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Top 25 Countdown: No. 2 — Florida State

Stephen M. Dowell/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

College football is on its way back, so we continue with the Today’s U Top 25 preseason rankings. We’re trotting out a new team each day. We started at No. 25 and we’ll build each day until we reach No. 1.

No. 2: FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES

Last Season: 10-3 (6-2 ACC Atlantic, lost 38-24 against Houston in the Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl).

Last Five Seasons: 58-10 (one national title, three conference titles, five bowl games).

Coach: Jimbo Fisher (seventh year, 68-14).

Overview: It was another double-digit-victory season and an appearance in the Peach Bowl, a New Year’s Six postseason game. That’s not bad for most programs, but for the Seminoles, it wasn’t nearly enough. Anything short of an ACC championship — and contention for a national title — ranks as a disappointment at Florida State. Logically, it was a rebuilding year with much talent off to the NFL, but Florida State doesn’t do rebuilding. This season should propel the Seminoles back into prime time.

Player To Watch: RB Dalvin Cook. The Seminoles have three Heisman Trophy winners — all quarterbacks, Charlie Ward, Chris Weinke and Jameis Winston — but Cook is very capable of becoming the program’s first running back to lift college football’s biggest individual prize. Cook had 1,691 rushing yards last season, along with 20 touchdowns. Explosive? He also had 13 carries of at least 30 yards.

Top Newcomer: CB Levonta Taylor. It always seems that Florida State is well-stocked in the secondary. Taylor, a five-star prospect, will compete for an immediate spot, possibly as the nickel back.

All-Conference Potential: RB Dalvin Cook, DB Derwin James, OL Roderick Johnson, WR Travis Rudolph, DL DeMarcus Walker.

Key Question: Is Deondre Francois up to the task at quarterback? Sean Maguire, who became the starter last season and suffered a Peach Bowl injury that prevented him from participating in spring drills, had the advantage of experience. Last week, however, Maguire suffered a broken foot, likely keeping him out for a month. The Seminoles will likely turn to Francois, a redshirt freshman with great potential who might have ultimately won the job anyway. Francois probably will need to navigate Florida State through a tricky September schedule (at minimum). Either way, the Seminoles need more productivity from the position to blaze a new path in the post-Jameis Winston era.

Best Unit: Defensive backs. Even with the loss of standout Jalen Ramsey to the NFL Draft, the Seminoles’ secondary still has an excellent No. 1 cornerback in Marquez White. Meanwhile, safety Derwin James, just a sophomore, might be the defense’s best player. He already shows signs of being recognized as one of the program’s best safeties ever.

Good Stat: The Seminoles didn’t allow more than 25 points in any game last season — the only Football Bowl Subdivision team that can make that claim.

Bad Stat: There aren’t a lot of bad stats around recent Florida State teams. This one might be nitpicking, but for the first time since 2012, the Seminoles failed to have a 1,000-yard receiver.

Big Game: Oct. 29, Clemson. No secrets here: Clemson-FSU should decide the ACC Atlantic Division. It could determine the ACC title. It might decide a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Final Words: If Florida State returns to the College Football Playoff, it will have earned the trip. Besides the showdown against Clemson and the traditional regular-season finale against Florida, there’s an opener against powerful Ole Miss and a road test against a very capable non-conference opponent, USF, in Tampa. That city will also host the CFP championship game.

Despite some shuffling on the offensive line and inexperienced players needing to step up at linebacker, the Seminoles have 15 returning starters, a franchise running back and a championship-level defense. They are very capable of making another trip to Tampa — not to face Willie Taggart’s Bulls, but Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide.

Next: No. 1 Alabama.

ICYMI: No. 3 Ohio State; No. 4 Oklahoma; No. 5 Michigan; No. 6 Clemson; No. 7 Tennessee; No. 8 LSU; No. 9 Notre Dame; No. 10 Stanford; No. 11 Michigan State; No. 12 Ole Miss; No. 13 Washington; No. 14 Baylor; No. 15 Houston; No. 16 Georgia; No. 17 San Diego State; No. 18 TCU; No. 19 Louisville; No. 20 USC; No. 21 Iowa; No. 22 North Carolina; No. 23 Oregon; No. 24 Oklahoma State; No. 25 Florida.

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