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FSU braces for tough opener

Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire

The Florida State Seminoles have designs on a national championship. However, a victory against Ole Miss in Monday night’s standalone showcase game in Orlando won’t put FSU into the College Football Playoff. A defeat against the Rebels might ruin FSU’s chances.

So why take on such a formidable opponent right off the bat?

Because there’s no choice, that’s why.

Relying on winning all the games and resting on your conference-title reputation? It’s not enough… and that’s a good thing. The CFP selection committee rewards teams for taking on a rigorous schedule.

The Seminoles — if they take care of business against Ole Miss, the rival Florida Gators and a challenging ACC slate led by Clemson — can leave no doubt.

As FSU coach Jimbo Fisher puts it, “You are taking a huge risk’’ by scheduling a highly ranked opponent in the season-opener, when crazy things are known to happen.

“I’ve thought about it a lot back and forth and … the ultimate thing is to put your team in the best position to be in the playoffs,’’ Fisher said. “That’s how you have to play them. Whether it’s exposure, money or (another factor), I think that’s all great.

“But (the priority) should be what gets me to the playoffs, what gets me to the championship game. You’ve got to win your conference schedule. But how you schedule outside (your conference), to me, is the key.’’

For openers, FSU has selected a big-time opponent. The Rebels, who hold back-to-back victories against Alabama the past two seasons, are a prime challenger for the SEC West title.

It’s a “neutral-site’’ game — if you believe Orlando’s Camping World Stadium (formerly known as the Citrus Bowl) is neutral. Truthfully, it should be swarming with Tomahawk Chop fans.

After an incredible weekend of college football — including Oklahoma-Houston, LSU-Wisconsin, UCLA-Texas A&M, North Carolina-Georgia, Alabama-USC, Clemson-Auburn and Notre Dame-Texas — all eyes will be on FSU-Ole Miss.

It’s a huge advantage… and a chance to make a great first impression.

“This puts your team in an atmosphere you get in a major bowl game,’’ Fisher said. “It’s great national exposure. You get to play an opponent you don’t always get to play, a top-notch opponent in a big situation on national TV.”

Fisher also views this game as a grow-up moment for his team:

“And you get to find out where you’re at. You find out where your team is before you go into the conference schedule. But disadvantage … you’re playing a great opponent right off the bat. You’re not in your home bed, not in your home stadium. You don’t get to grow into the season. But that’s part of it. There’s give and take.’’

Especially at quarterback.

Ole Miss offers Chad Kelly, who considered entering the NFL Draft, a 4,000-yard passer from last season.

FSU counters with redshirt freshman Deondre Francois — playing in his hometown, no less — whose starting-position status was accelerated by a training-camp injury to veteran Sean Maguire.

Fisher said Francois is prepared.

“He has great practice habits,’’ Fisher said. “I’m hard on them in practice. That’s the only way you can get the stress level up. How do you simulate pressure? The best way I know is to fluster them and … show them how to bounce back.’’

What will Fisher be watching Monday night?

“Just his body language,’’ Fisher said. “It’s his communication. You can see it in his eyes. How he responds to you. How he responds to what’s going on.’’

There’s no easing in for Francois. He’s jumping right into a heated atmosphere and quality matchup.

Just like his team.

If the Seminoles perform, the game’s upside will position them as a major playoff contender.

If they don’t?

Like Fisher said, it’s a risk, but given the dynamics of the College Football Playoff, it’s acceptable risk.

FSU braces for tough opener

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