Florida State vs. Ole Miss primer: Heisman hopefuls lead the way

Is there a better way to wrap up Kickoff Week than a matchup between No. 4 Florida State and No. 11 Ole Miss on Monday night (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)? Both teams are coming off appearances in a New Year’s Six bowl, and both, led by Heisman Trophy hopefuls, are hungry for more this year.

Who has the edge? ESPN staff writers Jared Shanker and Greg Ostendorf break down the game and share their predictions.

How to beat Florida State

Eventually, Deondre Francois might prove he’s capable of beating teams with his arm the same way Jameis Winston did, but for now, every defensive game plan against the Seminoles focuses on stopping Dalvin Cook. Once the junior running back clears the line of scrimmage, there’s a good chance he’s going to break off a chunk of yards. No back was better in 2015 at creating explosive plays. In two of Florida State's three losses last season, defenses were able to limit Cook. He rushed for 82 yards against Georgia Tech, and only 20 on five carries in the second half. Houston held him to 33 yards on 18 carries. The offensive line was part of the reason, but now he’ll be running behind four returning starters. – Shanker

How to beat Ole Miss

At times last year, the vaunted Landshark defense wasn’t so intimidating. In Ole Miss' three losses, the defense gave up a combined 128 points to Florida, Memphis and Arkansas. The constant? Together, those three teams converted 55 percent of their third-down conversions against the Rebels. That’s the worst third-down defense of any SEC team in their losses. Ole Miss also failed to get takeaways in those three games, forcing just one total turnover in all three. If Florida State can convert on third down, keep drives going and protect the football, it’s going to be hard for the Rebels to keep up. – Ostendorf

How Florida State beats you

FPI expects the Seminoles to have the country’s best offense, with the talented Francois taking over an offense that returns nearly everyone. What is being overlooked is how strong the defense will be this fall. Despite being a former offensive coordinator, Jimbo Fisher likes his most talented players to play defense. There are five-star prospects at every level, but the defensive line will be one of the country’s best units. There will be a race between DeMarcus Walker and Josh Sweat as to who can reach 10 sacks fastest. Only once did the defense allow more than 24 points last season, and this defense will be better. Cook and an improved offense will keep them fresh, too. – Shanker

How Ole Miss beats you

Let Chad Kelly be Chad Kelly. Early last season, Kelly struggled with interceptions. He did his best to stay in the pocket and sometimes forced too many throws. That all changed late in the season, when the coaching staff let him have a little more freedom. Kelly, who hadn’t rushed for more than 40 yards once through the first nine games, rushed for 338 yards and six touchdowns in the team’s final four games. As a result, the offense scored at least 38 points in all four games and the Rebels beat LSU, Mississippi State and Oklahoma State. Kelly has the talent and the weapons around him to beat just about any team in the country. You just have to let him. – Ostendorf

Florida State X-factor

Walker and Sweat are capable of getting to Kelly on their own, but it could be tackle Derrick Nnadi who initiates the pressure. Fisher said Nnadi was a constant source of frustration for the offense in 11-on-11 drills. He’s already stout against the run, and the powerful Nnadi is becoming a better pass-rusher. If he collapses the pocket and forces Kelly to break outside, the athletic Walker and Sweat should be there to contain to clean up an easy sack. Mobile quarterbacks didn’t frustrate the Seminoles last season as the savvy group rarely broke out of their rush lanes to free up quarterbacks. – Shanker

Ole Miss X-factor

Kelly’s number might have been a little inflated last year with the presence of Laquon Treadwell, arguably the SEC’s top receiver. But not to worry. Ole Miss has true freshman A.J. Brown, or “Laquon Treadwell 2.0,” as Kelly called him after the first day of practice. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Brown has a certain swagger about him that makes it easy to see why he’s risen up the depth chart since he arrived in the summer. He’s currently listed with the second team, but Hugh Freeze mentioned both his name and the name of fellow receiver D.K. Metcalf as freshmen who will play Monday night. – Ostendorf


This won’t be a game decided by a single score. The odds Florida State wins by double digits is greater than a game that comes down to the final possession. Fisher is genuinely excited about the prospects for his 2016 team, which is closer in talent and leadership to the 2013 team than the teams from the last two seasons. Fisher has been very complimentary of Ole Miss even when the cameras are off, but this Florida State team is just too well-rounded. Add in that it’ll be close to a home game for Florida State, and the Seminoles win 28-17. – Shanker

That’s a confident pick from Jared. I agree that Florida State will win, but unlike my counterpart, I wouldn’t be surprised if it came down to the final possession. This Ole Miss team has enough talent to pull the upset. The problem is they’re young, and the coaching staff doesn’t know how they will respond in the first game. Give me the Seminoles, 31-24. – Ostendorf