Written by Erik Slaby
Tallahassee, FL – College football is back. After nine months of waiting, the 2018 college football season is finally underway. No longer will people have to fill their Saturdays with other activities, football is back and here to stay. Week One of the college football season will conclude with a Top 20 matchup between the 20th ranked Virginia Tech Hokies and 19th ranked Florida State Seminoles at the iconic Doak Campbell Stadium.
Florida State is coming off of a disappointing 2017 season in where they finished with a 7-6 record and a win in the Walk On’s Independence Bowl after being hyped as preseason National Championship contenders. Several other major things contributed to the Seminoles’ performance in 2017 including losing starting quarterback Deondre Francois to season ending knee injury in week one, being forced to start true freshman James Blackman at quarterback for the rest of the season and former head coach Jimbo Fisher resigning before the season was over to take over as the head coach at Texas A&M. Needless to say, the Seminoles had a difficult 2017 season and are looking to right the ship under new head coach Willie Taggart.
Under the leadership of Taggart, optimism has been abound for the Seminoles this offseason. He has brought in a new exciting energy to the program with former players and coaches visiting the programs, a trip to the IMG Academy and new offensive and defensive schemes that will adhere to Taggart’s philosophy of “lethal simplicity.”
Offensively, Florida State has the potential to be very good and at the worst, exciting. The talented Francois returns as the starting quarterback and looks to rebound from his injury and pick up where he left off in 2016, when he led the Seminoles to an Orange Bowl victory over the Michigan Wolverines. The Seminoles also return running backs Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick to their rushing attack, which was one of the few positives from last season. Akers rushed for 1,025 yards and seven touchdowns last season while Patrick rushed for 748 yards and seven touchdowns. A lethal running game has long been a key part of Taggart’s offensive schemes in the past so this, combined with the return of Francois improving the passing attack, will greatly improve the Seminoles on offense.
Last season, by most statistical categories Florida State had a good defense but the defense struggled in one main area, third down defense. The Seminoles were plagued with an inability to get off the field on third downs, with teams converting on third downs roughly 36% of the time which was good for 45th in the country. Now that seems decent but Michigan State’s defense, under new Florida State defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett, allowed teams to convert roughly 32% of their third down attempts, good for 18th in the country. Under Barnett, those number should improve. Especially with the level of talent Florida State has on their team.
Virginia Tech is coming off of a successful 2017 season where they finished with a 9-4 record, but ended the season with a loss in the Camping World Bowl to Oklahoma State. They will be looking to make it back to the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship game after not making it last season but they will have a tough time getting there. Not only is Miami still a threat in the Coastal Division, but Virginia Tech has lost seven defensive starters from last season. In the past, when Virginia Tech has had success, they’ve relied on a very good defense. Starting quarterback Josh Jackson returns as the starter and with more experience but given how key the defense was last season to Virginia Tech’s success, it’ll be interesting to see how they perform.
This game has huge ramifications not only in the ACC, but also in the national championship race. As both teams are ranked, this would be a major win on the resume for Florida State and Virginia Tech and as always in college football, the less you lose the better. With it being the first game of the Taggart era at Florida State and their struggles last season, it’s important that Florida State starts off strong.
In an article in The Player’s Tribune earlier this week, Taggart wrote that he expects Florida State to be in title contention every season and they are not shying away from these expectations.
“We expect to be ranked in the Top 5,” said Taggart. “We expect to win the ACC. And we expect to win every game. Every single year. What I want to make clear is that we aren’t running from those expectations. We’re embracing them. Every time Florida State takes the field, we expect to be dominant. We expect the national championship discussion to always run through Tallahassee.”
Taggart and Florida State will have the chance to start off their journey to the ACC Championship Game strong against Virginia Tech, Monday night at 8PM EST at Doak Campbell Stadium.