on opening day.
Dalvin Cook is one of the Florida State players facing potential discipline for “off-field issues”, but even if he does end up suspended or worse, this team is loaded with skill players. Cook would be a big loss though, and his 1,000 yards rushing wouldn’t be easy to replace. Should they need to be, expect Mario Pender’s workload to increase significantly, and maybe some more contribution from true freshman Jacques Patrick, a five-star recruit out of Orlando. Pender rushed for roughly 200 yards and four touchdowns as the third running back in the rotation last year.
Rashad Greene and Nick O’Leary are exceptionally difficult players to replace in the receiving corps, but Florida State is one of the few teams with the talent to do it. Jesus Wilson and Travis Rudolph both topped 500 yards receiving last year, and Ermon Lane showed flashes of why he was one of the top receivers in the country coming out of high school snaring 13 passes for 267 yards. Kermit Whitfield is another guy who could shine with more opportunities this season. Whitfield caught 11 passes for 145 yards in 2014.
Even with all of the talent at the skill positions, those guys will be running behind (or looking to throw to guys behind) four new starters on the offensive line, including trying to replace two All-Americans. LT Roderick Johnson is the leader of the offensive line in the experience category with five career starts. The only other lineman that has started a game is Ryan Hoefield, who has four career starts at left guard, but as of now he is not listed as a starter although there is speculation that he may end up starting at center. As with the rest of the Seminole team, the line is littered with talent and if they live up to the billing then this group will be fine.
One place that Florida State won’t be looking for new contributors is at linebacker. Reggie Northrup, Terrance Smith and DeMarcus Walker all return and top backup Matthew Thomas is back. Northrup led the team with 91.5 tackles. Smith was the better coverage linebacker with two interceptions, a pass break-up and forced fumble. DeMarcus Walker led the way in tackles for loss among linebackers with six.
Those guys will need to help pave the way for some new faces up front. Mario Edwards, Jr., Eddie Goldman and Desmond Hollin are all gone, taking their 23 tackles for loss and seven sacks with them. Chris Casher will likely emerge as the key pass rusher this year, and is the leading returning tackler on the defensive line. The two Derricks, Nnadi and Mitchell, Jr., should make up a fearsome combo at nose guard too, beside Nile Lawrence-Stample, the defensive tackle.
Jalen Ramsey is the star of this defense though, and barring a disaster will be a first round pick in next summer’s draft. Ramsey had 9.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, two interceptions, twelve pass break-ups and three forced fumbles last year. There are whole secondaries that don’t have that kind of production. Ramsey is joined by two returning safeties Nate Andrews and Tyler Hunter. Andrews was second on the team with 79.5 tackles last year and intercepted three passes. Hunter picked off one pass and broke up another seven.
Losing a generational talent like Jameis Winston is always going to be difficult. Add that to having to replace the majority of both lines, and a step back seems inevitable. However, the time for Florida State to draw a manageable schedule couldn’t have come at a better time. Dalvin Cook is very likely to be suspended and miss at least a few games, but the Seminoles should be fine without him at least until October 10th when Miami visits Tallahassee. If you read my Clemson preview yesterday, then you know I picked them to take the division from Florida State this year, but the Seminoles should still reach the ten-win plateau. Florida State does have to travel to Georgia Tech and Clemson, but miss Notre Dame and get Miami and Louisville at home. They also travel to Florida to take on the Gators in the season finale.