With spring practice done with, the floodgates open for us to start talking about the Syracuse Orange’s actual football opponents for fall 2018. Perhaps the rest of you aren’t as excited about this fact in April. But... I certainly am, so we’re doing it.
SU faces another challenging schedule, so this is not going to be easy, even with an improved and/or healthier team. Still, we’re looking at the positives wherever possible. Today’s foe:
School: Florida State University
#BRAND Slogan: #DoSomething
Recommended Blog: Tomahawk Nation, of course.
Conference: Atlantic Coast Conference
Coach: Willie Taggart, 1st year. The former Western Kentucky quarterback went right into coaching after graduating in 1999. Working his way up through the Hilltoppers’ staff, he’d stick around through 2006, leaving to serve as Stanford’s running backs coach from 2007-09. Taggart got his first head coaching shot back at his alma mater in 2010, and after a 2-10 start, the ‘Toppers went 7-5 in each of his next two seasons. That was enough to earn the USF gig, but he struggled to start there. But in year three, he turned it around (starting with a big win over Syracuse), and two years later, Oregon hired him. He was the primary target for the ‘Noles after Jimbo Fisher departed for Texas A&M this offseason, and obviously he ended up coming aboard.
2017 Record: (7-6) (3-5)
Recapping Last Season: The Seminoles came into the year with national title expectations, and they were pretty much dashed immediately after Deondre Francois was knocked out for the season in game one. FSU fell to 0-2 after a close loss to NC State, and then dropped three of the next five to sit at 2-5 at the end of October. However, they’d manage to win four of five to close the regular season, including a late reschedule against UL-Monroe to get a crack at six wins to extend their bowl streak to 36 yeras. The ‘Noles pulled it off, then beat Southern Miss in the Independence Bowl.
Florida State’s pro style offense was one of the slowest in the country, and failed to excel all that much while throwing or rushing the football. Francois replacement James Blackman would round into a quality player, but took plenty of lumps while throwing for 2,230 yarda, 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. No receiver had more than 40 catches or 604 yards. Freshman Cam Akers was a bright spot, accounting for 1,025 yards on the ground.
The defense combined with the slow pace of the offense, however, to keep things together just enough to go bowling. FSU allowed just 331.1 yards per game (18th-best in the country) and 21.2 points per game (tied for 29th). The Seminoles didn’t generate a ton of turnovers (15 on the year), but were able to create a solid pass rush — though those 28 sacks were boosted by recording six against Delaware State and five vs. Florida.
As mentioned above, the .500 regular season wound up with Fisher leaving town. The rancor around the 6-6 record soured the relationship irreparably, making it much more palatable (though the big payday helped too) for Jimbo to depart to College Station.
2018 Season Outlook:
Florida State brings much more modest expectations to the table in 2018, but are still expected to bounce back in some way under Taggart, who has now re-energized a few programs (WKU, USF, Oregon) with his up-tempo style. Unlike those stops, however, the ‘Noles are typically thought to be championship contenders and have very little leeway for a long rebuild. Conversely, it would stand to reason that once he gets FSU up and running, he’ll be around to reap the benefits a little longer.
Putting the usual team speed on the FSU roster to work in an up-tempo system should help expedite things a little. Whether Blackman or Francois win the QB job, they’ll be well-situated to succeed. Akers and Jacques Patrick both return to the backfield, and there’s further reinformcements as well. Receivers are inexperienced, but as we’ve seen at Syracuse, some schemes are meant to handle that a little better. Despite some questions with the offensive line, there’s obviously talent there as well.
Defensively, they’re plugging in Michigan State’s system, via former Spartans defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett. That means a coverage focused 4-3 merged with a Quarters look (“cover 4,” as it’s usually notated) and a scheme that focuses heavily on the secondary. That’s a good thing this year with three of four starters returning there, including cornerback Levonta Taylor. Taylor’s a stellar junior who should earn conference honors this year and will lead the group playing in the new system.
Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, September 15
Location: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.
Odds of Orange Victory: 15 percent
Very Early Outlook:
Facing Florida State in year one under Taggart is probably better than playing them late — especially given the fact that the Orange have ended the last four-plus years as the walking wounded. FSU struggled in 2017 and is turning over a bunch of players on the roster. Still, I’m willing to bet on the typical ‘Noles skill level and speed on this roster adjusting to the new scheme pretty quickly. SU could be competitive for a bit. Just too many questions on defense and at receiver for the Orange right now to buy in just yet. This is also within shouting distance of the projected arrival date of the #DisloyalInfant, so hopefully I’m watching this one come the fall (especially if it’s a Syracuse upset, somehow).