Florida State ready for return to national spotlight
TALLAHASSEE — Florida State is used to being in the national spotlight and has been a fixture in prime time. Both of those take on even more meaning this season.
With 17 returning starters, the Seminoles are considered one of the contenders for a spot in the College Football Playoff. The focus will be ramped up even more on a weekly basis as they are this season's team for Showtime's "A Season Inside" series. The show debuts the night after the Sept. 5 opener against Mississippi.
For coach Jimbo Fisher, the more attention the better. After winning the national championship in 2013 and reaching the playoff a year later, the Seminoles went 10-3 last season but were only ranked as high as ninth.
"Tell me when we've done something in the last four years when there haven't been boom mics and cameras and something else," Fisher said.
The offense— which returns all 11 starters — is led by Heisman Trophy contender Dalvin Cook. The junior rushed for a school-record 1,691 yards last season and tied for the national lead with six carries of 50 yards or more.
The defense has a mix of youth and experience. Senior defensive end DeMarcus Walker had 10.5 sacks and sophomore safety Derwin James is the team's top returning tackler with 91, including 9.5 for loss.
"We have a lot of challenges ahead of us, but saying all of that, I'm looking forward to it," Fisher said. "Everybody's going to be shooting at us and trying to measure it off of us. We've got talent, but we've got to develop into a team now that plays with great consistency."
Here are some other things to know about Florida State this season:
For the third time in four years, Fisher has a wide-open competition for the starting job. Senior Sean Maguire is the slight favorite but redshirt freshman Deondre Francois was solid during the spring. Maguire started five of the final six games last season and helped revive a struggling offense, but he missed the spring after breaking an ankle in the Peach Bowl. Francois has drawn comparisons to Jameis Winston but has a stronger arm than the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner.
"At times they'll say, 'Well, Sean may be a little better, coach' and then they'll say, 'Well, Francois is throwing back.' But that's the way you want it, the back and forth," Fisher said of the competition.
WHO NEEDS TO STEP UP?
Receiver Auden Tate could give the offense the big target it lacked in the red zone last season. The 6-foot-5 sophomore had two touchdowns in the spring game. Junior Matthew Thomas missed all of last season due to a violation of team rules but could stand out in a linebacker group that is lacking experience.
Florida State has the nation's longest home winning streak (21 games) and its three toughest opponents all visit Doak Campbell Stadium. The Seminoles' hopes of reaching the playoff will hinge on the Oct. 29 game against Clemson, who they have defeated 11 of the last 12 times the game has been played in Tallahassee. They also host ACC Coastal Division favorite North Carolina on Oct. 1 and Florida on Nov. 26.
The game against Ole Miss in Orlando continues a trend where Fisher has shied away from easy openers. It also starts a stretch where four of the first six are on the road.
Florida State has one of the toughest schedules in the country, so it is unlikely it can go undefeated. The Seminoles are likely to have one loss and should be in the mix for the playoff.