The Tigers and Seminoles will play Nov. 7, and the winner very well could have the inside track to represent the ACC in the playoffs.
That is, of course, if either team can get through an October date with Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets, who dismantled Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl, might just be the ACC’s best team in 2015 and favorite to make the playoff. Georgia Tech travels to Clemson on Oct. 10, then hosts Florida State on Oct. 24.
If Clemson, Florida State, and Georgia Tech all live up to preseason billings, the ACC has positioned itself to be in the national conversation from September to November, which ends with feature games against SEC teams. By mid-October last season, Florida State was the only ACC school in contention. By comparison, the SEC West had three of the top four teams in the playoff and dominated playoff talk for several weeks.
For a conference that has regularly been called the worst among the Power 5, it’s important for the ACC to have showcase games throughout the season, and especially in the later months. Florida State at Clemson will do that on Nov. 7, completing the Clemson-FSU-Georgia Tech round robin that should decide the conference if preseason predictions hold up. They are marquee games that will capture the attention of the selection committee, and the winners will likely be adding late-season quality wins to boost their résumés.
Of course, those games will mean little if those teams cannot make it through the rest of the league schedule relatively unscathed. Louisville is regarded as the fourth-best team in the league heading into 2015, but as an Atlantic team it will have its opportunity to emerge as a playoff contender. The Cardinals travel to Florida State a month after hosting Clemson on Sept. 17, and then the schedule sets up nice for a 6-0 finish. If the Cardinals can go 2-1 in the games against Auburn (Sept. 5 in Atlanta), Clemson, and Florida State, they will be in position to make a playoff run. That’s a big if, as the Cardinals must still settle on a quarterback and overhaul the defense. They might have been better off with those games being played late in the season, although Auburn and Florida State will be breaking in new quarterbacks, too.
Louisville hosts Clemson on Thursday, Sept. 17, and that midweek prime-time showdown could be a jumping off point for a Louisville playoff run.
A day after that midweek showcase game, Florida State has to survive a Friday road trip to Boston College, which narrowly missed an upset of the Seminoles in 2014 (although, who didn’t almost beat FSU in 2014?) and bludgeoned a top-10 USC team.
Then on the following day, Sept. 19, Georgia Tech travels to Notre Dame, which could be poised to make another playoff run with a number of players returning.
When it was announced Notre Dame would be kinda-sorta-half joining the ACC, one of the worries was whether the Fighting Irish would eliminate the league members in the playoff picture. It almost happened last season when the Irish were an offensive pass interference call away from knocking off undefeated Florida State. Well, it could happen this season as the Irish play host to Georgia Tech, then head south to play Clemson two weeks later.
Of course, if Georgia Tech and/or Clemson beat Notre Dame and the Irish go on to have a successful season navigating a decently tough schedule, it will check off another box with the committee for the Yellow Jackets and Tigers.
In this new era, ultimately, that is what it’s all about: getting to the playoffs. This ACC schedule should keep that conversation alive deep into the season.
That has become par for the course.
In what has become an annual rite of passage, the ACC has four blockbuster meetings against Power 5 opponents set for Week 1:
- North Carolina vs. South Carolina on Thurs., Sept. 3 in Charlotte, North Carolina
- Louisville vs. Auburn on Sat., Sept. 5 in the annual Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. On the same day, Virginia travels to face UCLA at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
- Then, perhaps the most anticipated game of the weekend: defending national champion Ohio State travels to play Virginia Tech on Labor Day Night. This marks the Hokies' third appearance on Labor Day Monday; the game will be nationally televised by ESPN.
Those were among the big games spotlighted when the ACC released its schedule on Thursday. In all, ACC teams will play more games against teams that are ranked in ESPN’s Way-Too-Early 2015 Top 25 rankings (12) than any of the other Power 5 conferences. ACC teams also are playing a higher percentage of Power 5 teams (38 percent) than any other Power 5 conference.
