Even with the loss of 11 starters, including arguably college football’s top QB the past two seasons, Jimbo Fisher doesn’t foresee anyone in Tallahassee feeling sorry for him: “Expectations here don’t ever change.” That is the pressure new QB Sean Maguire will face, alongside eight underclassmen on offense.
How the Seminoles beat you: With Jameis Winston orchestrating the offense, defensive coordinators had to respect the aerial attack: FSU had the second-most pass yards per game in the ACC (315.9) in ’13 and the most in ’14 (303.3); Winston’s adjusted QBR of 89.4 in ’13 was No. 1 in the FBS, and his 74.5 was 18th last season. It remains to be seen who replaces Winston, but neither Notre Dame gradute transfer Everett Golson nor fourth-year junior Sean Maguire can make the same plays as the 2013 Heisman winner and No. 1 overall pick. Both Golson and Maguire will need much more help from surrounding pieces than Winston required, and with only one starter returning on the O-line, look for Fisher to rely on a more balanced attack with sophomore running back Dalvin Cook, who had the most yards among ACC freshmen (1,008, an FSU frosh record) and averaged 141 ypg over his final three games, to ease the transition for the quarterbacks.
How you beat the Seminoles: Rebuilding on both offense and defense, the Seminoles will not be able to rebound from sacks and turnovers like they were able to a season ago. Golson committed 22 turnovers over a nine-game stretch last season with Notre Dame, and Maguire had a few costly mistakes in his lone career start against Clemson. Both are susceptible to sacks, and an inexperienced offensive line and unproven group of unproven might struggle to provide assistance. With sophomores Travis Rudolph (38 catches, 14.6 ypc) and Ja’Vonn Harrison and junior Jesus Wilson, the Seminoles have talent on the outside, but opponents will test the passing attack with press coverage and blitzes to disrupt timing to force Maguire (sacked five times against Clemson) and Golson (22 sacks) into bad decisions.
How the Seminoles beat you: While QB is the major storyline for the Noles, the defense comes with its own intrigue: The unit took a major step back as it recovered from the loss of its leaders and coordinator, plummeting from the No. 3 D in the FBS (281.4 ypg) in ’13 to No. 61 (396.6 ypg) in ’14. Second-year coordinator Charles Kelly is still tweaking the formula for FSU’s hybrid multifront scheme, but he has seven returning starters, as well as the team’s top four tacklers in LBs Reggie Northrup and Terrance Smith, FS Nate Andrews (team-high 3 picks) and Jalen Ramsey (9½ tackles for loss, second on the team), who moves from safety to corner.
How you beat the Seminoles: The rushing defense was porous in ’14, finishing 71st in the FBS (170.1 ypg), and FSU failed to put any pressure on the quarterback, recording 17 sacks (tied for 105th) at a 3.8 percent clip (No. 114). That allowed teams to convert on 43.9 percent of third downs (No. 104). Senior Derrick Mitchell Jr. has to fill a massive hole created by the departure of defensive tackle Eddie Goldman (8 tackles for loss, 4 sacks). Chris Casher, Jacob Pugh and Matthew Thomas will try to pick up the slack from the loss of Mario Edwards Jr. (11 TFL).