THE IRISH ARE COMING
The offense was already in a major state of flux. The line has four new starters to break in. The receiving corps must replace Rashad Greene, who set almost every school record. The quarterback job is a battle between junior Sean Maguire and Everett Golson, a graduate transfer from Notre Dame.
Sophomore tailback Dalvin Cook—who led the Seminoles with 1,008 yards rushing in 2014, caught 22 passes and bailed them out of deficits against Louisville and Miami—was the lone sure thing. That was, until his arrest in July on a battery charge for hitting a woman outside a bar. (The arraignment is set for Sept. 2.) Cook was suspended indefinitely, and it's unclear whether he'll ever return to the team. That puts added pressure on backups Mario Pender, a junior whose career has been stalled by injuries, and Jacques Patrick, a 6'1", 232-pound freshman.
If recruiting rankings are to be believed, FSU should be able to replace its 11 NFL draftees on both sides of the ball—but the youngsters will take time to get acclimated. While junior Jalen Ramsey 's move from safety to corner will allow him to take away one side of the field, the rest of the relatively experienced secondary needs help from an inexperienced group of linebackers and linemen. By pressuring opposing quarterbacks, sophomore linebackers Lorenzo Featherston and Jacob Pugh can buy time as the D develops.
Though the front seven will get tested in a visit to Boston College (Sept. 18), the Noles can spend the first month trying out offensive and defensive combinations. That should prep them for a challenging three-week stretch starting Oct. 10: Miami, Louisville and at Georgia Tech. Then, on Nov. 7, FSU goes to Clemson for the de facto Atlantic Division title game.
Coach Jimbo Fisher's ace recruiting the past few years means that most blue-chippers have to wait their turn in Tallahassee. That probably won't be the case for Derwin James, a 6'2", 212-pound freshman strong safety from Haines City (Fla.) High. Video has surfaced of James dusting teammates in 40-yard dashes, jumping over fully upright men and bench-pressing 405 pounds.
OPPOSING COACH'S TAKE
They're so strong on the back end of their defense. They're not quite as strong as they used to be on the front, especially at the defensive end position, but those back four or five guys are elite.... They go by the principle that the more talented you are, the less you have to do on defense. They're going to have more talent than 10 of the 12 teams they play every year, so they don't make it too complicated.... They probably play a little bit more man than other teams we face because they have the guys who can do that.... You've got to be able to run the ball, because you're not going to be able to drive by throwing exclusively.... Their offense got better last year when they moved Cam Erving to center and started Rod Johnson at left tackle, but Erving is gone now.... Their backs are great at breaking tackles.
ROBERT BECK FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (RAMSEY)
DON JUAN MOORE/GETTY IMAGES (JAMES)