None of this comes as a surprise, considering how strongly the ACC has scheduled nonconference opponents in recent years. For the ACC to continue to make inroads toward changing national perception, it will have to keep winning the spotlight games. As it stands, the ACC most likely will be the underdog in those four opening -weekend contests. And many people believe the only way an ACC team can make it into the playoff is with an unblemished record.
In addition to those marquee nonconference games, all eyes will be squarely on Florida State, Clemson and Georgia Tech as prime playoff contenders.
We should know more about their ACC and College Football Playoff fates over a four-week period spanning October and November.
Circle your calendars for:
- Georgia Tech at Clemson, Oct. 10
- Florida State at Georgia Tech, Oct. 24
- Florida State at Clemson, Nov. 7
As for the always important mid-week games, Virginia Tech might not be hosting a Thursday night contest in 2015, but it does have Labor Day against the Buckeyes and a Friday night home game against NC State on Oct. 9. The Hokies also travel to play Georgia Tech on Thurs., Nov. 12.
Florida State and Clemson have mid-week games as well: Louisville will host the Tigers on Thurs., Sept. 17 in a game that should have Atlantic Division implications, while Florida State plays at Boston College the next day. Boise State at Virginia (Sept. 25); Louisville at Wake Forest (Oct. 30); and Miami at Pitt (Nov. 27) round out the Friday night slate. North Carolina at Pitt on Oct. 29 is the only other Thursday night game.
In Florida, the current recruiting landscape is run by Florida State coming off the last BCS National Championship a season ago, a College Football Playoff appearance this season and the success of many players in the past few years. For Miami -- and Florida, for that matter -- it’s a fight not only to keep the best at home from the two most talented counties in the country, Dade and Broward, but also to gain momentum on the recruiting trail in a region where battles with Alabama, Auburn and Florida State are the norm.
It’s the second raise for Fisher in the past 13 months, but that’s the nature of coaching at the highest levels of college football these days. On the heels of a 29-game winning streak and berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff, Fisher earned a bump in pay to put him in the exclusive club of coaches making $5 million annually.
It’s not as easy to win at Florida State as some other perennial top-10 programs despite the consistent success the school has achieved over the past four decades. Tallahassee is four hours or more from most of Florida’s hubs for high school talent, and Fisher doesn’t enjoy the limitless recruiting budget some schools can offer coaching staffs. Fisher had to overhaul a program to reshape it in his own image, and he did it in just the few years following Bobby Bowden.
Fisher has been criticized as a coach before, and there are already questions as to whether the Florida State program can maintain its status without Jameis Winston. The numbers are in Fisher’s favor, though. He has won three straight ACC titles, a national title and has lost only once since December 2012. Florida State can’t afford to allow another college program swoon Fisher and give the sixth-year coach reason to leave.
Florida State likely isn’t going to find a better coach and recruiter than Fisher, who is wrapping up a top-three class, his fourth in the past five years. While the school has been reluctant to open its checkbook in the past, the administration had to lock up Fisher for the foreseeable future. They did that with the contract extension and the buyout, which starts at $5 million and then decreases in the following years.
Credit the FSU administration, too, for doing what it can to remain competitive with the rest of the college football powerhouses, especially in the SEC. The school opened its pockets to Fisher’s assistants, too, giving Fisher another $750,000 to pay his assistant coaches. A number of Seminoles assistants have left the program over the past three seasons. There was an assistant coaching exodus from Tallahassee following the 2012 season, and Jeremy Pruitt made the high-profile move from Florida State to Georgia before the start of the 2014 season.
If Fisher can win a fourth consecutive ACC championship despite an overhaul on offense and defense heading into 2015, there’s a good chance the school will be announcing another extension around the same time next year.
Here’s a few more links around the ACC:
- Stephone Anthony and Grady Jarrett reflect on their time at Clemson in separate Q&As. Anthony is here and Jarrett is here.
- Florida State announced its spring game will be Apr. 11.
