Ole Miss dominated headlines this offseason, but not in a good way. NCAA violation allegations surrounded the football program throughout the offseason, and all Rebels' players and coaches want to do is, get on the field and kick off the 2016 season. It's been a quieter offseason for Florida State, but that doesn't mean there aren't high expectations in Tallahassee this season. Not only does FSU have a dark horse Heisman candidate in Dalvin Cook, but they're also favored to compete in the college football playoff. The Seminoles have all the talent to reach their goals, but they need to make a statement with a big win over a hungry Ole Miss team.
Offense - Florida State's offense runs through junior running back Dalvin Cook. In 2015, Cook led the ACC in rushing yards with 1,691 and total touchdowns with 20. His mix of size, speed and explosiveness makes him one of the most dangerous weapons in college football, and he will have the full attention of the Ole Miss defense on Monday night. The Seminoles will start Deondre Francois at quarterback against the Rebels. While the redshirt freshman will be making his college football debut against Ole Miss, he is already drawing comparisons to former FSU QB Jameis Winston. While Francois can escape the pocket in pressure situations, he is most effective throwing the football.
Florida State has many options at wide receiver but the two players to look out for are junior Travis Rudolph and senior Kermit Whitfield. Rudolph led the Seminoles in receptions (59), receiving yards (916) and touchdown receptions (7) in 2015, and will be a top target for Francois. 6-foot-5 target Auden Tate is another receiver to keep an eye on, along with tight end Ryan Izzo.
Florida State's offensive line returns eight players with starting experience from 2015. Anchoring the group is All-ACC left tackle Roderick Johnson. Johnson enters 2016 as an All-America candidate and is a front runner for the Outland and Lombardi Trophy. The Seminoles had the center position figured out with redshirt sophomore Alec Eberle set to start against Ole Miss, but concussion symptoms have kept Eberle out of practice recently, meaning true freshman Adam Boselli may get the start against the Rebels
Defense - Florida State has one of the best defenses in college football this season and it all starts with its secondary. Sophomore free safety Derwin James is the leader of the group and is a terrifying presence in the defensive backfield. James is big, athletic and can cripple offenses with his pass coverage skills or as a disruptive blitzer. Senior Marquez White leads the way at cornerback for FSU, while sophomores Tavarus McFadden and Marquez White are talented as well. Strong safety Trey Marshall is another talented Seminole DB that Ole Miss needs to look out for.
Florida State has a solid defensive line and two physical defensive ends in DeMarcus Walker and Josh Sweat. Both are extremely talented and will look to give Ole Miss junior left tackle Rod Taylor and true sophomore right tackle Sean Rawlings fits all game long. The Seminoles' linebacking corps is led by redshirt junior Ro'Derrick Hoskins. Hoskins is effective against the run but can also drop back in coverage. Expect his name to be called multiple times on Monday night.
Keys To Victory
- Create running lanes for Dalvin Cook
- Get to Chad Kelly as much as possible
- Use Francois' athleticism to attack Ole Miss' secondary
Offense - Chad Kelly enters 2016 as one of the most skilled passers in the country and gives Ole Miss a shot at winning any game. Kelly broke multiple school and conference records in 2015 and looks to build on an impressive resume, that also includes a Sugar Bowl MVP. While Kelly is a talented pocket passer, he possesses a sneaky ability to make plays with his feet. If FSU focuses too much on disrupting Kelly in the pocket, he can use his feet to pick up positive yards for the Rebels.
Kelly has all the weapons he could ask for to challenge FSU's talented secondary. Ole Miss returns four WR's in senior Quincy Adeboyejo, juniors Damore'ea Stringfellow and Markell Pack and sophomore DaMarkus Lodge. The Rebels will also have redshirt freshman Van Jefferson, who has been the talk of spring practice and fall camp available, along with true freshmen AJ Brown and DK Metcalf. Not to mention tight end Evan Engram, who is one of the most dynamic players at his position in the country.
While Ole Miss lost five significant starters on the offensive line from 2015, the Rebels return five players with starting experience as well. The biggest spot of concern on the offensive line is at left tackle. Left tackle is a position that Ole Miss didn't have to worry about for the last three years. Recent first-round NFL Draft pick, Laremy Tunsil manned the blind side for three years and only gave up two sacks. That responsibility now lies with former guard Rod Taylor who will most likely share some reps with true freshman Greg Little. The rest of the line features players that have shown strong flashes at times but there's no telling how well this line will gel and how well it will play until kickoff on Monday.
Even with redshirt junior running back Jordan Wilkins sitting out the season due to an unfortunate mistake that led to his academic ineligibility, Ole Miss feels good with senior Akeem Judd and redshirt freshman Eric Swinney as the primary ball carriers. Judd is the bigger of the two and will look to build off an impressive finish to the 2015 season. Swinney is smaller but plays like a big running back. Swinney has great vision and isn't afraid to lower his pads and take on defenders. He also has the ability to shift and take off in the open field.
Defense - Ole Miss' defensive line is the strongest position on defense and one that will have to lead the way for an inexperienced defensive backfield. The Rebels have an impressive list of big, athletic and disruptive tackles in Breeland Speaks, D.J. Jones, Isaac Gross and Benito Jones. On the edge, Ole Miss has one of the best pass rushers in the SEC in Marquis Haynes. Haynes' quickness off the edge allows him to be a disruptive presence in the pocket and might draw double teams from the Seminoles' offensive line. Ole Miss' usual starter at strongside defensive end is senior Fadol Brown, but a healing foot injury has kept Brown very limited in fall camp. That's why Chucky Mullins Award winner John Youngblood will see more snaps than previously anticipated against the Seminoles.
Linebacker is a position of concern for the Rebels. Ole Miss transferred in two LB's to take over the MLB spot this season in Rommel Mageo and Detric Bing-Dukes, but both players have had trouble adjusting to the Rebel defense. That's why star OLB DeMarquis Gates will move to MLB against the Seminoles, with Mageo expected to see time behind him. Senior Terry Caldwell will take over on the outside for Gates, and junior Tayler Polk will see time there as well.
Ole Miss returns two veteran cornerbacks in Tony Bridges and Ken Webster in 2016, who have both improved tremendously in the offseason. The Rebels will also have huskie Tony Conner back after a serious knee injury, but how well Conner will play against the Seminoles is unknown at this point. If the Tony Conner before the knee injury shows up in Orlando on Monday night, then Ole Miss' secondary will receive a huge boost. The main positions to worry about in the secondary are at safety. True freshman Myles Hartsfield will start at rover for Ole Miss but Deontay Anderson, another true freshman, will play some as well. True sophomore Zedrick Woods has seemed to have beaten junior CJ Hampton for the starting free-safety spot but Hampton will see time against FSU as well.
Keys To Victory
- Protect Chad Kelly
- Stop Dalvin Cook
- Fluster Deondre Francois
Analysis and Prediction
This game can go either way. Both sides have advantages over the other, and this is a game that will be a valuable experience for both teams. While Florida State has an elite defense and a strong running game, the inexperience at quarterback is a big concern. While the Rebels won’t be able to stop Florida State running back Dalvin Cook from scoring, I think they can do enough to fluster Francois. The Rebels will force Francois to make mistakes early that Chad Kelly and the Rebel offense will take advantage of. The Rebels will catch some breaks and have a few bounces go their way and win this one close 35-31.