A defending national championship team that has won 20 straight games usually doesn’t warrant a ton of criticism, but plenty has been heaped upon the Seminoles after four games this season. During last season’s dominating national title run, Florida State won only two games by a margin of 14 points or less, a 48-34 win over Boston College, and the 34-31 national championship win over Auburn. Their average margin of victory throughout their other 12 games was an astounding 44.7 points.
The beginning of this season has looked vastly different. FSU won their three games against Power 5 conference opponents by an average margin of only 9 points. On top of that the Seminoles defense, which ranked #1 in the country in scoring last season, has given up an average of 26 points per game. While the season is still relatively early, it’s pretty clear that this Florida State team isn’t as dominant as last year.
The main source of criticism being heaped at this team is that they’re still ranked #1 in the AP poll, despite their struggles and not looking really impressive in any game so far. However, I personally am not ready to dethrone the Seminoles from their #1 ranking and I think they deserve a pass from some of their games. Obviously their most deserving pass is barely getting by Clemson in overtime 23-17, because quarterback Jameis Winston was suspended and did not play. No reason to fault a team after beating a ranked opponent with a backup quarterback making his first career start. As for the wins over Oklahoma State and NC State, many people expected FSU to win big in both of these games by a sizable margin. However, instead of pointing the finger at Florida State, why not look at the teams they played? Since that 6-point loss in Week 1, Oklahoma State has won three straight games, including a 45-35 win over Texas Tech last week. The Cowboys face Baylor and Oklahoma in their final two games of the season, but every game until then is certainly winnable. Oklahoma State has the potential to finish 9-3, or even better if they were to pull off an upset in one of their last two games. Should the Cowboys finish with a impressive season, Florida State’s win over them should be looked at much differently. The same could be said for NC State. Quarback Jacoby Brissett has been one of the more surprising players in the country so far this season, and if he was still at Florida he probably would’ve taken over Jeff Driskel for the starting job by now. The Wolfpack entered this game 4-0, and like Oklahoma State, they have a good shot to win 8 or 9 games.
One area of weakness that I can’t ignore about the Seminoles is their struggles on defense. No matter how improved NC State may be, there’s no excuse for allowing them to score 41 points. Florida State returned seven starters from last year’s defense, but the players they lost were some of the best in the country, including defensive lineman Timmy Jernigan, cornerback LaMarcus Joyner, and linebacker Telvin Smith. FSU has also switched from a 3-4 defense to a new 4-3 defense after the departure of coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. This defense will certainly need to turn things around for Florida State to have any shot at repeating as national champions. The good news for FSU is that the rest of their schedule is relatively easy, as they only have one ranked opponent, #9 Notre Dame, remaining on their schedule. However, I picked Notre Dame to upset FSU before the season began, and based on how those two teams are playing so far, I could certainly see it happen. It would definitely be interesting to see how much a loss would affect the Seminoles playoff chances by the end of the year.
The state of Mississippi will have everyone’s attention this weekend.
The last time both Ole Miss and Mississippi State were ranked in the top 15 and playing ranked opponents on the same weekend was in 1953. The last time both schools were ranked on the same weekend was in 1958. So in other words, this isn’t your granddaddy’s (or your great-granddad’s for that matter) Mississippi teams. Two schools that for years made their dwelling in the cellar of the SEC west are quickly on the rise. Dan Mullen and Mississippi State have already made an impression on the conference, going into Death Valley and upsetting LSU two weeks ago. Ole Miss now gets their shot to prove their worth when they face Alabama at home. ESPN’s College Gameday will be in Oxford for this game, only adding to the pre-game buildup. Along with this game, Mississippi State gets another big time contest against Texas A&M at home.
Although I had predicted an Ole Miss upset over Alabama earlier this year, I’m beginning to have doubts. While the Rebels have one of the best defenses in the country, good enough to slow down Lane Kiffin’s offensive attack, Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace may serve as their biggest weakness. The Rebel’s offense has sputtered at times this season with Wallace at quarterback, who has already thrown 6 interceptions in only 4 games. Many contribute his struggles this year to poor offensive line play. That doesn’t bode well against the Crimson Tide, who have one of the better defensive front sevens in the country. The good news for Ole Miss is that Alabama’s one weakness is their secondary, and the Rebels have a legitimate weapon in Laquon Treadwell who in my opinion is the best wide receiver in the SEC, aside from Alabama’s Amari Cooper. My pick: Alabama 27, Ole Miss 20
For Mississippi State, I like their chances better than Ole Miss to get a win this week. While the Bulldog’s secondary will have their hand full against Kenny Hill and the Aggie’s spread attack, we saw their struggles last week against Arkansas, and they could be a bit burned out after playing a tough game down to the wire and having to go on the road again. Both Kenny Hill and Dak Prescott will get a chance to add to their Heisman resumes. Because of the strength of both team’s offenses, I expect this game to be higher scoring than the Ole Miss-Alabama game, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if both games weren’t decided until late in the 4th quarter. My pick: Mississippi State 38, Texas A&M 31
Saturday’s TV Schedule.
This week is by far the best Saturday of the college football season so far, with six marquee match-ups featuring ranked opponents. Two teams to watch this week outside of the SEC is Nebraska and Notre Dame, who are both undefeated. If either team is able to get past Michigan State and Stanford, a win would make them legitimate contenders for the college football playoff.
All times Eastern.
12:00- #6 Texas A&M at #12 Mississippi State, ESPN
12:00- #20 Ohio State at Maryland, ABC
12:00- Purdue at Illinois, ESPN2
12:00- Florida at Tennessee, SEC Network
3:30- Wake Forest at #1 Florida State, ABC
3:30- #3 Alabama at #11 Ole Miss, CBS
3:30- #4 Oklahoma at #25 TCU, FOX
3:30- #7 Baylor at Texas, ABC
3:30- #14 Stanford at #9 Notre Dame, NBC
3:30- #17 Wisconsin at Northwestern, ESPN2
3:30- North Carolina State at Clemson, ESPNU
4:00- Vanderbilt at #13 Georgia, SEC Network
7:00- #15 LSU at #5 Auburn, ESPN
7:00- Texas Tech at #23 Kansas State, ESPNU
7:30- Arizona State at #16 USC, FOX
7:30- Miami at Georgia Tech, ESPN2
7:30- South Carolina at Kentucky, SEC Network
8:00- #19 Nebraska at #10 Michigan State, ABC
10:30- Utah at #8 UCLA, ESPN