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[2020] Florida State Seminoles Season Preview - Presented by the ACC Network

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:fsu: Florida State Seminoles

2019 Record: 10-3 (4-3 ACC)

4th in the ACC Atlantic

 

It's hard to figure out what went wrong in Tallahassee last season, and that's surprising to say given the 10-3 finish. The 'Noles rode into the season with hopes of claiming the conference and playing in the playoffs once again, boasting a talented offensive trio and a super mean defense. However, the 'Noles tripped up against their three fellow Atlantic contenders, including a bizarre and shocking loss to Syracuse - their second consecutive loss to the Orange. Florida State is still primed to contend in 2020, returning their Heisman finalist quarterback with a potential 1st-round wide receiver and a still-loaded defense, but the loss of their top running back is just one of several bumps in the road.

 

Notable Losses:

RB Elijah Harden 5-8 187 Sr Gulf Coast Community College (Panama City, FL) 5.0 of 5.0 [speed]

WR James Montgomery 6-1 161 (Sr) R.E. Lee (Montgomery, AL) 4.0 of 4.0 [Speed]

TE Martin Flores 6-4 247 (Sr) Grambling (Grambling, LA) 4.0 of 4.0 [Blocking]

DE Chad Armstrong 6-1 247 (Sr) Redemptorist (Baton Rogue, LA) 3.5 of 3.5 [Blitz]

DE Rex McKenna 6-2 254 (Sr) Central Gwinnett (Lawrenceville, GA) 3.5 of 3.5 [Blitz]

CB Benjamin McNeil 6-1 167 (Sr) DeSoto County (Arcadia, FL) 4.0 of 4.0 [Man Coverage]

SS Christopher Williams 5-11 184 (Sr) Pickens County (Reform, AL) 4.0 of 4.0 [Zone Coverage]

P Howard Lowe 5-9 163 (Sr) Thibodaux (Thibodaux, LA) 4.0 of 4.0 [Accuracy]

 

There's a lot of pieces missing from a strong 2019 squad. Gone is the best running back in the conference (and among the best in the nation). Gone is Shuler's #2 receiver. Gone are both starting defensive ends. Gone are two leading players in a strong secondary. These are several key losses to a team that consistently is among the best teams in the nation. Harden is clearly the biggest hit; the offense had a perfect blend of passing and running last season, looking almost unstoppable in each facet. With Harden gone, the offense will almost certainly turn into a pass-first system. McNeil leaves a hole at cornerback, seeing the pecking order shift up one in an attempt to lock down top receivers. The loss of Williams leaves a larger hole at strong safety, leaving more work to do for D'Qwell Moore.

 

Notable Returners:

QB Benjamin Schuler 5-11 200 (Sr) West End (Walnut Grove AL) 4.5 of 4.5 [Pocket]

WR Luke Cobb 6-5 198 Sr St. Cloud (St. Cloud, FL) 5.0 of 5.0 [Speed]

OT Maximilian Page 6-4 278 (Jr) Archbishop McCarthy (FL, FL) 4.0 of 4.0 [Pass Blocking]

OG Qio Alama 6-6 321 (Sr) Jasper County (Monticello GA) 4.0 of 4.0 [Run Blocking]

C Joshua Rodgers 6-1 283 (So) Stephenson (Stone Mountain, GA) 4.0 of 4.0 [Run Blocking]

OG Kofi Easley 6-7 288 (Sr) American (Hialeah FL) 4.0 of 4.0 [Pass Blocking]

OT Caleb Pope 6-3 314 (Jr) Greensboro (Greensboro, AL) 4.0 of 4.0 [Run Blocking]

DT Nico McLeod 6-6 292 (Sr) Hanceville (Hanceville AL) 4.0 of 4.0 [1-Gap]

DT Oliver Ponce 6-5 327 (Jr) Northview (Bratt, FL) 4.0 of 4.0 [2-Gap]

OLB Shamar Addison 6-0 243 (Sr) Wetumpka (Wetumpka AL) 5.0 of 5.0 [Coverage]

ILB Graham Otto 6-0 245 (Sr) Northeast Jones (Laurel MS) 4.0 of 4.0 [Will]

CB Sean Taylor 6-1 193 (Jr) Rockville (Rockville, IN) 3.0 of 4.0 [Man Coverage]

FS D'Qwell Moore 6-3 203 Jr Miami Central (Miami, FL) 5.0 of 5.0 [Zone Coverage]

K Andrew Ryan 6-4 207 (Sr) Sebastian River (Sebastian FL) 4.0 of 4.0 [Accuracy]

 

And this is why the 'Noles are scary once again. Not only do their return a Heisman finalist in Benjamin Schuler, but they return his favorite target and arguably the best receiver in the conference in Luke Cobb. The two were a deadly tandem last season, destroying secondaries to the tune of 1,269 yards and 11 touchdowns, both tops in the conference. In front of Schuler are five familiar faces; every member of the offensive line is pro-ready and was a starter last season, boding well for an offense that needs time to throw to likely be successful. Defensively, the pair of defensive tackles returns to clog up the middle and help JuCo transfer DE Tyler Ashworth in getting into opposing backfields. 1st round prospect Shamar Addison leads the linebackers after recording 31 tackles and 2 sacks last season. Sean Taylor is tasked with replacing Benjamin McNeil, and the corner has proven that he's capable of playing good receivers tough, picking off 5 passes and returning 3 for touchdowns during the 2019 campaing. D'Qwell Moore will anchor the secondary, covering for a weaker strong safety position with his great awareness and solid versatility. Despite losing a lot, the 'Noles return more than enough to remain title contenders.