- Duke Johnson and Ereck Flowers, who both declared early for the NFL draft, will be going to the NFL combine along with six of their senior Miami teammates.
- What type of offensive coordinator will Boston College attempt to hire?
- Here's everything you need to know about Syracuse verbal pledge Eric Dungey.
- NC State should land two of the state's top prospects, which is not something the Wolfpack -- or any North Carolina school -- has done often recently.
- A video feature on how Virginia Tech is tackling the challenge of making safer helmets.
However, Florida State is not far off, and in Saban’s rearview mirror is the familiar face of his former offensive coordinator, Jimbo Fisher.
Florida State was the last program to finish ahead of Alabama in the rankings (2011), and the Seminoles are the only other team that will have a top-three class for the fourth time in the past five cycles. Their five-year average finish of 3.4 is second to only Alabama's five-year average of 1.6.
That’s why the FSU program is the strongest it has been in the past decade and why there should be optimism among Seminoles fans now that award-winning quarterback Jameis Winston, as well as a bevy of starters, are now off to the NFL.
The reality is 2015 is a transitional period for the Seminoles. Twelve players have left early for the NFL over the past three years. They’re replacing nearly the entire offensive line and their two best receivers, defensive linemen and cornerbacks. And gone, of course, is one of the greatest players in program history.
Two losses in the 2015 season is not out of the question for Florida State, which has lost only once in its past 30 games.
A fourth consecutive ACC championship would be equally unsurprising. There was the thought that Florida State might have missed a championship window in the 2012 season, which ended with two losses. Eleven players were drafted from that team, including five in the first two rounds. It’s hard to compensate for that many meaningful departures.
Of course, the Seminoles went undefeated the next season and went on to claim their first national title since 1999, and did it with key players from Fisher’s first recruiting class.
As many as a dozen former Seminoles could be selected in this upcoming NFL draft. Although that means Florida State is losing a significant amount of talent, it also indicates how well Fisher and his staff are recruiting. It shows the sustained recruiting success that Fisher has had over the course of his five-year tenure, and it’s why blue-chip prospects are stampeding down Interstate 10 toward Tallahassee.
Half of the Seminoles’ 22 commitments are ESPN 300 prospects, and with a few more scholarships remaining, that number figures to grow. The Seminoles have the No. 1 athlete and top-rated safety. They also have top-five players at quarterback, running back, defensive end, cornerback and linebacker.
To replace Winston, Fisher has three ESPN 300 quarterback commits (if including athlete Kai Locksley) to go along with 2014 ESPN 300 signee JJ Cosentino and Sean Maguire, who started in place of Winston against Clemson. Down the line, 2016 No. 1 quarterback Malik Henry plans to leave Southern California and head east to Florida State. (Henry is one of six 2016 FSU commitments, and five are among the top 184 players nationally.)
Although all of those players have the high school credentials, there are countless quarterbacks and high school players who fail to live up to the hype. Fisher has a track record of helping his players realize their potential, which is why the draft numbers have skyrocketed. Winston could be the second No. 1 overall pick Fisher has tutored. (JaMarcus Russell was the first.)
Before Fisher, the Seminoles finished in the top 12 of the rankings in three of Bobby Bowden’s last four recruiting classes, but there were too many misses during those cycles.
Florida State’s ability to develop players has been a key recruiting pitch, and it’s the reason Abdul Bello, No. 4 among offensive tackles, committed to Florida State. The ESPN 300 lineman immigrated to Florida from Nigeria in 2013 and admits he still doesn’t know many of the nuances to the game. He was looking for a coaching staff that would be able to help his raw athleticism mature, and it’s why he said so many top recruits are joining him.
“When those players [from earlier classes] were going there, they were good players, but when they went there … the coaches gave them good coaching,” Bello said. “We’ll get that same great coaching, same attitude, same hunger and that same will to win with this coaching. We’ll be really good.”
