All offseason, this Florida State team was hyped up by the national media.
They’ll contend for the ACC, they said. They’re a playoff team, they said. A national championship level team, they said.
Even Jimbo Fisher was animated when talking about this squad. Despite starting a freshman quarterback, Fisher was very high on this team when asked about them in fall camp. Deondre Francois was better than expected, Dalvin Cook was back for another Heisman-contending year, and the defense was going to be elite with blue-chip talent scattered across the depth chart.
Five games in, the narrative could not be more different.
Florida State sits at 3-2 after North Carolina kicked a game-winning field goal to snap the Seminoles’ nation-leading home win streak. The Tar Heels drove up and down the field in the first half, but Florida State was able mount a heroic comeback in the second half to take the lead.
Unfortunately, Florida State left too much time on the clock. Too much being twenty three seconds.
The defense was unable to corral North Carolina’s offense and the Tar Heels gained 38-yards in less than twenty seconds to get into field goal range, aided by a pass interference call on cornerback Tarvarus McFadden. UNC hit the game-winning field goal and Florida State fans were left stunned as the Heels’ kicker raced down the field, mockingly doing the tomahawk chop.
So, what’s wrong with Florida State?
For a team that was billed to be a national championship contender in the offseason, this squad does not resemble anything close to a team that could compete with an Alabama or Ohio State. They are undisciplined, unorganized and playing at a level that reminds many fans of the Lost Decade.
It starts with coaching.
Florida State had a fourth and two from the UNC 28-yard line and Jimbo Fisher elected to kick a field goal. Ricky Aguayo would miss the field goal.
Fourth and two, with the best running back in the entire conference in the backfield against a North Carolina offense that ranks amongst the worst in rushing defense.
In collegiate football, where sometimes 30-40 points are necessary to win a game, going for it on fourth down is absolutely the right decision. Dalvin Cook is averaging 6.3 yards per carry on the year. His backup, 230-pound Jacques Patrick, is averaging 6.2 yards per carry.
These are the kind of coaching decisions that will cost Florida State games (as we saw today) and prevent the Seminoles from competing for another national championship.
Secondly, this defense does not resemble anything close to a traditional Florida State defense.
Through the first five games of the season, Florida State has given up 177 points. That’s just over five touchdowns a game, or 35 points per game. Yes, star safety Derwin James is out, but the Seminoles have recruited at a high enough level that their four and five-star athletes should be able to step in and contribute.
There are problems at every level of the defense.
Apart from DeMarcus Walker, the defensive line struggles to get pressure. Josh Sweat is one week removed from knee surgery and should not be taking major snaps. The linebackers are slow reading and diagnosing plays in the backfield. And the secondary, week in and week out, continues to be a major liability. Defensive backs cannot tackle and busted plays should be expected at least once a game.
Lastly, the offense, at its core, is still manned by a freshman quarterback.
After the Ole Miss game, the national hype surrounding Francois reached unparalleled levels. ESPN even had him in their Heisman watch.
But he’s only a freshman, and this game against North Carolina was just his fifth career start.
He had several ugly overthrows, a couple of sacks because he held onto the ball too long and nearly took a safety late in the game. While he is capable of making big plays and leading Florida State down the field, these are the kind of mistakes that you have to live with if you start a freshman quarterback.
So where does Florida State go from here?
They have to rebound quickly, as they travel to Miami next week in a game that suddenly looks a lot harder than it did in the preseason. There is a very real chance that the Seminoles lose to the Hurricanes for the first time since 2009.
After that, they host Wake Forest before getting a bye week. And then comes the big test against Clemson, a game that was billed to be the de-facto ACC Championship game. Not anymore. That game will likely be played later tonight between Clemson and Louisville. Florida State then closes out their season with NC State, Boston College, Syracuse and Florida.
How many wins does Florida State scrape out of its remaining seven games? Six? Five?
10-2 and 9-3 are the best case scenarios at this point, but losing four or five ball games would not be a massive surprise give the way that the Seminoles have played through the first five games of the season.
Unfortunately, there are not many positive aspects of this team that I can sell you about. Dalvin Cook, while dynamic and explosive, is still injured. Derwin James will be out until the Clemson game, if not longer. DeMarcus Walker is really the only player on defense that is playing with any heart.
There are still seven games left to play in the regular season, Florida State fans.
The next time that Florida State suits up to play, grab a cold beer or two. You’ll need it.