Saving the best game for last
Just under a week before his Seminoles kick off against 11th ranked Ole Miss, Jimbo Fisher acknowledged that his team must be prepared for the challenges of a high-profile, neutral site game. “You’re playing a great opponent coming off the bat,” Fisher spoke at his press conference, “you’re not in your home bed, you’re not in your home stadium, you don’t get to grow into the season.” College football’s first weekend is loaded with great matchups, but the Labor Day tilt between the Seminoles and Rebels just might be the best of them all. Despite sky-high expectations for 4th ranked FSU, one of this season’s popular playoff picks, there are a handful of players who will have to grow up fast on Monday night.
Seminole offense must prove itself
Highly-touted QB Deondre Francois has yet to play a single college snap, but reports say that the redshirt freshman from IMG Academy in Florida has been lighting it up in camp. Francois makes his first start against an Ole Miss defense that returns six starters but ranked 99th against the pass last season. The Rebels, however, ranked 21st against the rush, giving up an average of just 127.1 yards per game. A healthy passing attack is key to taking the some of the emphasis off of Dalvin Cook.
Apart from Francois, FSU returns its entire offense. The offensive line, led by senior tackle Roderick Johnson, figures to improve greatly on the disaster that was the 2015 season. Oh, and the Noles also return one of the best running backs in the country, the aforementioned Cook. Cook’s explosive ability, combined with the experience of the offensive line, will be a huge factor in taking some of the pressure off Francois and his receivers on Monday night.
FSU’s loaded defense faces a potential Heisman candidate
On the defensive side of the ball, the Seminoles look like one of the best units in the country. The FSU defensive line is headlined by Demarcus Walker, Josh Sweat, and Derrick Nnadi. How those three fare against an inexperienced Ole Miss offensive line will likely determine the winner.
FSU’s secondary returns four starters from last season, one of those being safety Derwin James. James, who played the STAR last season, has moved to safety to make way for junior Trey Marshall. James is a physical freak and only a sophomore. He will split the field with senior Nate Andrews this season. The Noles defense faces the daunting task of stopping dark horse Heisman candidate Chad Kelly and an extremely talented group of young receivers. Kelly lost his best receiver to the NFL, but he’s arguably the best QB in the SEC. Tarvarus McFadden is the guy to replace last season’s star corner Jalen Ramsey, but the 6″2 junior has earned the praise of Jimbo Fisher on many occasions this offseason. If the FSU secondary can force Ole Miss to abandon the pass and become one-dimensional, this game could get ugly.
Matchup to Watch
FSU receivers vs. Ole Miss secondary. It’s no secret that Florida State’s receiving corps was subpar last season. Dalvin Cook did enough to win the Seminoles 10 games in 2015, but FSU will not win this game if the receivers play as poorly as they have in the past. The Rebels secondary, although somewhat inexperienced, is led by senior Tony Bridges and junior Kendarius Webster, and FSU QB Deondre Francois has yet to play a college snap. Only one receiver has earned his starting spot on the depth chart (Travis Rudolph). Kermit Whitfield, Bobo Wilson, and any other receivers that play on Monday face a huge task of taking the pressure off Francois. Relying on a freshman QB to do it all in his first game is a dangerous game plan, so if the Rebel secondary can limit the production the Seminole receivers, Ole Miss could pull off the victory.
FSU returns 17 starters from last year’s 10-3 team. The Noles return all 11 on offense, so despite injury concerns at center, Noles fans should expect to see a much more fluid offense than last year. Jimbo Fisher can craft up an offense to fit just about any QB, so Francois will be in good hands come Monday night. Defensively, FSU is loaded with talent across the board. Ultimately, Florida State’s depth on both sides of the ball should be enough to win what should be a low scoring affair.
Score Prediction: FSU 24-17 Ole Miss
Time/Channel: 8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
Line: FSU -5