It's not football season yet, I know. But it's 71 days away, for those keeping track (maybe people other than me now?). And that means we're prepping for this all-important 2015 season at Syracuse. We start with our opponents, which "may" not be as tough as they've been in recent seasons. Each week, we'll preview another team on the 2015 slate, from week one through week 13. Today, we continue with the:
School: Florida State University
#BRAND Slogan: "Raise the Torch"
Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: "#TalkinBouttheNoles." "In Pursuit of 'Nole-edge"
Recommended Blog: Tomahawk Nation (but you knew that already)
Coach: Jimbo Fisher, 6th year. Fisher's been in Tallahassee for five years, and in that time, he's successfully brought Florida State football "back" in every possible way. Four double-digit win seasons. Three ACC titles. Three (four, if you want to count the old Chick-fil-A Bowl) major bowl games. And of course, one National Championship. Oh, and this program has been raking in four- and five-star recruits for half-a-decade... and at a higher rate than basically any school not named Alabama. Needless to say, Fisher's done his job.
2014 Record: (13-1) (8-0)
Recapping Last Season:
Coming off a national title, the Seminoles had a very large target on their backs all last season. And yet, the managed to win its first 13 games just the same. The constant noise around Heisman winner Jameis Winston's every move certainly didn't help matters, but still... they couldn't be beat. Until they were in the Rose Bowl, by an Oregon team that simply ambushed them. So when experts looked back at FSU's season, they'll knock them down for close wins and a final, blowout loss. But that shouldn't take away from the 13 wins before it, the third straight ACC Championship or the fact that they were one of the first four College Football Playoff teams.
On offense, the team still operated at a high level (38th in total yards per game, 35th in points per game), but there was a drop-off from the year before, when the offensive line and run game were able to take pressure off of Winston. Constantly blitzed and forced to shoulder a larger load in the overall scheme, Winston's 2014 featured eight more interceptions, about 100 less passing yards, slightly less accuracy and 15 fewer TD throws. His scrambling also dropped significantly -- again, very much influenced by the diminished O-line. Dalvin Cook and Karlos Williams split the lion's share of carries, but the team's overall rushing output was down 1.4 yards per carry.
Defensively, the trenches were problematic again (caveat: all of this is relative to the year before -- 2014 still would've been an amazing season for nearly every other team in college football). The 'Noles allowed nearly 26 points per game and were 63rd in total defense. The team did manage to force 26 turnovers, however, to go with 76 tackles for loss (about middle of the road in the FBS last year). Losing a lot of experience from the previous season hurt the team's ability to penetrate at the line of scrimmage, and the difference was noticeable in how teams were actually able to move the ball on the them through the ground game. Even with a top run-stopper like Mario Edwards present, FSU still allowed an average of 170 rushing yards over the course of their 14 games.
History with Syracuse: The Orange are 1-7 all-time vs. Florida State, last beating the Seminoles in 1966. Since then, they've lost seven straight, and have only scored more than 14 points once in those contests (last year's 38-20 loss). Last year's game was not as miserable as the 2013 matchup -- a 56-point loss for SU -- and considering A.J. Long started behind a banged-up offensive line, that's actually not a bad result. But losses are losses, and for those who hadn't figured this by now, Syracuse is 0-3 down in Tallahassee.
2015 Season Outlook:
Florida State undergoes a whole lot of turnover yet again -- the price of competing at such an elite level for so many seasons in a row. But given Fisher's recruiting success, the team should be able to rebound nicely. For once, Fisher has some continuity with his coaching staff, grabbing some nice raises for his guys to keep them all in the fold. So the biggest change ends up being at the quarterback position, where Jameis Winston departs after his two-year reign as starter. Obviously he was an elite talent, but perhaps with the distractions of the Heisman-winner gone from view, it could (stressing could) be addition by subtraction for the program's psyche.
Taking over for Winston is... a familiar face for Syracuse fans. Everett Golson, formerly of Notre Dame, is the very likely starter for the Seminoles when the season kicks off, and he'll be looking to put his own turnover woes behind him. Should he falter (and with new faces at wideout and tight end that could be the case), the offensive load will fall to Cook, who could be one of the nation's most productive running backs. That success could very well depend on the rebuilt (yet admittedly, still very talented) line, though, as FSU replaces four of five starters. Cook has some good speed and burst (5.9 yards per carry last year), and now without splitting carries with Karlos Williams, he should rack up another 1,000-yard campaign with ease.
Defensively, last year's struggles could be this year's gains. Seven starters return, including five of the front seven, setting up a terrifying potential redux of the 2013 campaign. Their success will be largely dependent on the secondary, which will need to force more turnovers than they did last fall (10 total from the DBs). That onus will specifically fall to returning starters like cornerback Jalen Ramsey, and safeties Tyler Hunter and Nate Andrews, all of whom have big shoes to fill in the absence of P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby. If Chris Casher and/or DeMarcus Walker can match Mario Edwards's run-stopping ability, the D will be much improved (which again, should scare you).
Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, October 31
Location: Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, Fla.
Odds of Orange Victory: 5 percent
Very Early Outlook:
You probably know how this one goes already. We dread the game starting on Sunday, October 25, but at least we get to have fun with the gang at Tomahwk Nation while counting down to our impending doom. The jokes and general bro-mancing will cloud our view of what's bound to happen on the field -- a rapid descent into pain and suffering. You can probably figure the final score to be a little lower than previous meetings though, with the defenses being the respective strengths of both teams (or at least we hope that's the case for SU, sort of). Give the Seminoles this one by a score of 27-10, while the Orange struggle to move the ball all afternoon, must to your chagrin. The Orange get some pressure on Golson, but just like the Notre Dame game last year, it's not enough to shut him down. Lame (but expected).