Orlando Kickoff Game preview: FSU vs. Ole Miss

Courtesy Seminoles.com

Courtesy Seminoles.com

Labor Day weekend will play host to some very big games in college football this year. No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 19 University of Southern California, No. 6 Louisiana State University vs. Wisconsin, and No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 12 Houston are just a few of the headlining games to kick off the start of the college football season. However, no game may be bigger than a top-15 matchup between No. 4 Florida State and No. 14 Ole Miss on Labor Day. The Seminoles are looking to have another successful year after a 10-3 season and claim their stake as contenders in this year’s College Football Playoff. The playoff is in its third year since it was introduced in 2014. The Rebels, led by senior starting quarterback Chad Kelly, are looking for a huge upset win to prove to everyone that they are a legitimate threat this year. The matchup will take place at Orlando’s own Camping World Stadium on Sep. 5 at 8:00 p.m. on ESPN. There are plenty of headlines for each team entering this game, but both teams are looking to leave Orlando with their hopes of playing in the College Football Playoff in December still intact.

Florida State Overview:

Florida State dealt with a 2015 season in which they lost a heartbreaker in the final seconds to Georgia Tech, a close loss to division rival and eventual National Championship loser Clemson, and a Peach Bowl defeat by Houston. The ‘Noles finished with a 10-3 record and the season was considered a rebuilding one by many.

What gives the Seminoles hope this year to return to their 2013-2014 caliber of play, in which they won the last ever BCS National Championship game, is the return of 11 starters on offense. Spearheaded by Heisman trophy hopeful junior running back Dalvin Cook and an experienced offensive line, the ceiling could be high for an offense that finished 51st in total offense last year.

Cook, who ran for 1,691 yards and finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting, will be aiming to improve on a 2015 season in which he set a new school record for single season rushing yards. His season may have been more impressive had he not been hampered by a hamstring injury throughout the season, which caused him to miss a matchup against Syracuse and considerable playtime in other games.

The projected returning starter at quarterback was senior Sean Maguire. However, due to a right foot injury suffered during fall camp, Maguire will miss the first four games of the season while recovering from surgery. This leaves the door open for redshirt freshman quarterback Deondre Francois to take over the offense. Francois, who graduated from the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL, was the number one ranked dual-threat quarterback coming out of high school, according to Rivals. He’ll have plenty of big veteran targets to throw to, including 6’1” junior receiver Travis Rudolph and speedy senior wide-out Jesus “Bobo” Wilson.

The defense, which finished 19th in the nation last year, will feature the return of electrifying playmaker Derwin James at safety. James, in his second season at FSU, was named to the Jim Thorpe Award watch list this offseason, which displays the nation’s top defensive backs. He did undergo minor surgery in the offseason to repair a small fracture in his foot, but should be good to go by the start of the season. The defensive line is anchored by sophomore playmaker, Josh Sweat. Sweat looks to breakout this season and improve on his 41 tackle and two sack performance in 12 games last season.

Ole Miss Overview:

The 2015-16 season was a roller coaster season for the Rebels. The season peaked and emotions were running wild after the third week in which they defeated division and conference rival Alabama, who was ranked number one in the nation at the time. However, the season sputtered in the next few weeks after losses to No. 25 Florida, an embarrassing loss to Memphis, and a heartbreaking loss to division foe Arkansas, in which the Razorbacks completed a 4th and 25 play in overtime to keep their drive alive and eventually pull out a win.

The season wasn’t a total failure though. A 48-20 trouncing of No. 20 Oklahoma State in the Allstate Sugar Bowl gave hope to a 2016 season which happens to be the final one for senior quarterback Chad Kelly. Kelly had a successful 2015 season behind a veteran offensive line and threw for 4,042 yards and 31 touchdowns. Kelly’s dual threat ability also allowed him to rush for 500 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground.

The 2016 season has many Ole Miss fans wondering just how good their team will be after an offseason in which they saw All-SEC first team and second team All-American offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil and No. 1 receiving prospect Laquon Treadwell head to the NFL Draft. The Rebels will have to replace all five offensive linemen with players only having 36 total starts under their belts. The ground game has been less than stellar since Dexter McCluster left in 2009 and running back Akeem Judd will need to take pressure off of Kelly’s shoulders and have a big year running the ball in order to make this offense successful.

The defense is also licking its wounds after the loss of defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche whose college stats mislead the disruption he truly was for this team. In three years, Nkemdiche totaled 81 tackles and six sacks but his constant draw of double teams from opposing offensive linemen helped his other defensive line teammates constantly get into the backfield to disrupt plays. Filling in the void that Nkemdiche left will be junior defensive end Marquis Haynes who totaled 10 sacks last year for a fearsome defensive line.

FSU’s Dalvin Cook finds his success outside of the tackle box so Haynes will have to shed his block quickly and corral Cook before his breakaway speed kicks in farther down the field. Ole Miss does not have a favorable schedule either with key games including visits from Alabama, Auburn and Georgia and trips to Arkansas, LSU and Texas A&M. They will desperately need a huge season opening win over the top-five ranked ‘Noles to motivate them through a grueling season.

 

My Prediction:

Florida State comes out sluggish. Francois struggles to find his groove until the second half. Lucky for FSU, Dalvin Cook is already in midseason form and is able to help the offense until Francois finds his groove. Chad Kelly tries too hard to make the big plays and winds up making a big mistake late in the fourth quarter. Camping World Stadium is rocking the whole night and closes out a fantastic Labor Day weekend of football with a close one.

FSU 28           Ole Miss 24