Willie Taggart ended a nightmarish first season at Florida State with a bit of history he surely did not want: The Seminoles posted their first losing season since 1976. The same problems that had plagued them the previous season only grew: inconsistency at quarterback, poor offensive-line play and too many penalties. Clemson handed FSU the worst home loss in school history, and rival Florida took out years of frustration with a 41-14 win in the regular-season finale that gave Taggart plenty to think about this long offseason.
Then, in early February, he dismissed Deondre Francois from the team as part of a culture change that holds players to a "high standard of conduct."
Going into spring practice, the future is uncertain for a program that seems to have fallen far behind Clemson in the race for ACC dominance.
2018 record: 5-7 (3-5 ACC)
Spring practice starts: March 4
Spring game: April 6
Spring storyline to watch: James Blackman should be the first in line to replace Francois, but he will be tasked with learning his third offensive scheme in as many years now that Taggart has brought in Kendal Briles as offensive coordinator. There are only two quarterbacks on scholarship, and Blackman is the best (and maybe only) option to start at this point. The starter in 2017 after Francois was lost with a season-ending knee injury, Blackman played admirably even though he only had a rudimentary grasp of the offense. Still, Taggart and his staff raved about Blackman, his work ethic, practice habits and leadership throughout last season and are confident he can get the job done.
Biggest question mark: Taggart cites a culture change and high standards of conduct, yet he decided to hire Briles, who was on staff with his father, Art Briles, at Baylor, when a sexual assault scandal cost Art Briles his job. Kendal Briles was not directly implicated in the investigation and moved on to serve as offensive coordinator at FAU and Houston before heading to Tallahassee.
There is no question Florida State needs a vastly improved offense after a dreadful 2018 in which it ranked near the bottom of the country in total offense (361.2 yards per game), scoring offense (21.9 points per game) and rushing offense (91.1 YPG). How does Briles handle the large task that awaits, along with greater public scrutiny at his most high-profile job since leaving Baylor?
Biggest offseason position battle: Offensive line
If there is one position that will determine how Florida State fares in 2019, it's offensive line. The Seminoles had issues across the board along their line a season ago. Some of those issues stemmed from injuries that forced young players into roles they could not handle. Some stemmed from a lack of player development over the previous seasons. Some stemmed from the scheme they were being asked to play. They used nine different starting combinations. Perhaps as a result, Florida State averaged a meager 91.1 yards per game rushing -- a shocking drop considering the talent in the backfield -- and allowed 36 sacks. Both ranked among the worst in the nation.
Without a run game, the Seminoles were paralyzed to do much else, allowing defensive lines to tee off on Francois. Pass protection has been a problem for years, and it's now up to the staff to get all the problems fixed. Key players who must be replaced include center Alec Eberle, who started the final 44 games of his career, along with Derrick Kelly, who had 28 starts of his own. Florida State already has a commitment from grad transfer tackle Ryan Roberts (Northern Illinois) and added several other linemen on the December and February signing dates.
Strength heading into spring: Secondary
Florida State didn't play that well as a whole in the secondary a season ago, but there should be marked improvement going into 2019.
Levonta Taylor, who had an off year after fighting through injuries in 2018, returns, along with Hamsah Nasirildeen, Kyle Meyers, A.J. Lytton, Cyrus Fagan, Asante Samuel and Stanford Samuels, who could be in line for a breakout season. ESPN 300 cornerback Akeem Dent, the top-rated player the Seminoles signed in December, enrolled early and will participate in the spring as well -- making secondary a position filled with talent and depth.