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Welcome to Yahoo Sports’ 2018 college football preseason top 25. A poll that’s guaranteed to be wrong like every other preseason poll out there. Every day in August we’re going to reveal a new team in our top 25 culminating with the reveal of our No. 1 team on Aug. 25. And yes, it’s a team from the SEC.
No. 19 Florida State
2017 record: 7-6 (3-5 ACC)
Returning starters: 8 offense, 4 defense
Willie Taggart’s déjà vu
First-year Florida State coach Willie Taggart inherits a situation similar to the one he walked into a year ago.
Taggart came to Oregon from South Florida after the 2016 season. At Oregon, Taggart took over a modern college football power that had significantly underachieved the year before and was looking for a quick turnaround.
Oregon got it, at least not on a grand scale. The Ducks were hindered by injuries, most notably to RB Royce Freeman and QB Justin Herbert, but improved by three games in the win column and finished 7-6 after a Las Vegas Bowl loss to Boise State.
Florida State wants the same level of rebound in 2018. Taggart was hired in the offseason to replace Jimbo Fisher, who bolted after a tumultuous season for the land of $75 million guaranteed at Texas A&M. At Oregon, Taggart replaced the fired Mark Helfrich, who took his team to the championship game following the 2015 season. Fisher’s Seminoles won the BCS Championship after the 2013 season and lost to Helfrich’s Ducks at the end of 2014.
Big expectations are nothing new for the Florida native. And that’s good. He’s not going to be overwhelmed at Florida State. There may be some adjustment, but Taggart shouldn’t be scared of the immediate ACC expectations that Seminole fans will have.
“I think everything about last year shocked me when it came to Florida State,” Taggart said at ACC media days. “But that’s football, and that’s life, and that’s behind us now. It’s on us now to change those things because we know we can be a lot better than what we did last year. And that’s the expectation for us to be a lot better than what we performed last year, so I’m looking forward to our guys changing that narrative.”
Find a quarterback
Who’s Florida State’s QB in 2018? Is it Deondre Francois, the guy who showed promise as a passer in 2016 before injuring his knee in Week 1 of the 2017 season? Or is it James Blackman the guy who showed promise himself in relief of Francois?
Francois is probably the more gifted of the two quarterbacks but he hasn’t had the greatest of offseasons. He was accused of domestic violence in January — the investigation quickly ended and no charges were filed — and his apartment was searched in the spring after police suspected him of selling marijuana.
Blackman completed 58 percent of his passes for 2,230 yards, 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 2017. He focused primarily on getting the ball to Nyqwan Murray and Auden Tate; they were the only two receivers with 40 catches and had 14 of the 22 touchdowns caught by FSU receivers a year ago.
Replace a lot of defensive talent
DB Derwin James declared early for the NFL draft. So did CB Tarvarus McFadden. And DE Josh Sweat. And DE Jalen Wilkerson.
Of the four, James was probably the only player virtually guaranteed to leave early when the 2017 season began and the stat lines of McFadden, Sweat and Wilkerson didn’t jump off the page. But since they’re gone FSU returns just four starters on defense and must replace the top four tacklers from a year ago.
But there are plenty of reinforcements. DE Brian Burns should be a force. Freshman defensive backs AJ Lytton and Jaiden Woodbey could get expansive playing time. The defense may need a few games to gel but it shouldn’t be any worse than it was a year ago. And could be a lot better.
Cam Akers, RB: Akers led the team in rushing as a freshman in 2017 with 1,024 yards. He said he realized last season that he couldn’t always look for the long touchdown run on every play.
“The aha moment for me, I was trying to make a big play when I wasn’t supposed to be trying to do that, and I took a big hit,” Akers said at media days. “And I was like, yeah, this is not high school no more.”
Akers should be the lead back in a timeshare with Jacques Patrick again and third-leading rusher Amir Rasul is back for 2018 as well. No matter who ends up winning Florida State’s QB job the running game should be strong with Akers, Patrick and four offensive line starters returning.
Game to watch: Oct. 6 @ Miami
Florida State’s road schedule is brutal in 2018. The Seminoles travel to Louisville, Miami, NC State and Notre Dame in addition to visiting Syracuse. The Orange were the one team to beat Clemson in the regular season in 2017. At least FSU doesn’t face Syracuse on a Friday night.
Clemson travels to Tallahassee on Oct. 27 but we’ll have a good idea about Florida State a few weeks before then. The game at Miami is the week after a trip to Louisville and the Seminoles open the season against Louisville. If Florida State enters that Miami game with an undefeated conference record then things are going to be pretty interesting in the ACC.
Florida State wins the ACC Atlantic and the ACC altogether. Nothing less works as a best-case scenario for FSU fans. Realistically, a second-place finish in the division would be a good achievement in Taggart’s first season. And that’s what we’re envisioning.
Things aren’t as rosy as we imagine and Florida State drops its Week 1 game against Virginia Tech. Then games against Louisville and Miami are losses too. That doesn’t set up well for that Clemson game, which is right ahead of trips to NC State and Notre Dame in consecutive weeks.
Florida State loses to Clemson, Miami and one of Notre Dame and NC State to finish the regular season in the neighborhood of 9-3. Even an 8-4 record shouldn’t be considered a disappointment.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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