Fisher’s recruiting efforts are boosted now that Florida State has joined the college football arms race. The school received cosmetic upgrades recently with a new indoor practice facility and overhauled football offices and locker rooms. The school is also allocating more money to be spent on assistant coaches. The recruiting budget has increased to where the Seminoles are at least competitive with other top schools. Florida State might always struggle to keep up with the Joneses in Tuscaloosa and throughout the SEC, but Fisher has the pivotal pieces in place.
“I'm not a spoiled kid. If I want it, it's because it's going to make our organization better. Every decision we make is about winning and developing our players,” Fisher said not long after FSU unveiled its latest facility upgrades in July. “... I always ask folks, when you walk into an organization, you go into a business, the minute you walk in, you make a first impression: Is this place committed to excellence, is it a championship organization?”
Florida State is one of those organizations now, which is why the future is promising for the Seminoles even with so many unknowns awaiting them in 2015.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Jimbo Fisher's eight-year contract extension will begin with a $5 million salary in 2015 and includes a significant buyout if he chooses to leave Florida State before the end of the 2022 season.
The school announced the contract Dec. 23, but released the financial details Wednesday as part of a public records request.
The 49-year-old Fisher will owe $5 million if he leaves Florida State before December 2016. The contract features a sliding scale, with Fisher owing $3 million if he leaves before December 2018 and then $1 million after Jan. 1, 2019.
If Fisher stays through the entire contract, he will receive a $1.2 million "completion benefit."
Fisher will earn $5 million in 2015, with a $100,000 raise each year until the 2022 season ($5,475,000). The incentive-laden contract also includes bonuses for a variety of team achievements, including winning the Atlantic Coast Conference, reaching the College Football Playoff, end-of-year finish in the CFP poll and winning a national title.
In five seasons as Florida State's coach, Fisher is 58-11. He led the Seminoles to the 2013 national title and has won three straight ACC championships. Florida State's 29-game winning streak was snapped when Oregon defeated the Seminoles 59-20 in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.
Fisher was hired as Florida State's offensive coordinator in 2007 and was on coach Bobby Bowden's staff for three seasons. He took over in 2010.
Here are our favorite plays of the year:
Hail MarysBahamas Bowl miracle
Central Michigan trailed by 35 points entering the fourth quarter. It trailed by seven when it pulled off a 75-yard, three-lateral Hail Mary as the clock struck :00. The Chippewas failed on the two-point conversion, but their comeback and miracle finish was the craziest play of bowl season.
After blowing a 26-9 fourth-quarter lead, it looked as if Central Florida was done. But East Carolina mismanaged the clock -- taking three knees and a sack -- before giving the ball back to the Knights with 10 seconds left. One 51-yard score later, George O'Leary's crew was celebrating a share of a conference championship.
Arizona scored an absurd 36 points in the fourth quarter, capped by Anu Solomon hitting Austin Hill in the end zone on a 47-yard touchdown that gave the Wildcats a 49-45 win.
Big-guy touchdownsCome to Arkansas, where linemen throw TDs
Who said Bret Bielema offenses were old school? Arkansas' coach loves his linemen, and here he lets 350-pound guard Sebastian Tretola throw for a score in a 45-17 win over UAB.
Tretola's pass was nice, but how about seeing a 400-pounder go up the seam for an 18-yard score in a New Year's Six bowl game? That's what Art Briles and Baylor dreamed up, as Laquon McGowan scored to give Baylor a 20-point lead before Michigan State stormed back to win 42-41.
Boise goes back to the future
Everyone remembers Boise State's introduction to a national college football audience, upsetting Oklahoma with the Statue of Liberty in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. Well, the Broncos brought it back for this year's game, as Jay Ajayi scored from 16 yards out in a 38-30 Boise win.
Fainting Goat gets its own category
Arkansas State can lay claim to the best worst fake punt ever. In theory, one player falls down, draws the attention of the defense and the Red Wolves get a first down. In reality, he got clobbered and Arkansas State's pass was intercepted. But that only made us love it more.
