Florida State’s ACC reign will end in 2015

Apr 11, 2015; Tallahassee, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher during the spring game at Doak Campbell Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 11, 2015; Tallahassee, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher during the spring game at Doak Campbell Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports /

Florida State has been a juggernaut in the ACC in recent years, but 2015 will yield a different result.

The Florida State Seminoles won the National Championship two years ago and were in the College Football Playoff last season, falling just short of lifting up the hardware for the second consecutive time. FSU has been a national powerhouse during this recent run, which has resulted in a run of dominance in the ACC over that time.

Over the past three seasons, the Noles have gone a combined 26-1 in the ACC, taking home the conference championship in each of those three seasons. While Jimbo Fisher and FSU’s stranglehold on the conference has been seemingly insurmountable, this is the year it all changes for the Seminoles.

Jameis Winston’s departure to the NFL is clearly the biggest factor in Florida State’s 2015 campaign. No matter your opinion on Winston away from the field or as a pro prospect, he was a leader and highly productive player at the quarterback position for FSU. Yes, they now have former Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson in house to compete with Sean Maguire, a promising quarterback who looked solid in limited work last season behind Winston, but we are talking about one player new to the system and another who’s largely unproven. However talented Golson and Maguire are, quarterback is a concern for the Noles.

Florida State’s worries aren’t limited to who’s starting under center, either. Offensively, FSU lost Karlos Williams, Rashad Greene, and Nick O’Leary to the NFL. For those taking notes at home, that’s the team’s second leading rusher and leader in rushing touchdowns (Williams) and the team’s two leading receivers in Green and O’Leary from the 2014 season.

The defensive side of the ball isn’t without concern, either. FSU’s defense declined dramatically from 2013 to 2014 (dropping from first nationally in scoring defense in 2013 to 50th a year ago) and is now left shuffling personnel to try and remedy those problems. There’s talent, but whether that talent can result in an effective defense that plays at a National Championship level again remains to be seen.

Though it’s sometimes overstated, the apparent lack of maturity and responsibility in Tallahassee is a concern for the Seminoles coming into this season. Winston made his fair share of off-the-field headlines during his tenure, but others this offseason, including running back Dalvin Cook, have been in trouble outside of football, and have been subsequently suspended. For a team who just lost its leader on the field in Winston, that immaturity or recklessness is a frightening sign.

Adding to FSU’s problems is that the top of the conference looks much stronger this season. Both the Clemson Tigers and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets are in the preseason top 25. The Tigers in particular, a fellow member of the ACC Atlantic Division, could be incredibly dangerous. If Clemson’s defense can remain at the high level it was last season, and if quarterback Deshaun Watson can get back to full health, there’s a chance they could wind up in the College Football Playoff hunt while also usurping FSU in the ACC.

What’s rough for the Noles is that they have an unfavorable look at the other top-tier teams in the ACC. FSU plays both Clemson and Georgia Tech on the road this season, though they do avoid having to play potential ACC sleeper Virginia Tech. For the Seminoles’ biggest threat in Clemson, things are much easier on the schedule. The Yellow Jackets and Seminoles both will be home games for the Tigers, while they too avoid playing the Hokies.

Questions are in abundance regarding FSU after the departure of Winston. They’re undoubtedly going to be one of the better teams in the nation, but the uncertainty lends itself to thinking that the Noles might not be the ACC juggernaut of years past. Everything considered, their reign in the ACC will be ended by Clemson this season.

Next: Top 30 College Players Heading Into The 2015 Season