With the football season less than 10 weeks away, it is never too soon to begin to look at the opponents that will try to derail the Clemson Tigers’ quest for a second-consecutive national championship and their third appearance in the College Football Playoff in as many years.
Today, we continue our series with the Tigers’ tenth opponent, and the game that everyone in the nation has circled on their calendars, the Florida State Seminoles—who will enter Death Valley Nov.11 in hopes of returning to the top of the ACC mountain.
The Florida State Seminoles once ruled the ACC with an iron fist under former coach Bobby Bowden, but the emergence of Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers mean that the, once, kings of the ACC are now looking up to another program.
The Seminoles have won double-digit games in each of their last five seasons, and have captured three ACC Titles, but as head coach Jimbo Fisher—who is entering his eighth year—understands just winning the conference title is not always good enough.
It is about playing for national titles at Florida State, something they have not done since 2013—when they won the national championship. With a huge opening game against last year’s runner-up Alabama and conference games against Louisville and at Clemson looming on their schedule, the key for Fisher is to prepare his team the same way he always has.
“Our culture is to stay true to the process,” Fisher said. “We’re not worried about results or our opponents. We have to worry about ourselves, control what we can control, and that’s what we preach here every day. That’s what we live here every day.
“And you know, we play in big games at Florida State all the time. We’ve had big openers. We’ve had non-openers, we’ve had big bowl games, National Championship games, Conference Championship games. You know, that’s — when you play at a program like Florida State, you can’t worry about that. You worry about what you can control, which is yourself and the process, which you’re going to prepare to play those games and those competitions.”
Florida State Offense:
The Florida State offense returns some key playmakers—including quarterback Deondre Francois, who took a beating in the Seminoles game against the Tigers and kept on getting up.
Francois played himself into the Heisman dark-horse discussion in his freshman season, throwing for 3,300 yards and 20 touchdowns. But the biggest challenge for co-offensive coordinators Randy Sanders and Lawrence Dawsey will be how to replace dynamic running back Dalvin Cook.
While there is certainly talent in the backfield, with Cam Ackers and Jacques Patrick, the fact remains that the Seminoles will be without one of the most dynamic weapons they have had in the Fisher-era—meaning the onus will fall on the team as a whole to pick up the slack.
“Dalvin is Dalvin just like Dion was Dion, just like Buckley was Buckley, just like Warrick Dunn was Warrick Dunn, Charlie Ward was Charlie Ward,” Fisher said. “You’ll never replace those guys. Jameis Winston was Jameis Winston. You know, I mean, you go in the history — I mean, KB was KB. I mean, you know, Joiner was Joiner.
“You never replace those guys, but you know, we also have other great players and things come from other areas. Sometimes they can come from the same areas. Not saying I think the guys we have at running back can be very productive, but Dalvin was a very special, unique guy and had his own talents.
“We have to let those guys grow and see and see where our team and our personality and those yards and scores come. They could come from the back or they could come from receivers, tight ends, throwing the ball. But hopefully the same production will be there as an offense.”
Florida State Defense:
Where to begin on a defense that could challenge the Tigers with regards to laying claim to who has the best defense in the nation.
Even with the loss of defensive lineman Demarcus Walker, who finished last season second on the team in tackles and second in the nation in sacks, there are names like Josh Sweat, Brian Burns and Derrick Nnadi who are more than capable of causing problems for opposing offenses.
Add in a healthy Derwin James, who may be the most exciting player in college football, leading a seasoned secondary, and linebacking corps that returns everyone from a year ago, including leading tackler Matthew Thomas—this may be the best defense that Fisher has ever had at Florida State.
“So, our front six guys are as deep as we’ve been. We’ve finished fifth in rushing defense a year ago and challenged our players not to drop off there. Obviously want to improve in other categories around that,” Fisher said.