So does this Nebraska false start
Poor Jake Cotton. The Nebraska lineman was just trying to hold his stance, but once all 6-foot-6 and 305 pounds of him starting going backward, there was no turning back.
Year of the freshman RBLeonard Fournette runs over Texas A&M
It was an up-and-down year for the heavily hyped Fournette, but he certainly showed signs of why such big things were expected out of him. Just ask Howard Matthews, who got bowled over on Fournette's way to the end zone in LSU's 23-17 win.
Florida State had fallen behind again. This time, it was 23-10 to rival Miami. But Cook saved the day, with 44- and 26-yard scores to guide the Seminoles to a 30-26 victory.
Freeman could be a game-changer for the Ducks, the kind of every-down power back the team hasn't had in the past. And he can throw it too, as he proved with this touchdown toss to Marcus Mariota against Arizona.
Oklahoma's year certainly ended poorly, but the Sooners have hope for the future following the emergence of Perine. He set the single-game rushing record with 427 yards (and five scores) in a win over Kansas. This 64-yard TD scamper jump-started a comeback win for Oklahoma.
No Todd Gurley? No problem for the Bulldogs, who saw Nick Chubb announce himself as perhaps the best of all the freshman runners with a dominant 266-yard performance against a tough Louisville run defense. It was the most rushing yards by a Georgia back in a bowl and also a Belk Bowl mark.
More top playsNebraska's behind-the-back catch
It was all the way back in August, but this held up as one of the best plays of the year. Wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp went behind the back to grab a pass during a 55-7 Cornhuskers win over Florida Atlantic.
A running back on Joey Bosa? Yeah, that's not going to end well. As dominant as Ohio State was down the stretch, it wouldn't have happened had the Buckeyes not taken care of Penn State. Bosa made sure they finally did, with a 31-24 double-overtime win.
Of all the plays on this list, this is the most important. Trailing Alabama 21-13 in the final seconds of the first half, Evan Spencer took a handoff on a reverse and somehow found Michael Thomas in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. The lesson? Even Ohio State's receivers are great quarterbacks.
Melvin Gordon's stay atop the record book for single-game rushing yards may have lasted only a week, but that does nothing to diminish his magical performance against Nebraska, when he ran for 408 yards and four touchdowns in a 59-24 rout of the Cornhuskers.
Minnesota may have lost its bowl game, but the Golden Gophers still had the highlight of the game, as tight end Maxx Williams hurdled two defenders en route to a 54-yard touchdown. So it's probably no surprise that Williams declared for the NFL draft after this game.
You can't do much more than a 99-yard touchdown return, and that's exactly what Shaq Thompson did for Washington to kick off the scoring in a 31-7 win over Cal.
Autonomy. Now that Power 5 conferences have the autonomy they wanted, there will be discussion about how any decisions made will impact both the league and member schools and their real-world applications. Cost of attendance is sure to be a topic, as schools try to figure out a way to pay for the added expense at a time when revenues do not meet expenses in many athletic departments. Boston College voted against cost of attendance legislation, though the school will go ahead and pay for the cost increases.
Television. There have been recent reports that the ACC Network is getting closer to reality. Florida State president John Thrasher seemed optimistic in recent comments. So did Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock, who put a potential launch at 2016 or 2017. Television partners will be at the winter meetings, but they have annual face time with league reps. There is no set agenda for in-depth discussions about an ACC Network, but that doesn't mean plans are on the shelf. There has been progress made toward that end, but it would be premature to say the league was nearly ready to make a big announcement. League officials still have no timetable for when a network could come to fruition.
Scheduling. North Carolina and Wake Forest announced a nonconference series earlier this week that has drawn support from inside the ACC. Whether this becomes a trend remains to be seen, but surely athletic directors will have discussions about the pros and cons. However, the unconventional move does not mean the league is going to start rethinking how it handles its schedule. The vote last year to remain at eight league games has essentially put the scheduling questions to rest. Whether ACC schools want to schedule each other outside league play is an institutional decision.
