The week is finally here, the week many across the nation have been waiting for since the clock struck zero at the BCS National Championship in Pasadena in January.
It is officially game week in America, and once again College Football has returned.
The chase to be one of the four teams in the inaugural College Football Playoff is on, and while there is much preseason debate about who will earn a spot in the playoffs there is one team that many in the media are writing in their brackets with pen and not pencil. That team is none other than the national champions of last season otherwise known as the Seminoles of Florida State.
Yes, from Phil Steele, to the Sporting News, ESPN’s College Gameday, and everyone else in-between the ‘Noles are near unanimous favorites to be one of the four teams competing for a chance to win a National Championship. But as Head Coach Jimbo Fisher always says the season is a process, and just like every other team across the College Football landscape FSU will have to earn the right to be in the playoffs one week at at time.
So with that, the focus shifts to game one for the Garnet and Gold, a nationally televised prime-time tilt against the Oklahoma State Cowboys of the Big XII at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. Head Coach Mike Gundy has done a tremendous job leading the Cowpokes since taking over the program in 2005, and has fielded many great teams. The jury however is still out on this year’s squad that sees only nine returning starters (five on offense and four on defense) and will be breaking in a new QB in J.W. Walsh.
That is not to say Florida State is without its’ own question marks. Yes this is an FSU squad loaded with talent, but it also hides some underlying uncertainty. So with the first game of the season nearly here, here are the three biggest questions that many ‘Noles fans hope to have answered by the end of Saturday night.
1. Will Jameis Winston and the Receiving Core Mesh?
Last season eventual Heisman Trophy winning QB Jameis Winston had no problem getting into a rhythm with his wide outs in his first game of the season as Winston went 25-27 throwing for 356 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-13 rout of Pitt. Last season however Winston had the luxury of a group of WR’s including Kenny Shaw, Rashad Greene, and Kelvin Benjamin. Only Greene remains now after the Seminoles lost Shaw to graduation and Benjamin left FSU early to declare for the NFL draft and eventually become a Carolina Panther.
So now Winston has a new set of faces to turn to including freshmen Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph, returning WR Christian Green who will be more than likely be moving up to first team, and Jarred Haggins who is returning from injury and has never played a down with Winston under center. This is still a talented group, but it is one that will have to prove itself this Saturday and in the weeks ahead.
2. Who is the Leader of the Defense?
The 2013 FSU defense was a veteran laden bunch with plenty of snaps and starts between the group. It was full of vocal players like Telvin Smith and Lamarcus Joyner (now of the Jacksonville Jaguars and St. Louis Rams respectively) that helped drive the defense both on the field and emotionally. The Seminoles have just over half of their defensive starters returning with six players coming back.
DB Jalen Ramsey is considered by many to now be the best player on the defensive side of the ball, so will he be the one to step up and lead? Will the leadership come from someone unexpected? Yes, Florida State has the talent to replace the starters it lost, but does it have the players that will fill the shoes of lost leadership? That remains to be seen.
3. Will FSU truly have an “Attitude of Domination?”
Throughout the offseason Jimbo Fisher has spoken a lot about the difficulties of motivating a team that is on top of the world, much less finding a way to stay there. Fisher has specifically mentioned Michael Jordan, Joe Montana, and other players and teams that had consistent success and built dynasties in their respective sports. Obviously this is the model that any coach coming off a national title would want to emulate, but that is easier said than done.
Until last season FSU was infamously known for taking a game off and losing to a lesser opponent. FSU once again has a favorable schedule and may just be double digit favorites against every single one of their regular season foes. With that being said the Seminoles biggest challenge this season might just be defeating complacency and staying focused on their end goals like the prior year’s campaign. It is only with that that a true “attitude of domination” that was so prevalent in the 1990’s can return to Tallahassee.
Florida State and Oklahoma State kick off in Arlington, TX at 8 PM ET with television coverage on ABC.