Florida State is 14-8 in its last 22 games, a fact that is hard to ignore considering the expectations that precede every season in Tallahassee.
Are there reasons? Sure, there are reasons. Losing your star defensive player and starting quarterback in consecutive seasons are big enough blows to send a year filled with national championship aspirations hurtling sideways.
But what might be harder to take is the way in which Florida State has lost many of these games. In five of its last eight losses, Florida State was the favorite -- including three in which the Seminoles were at least a seven-point favorite.
That was the case last weekend, when the Seminoles entered their game against NC State as an 11-point favorite. That line might have seemed high to those who wondered how true freshman James Blackman would handle his first career start. Plus, Florida State endured a 21-day layoff because of Hurricane Irma.
But Blackman handled himself well and coach Jimbo Fisher said earlier this week that his quarterback graded out well, too. There were red-zone mistakes to be sure, opportunities in hindsight that would have made a difference had a few plays gone differently.
But the focus immediately afterward fell on the defense, which came into the season as the unit many believed was the strongest part of the team. During his news conference this week, Fisher pointed out several crucial third-down stops that the Seminoles defense simply missed, once because they fit blocks incorrectly.
Pressure was virtually nonexistent from a unit that returned three key starters to the defensive line. In two games, Florida State has three sacks -- a season after posting 51.
Meanwhile, All-American safety Derwin James gave up a 71-yard touchdown pass and said afterward, “I need to do better.”
The defense should not shoulder all of the blame. The run game has been stagnant without Dalvin Cook in the backfield, and Florida State simply couldn’t pick up the crucial yards on the ground that it absolutely had to have against the Wolfpack. In two games, Florida State is averaging just 14 points and 72 rushing yards. The Seminoles have averaged more than 30 points per game in every season since 2008.
To be fair, the Seminoles played against two outstanding defensive fronts in those games. But there were opportunities for more points against both Alabama and NC State.
Florida State as a whole needs to do better, an acknowledgment Fisher made when asked about the 0-2 start. “We’ve got to coach them better.”
“There's no magic dust or magic thing that makes you meet more, play more,” Fisher said. “We meet and do as much as we can, but we've got to evaluate what we're doing, what works, what doesn't work, and how to get each player to be more successful.”
The question then becomes how the coaching staff gets the season headed in the right direction again. There is some experience there -- Florida State started 3-2 last year before finishing 10-3 with a victory over Michigan in the Capital One Orange Bowl. But this could be more challenging.
Fisher has taken criticism for some of his playcalling; defensive coordinator Charles Kelly took heavy criticism last season for the way the defense played immediately after James got hurt; offensive line coach Rick Trickett has taken criticism for the way the offensive line has struggled and failed to develop.
“We’re all accountable,” Fisher said. “Nobody's backing up. We’re very accountable. That’s not a conversation. We’ve just got to make our players sort of understand what we want them to do, how we want them to do it. If he doesn't understand this, that's communicating a different way. Let’s show him more film. Does he need more video cut up? Does he need more this? We evaluate each guy to help him what we think would make him play better in those scenarios.”
It has to happen quickly. Wake Forest has given Florida State fits in recent years and Miami looms next weekend. Louisville, Clemson and Florida are still left on the schedule, as is a vastly improved Duke team.