Editor’s note: Joe Giglio begins his 2015 ACC football preview with his pick to win the Atlantic Division: Florida State. The 14-week series will run each Sunday, in order of Giglio’s division predictions.
If Jimbo Fisher really does everything like his mentor, Nick Saban, the offseason addition of a high-profile graduate transfer quarterback will be a footnote by the end of the 2015 college football season.
Fisher, Florida State’s sixth-year coach, made news last week by adding former Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson to the pool of candidates to replace Jameis Winston, the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NFL draft.
Missed in the hoopla of Golson’s decision, and Fisher’s willingness to gamble on a turnover-prone quarterback, was that we saw this episode of “As the Transfer World Turns” last year.
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Saban, Alabama’s coach and Fisher’s former boss at LSU, made a similar headline-grabbing move, adding quarterback Jacob Coker, who coincidentally graduated from FSU but was stuck behind Winston on the depth chart.
Coker got to Alabama and promptly watched from the bench as Blake Sims led the Crimson Tide to a 12-1 record and the No. 1 seed in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Coker’s season consisted of 59 pass attempts – only 10 in SEC play – and zero starts.
It’s too early to tell where Golson will land on the transfer spectrum with Coker on one end and Russell Wilson, who graduated from N.C. State and led Wisconsin to 11 wins and a Big Ten title in 2011, on the other.
The possibility that Golson – who threw 14 interceptions and lost eight fumbles in 12 starts with the Fighting Irish in 2014 – is really a smart bomb deployed by Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly to derail FSU’s program can’t be completely ruled out either.
Either way, FSU’s offense will have to be significantly remodeled with four new starters on the line and without Winston, who was 26-1 as a starter and threw 65 TD passes in the past two seasons.
After taking a long look in the spring at junior Sean Maguire, redshirt freshman J.J. Cosentino and true freshman De’Andre Johnson, Fisher decided it was worth the risk to add Golson.
Fisher, in an interview with the Associated Press, praised Golson’s arm strength, footwork and his experience at Notre Dame (17-6 as a starter).
“I think that only enhances your team and your chances for the other players in your organization to win,” Fisher said. “It makes too much sense to not bring him on board.”
Fisher’s right, of course; having options can’t hurt. Plus, he can always pull a Saban and not play Golson.
If Golson wins the job, though, there’s some cleaning up to do with his ball security. And for a team whose biggest problem in 2014 was turnovers – incredibly going 13-0 and making the CFP despite a minus-6 turnover margin – that’s a curious decision.
Given Fisher’s background with quarterbacks (helping produce four first-round picks and two No. 1 overall picks), he has earned the benefit of the doubt.
The emergence of Malik Zaire hastened Golson’s exit from Notre Dame, despite the fact that Golson was the quarterback in 2012 when the Irish reached the national championship game.
Golson, in an interview with Fox Sports, was quick to point to Fisher’s track record with quarterbacks as his reason to choose FSU, although he hinted Notre Dame prevented more logical landing spots at South Carolina, Texas and Georgia.
“I just needed a fresh start,” Golson told Fox Sports.
If nothing else, he’ll get that with FSU. Even money, though, that whoever ends up at quarterback, Fisher goes old-school in 2015 and decides to rely on sophomore running back Dalvin Cook (1,008 rushing yards) and what should be a significantly improved defense.
Assuming it takes Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson a year to get back to 100 percent after major knee surgery, that should be enough for FSU to win its fourth straight ACC title.