 

Potential Strengths:

Maximum Protection - It's not often that you have five experienced pro-level linemen protecting you every snap. Schuler should have as much time as needed to find Cobb or any of his other targets, for not many defensive linemen or linebackers are going to be breaching this wall. It won't be perfect, but it's about as much as you can ask for if you're a quarterback that's not known for your mobility.

 

Into the Brick Wall - Speaking of walls, this front seven is formidable against the run. Speaking from experience, this defense returns all the important members of a fearsome front seven and even adds Ashworth to strengthen the pass rush, but if there's one thing this group does best, it's stopping the run. Running backs in conference averaged 4.07 yards per carry last season, and those numbers are inflated thanks to a superb performance from Zahir Watts of BC. Quarterbacks can be a different story, although Dylan Bishop was a different breed. We should expect more of the same this year, although the front seven has to step it up against Watts and Kyle Palmer of Wake.

 

Potential Weaknesses:

Hit the Ground Passing? - The best part about the 'Noles' offense last season was its diversity; with Harden in the backfield, the offense was two-dimensional and at times impossible to stop. You'd key on Harden and the Schuler-Cobb connection would burn your secondary. Focus on the pass and Harden would zoom past your front seven. Harden graduated last season, and in his place steps...Richard Thurman? The offense should be completely one-dimensional this season, and it should be hard countered by any team with a good secondary (Clemson comes to mind). If there's anything this season that's going to keep Florida State from playing for a conference title, it's the lack of a running game. 

 

Taking Flight - The loss of Florida State's top corner and starting strong safety could pose problems this season. With Clemson returning Josiah McCray and others, their offense could do some damage to FSU's secondary. D'Qwell Moore is a fantastic free safety, and Sean Taylor definitely has potential, but hits at the second corner and strong safety could spell doom against stronger passing attacks. In a defense that looks solid in most places, those are two big holes that could prove troublesome as the competition gets stiffer.

 

2020 Schedule:

Week 1: at Wyoming (Laramie, WY)

Week 2: UMass (Tallahassee, FL)

Week 4: Syracuse (Tallahassee, FL)

Week 5: at Duke (Durham, NC)

Week 7: Mississippi State (Tallahassee, FL)

Week 8: at Boston College (Chestnut Hill, MA)

Week 9: Louisville (Tallahassee, FL)

Week 10: Florida (Tallahassee, FL)

Week 12: North Carolina State (Tallahassee, FL)

Week 13: at Clemson (Clemson, SC)

Week 15: at Wake Forest (Winston-Salem, NC)

Week 16: Miami (FL) (Tallahassee, FL)

 

What To Expect:

The out-of-conference schedule is definitely manageable this season, with Wyoming and UMass being cakewalks and Florida and Mississippi State being in rebuilding phases. In conference, the only games that pose immediate problems are road games to Boston College and Clemson, both teams that took games over the 'Noles last season. With the holes that FSU has, I can see them losing to Clemson and narrowly beating BC, although the Watts problem still looms large. Louisville and Duke should provide tough challenges, but both should be wins. I foresee wins over Wyoming, UMass, Syracuse, Duke, Mississippi State, Boston College, Louisville, Florida, NC State, Wake Forest, and Miami (FL), and I see one loss to Clemson, leaving the 'Noles at 11-1 (7-1 ACC) and 2nd in the Atlantic.

 

Best Case Scenario:

There's only one thing that could be better: beating Clemson. The Tigers and Seminoles are the top two teams in the conference this season, and the winner is almost guaranteed a spot in Charlotte at the end of the regular season. A win in Clemson would ensure a 12-0 record, sending Florida State to the ACC Championship Game, where they should beat whoever comes out of the Coastal. At 13-0 and with an ACC crown, Florida State would be a Top 3 team in the College Football Playoff.

 

Worst Case Scenario:

The running game hits hard, and holes in the secondary prove costly. Zahir Watts runs over the 'Noles one more time, and DeSean Dockery of Louisville repeats Watts' performance a week later. Kyle Jefferson and his receivers give the 'Noles secondary a run for their money, but that should still stay in FSU's favor. At worst, the 'Noles should finish at 9-3 (5-3 ACC) and at 4th in the Atlantic, but even that would result in a second-consecutive letdown. 

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