Somehow, someway, we’re just days away from the first full Saturday of the college football season!! And after spending the last few months breaking down every angle in the sport, it’s now, finally time to talk about the most important aspect of the entire season: The true, national championship contenders. Therefore, go ahead and step aside, Purdue. Deuces, Iowa State. See ya later Oklahom --- oh wait, Bob Stoops’ club is actually really good. Still, over the next few days, FoxSports.com will break down all the true contenders for the National Championship and give you a couple reasons why, yes, they can win it all.
Last week we kicked things off with Ohio State Monday, hit the Washington Huskies on Tuesday discussed the Houston Cougars Wednesday, the Tennessee Vols Thursday and the TCU Horned Frogs Friday. This week, we’ve already hit both Clemson and LSU. And speaking of Clemson, let’s stay in the ACC, and discuss their most hated rival, the Florida State Seminoles. Business is booming for Jimbo Fisher, who once again has more than enough talent to win a national championship.
Here are five reasons why the Seminoles are true title contenders.
Jason Getz-USA TODAY SportsJason Getz
They’ve got Dalvin Cook and you don’t
Simply put, 2015 was “the year of the running back” in college football, with guys like Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott and Derrick Henry all battling for headlines. Lost in the shuffle though was Cook, who might not have had quite the hype of those guys, but was just as good. And in some cases, better.
Cook was absolutely mesmerizing as the lead back at Florida State, finishing the season with 1,691 yards, which included eight games with at least 100 yards rushing and two with 200-plus. That’s incredible, and what might be most impressive is that he did it all without great quarterback play, and during a year in which he had a lingering hamstring injury which forced him to miss one game and left him limited in a few others. Not that you would have noticed watching, as Cook averaged a staggering 7.4 yards per carry (a number which was higher than any of those guys mentioned above), and most importantly, didn’t keep him from playing his best in the Seminoles’ biggest games. As Santana Moss once said (ironically following a win against FSU), “Big-time players step up in big games” and no one proved that quite like Cook last year as he racked up 222 yards against Miami, 194 yards against Clemson and 183 against Florida. Cook is at his best when his team needs him most.
And there’s no reason to think he can’t be just as good this season.
There are plenty of other pieces on the offense around Cook
So it’s no secret that Cook is the star of the show in Tallahassee, but it’s also no secret that a big portion of the Seminoles’ success rests on the shoulder of quarterback DeAndre Francois, who is filling in for the injured Sean McGuire to start the season.
But the good news for Francois -- and Seminoles fans -- is that the redshirt freshman doesn’t have to do it all by himself. There is plenty of other talent on Florida State’s offense, starting at wide receiver where Travis Rudolph returns after a 59 catch, 916 yard season a year ago. Kermit Whitfield (who feels like he’s been in Tallahassee since the Charlie Ward era) is back too after making 57 catches last year, and the offensive line should provide plenty of protection for Francois, anchored by future first-round pick Roderick Johnson at left tackle.
And while Cook is the focus at running back, don’t sleep on his back-up Jacques Patrick, a former five-star super-recruit who showed flashes in limited action last year. He rushed for just 314 total yards in his first season in Tallahassee, but did tally five touchdowns and was spectacular when he was forced to fill in for an injured Cook. With Cook on the sidelines against Syracuse, Patrick rushed for 162 yards, helping Florida State cruise to victory. In the process he proved that the Seminoles running game is more than just “The Dalvin Cook show.”
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY SportsAndrew Weber
The defense is absolutely stacked
While Alabama is generally regarded as having the best defensive personnel in college football (of course it does), I’d actually argue that this year it’s Florida State which has college football’s best defense entering the 2016 season.
For starters, they have the single most terrorizing one-two punch on the defensive line in the entire country with DeMarcus Walker and Josh Sweat. Walker was an absolute monster last year, tallying 15.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks, and did it playing alongside a not-fully-healthy Sweat, who underwent ACL surgery in 2014. It also raises the question: With Sweat back at 100 percent, how much better will he be, and how much better will Walker be, since opposing offenses can’t key on them quite like they could last year? In addition to those two up front, the Seminoles also have an emerging star in the defensive backfield in Derwin James, who might just follow in Jalen Ramsey’s footsteps as a future Top 5 pick. James had a true freshman season to remember in 2015, tallying 91 total tackles, and a staggering (at least for a defensive back) 9.5 tackles for loss, on his way to being named to virtually every Freshman All-American team in the country. The linebacking corps is relatively young, but brings me to my next point, which is…
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY SportsJeremy Brevard
Florida State has more talent than you do
Some things in life are indisputable. The Earth is flat. Les Miles is goofy. And no one outside of Alabama has recruited better than Florida State over the past few years. It’s also why, I don’t really have any major concerns about the Seminoles since, well, they simply have more talent than you do.
That isn’t a figure of speech, but literal, as the Seminoles have finished with recruiting classes that have finished No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 in the country over the last three years (according to 24/7 Sports), stocking their roster with talent which is basically unseen anywhere else in college football.
It’s also why this program has been able to transition from the Christian Ponder era, to the E.J. Manuel era to Jameis Winston and beyond without any major drop-off. Yes, this club has some holes, but it should have no problem filling them with future stars, even if you and I don’t necessarily know their names. The Seminoles remain one of the most talented teams in all of college football.
Getty ImagesDon Juan Moore
They get Clemson at home
While all this talk about Dalvin Cook, DeMarcus Walker and a bunch of great recruiting classes is all fun and games, at the end of the day we all know what the Seminoles' entire season will come down to -- one late-October game against Clemson. The winner of that game has gone on to win the last five ACC championships, and the last seven Atlantic division championships overall (which is absolutely mind-boggling). And with both teams ranked in the Top 5 in the preseason this year, there’s no reason to think that the stakes won’t be equally as high this year.
The good news is that while the rest of Florida State’s schedule remains tough (starting with an opener against Ole Miss, and road games at Louisville and Miami), they, at the very least, get Clemson at home. That’s great news for the 'Noles, who have won their last four games against Clemson in Tallahassee, dating all the way back to 2006 when Jimbo Fisher was at LSU and Dabo Swinney was still a receivers coach at Clemson. It’s also why, above all else, the Seminoles are a true national championship contender: They get their biggest game, against their toughest opponent, in the cozy confines of Doak-Campbell Stadium. Win that and Florida State could cruise… all the way into the college football playoff. And possibly beyond.