One other topic that could come up is the College Football Playoff. Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich served on the playoff committee, and several athletic directors have mentioned they want to get his perspective to perhaps get a better idea of what they should be looking to do with their programs moving forward. There is no set agenda for Radakovich to address the group, but it wouldn't be a surprise if smaller group discussions took place.
Another characteristic -- confidence -- was a bit more abstract. Coaches said a proper playcaller has to take control of a game rather than allowing a defensive coordinator to get the upper hand.
It’s a chess game in the gladiator arena, and one coach said “bravado” is required.
“Always be on the attack,” he said, “regardless of down, distance, score or time of the game.”
Here are 10 playcallers -- coordinators and head coaches -- who most embody those elements.
1. Gus Malzahn, Auburn head coach
Even though the Auburn offense is built on the same few basic run plays, Malzahn continues to frustrate defensive coordinators.
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At last check, eight schools are ranked in the ESPN Recruiting Nation Top 40 class rankings. Duke, featured at N0. 39, is poised to sign David Cutcliffe's best class. NC State and Louisville are putting together strong classes, along with usual Top 25 suspects Florida State, Clemson, Miami, North Carolina and Virginia Tech.
Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson is doing work, too. Though the Deacs are not in the rankings, Clawson is quietly putting together a solid class. ESPN 300 prospect Bowman Archibald spurned Miami despite signing a financial aid agreement with the school in August. As he explained when he switched his commitment last September, his on-campus visit impressed him. He is already enrolled at Wake Forest (though he just had surgery for a broken leg).
Another four-star prospect, quarterback Kyle Kearns out of California, committed over the weekend. Then Tuesday, the Deacs scored another big commitment from running back Rocky Reid, a former Tennessee commit.
All three committed after taking official visits. Perhaps that is not a coincidence.
It also should not go unnoticed that Wake Forest has flipped players once committed to schools like Miami and Tennessee. The Deacs can clearly sell early playing time to a player like Reid, who joins a running back group in search of a standout. There also is no depth behind quarterback John Wolford, so coming to Wake to play quarterback should be appealing -- especially if Clawson's past history is taken into consideration.
Though Wake Forest went 3-9, this is a team that improved throughout the course of the season, that played with heart, energy and passion and never quit. Clawson has gotten the players on his roster to believe. Now he is getting recruits to believe as well.
More around the ACC:
- Clemson safety Travis Blanks has suffered a setback in his rehab from a knee injury.
- Duke has promoted Matt Guerreri to assistant coach.
- Coveted defensive end Byron Cowart announced via Twitter he won't take an official visit to Florida State this weekend.
- Georgia Tech got a commitment from running back Marcus Marshall, the younger brother of Georgia back Keith Marshall. Family Feud!
- Miami is on fire ... for the 2016 class. Odds all five commitments end up signing with the Canes?
- Pitt picked up a commitment from a receiver out of Texas.
- Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler told Mike Barber of The Richmond Times-Dispatch that he's hasn't spoken to anybody about the Central Michigan head coach opening. Barber also reports the Hokies won't have a Thursday night game in 2015.
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Quin Blanding, No. 10 in 2014 class
There wasn’t much drama around the recruitment of Blanding coming out of Bayside High in Virginia Beach. He committed very early to Virginia in February of 2013 after considering offers from many of the nation's top programs, including Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Auburn, UCLA, Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Michigan. Blanding was one of two five-star defenders to commit to Mike London in the 2014 class, along with defensive tackle Andrew Brown.
It's rare that a freshman makes this list, but that is how good Blanding was as a freshman at Virginia. He started the season by becoming the first Cavaliers true freshman to start a season opener at safety since 1976. He was also one of 10 Virginia players to start all 12 games, and finished second in the ACC in tackles with 123. Those 123 tackles also led the nation for all freshmen. He also filled the stat sheet with six pass breakups, three interceptions, 2.5 tackles for loss, and one sack.
