Key stretch: Sept. 17-24 (Oklahoma, at Clemson)
Analysis: This is when Florida State’s season will be defined. Are the Seminoles a national title contender, an ACC frontrunner, or the league’s latest disappointment? A home win over Oklahoma and Florida State is immediately in the conversation for the national title. A road win over Clemson and they’ve knocked off the biggest obstacle in the Atlantic Division. Florida State hasn’t won on Clemson’s turf since 2001. These two games will establish early which direction Florida State is headed both nationally and in the conference race.
Prediction: Florida State is going to look like a different team than the one that took the field at Oklahoma last season. The Noles will be better prepared defensively, will have home field advantage, and will likely have the edge in the kicking game in what should be a fourth-quarter game. Florida State will look to exploit the loss of Oklahoma leading tackler Travis Lewis, who will miss the game with a broken foot. But they won’t win.
Oklahoma has the edge at quarterback with Landry Jones, and receiver Ryan Broyles makes them one of the top pass-catching duos in the country. Defensively, they should be strong even without Lewis, although losing a potential Defensive Player of the Year candidate won’t be easy to replace. Florida State won’t let the loss to Oklahoma beat them twice, though. They’ll roll into Death Valley confident in their chances of winning the ACC title, and the Noles’ defense will be the difference. Florida State will force quarterback Tajh Boyd into one or two costly mistakes, and the Noles will start the season atop the Atlantic Division standings.