The Florida State Seminoles appeared to vex the Miami Hurricanes once again. In the closing minutes of Saturday’s game, FSU took a 20-17 lead and Miami had minimal time remaining to win or tie.
Miami would take the 24-20 victory on a very unlikely (and slightly disputed) pass to the front pylon, plunging Florida State to a 1-3 start. Predictably, headlines paint a picture of doom for the rest of the season. It’s not that simple.
Despite the program’s first 1-3 start since 1976, there are numerous caveats to be added for FSU’s 2017. On top of losing starting quarterback Deondre Francois in game one, the team was then forced into a mismatched schedule in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Florida State would not play for two weeks after falling to Alabama in Atlanta. Their first opponent after the long hiatus was an NC State Wolfpack team built to exploit FSU’s biggest weakness, the offensive line.
Add a brand new starting quarterback (James Blackman) to the mix, and there’s no surprise as to how that game transpired the way it did, a 27-21 victory for NC State. The games immediately following that one further threw the ‘Noles straight into ACC play, and strong defensive fronts. While they beat an improved Wake Forest team, Miami got them by a hair.
All four opponents thus far have possessed formidable front sevens. And all four are arguably among the top 30-40 teams in the country right now. That’s not an excuse for a team on the short list of preseason title contenders; though perhaps it does expose a glaring issue many overlooked. But it stands to reason that an experienced and proven passer like Francois would be able to handle that sort of pressure better than Blackman. It’s likely the latter improves over the course of the season, however.
Which brings us to why the (understandably) poor start may not be indicative of much. Blackman is going to improve. This defense is a capable group, allowing just 334.5 yards per game. Clemson is the lone ranked team on FSU’s remaining schedule, and of the rest, just Boston College and Florida are teams that could provide some real trouble up front.
There are some very worst-case scenarios available for the ‘Noles, of course. But it doesn’t take much optimism to see how Florida State still finishes 7-4 despite everything that’s transpired.
No, that’s not a championship-caliber record and Florida State will be lucky to finish among the top three in the ACC’s Atlantic Division with that mark. That said, it’s also a fairly realistic view of what most programs could expect given the challenges FSU has had to deal with in 2017.
For outside fans, that’s probably enough. Florida State has brought in more talent than nearly every other program in recent seasons, with the exceptions likely being just Alabama and maybe Ohio State. Those programs can largely plug in replacements for injuries with minimal drop-off. Everyone else must actually deal with the repercussions of attrition, graduation and injury. Perhaps before the season, we thought FSU wasn’t “everyone else.” This year’s problems, combined with a hurricane, seem to indicate otherwise.
So is that enough for Seminoles fans to take solace in? You can tell there are some nerves setting in. Even if he’s unaffected, coach Jimbo Fisher feels it too and has urged fans to keep cheering. Blueblood programs don’t typically have to ask that of fans. But these are strange times for FSU. They haven’t started this poorly in 41 years. It’s been six years since they lost more than three games in a single season.
For current students, that’s eons ago. FSU seniors had seen seven total losses since arriving on campus (and the same goes for the fifth-year seniors). That’s a high bar to meet. And again, if we’re assuming that Florida State is part of the “everyone else” group — albeit at the front of the line there — then a season like this happens now and again.
No pun intended, this was a perfect storm of events for Florida State and one that could end up making them better in the long run. With two experienced starting quarterbacks next year, the ‘Noles will be better equipped to handle hardships like injuries. Getting thrown into the fire this year should theoretically improve the offensive line too. Or at the very least, give younger players an extra year to get ready to contribute.
Even if we’re just looking at the rest of this season, it’s unlikely we can extrapolate what’s gone wrong so far into what happens the rest of the year. FSU should be favored in about five of its final seven games, which equates to a bowl bid. If you’re realistic about what should be expected given the circumstances, that result is great. If not, then to you, this is a crisis.
But really, Florida State’s fine.