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Florida State Seminoles

Three things to watch as FSU kicks off 2019

Abbey Radeka

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Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Willie Taggart starts his second year as Florida State head coach and is leading what every FSU fan is hoping will be a comeback season. After an eventful week for the seminoles, in not only officially naming their starting quarterback but also putting together a home game in just two days, todays game is going to set the tone of what we can expect from the Seminoles this year.

Here are a few important things to watch for as they take on Boise State:

As previously mentioned, a lot of focus is on the Noles QB1, James Blackman. Entering into his third year at Florida State, it is the first time Blackman has gone into a season as a starter, though he had almost a full season as FSU’s quarterback in 2017 after Deondre Francois tore his ACL against Alabama. He finished the season with a 59% completion percentage with 2,230 yards, 19 TDs and 11 INTs as FSU limped to a 6-6 regular season.

He threw four TDs in the Noles Independence Bowl win over Southern Miss. He didn’t win the starting job last season but still put up solid numbers as the backup QB, so fans are eager to see how he’s going to come out after finally winning the starting job. Blackman barely qualified for a redshirt on snaps/games played ratio last season. So, he has three years of eligibility left.

The O-Line. During the offseason, Taggart made a couple major moves in letting go of former OL coach Greg Frey and having to hire a new OC after Walt Bell took the UMass job after just one season with the Noles. He’s replaced them with Randy Clements at OL and Kendal Briles at OC. Briles and Clements could be the guys that resurrect a line that was far too unorganized and disjointed last season. In 2018, FSU ranked 114th in points per game, 129th in yards per play and 118th in sacks allowed, and only averaged 2.79 yards per carry.

At Houston, Clements and Briles produced an offensive line in 2018 that allowed the Cougars to average 43.9 points per game, ranking fifth in the nation, and 512.3 yards of total offense. The Noles have also signed several new offensive linemen in the hope of a turnaround at a spot that has hurt them over the past few seasons. The most heralded one is four star recruit, Dontae Lucas of IMG Academy in Bradenton, and there’s also JuCo three star left tackle, Jay Williams of Grossmont College in El Cajon, CA.

How much improvement we see from the line today will be a huge indicator of how much of a turn around this season can be in Tallahassee?

Finally, Boise State is going to provide a real challenge for the FSU defense. The Broncos return their entire offensive line from a year ago and seven starters on defense. They have won 10 or more games each of the last three seasons, and are one of the top schools outside of the P5 conferences. It could be easy for Florida State to go into the game expecting a guaranteed win, but they’re only predicted to be the favorites by 7 points.

After losing their defensive star, Brian Burns, to the draft they’ll be relying on juniors Janarius Robinson and Joshua Kaindoh to replace his production.

Abbey is a native Floridan who grew up a fan of all Tampa Bay sports teams. She’s recently graduated from Florida State University with a degree in Media Communication Studies. In her time at FSU, she was an In-Game Host for the Basketball and Baseball teams, and reported for Seminole Sports Magazine, producing feature stories that appeared on Fox Sports Sun. She’s excited to share her perspective on all of Florida’s Football teams, especially the Seminoles.

Florida State Seminoles

Cristobal Oregon Rose Bowl win reminder of what Taggart left

Florida Football Insiders

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Aas the Oregon Ducks celebrated a Rose Bowl victory New Year’s night in Pasadena, one angle to think about was the events of the last couple of years, as it relates to Willie Taggart abandoning their program just one year in, but Mario Cristobal staying behind and leading them to great things.

First, the Ducks won a thrilling 28 – 27 addition of the New Year’s Day classic over Wisconsin to cap off a 12 – 2 season. NFL prospect quarterback Justin Herbert threw for three touchdowns and ran for the eventual game-winning score in the win:

And, off the heels of a Pac-12 Championship upset of Utah a month ago, Cristobal is now “riding high” with the momentum of one of the best football brands in the West.

He posted later on Wednesday night a special thank you to the Duck fans and alumni for now being part of the program and their success:

Interestingly, his connection to come to Eugene was Taggart being hired three years ago at this time. The former USF coach needed someone that understood offense and recruiting and brought the former FIU coach, Cristobal with him to the Pacific Northwest.

Oregon had some success but also suffered five losses, and the next thing you knew Taggart jumped at the chance to take over at Florida State. There were many who reported and believed that Taggart wanted to bring Cristobal and defensive coordinator, Jim Leavitt, with him to the Seminoles.

However, Oregon AD Rob Mullens was so impressed with Cristobal in the interview process and having seen him up close for  year with the team, that he ended up promoting him to be the head coach. And, he gave Leavitt a fat raise to remain, as the defensive coordinator in Eugene.

And, as it turns out, that sunk Taggart from the very beginning on having two former head coaches to come and help him not only with the X’s and O’s but with recruiting in Florida which they are both Masters at.

