The Florida State Seminoles huddle prior to their game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on September 2, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. The Seminoles have a new coach for 2018 --- former Oregon coach Willie Taggart. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Football

Our 10th annual Top 25 countdown: There’s a new coach, offense and direction for No. 21 Florida State

Jimbo Fisher is now at Texas A&M and Willie Taggart has left Oregon to take over in Tallahassee, bringing his high-octane offense with him.

Posted July 8th, 2018

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Sure, it’s July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — the final installment of our annual countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s eventual CFP semifinalists were ranked Nos. 1, 5, 8 and 14 on our 2017 list.

Our Top 25:

No. 25: Texas is building — but are we there yet, are we there yet?

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No. 24: LSU has a tough schedule, questions at key spots

No. 23: Oregon welcomes a new coach — again and again and again

No. 22: Central Florida is out to go unbeaten (ahem, again)

Today’s team: No. 21 Florida State

The Seminoles’ best-case scenario: A roster always stocked with blue-chip recruits responds quickly to new coach Willie Taggart, and quarterback Deandre Francois rebounds from last season’s knee injury. The Seminoles make a run at Clemson for the top spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Atlantic division.

Their worst-case scenario: The offense suffers growing pains as it adjusts from former coach Jimbo Fisher’s pro-style offense to the power spread favored by Taggert, a young defense is exploited by the ACC’s better teams, and the Seminoles find themselves battling for six wins and a bowl berth.

RELATED COVERAGE: Florida, Florida State and Miami are all battling for state recruiting wins

RELATED COVERAGE: A tale of deep pockets — how Texas A&M lured away Jimbo Fisher

Inside the Seminoles

Coach: Willie Taggart (first year; 47-50 overall at Western Kentucky, South Florida and Oregon)

2017: 7-6, 3-5 in the ACC (beat Southern Miss 42-13 in the Independence Bowl)

Returning starters: 8 offense, 4 defense

Goodbye: HC Jimbo Fisher (Texas A&M); S Derwin James (1st, Chargers); DE Josh Sweat (4th, Eagles); DT Derrick Nnandi (3rd, Chiefs); OT Rick Leonard (4th, Eagles); TE Ryan Izzo

Spring cleaning: The biggest hole to fill may be at the top after Fisher, who went 83-23 and won a national championship in eight seasons at Florida State, left for Texas A&M. But the Seminoles have some gaps in their lineup, too; most of their top receivers left, including star tight end Ryan Izzo. Florida State’s defense took an even bigger hit, and Taggert and new defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett must find a completely new linebacking corps as well as a replacement for all-American safety Derwin James.

Deondre Francois (12) of the Florida State Seminoles hold his left leg after being injured in the fourth quarter of their game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on September 2, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. He ended up missing the season but returns for 2018. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Returning leaders

PASSING: James Blackman, 173-297-2,230, 19/11 (1st); Deondre Francois, 19-33-210, 1/2 (2nd)

RUSHING: Cam Akers, 194-1,024-7 (1st); Jacques Patrick, 134-748-7 (2nd)

RECEIVING: Nyqwan Murray, 40-604-4 (1st); Keith Gavin, 27-278-0 (3rd); RB Jacques Patrick, 21-171-0 (4th)

TACKLES: DE Brian Burns, 48 (5th)

SACKS: DE Brian Burns, 4.5 (2nd)

INTERCEPTIONS: DB Stanford Samuels, 2 (T-1st); DB Levonta Taylor, 2 (T-1st)

Returning All-ACC players (3)

Offense: C Alec Eberle (2nd team); RB Cam Akers (3rd)

Defense: None

Special teams: Ricky Aguayo (hon. mention)

FYI

Willie’s way: Taggart, a Florida native, left Oregon after just one season in order to take over what he has called his “dream job.” He made a positive impact in his lone season at Oregon; a year after going 4-8, the Ducks went 7-6 in 2017 behind an explosive offense that averaged 419 yards and 32.6 points a game. Taggart has a background in power spread offenses and loves to run the ball. Last season, the Ducks ran for more than 247 yards per game.

All eyes on one knee: If Francois can recover from the season-ending knee injury suffered in last year’s first game and if sophomore backup James Blackman continues his development, the Seminoles may have the weapons to implement Taggart’s fast-paced attack. Sophomore running back Cam Akers lived up to his recruiting hype by rushing for 1,024 yards and seven touchdowns as a freshman, and Florida State’s offensive line includes several veterans, including all-conference center Alec Eberle.

A walk-on with a big name: Caleb Ward, the son of former Florida State Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Charlie Ward, joined the Seminoles as a walk-on wide receiver in June. The younger Ward, a lightly recruited player who fielded offers from schools such as McMurry University in Abilene, played for his father at Booker T. Washington High School in Pensacola, Fla. Charlie Ward led the Seminoles to the program’s first of three national championships in 1993 before beginning an 11-year career in the NBA. He accepted a job as an ambassador for Florida State’s football program earlier this year.

2017 national rankings

Scoring: 71st (27.8 ppg) — right above No. 72 Alabama-Birmingham, right behind No. 70 Georgia Tech

Points allowed: T-29th (21.2 ppg) — tied with Texas, right behind No. 28 Miami

Passing: 89th (196.2 ypg) — right above No. 90 BYU, right behind No. 88 Oregon State

Rushing: 76th (155.7 ypg) — right above No. 77 Texas A&M, right behind No. Florida

Total offense: 100th (351.9 ypg) — right above No. 101 Cincinnati, right behind No. 99 New Mexico

Total defense: 18th (331.1 ypg) — right behind No. 19 TCU, right above No. 17 Penn State

Doak S. Campbell Stadium during the first half of an NCAA football game at Doak S. Campbell Stadium on October 7, 2017 in Tallahassee, Florida. (Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images)

The schedule

DATEOPPONENTLAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)
Sept. 3 (7, ESPN)Virginia Tech*
Sept. 8 (6:20, ACCN)Samford
Sept. 15 (11 a.m.)at Syracuse*W, 27-24
Sept. 22Northern Illinois
Sept. 29at Louisville*L, 31-28
Oct. 6at Miami*L, 24-20
Oct. 20Wake Forest*W, 26-19
Oct. 27Clemson*L, 31-14
Nov. 3at North Carolina St.*L, 27-21
Nov. 10 (6:30, NBC)at Notre Dame
Nov. 17Boston College*L, 35-3
Nov. 24FloridaW, 38-22
* ACC game

The key game: Oct. 6, at Miami. Before the Seminoles can challenge Clemson for the ACC title, they’ll have to re-establish dominance in this Sunshine State rivalry. Conference hierarchy and an edge in the rich recruiting fields of South Florida will be on the line.

The last 5 years

YEARW-L (CONF.)RANKINGSBOWL, RESULT
201314-0 (8-0)11th / 1stBCS title game, W
201413-1 (8-0)1st / 3rdCFP title game, W
201510-3 (6-2)10th / 14thPeach, L
201610-3 (5-3)4th / 8thOrange, W
20177-6 (3-5)3rd / —Independence, W
Total54-13 (32-10 ACC)4-2 in bowls

Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking

Our Top 25, by conferences

ACC — No. 21 Florida State

AAC — No. 22 Central Florida

Pac-12 — No. 23 Oregon

SEC — No. 24 LSU

Big 12 — No. 25 Texas

Coming tomorrow: Our No. 20 team

Want a hint?

This school is on Texas’ schedule this year. Last year too, for that matter.

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