The Seminoles were close to getting back to the ACC championship game and being in the mix for the national championship, and now they’re even better. So what is FSU’s Path to the Playoff?
Florida State had a better 2015 season than you think.
It ended with a thud against Houston in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, but – with some due respect to the Cougars – it’s easy for a program with a CFP-or-Bust mentality to blow that game off.
It took an epic, all-timer of a play to lose to Georgia Tech – granted, the Seminoles shouldn’t have been in a position to lose in the first place – and the Clemson game was a fight. And that was it for the misfires. Even for FSU, 10-3 is a great season.
There wasn’t a trip to the playoff, and there wasn’t an ACC championship. This year’s team is stronger, and the expectations are higher. So what is Florida State’s Path to the Playoff?
Step One: Pick a quarterback and stick with him
Sean Maguire is the safe, easy, conservative choice. He’s the veteran who knows what he’s doing, but there’s a hard ceiling on just how good he can be – and that’s okay. This year’s team should be so good that it might not need a Jameis Winston or Deshaun Watson under center. A game manager is okay.
However, Deondre Francois is the shot for the stars.
He might be erratic at times, and he might come up with some killer mistakes, but if FSU wants to win the national title, it might need a playmaker who can carry the team in that one big game. He’s the risk, but Jimbo Fisher has never been shy about starting the most talented players, regardless of age and experience level.
Whoever gets the call must be established as the guy. There can be no quarterback controversy, even if there’s a shaky start against a talented Ole Miss defense.
Step Two: Dalvin Cook has to stay in one piece
The team’s signature star is good enough to be in the Heisman hunt all season long, and 2,000 yards is a legitimate possibility. This is all contingent on him staying on the field. He’s got NFL size, speed and talent, but he’s not a bruiser. At 6-0 and around 200 pounds, he’s taken a beating on his shoulder over the last few seasons. It’s Florida State – there are plenty of good running backs – but Cook could be the difference between a good season and a run to the College Football Playoff.
Step Three: Own September
The Noles could lose to Ole Miss in the opener in Orlando, but there wouldn’t be any margin for error the rest of the way. More important is the ACC opener against Louisville on the road following a scrimmage against Charleston Southern, while a dangerous non-conference date at South Florida could be a problem a week later. Five of the last eight games are in Tallahassee, while only one of the first four is at home. Make it to October unscathed and the tone will be set.
Step Four: The linebackers have to dominate
Reggie Northrup led the team the past two seasons 216 total tackles, and Terrance Smith was a terror in a limited season after making 86 tackles the year prior. Those two formed the backbone of the nation’s ninth-best scoring defense, and now they’re gone. Ro’Derrick Hoskins is a rising star, and the line will do its job to keep the corps clean, but the linebackers have to be fantastic by the middle of the season to keep a few top offensive backfields in check.
Step Five: Make Clemson go Clemsoning
Sorry – wrong use of the term since Clemsoning doesn’t really exist, and losing to Florida State would hardly count as an unacceptable gaffe. Clemson will end up losing once, but it might not have the second ACC misfire FSU will need if it can’t pull off the Atlantic showdown at home. The Noles won three in a row in the series before last year, and they played okay in the 23-13 loss against a Tiger team that was on a mission. The 2013 Florida State team had that fire, focus and attitude on the way to the national title, and this year’s team has a lot of the same positives. Like the national title squad of a few years ago, this club has to really, really …
Step Six: Care
The 2013 team came out roaring. Jameis didn’t win the Heisman in the opening weekend blowout of Pitt, but he certainly set tone for a team that wasn’t even close to being pushed up until the national championship win over Auburn. How focused and sharp was that team? Before the BCS title game, Pitt lost by 28, Boston College lost by 14, and no one else came closer than 30. This year’s FSU team isn’t that good, but it’s talented enough and experienced enough to not be all that far off.
Step Seven: Win the ACC championship
Go 11-1 at worst, win the ACC title, go to the College Football Playoff. However, if the Noles go 11-1 and that one loss is to a Clemson team that goes 12-0 and wins the ACC championship, they’ll still be in the hunt for a College Football Playoff bid. They can make this easy on themselves and take care of it on their own.
So, What Are The Chances To Get To The Playoff?
Fantastic. Getting Clemson at home is huge, playing Florida in Tallahassee also helps, and the Ole Miss game in Orlando might as well be a home game. At least splitting against Louisville and Miami on the road shouldn’t be a problem, and any team good enough to go to the CFP can’t worry about road games against USF, NC State and Syracuse.
Louisville could be the sleeper pick to take the Atlantic, but if FSU can beat the Cardinals, it’ll have everything in place to get to the College Football Playoff for the second time in three seasons.