ACC preview schedule
Sunday: No. 1 Florida State
June 7: No. 2 Clemson
June 14: No. 3 N.C. State
June 21: No. 4 Louisville
June 28: No. 5 Boston College
July 5: No. 6 Syracuse
July 12: No. 7 Wake Forest
July 19: No. 1 Virginia Tech
July 26: No. 2 Georgia Tech
Aug. 2: No. 3 UNC
Aug. 9: No. 4 Duke
Aug. 16: No. 5 Pitt
Aug. 23: No. 6 Miami
Aug. 30: No. 7 Virginia
Florida State at a glance
2014: 13-1 (8-0 ACC)
Coach: Jimbo Fisher (58-11, sixth year at FSU)
Returning starters: Offense (3), Defense (7), Special teams (2)
Passing: QB Sean Maguire (25-49, 339 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT)
Rushing: RB Dalvin Cook (170 rushes, 1,008 yards, 8 TDs)
Receiving: WR Travis Rudolph (38 catches, 555 yards, 4 TDs)
Tackles: LB Reggie Northrup (122)
▪ Sophomore running back Dalvin Cook, not Jameis Winston, was the main reason FSU was able to pull out tight games against Miami, Louisville, Boston College, Florida and Georgia Tech last season.
Cook ran for 880 yards in the last nine games of the season, with plus-100 efforts against Louisville, Florida, Georgia Tech and Oregon.
He’s got the talent, size (6-0, 203 pounds) and one-cut-and-go, game-breaking ability to be an all-timer.
▪ Junior defensive back Jalen Ramsey was FSU’s MacGyver last season, keeping the Seminoles’ injury-riddled defense together with paper clips and chewing gum.
From his safety/nickel/linebacker slot he finished the season with 79 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles.
He’s being moved to cornerback but an undeniable talent like that always finds a way to make an impact.
▪ The ’Noles lost another 11 players to the NFL draft, including five who left early. FSU has had 29 players drafted in the last three years and a 39-3 record to show for it.
At some point, even if it’s a “down” year like Alabama had in 2014, the talent drain catches up.
▪ The offensive line probably wasn’t as good as it should have been last season but it has to be completely rebuilt.
Sophomore left tackle Roderick Johnson is a great start but Fisher is turning to a pair of junior college transfers for help. That’s not the recruiting/reload formula that got Fisher to the top of the college football landscape.
If Cook really is the young Gale Sayers, the defense stays healthy and Golson learns to value the ball, the Seminoles will be 13-0 and back in the College Football Playoff.
Golson and Maguire end up in a dreaded quarterback platoon, the offensive line is a wreck and the defense can’t stay healthy and a mortal season of 10-2 – or gasp!, 9-3 – knocks some sense of reality into the FSU reign.
Free from the strangling pressure of last year’s game-to-game referendum, the Seminoles ride Cook and an easy schedule to 11 wins and a fourth straight ACC title.
Newcomer to watch
WR, George Campbell (6-3, 197)
The one player FSU missed in 2014 more than anyone else was receiver Kelvin Benjamin. Campbell’s two inches shorter than Benjamin but the five-star prospect from Clearwater, Fla., gives whoever wins the quarterback job a big, downfield security blanket. And with defenses geared to stop Cook, Campbell, who enrolled early, might approach Benjamin’s TD total (15) from 2013.
Sept. 5 Texas State
Sept. 12 South Florida
Sept. 18 at Boston College
Sept. 26 OPEN
Oct. 3 at Wake Forest
Oct. 10 Miami
Oct. 17 Louisville
Oct. 24 at Georgia Tech
Oct. 31 Syracuse
Nov. 7 at Clemson
Nov. 14 N.C. State
Nov. 21 Chattanooga
Nov. 28 at Florida
FSU never got enough credit from the CFP committee for navigating through its 2014 regular-season schedule without a loss.
Miami, Louisville and Clemson had as much talent as any team in the country. And Notre Dame, Oklahoma State and Florida out of the league was more of a challenge than, say, what Ohio State faced (Virginia Tech, Navy, Kent State, Cincinnati).
If FSU finds itself back in CFP contention, this schedule will likely be held against the Seminoles.
Oklahoma State and Notre Dame have been replaced by Texas State and South Florida.
Florida’s still there, with a trip to Clemson looming as the most important on any ACC schedule, but there’s not a lot of meat on this bone.
It could be worse – the ACC crossover games with Georgia Tech and Miami should help, but it’s unlikely FSU will be able to count on strength of schedule as an asset come December.