TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The season opener is less than a week away, which means it’s time to reintroduce Florida State fans to FPI!
Now hold on before finding the nearest Appaloosa horse to start racing toward Orlando, Florida. The Seminoles are FPI’s No. 1 team heading into this season.
That’s in large part due to an offense the metric believes will be the best in the country. That projection comes even with a brand new, redshirt freshman quarterback in Deondre Francois, because nearly every other starter on the offense returns. Talent and experience around a young quarterback is what has led six first-year starting quarterbacks to win national championships since 2009, Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher posited before camp.
With No. 11 Ole Miss on the horizon Labor Day (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) to cap Kickoff Week, Fisher is pleased with the growth of Francois’ support system. The offensive line has matured since a leaky Chick Fil-A Peach Bowl performance. The receivers have agitated Fisher at times, but he said the receivers had a solid camp and now that junior Travis Rudolph is healthy the group could take off.
“Not having Travis hurt, but getting him back has made a big difference,” Fisher said. “And those other guys were good. We had a solid camp in that regard.”
Rudolph missed much of preseason camp with a hamstring strain, but he established himself in spring practice. There might not have been a player Fisher was happier with in March and April than Rudolph, who led Florida State with 916 receiving yards last season.
The junior took on the role of teacher and motivator while he was sitting out, helping some of the younger receivers with their technical skills while pushing them to earn a place in the rotation.
At 6-foot-1 and 192 pounds, Rudolph is the tallest of the three projected starters at receiver. The lack of a taller, more physical option to complement the speed of Rudolph, Kermit Whitfield and Jesus Wilson has been a source of frustration for Florida State fans recently. Not since the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Kelvin Benjamin left after 2013 have the Seminoles had that kind of imposing threat at receiver.
True freshman Keith Gavin, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 225 pounds, has impressed Rudolph in a short time. Auden Tate, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound receiver who starred in the spring game, is another receiver fans hope will emerge after stirring expectations with 100 yards and two touchdowns in the scrimmage. He’s drawn comparisons to Benjamin and said he’s watched tape of the former Florida State star, but injuries limited his fall camp.
“He brings a lot. He can make all the catches,” Rudolph said of Tate, “and the only thing I feel he can improve on is his route running. That’s the main thing we all preach is as long as you get your route running right and you know your assignments you’ll be good.
“Coach Fisher feels we reach on some of our steps for our cuts and he wants us to keep it within shoulder-width apart. That’s the main thing.”
Francois will have more time to find Rudolph, Tate and the rest of the receivers this season, offensive lineman Roderick Johnson said. He said the unit continuously improved throughout camp, and the return of seven offensive linemen with starting experience will make a significant impact. If Brock Ruble beats converted defensive end Rick Leonard at right tackle, all five linemen will have started in 2015.
Last season, the Seminoles’ quarterbacks were pressured on one-third of their drop-backs, eighth-worst among the 65 Power 5 teams. They were equally poor in providing a push for running back Dalvin Cook, finishing 58th in percentage of rushes being stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage. They were 38th in yards per rush before first contact, too.
Cook, arguably the best running back nationally, was routinely stuffed on third-and-short situations. On 19 third-down rushes, nine didn’t gain a single yard. On 18 rushes in which the Seminoles needed only a yard, only 39 percent resulted in a first down.
“I can tell you we got a lot tougher from camp until now. We’re always working to be tougher and more physically and mentally stronger,” Johnson said. “We’re not going to go to Orlando to back down. We’re going to play with some grit and a nasty demeanor.”