Instead, Florida State completely unraveled in just a few short weeks of play in 2018 Cristobal helped the Ducks get to a bowl game.

And, that led to this season and great anticipation as Oregon opened at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium the home of the Cowboys with powerhouse Auburn. Auburn beat the Ducks with a touchdown in the final seconds, but it would be their only loss for the next 10 weeks.

In the meantime, Taggart got himself further in trouble with early-season losses and eventually fired on November 3rd after a 27 – 10 defeat to the Miami Hurricanes at home.

And as we stated above, the Oregon team excelled when it mattered the most establishing itself, again as the team to beat in the Pac-12 with their two postseason wins.

Now, FSU has gone on to replace Taggart with the very successful Memphis coach, Mike Norvell, and there is some optimism about his arrival in the Panhandle.

With Norvell in charge in 2020, the Seminoles will likely open with a win total of 6.5, down a game from last season according to this site here. And, while Norvell is a solid hire, FSU has its usual tough slate next season hosting Clemson and Florida, while facing Miami and Boise State on the road. The Noles are likely to be underdogs in another road date with resurgent Louisville too.

So, coming off a 6-7 year, FSU should consider it a success to have this team over .500 in his first season.

Now, back to Cristobal.

There is an argument that Oregon may not have enjoyed the same success with Taggart as the head coach, as they did with Cristobal taking over. Still, with Herbert at quarterback, it’s very likely that Oregon would have at least had a seven or eight wins season in each of the last couple of years and going to a bowl game again.

Do they go 12-2, win the Pac 12 and eventually, the Rose Bowl with Taggart? That’s a stretch to believe after how dismally he coached in Tallahassee.

And, since his firing, Taggart scrambled to find the head coaching job at Conference USA, Florida Atlantic, while Cristobal is looking at a significant raise to be at a Powerhouse Pac-12 program after a Rose Bowl win.

It’s a perfect example of a cliche in sports, that: “sometimes the best move, is one that you don’t make.”

Taggart should have never left Oregon and Cristobal was smart not to.

And, eventually, he ended up the head coach.

A head coach who was holding up a Rose Bowl trophy with his team in Pasadena Wednesday night

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Florida State Seminoles

FSU turned in one last awful 2019 performance in Sun Bowl

Florida Football Insiders

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Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

If Tuesday’s New Year’s Eve afternoon Sun Bowl was supposed to be a tone-setter for 2020 and new head coach Mike Norvell, the Seminoles once again failed.

A six turnover day, including the go-ahead pick-6 being thrown by quarterback James Blackman, basically summed up the entire season as Arizona State beat FSU 20 – 14 in El Paso, TX.

The Noles could not take advantage of breaks and opportunities they were given early to put points on the board and that would come back to haunt them at the end.

The now 8 – 5 Sun Devils fumbled on the first play from scrimmage and FSU was set up for an easy touchdown. However, Blackman gave the gift right back, throwing his first of four interceptions on the day in the end zone, and Arizona State avoided giving up any points at all.

Later in the first quarter, FSU had a Ricky Aguayo short field goal blocked keeping them scoreless throughout the first half. Meanwhile, Christian Zendejas kicked three Sun Devil field goals for a 9 – 0 lead at the break.

Finally FSU, finishing 6-7, got something going in the second half using a trick play to help set them up. That’s when backup QB Jordan Travis threw a backwards pass to Blackman behind the line, and he threw back to Travis for an 18 yard gain that put the Seminoles at the 3-yard line.

Backup running back Ontaria Wilson, playing for Cam Akers who’d already declared for the NFL, scored on the next play and for the first Florida State points.

Following an Arizona State punt, lightning struck, when Blackman hit Tamorrion Terry, who raced the rest of the way for a 91 yard touchdown to put FSU up for the first time in the game 14 – 9. But, Zendejas added another field goal with 12 minutes remaining to trim the lead to 14 – 12.

And, that set the stage for more Florida State bumbling and miscues. With FSU back on offense and after picking up a first down, Blackman threw another pick on a play where it looked like the receiver ran the wrong route. ASU’s Willie Hearts ran the INT back 25 yards for a touchdown and the Sun Devils got the two-point conversion for a 20 – 14 lead.

Amazingly, Florida state would get the ball three more times in the final 10 minutes with a chance to get a winning touchdown. But, they lost the ball on downs, then Blackman was intercepted again, and finally, in the final two minutes Terry fumbled after a handoff  with Arizona State’s Tyler Johnson recovering to clinch the game.

It is the first time since the 1975 – 76 seasons that Florida state has finished with back-to-back losing campaigns. The 1976 season was the first for Hall of Fame coach, Bobby Bowden.

And, the Noles can only hope that as the calendar flips at midnight Tuesday night, that they can put the disastrous two-year Willie Taggart era behind them. And, look forward to what the former very successful Memphis coach, Norvell, can bring to rejuvenate things in Tallahassee.

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