The Florida State Seminoles haven't lost a regular-season game since the end of the 2012 campaign. Any shot that FSU could run the table again in 2015 and return to the College Football Playoff? They have a wins total of 9 on 5Dimes NCAA football odds.
Of course Florida State's quarterback the past two seasons was Jameis Winston, the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner. Winston and Co. were a dominant force in 2013 on the way to the final BCS Championship Game. That team won every game by at last 14 points until Auburn gave FSU all it could handle in the title game, with Winston throwing last-minute touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin for a 34-31 victory.
Last year, the Seminoles were nowhere near as dominant. They had seven wins by six points or fewer: 37-31 over Oklahoma State, 23-17 in overtime over Clemson (a game Winston missed due to suspension), 31-27 over Notre Dame (thanks to a questionable offensive interference penalty on the Irish in the final minute), 30-26 at Miami, 20-17 over Boston College, 24-19 against Florida and 37-35 against Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game. It was the third year in a row that FSU won that. The team was definitely a bit lucky last year, but Winston generally raised his game in the second halves of games when Florida State would rally.
Winston's final collegiate game was his only loss as a starter, a 59-20 pummeling by Oregon in the Rose Bowl College Football Playoff semifinal game. The Ducks were only up 18-13 at the half, but then FSU started turning the ball over left and right. In a span of 12:54 on the game clock, the score went from 25-20 to 59-20. Winston had two of those turnovers but did throw for 348 yards and a score.
The Tampa Bay Bucs took Winston at No. 1 overall in the 2015 draft. Also gone is record-setting receiver Rashad Greene. The Seminoles have only 11 starters back, including four on offense.
So with one distraction gone, and a few others pending, how are we planning to look at this year's FSU squad when placing our College Football picks? Lets see how this team has adjusted over the last few months and decide.
Cook Cleared Of Charges
I probably should have waited to preview FSU's 2015 season until the team's quarterback battle is decided. That's ongoing, with Winston's 2014 backup, Sean Maguire, competing with Notre Dame graduate transfer Everett Golson. I tend to think Golson wins that as he had some really nice games in big matchups with the Irish, although he had a turnover problem last year. I doubt Golson would have transferred to FSU if he didn't think he could beat out Maguire, who completed 25 of 49 for 339 yards, a TD and two picks last year. He started the Clemson game and saw garbage-time duty in three others. Golson is +5000 to win the Heisman.
The football program got great news on Monday night when star running back Dalvin Cook was found not guilty of battery of a Tallahassee woman back in June. Cook had been indefinitely suspended but was immediately reinstated following that verdict. Cook really took off late last season -- closing with three straight 100-yard games -- as a freshman and rushed for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns overall. He should be the best back in the ACC and is at College Football odds of +4000 to win the Heisman. With a new starting QB and revamped offensive line (four starters gone), this should be Cook's offense in 2015.
As for the schedule, FSU has three cupcakes out of conference (Texas State, South Florida and Chattanooga) before closing the regular season as usual with Florida, with this year's game in the Swamp. So that should be a 4-0 record for the Noles as the Gators are still rebuilding. The toughest ACC games will be Oct. 10 vs. Miami. Oct. 17 vs. Louisville and Oct. 24 at Georgia Tech. But clearly the one to circle is Nov. 7 at Clemson. Every season since 2009, the winner of that game has won the ACC Atlantic. I fully expect the same this year.
NCAAF Free Picks: FSU is +1750 to win the national championship, a +132 favorite to win the Atlantic Division and +245 to take the ACC title game again. It is +260 to make the four-team playoff and +100 to play in a New Year's Six bowl game. But Clemson has a better QB this season (Deshaun Watson) than Florida State does. Thus I believe the Tigers win the Atlantic. But I'd go 'over' the 9 wins for FSU (likely 10-2) and believe it will play in a New Year's Six bowl game.