Florida State enters its season ranked No. 4 in the AP Poll, which means expectations are high in Tallahassee. The Seminoles return 10 starters on offense and seven on defense from last season and should be one of the favorites in the ACC.
Is FSU a legitimate contender for the College Football Playoff? There are several factors that support the Noles’ case, and others that put their chances in question.
Here are the arguments for and against FSU’s College Football Playoff chances.
Dalvin Cook and a loaded offense
Of all of the Noles’ returning starters, no player will be asked to do more than Dalvin Cook. The junior running back is a preseason Heisman Trophy favorite after rushing for an ACC-best 1,691 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2015.
He’s not the only home run threat returning on offense.
Wide receiver Travis Rudolph has the potential to be one of the ACC’s most exciting playmakers in 2016. Rudolph led the Noles with 798 yards, six touchdowns and 59 receptions, while providing some of the best highlights of the season.
FSU also returns its entire offensive line from last season, which provided enough running space for Cook to lead the ACC.
Depth on the D-line and in the secondary
The Seminoles have plenty of returning talent on both the defensive line and secondary units. Senior DeMarcus Walker decided to return for his senior season after recording career highs with 58 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. Former five-star signee Josh Sweat will play opposite Walker at defensive end and is expected to make a huge impact for the Noles.
Despite losing former All-American cornerback Jalen Ramsey, FSU still has one of the most talented secondaries in the ACC. Senior Marquez White returns at one corner position and former five-star prospect Tarvarus McFadden is expected to start at the other.
The Seminoles have four former five-star prospects in their projected starting lineup, including free safety Derwin James.
HIT OR MISS
Aside from Cook, Deondre Francois will be the most important player on FSU’s roster. While many are hyping the former four-star quarterback as a potential star, he does lack collegiate starting experience.
Still, his skill set provides the perfect complement to FSU’s offense. He could make an immediate transition playing in an experienced lineup. It doesn’t hurt that he will play behind an offensive line that returns every starter from the previous season and has plenty of skill position players at his disposal.
Either way, Francois’ performance will help or hinder FSU’s CFB Playoff chances.
Questions at linebacker
FSU must replace middle linebacker Reggie Northrup and weak-side linebacker Terrance Smith, who both led the position group in tackles last season. Former five-star prospect Matthew Thomas, who has been limited by injuries, academic ineligibility and an NCAA suspension, is expected to fill the void at weak-side linebacker.
Ro’Derrick Hoskins, who played as a hybrid role player in 2015, is also expected to be a full-time starter this season. Hoskins started in six games, including two at weak-side linebacker and four at middle linebacker, where he is projected to play in 2016.
Perhaps FSU’s biggest obstacle isn’t one of its own flaws, but one of its rivals. Clemson is the only ACC team with a higher ranking than the Noles, and for good reason. The Tigers won the conference title and went on to face Alabama in the CFB final last season.
Like FSU, Clemson has a Heisman favorite — quarterback Deshaun Watson — and plenty of returning experience, despite losing several players to the NFL Draft. Conference champions have claimed all four spots in the two seasons since the College Football Playoff was implemented. If FSU can’t beat Clemson, it may be snubbed by the CFB Playoff committee.