Why I’m not buying the 2016 FSU hype

The 2015 season was anointed as a “rebuilding” year before it even began. Even the excitement that came with the arrival of graduate transfer Everett Golson was washed away by the notion that it just wasn’t the Noles’ year. That notion was right, to an extent; but the “rebuilding” year turned into a 10-2 regular season finish and a Peach Bowl appearance. Throughout the 2015 season, many fans expressed eager optimism for the 2016 season. That optimism was revved up the closer we got to the offseason. It seems that a large sum of FSU faithful have predetermined the Noles’ fate and have written them into the College Football Playoff for 2016. As the great Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast my friend.”

You’re telling me that a team that has a major question mark at quarterback should be top four nationally? Quarterback is the most crucial and critical skill position in football. Teams with good quarterbacks tend to be more successful 9 out of 10times. Just look at the quarterbacks who were in the College Football Playoff this year; Baker Mayfield, Connor Cook, DeShaun Watson, and Jacob Coker. All of those guys are great college level quarterbacks. I’m not so sure FSU has a guy that can play at that level right now. Sean Maguire had a solid 2015 campaign, but decision making became an issue late in the year. On the other hand, Deondre Francois has been a popular choice among fans to become the starting quarterback. The four-star product from IMG Academy redshirted in 2015 as a true freshman, but looks to compete for the starting job moving forward. Next up is the man who many believe is the QB of the future, Malik Henry. Although Henry is an early enrollee, many believe he will take a redshirt next year to build into his frame. However, he does have all spring and summer to put his name in the hat for starter. The problem with all of these guys is the lack of experience. Maguire has 6 total career starts, and Francois and Henry have 0. With so much uncertainty and unproven arms at arguably the most important position, you would think expectations would be lower.

In addition to question marks at quarterback, the offensive line had a ton of consistency issues in 2015. While they did show flashes from time to time, the offensive line never took the next step. Going into the season it was evident that the offensive line would struggle at times, but my biggest issue with them is I didn’t see too much improvement over the course of the season. Instead of individual players stepping up, it became a matter of which rotation works best. And the puzzle got more puzzling as the season wore on. Now, there are some fans making the experience argument. Yes, this was a young, inexperienced offensive line going into the year. Young players certainly gained important experience. But when those same fans are saying incoming recruits such as Landon Dickerson and Baveon Johnson can push for starting minutes as true freshman, what good is that experience?

Perhaps the biggest reason I think Florida State won’t make the playoffs in 2016 is the schedule. They open with Ole Miss, who returns quarterback Chad Kelly and many dangerous weapons around him. It only gets tougher after that, with road games at Louisville and USF. While on paper these match-ups might look lopsided, Louisville has a budding star in quarterback Lamar Jackson and USF returns key pieces from their much improved 2015 team. Then, North Carolina and Miami come visit Tallahassee in consecutive weeks. UNC got back on the national radar last year thanks to Gene Chizik’s feisty defense. On the other hand, Miami is a wild card. They may have a new coach in Mark Richt, but Richt is no stranger to the ‘Noles and the ‘Canes return a decent amount of talent. The rivalry will only amplify this match-up, and my guess is Florida State will have a lot more to lose than Miami. This of course makes Miami a dangerous spoiler, a role they have played unsuccessfully the past two years against FSU. Moving further into the season, the Noles have their toughest test at home against Clemson. The Tigers return the best quarterback in college football, and will be one of the best teams in the country. FSU finishes with a four game stretch of NC State, Boston College, Syracuse, and Florida. This is the toughest schedule FSU has had over the last five years. On paper, FSU would go 11-1 with a loss to Clemson. That loss would keep them out of the ACC Title game, and most likely the playoffs. Even if they beat Clemson, they still have to get through North Carolina and Miami from the ACC Coastal. The opener with Ole Miss is also daunting, especially if the starting quarterback is a freshman.

I’m not saying that the ‘Noles have no shot at the playoffs. They are certainly a capable squad who return a lot of talent. However, there are many factors that play against them, including concerns at quarterback, inconsistent offensive line, and a tough schedule. Sure, you can argue that Dalvin Cook and the run game will take pressure off whoever starts at QB. But when the game is on the line do you really trust any of these quarterbacks to drive 80 yards down the field? It may be unfair to criticize Francois and Henry to that point, but it goes to show just how unproven the quarterbacks are. If the offensive line puzzle isn’t figured out after spring ball, the Ole Miss game is going to be rough. Last time FSU tried to play catch up against a spread offense they lost the Peach Bowl. Offensive line Coach Rick Trickett has to figure out the rotation sooner rather than later. Additionally, this offensive line will have to find consistency immediately with this schedule. If they can’t at least open holes up for Cook, it will be a very long season. All things considered, FSU does return a lot of talent and should be favored in every game besides Clemson. While the College Football Playoff is not out of reach, I think it’s silly to assume the ‘Noles will automatically make it. If I was a betting man, I’d say FSU finishes 10-2 again next year. But I don’t gamble, so please don’t quote me on it FSU Twitter.

Ben Brewton

Writer at Nole Gameday covering football and basketball. FSU alum. Follow me on twitter (@Ben_Brewton) and we can talk sports. On the 8th day, God created college football.

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