ACC Preview: Deondre Francois’ progress key to Florida State’s CFP hopes

Coming off a double-digit win season, the only things that seemingly could hold Florida State back are quarterback questions and that other superpower in the ACC Atlantic Division, Clemson.

Sound familiar? It was the same narrative that the No. 4 Seminoles carried into 2015 with the Everett Golson/Sean Maguire debate running rampant, and now there’s not so much of a discussion over who should be the QB heading into ’16 — an injury took care of that — but the development of the guy holding the keys for Jimbo Fisher’s offense will be paramount.

ACC TEAM BREAKDOWNS

Oh, and there is the matter of those aforementioned second-ranked Tigers, who have designs on making it back to the College Football Playoff, but will have to go through Tallahassee to make it happen.

For Florida State, these are the questions that figure to define their season.

As we all know, the last time the Seminoles trotted out a redshirt freshman QB to start the season, magical things happened. Like, national championship and Heisman Trophy magical. Francois may not be preparing for his own Jameis Winston-like journey in Year 1 of his career, but he’s going to follow Winston at least in terms of starting the opener, as a foot injury to Maguire has Francois standing as the presumed starter as the third-ranked Seminoles meet No. 11 Ole Miss in Orlando on Sept. 5. It’s likely he would have surpasses Maguire anyway, if the spring game was any indication. Francois hit on 20 of 33 passes with a pair of touchdowns and two interceptions, and the No .1 dual-threat prospect out of Orlando’s IMG Academy in 2015 can also hurt a defense with his legs. On a loaded offense that includes arguably the country’s most electric running back in Dalvin Cook, Francois has the skill set to fill the only perceived void in this attack.

The electric junior, who finished seventh in last season’s Heisman voting, already holds the single-season school rushing record as he totaled 1,691 yards last year — and he did that while sitting out against Syracuse with an ankle injury, was limited to two carries against Wake Forest, and being held to just 54 yards by Boston College and 33 vs. Houston in the Peach Bowl. That yardage and a 140.9 average per game were good enough for sixth and fifth, respectively, in the FBS. Had Cook hit his average against the Orange and done so against the Eagles and Cougars, we’re already talking more than 2,000 yards. So he would seem a lock, especially given that he’ll be operating with a new QB in Francois and there will be an onus on taking the pressure off of him.

There would seem to be the perception that as defending division champs and a participant in the national title game, Clemson has the momentum in their favor in the Atlantic. That may be the case, but from the Seminoles’ perspective, they are winners of three of the last four meetings against the Tigers — punctuated by a 37-point beat down by Winston and Co. in Death Valley in 2013 — and Clemson has not won in Tallahassee since 2006. Of course, that’s where they’re playing this time around, and with a DeMarcus Walker and Derwin James-led defense that stands to be one of the nation’s best, these Seminoles are in position to give Deshaun Watson and the Tigers fits. We’ve come to expect Clemson vs. Florida State to decide the Atlantic and their Oct. 29 clash is once again poised to do just that.

Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney and Facebook. His book, ‘Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Braves Stories Ever Told,’ is out now, and ‘The Heisman Trophy: The Story of an American Icon and Its Winners’ will be released Nov. 1, 2016.