There were growing pains, to say the least, in Head Coach Willie Taggart’s first year in Tallahassee. For the first time in 36 years, the Florida State Seminoles failed to make a bowl game, as they ended 2018 under .500—a rather shocking result for a school that is heralded as one of college football’s most storied programs. Indeed, it has been a steep fall off since the team’s days under Jimbo Fisher, who now hopes to lead Texas A&M to prominence in the ever-difficult SEC West, when the ’Noles seemed to be consistent national title threats. Now, Taggart just hopes to make Florida State an above-average ACC team before his coaching seat starts to warm up.
Last Year: 5-7 (3-5 ACC)
With junior starter Deondre Francois going 22 of 35 with three interceptions, Week One’s loss to Virginia Tech at home showcased the team’s offensive woes that would serve as an omen for the rest of 2018. After a surprisingly close win over a FCS Samford squad, another embarrassing, low-scoring in-conference loss came, this time on the road at Syracuse. Two victories over Northern Illinois and Louisville, who went without a win in the ACC last season, got Florida State back to even in the win-loss column, before four losses out of five, including a close defeat to longtime rival and then-No. 17 Miami and blowouts at the hands of Clemson and Notre Dame, sunk the ’Noles. A comeback triumph over Boston College, probably FSU’s best win of the season, and another rout by their other rival, Florida, helped round out 2018.
Last Time: Florida State 34, UVA 20 (2014)
It’s been a while since the Virginia Cavaliers and Seminoles squared off, so don’t expect this game to have much bearing on the outcome of 2019’s contest (or really any at all). Still, if nothing else, the Seminoles 14-point defeat over a then-Mike London led Virginia team does show just how much the two programs have changed in five years. In 2014, Florida State, fueled by Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, would go on to make the College Football Playoff in its inaugural year, while Virginia would limp to 5-7, missing a bowl game for the third season in a row.
Comings and Goings
Deondre Francois, who might not have kept his starting job at the start of 2019 anyway, has transferred out to Hampton University, so expect redshirt sophomore James Blackman to lead FSU’s offense throughout the fall, assuming he beats out Wisconsin grad transfer Alex Hornibrook.
Along with Blackman, sophomores Tamorrion Terry and Cam Akers, team leaders in reception and running yards, respectively, hope to revive what has been an inconsistent attack under new offensive coordinator Kendal Briles.
Defensively, it’s hard to imagine the ’Noles getting much worse. The team ranked fourth worst in the ACC for average points given up per game (31.5), were dead last in passing yards allowed (267.7), and were nothing more than decent in the run-stopping department (149.6). The good news is that most of Florida State’s top tacklers return from 2018, apart from strong safety A.J. Westbrook and first-round draft pick Brian Burns. We’ll see if another year of experience for this group makes a difference.
While I expect the defense to be at least decent on the line - thanks to the aforementioned return of all those starters - and a little more stable in the back, the offensive outlook remains unclear. The question lurking ahead of the team’s crucial Week One matchup against Boise State in Jacksonville, then, is how much can the Florida State offense improve under new OC Kendal Briles?
There is reason for optimism as a Seminole fan, if Briles’ history with this sort of operation counts for anything. In his only season as the offensive coordinator for Florida Atlantic in 2017 and then Houston in 2018, Briles helped improve the teams’ points per games totals by over two touchdowns both times. For this reason, it seems possible that with the talent at his disposal - Cam Akers, for one, was ranked as the third highest player in his class in 2017, according to 247 Sports - Florida State could undergo a transformation when playing with the ball in 2019, too.
This Time: Florida State @ UVA (9/14)
Much like the Pittsburgh game, this is a key, early ACC matchup for the Cavaliers. If UVA’s secondary turns out to be elite as the pundits have suggested, the unit could very well overwhelm a relatively unproven quarterback in James Blackman. If that’s the case, it will be on the defensive line to contain Cam Akers, who could be a serious problem for opposing teams throughout the fall.
More so, I think this game will come down to how effective Bryce Perkins can be throughout the air and on the ground. Can he take advantage of what a most likely so-so defensive group gives him? If so, the Hoos have a great chance to beat the ’Noles for the first time since 2011.