Following the special freshman season, the 2014 Under Armour All-America Game standout was named the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year, All-ACC second team by the league coaches, and to numerous freshman All-American teams.
Entering the 2015 season, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Blanding is a good bet to appear on most preseason All-American teams.
Though Blanding still has two years to play in Charlottesville, he is already on the radar of NFL scouts following the 2016 season.
Honorable mention: Rueben Randle, No. 10 in the 2009 class. Randle played at LSU and was a second-round (No. 63 overall) NFL draft pick by the New York Giants. Eddie Goldman, No. 10 in the 2012 class. Goldman just finished his junior season at Florida State, and has entered the 2015 NFL draft after posting 35 tackles and four sacks in 2014.
Calvin Brewton, S
HT: 6-0 WT: 173
Positional Rank: No. 29 S
George Campbell, ATH
HT: 6-4 WT: 190
Positional Rank: No. 1 ATH
ESPN 300 (No. 7)
Under Armour All-American
Ethan Frith, OT
HT: 6-7 WT: 336
Positional Rank: No. 48 OT in 2014
Derwin James, S
HT: 6-2 WT: 202
Positional Rank: No. 1 S
ESPN 300 (No. 8)
Under Armour All-American
De'Andre Johnson, QB-DT
HT: 6-0 WT: 173
Positional Rank: No. 7 QB-DT
ESPN 300 (No. 259)
Under Armour All-American
Jacques Patrick, RB
HT: 6-3 WT: 233
Positional Rank: No. 3 RB
ESPN 300 (No. 49)
Under Armour All-American
Da'Vante Phillips, WR
HT: 6-2 WT: 202
Positional Rank: No. 6 WR
ESPN 300 (No. 44)
Under Armour All-American
Josh Sweat, DE
HT: 6-5 WT: 240
Positional Rank: No. 3 DE
ESPN 300 (No. 11)
Under Armour All-American
Florida State Seminoles
Position to improve: Linebacker
Why it was a problem: It's not often that a defense can lose a playmaker such as Telvin Smith (and DE/OLB Christian Jones to an extent) and move on without missing a beat. With the talent Jimbo Fisher has recruited, some thought the Seminoles might have minimal drop-off. But the unit had its ups and downs for a variety of reasons. There were injuries and suspensions, and there also a lot of inexperience and not as much athleticism. The linebackers struggled at times against the run and the pass, and there was not a great pass-rusher among the group.
How it can be fixed: A healthy Terrance Smith Jr. will obviously help, and so will a full season from redshirt sophomore Matthew Thomas. Smith battled a sprained knee throughout the second half of the season, and Thomas was suspended for the first six games. The Seminoles need one of their younger linebackers to step up, though, especially with the losses of E.J. Levenberry and Reggie Northrup (ACL surgery). Jacob Pugh played sparingly as a freshman, and Delvin Purifoy never played a down after a season-ending injury. The good news is Pugh, Purifoy and defensive end/linebacker Lorenzo Featherston were all blue-chip recruits in the 2014 class and will have a full year under their belts.
Early 2015 outlook: There are definite reasons for optimism, as Smith and Thomas will be joined by one of the younger players. The 2014 class was filled with talent, and there will be an opportunity for the second-year linebackers to step up. The Seminoles also went the junior college route in the 2015 class with linebacker Lorenzo Phillips. He was the third-ranked outside linebacker among junior college players, and the idea is for him to make an immediate impact. But while the outlook is hardly bleak, one of the younger players has to step up and help the defense return to the top of the national rankings.
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CFP Firm On Dates
TBD Duke Tulane TBD Alcorn State Georgia Tech TBD Elon Wake Forest
TBD Maine Boston College TBD Wofford Clemson TBD Texas State Florida State TBD Bethune-Cookman Miami (FL) TBD Troy North Carolina State TBD Youngstown State Pittsburgh TBD Rhode Island Syracuse TBD Virginia UCLA