1. Jimbo Fisher seems to have built a great program at Florida State, but every coach has a flaw. What do you think Fisher's biggest flaw is, thinking more about his overall tenure than just this year or the year before?
As far as program weaknesses go, there are a couple that we discuss most often. The first is the complexity of Fisher's offense. I think that a solid contingent of our writers feels that it takes too long for most incoming recruits at offensive skill positions to be able to contribute at FSU because of it. This is a shame, because Fisher recruits extremely well. A prime example would be Keith Gavin, who came in looking like Zeus this fall and we think, "okay, we'll see him in two years when he learns what's going on." It takes time for the receivers to figure out all of the option routes and adjustments they have to make on the fly, as well as for the quarterbacks to learn the system. When it clicks, it's awe inspiring, i.e. 2013. But we do question whether it's too much for a college team to handle at times, as coaches only get 20 hours per week to teach during the season.
The other issue most frequently noted by our writers is the perceived over-rotation of the wide receivers. Many of us feel that Fisher has a habit of playing too many wideouts at times, rather than choosing a top three or four and rolling with them. I don't think it's a coincidence that FSU's best offense in history was seen in 2013, in which there were three clear standouts who played the entire season with Jameis Winston. Now, some of this may not be his choice, as it's possible FSU just doesn't have that separation of a group and he's trying to find it by playing a bunch of options. And I should mention that all of this is nitpicking; he's built a phenomenal program and I'd only trade him for Saban, Meyer, and possibly Harbaugh, which is high praise.
2. We've heard that the two-deep at center is likely to miss this game. Who's filling in, and what do you expect out of him. Ole Miss has talent at defensive tackle. Should they be able to disrupt that spot?
We've heard some conflicting reports about this, and to me it's the most important question for this game. Alec Eberle, FSU's starting center, has been dealing with concussion symptoms. It's not clear if he re-aggravated a concussion he suffered earlier in camp, but he didn't play in FSU's second scrimmage and has been in street clothes at practice so far this week. Fisher claims it's due to migraines, but those can be concussion symptoms, and he's not known for being candid with injury news. We've heard rumors ranging from Eberle may be able to play, to Eberle may be out for a while. His backup, Corey Martinez, is out for a few weeks as well.
This leaves a potential true freshman starter named Andrew Boselli. Yes, that Boselli. He's listed at 6'4" 301, and was an early enrollee. This factor and his rumored aptitude have catapulted him above junior Ryan Hoefeld on the depth chart, as well as fellow 2016 signee Baveon Johnson, who was the #1 center recruit in the nation. This is worrisome, even though FSU does have size and experience around him on the interior. I think you'll see FSU run much more inside zone and even man-blocked stuff if Boselli is the starter, as it simplifies his tasks to the greatest extent possible. I do expect him to struggle against the talented Ole Miss interior, although if Brown cannot play and Gross starts inside as a result of shuffling Speaks outside, that would help him some. I know that Gross is very quick off the ball, but I think size is the bigger factor for the true freshman in his match-ups.
3. Dalvin Cook is exceptional, but what is behind him? If he were to get dinged up and have to miss the game, what running styles would Ole Miss fans see from his backups?
On paper, you'd expect Jacques Patrick to be the guy to get plenty of carries, even if Cook were healthy, because of his contrasting style. He's 6'2" 230 and was a highly touted recruit. However, Patrick does not run like a big back, and this has caused him to drop on the depth chart. The other three guys are Johnathan Vickers, Ryan Green, and Amir Rasul. Vickers is more of a power runner, and fullback Freddie Stevenson can also fit that mold. Green and Rasul have impressed the most at camp, and they're more speed guys than power. Green is a good receiver out of the backfield, and Rasul is very fast and runs similarly to Cook, from what we've heard. While there's talent behind him, FSU fans certainly hope #4 remains healthy enough to garner the lion's share of 2016's carries.
4. Safety Derwin James was all over the field last year and is just a sophomore this season. The secondary replaces Jalen Ramsey though. What do FSU's corners bring to the table?
The defensive back group is the best on Florida State's 2016 team. Replacing Ramsey at boundary corner will be Tarvarus McFadden. McFadden won a spirited battle for the spot with fellow sophomore Marcus Lewis, who it seems will now start at the star position (SAM linebacker/nickel corner hybrid) for the ‘Noles. McFadden has great length at 6'2" 200 and was a high four-star recruit, as was Lewis. Returning at field corner is Marquez White, who was very good in 2016 opposite Ramsey. He's also quite long at 6'1", and was quietly among the most productive corners in the country last year. These guys, along with safeties Derwin James and Trey Marshall, will face a very talented Rebel receiving corps on Monday, but I'm as confident in them as I am in any position group that will take the field.
5. Who's an unsung hero on the defense? Offense?
On defense I'll go with linebacker Ro'Derrick Hoskins. He wasn't the highest rated recruit coming to FSU, but he has provided badly needed stability at what has been a snake-bitten position in recent years. He has enough size to effectively play the run, and is dependable in coverage. In many ways, he's the direct opposite of his partner in the linebacking corps, Matthew Thomas. Thomas is the five-star who has never been able to consistently be on the field for FSU, causing us to refer to him as a unicorn. We're hopeful, but still a little cautious in our expectations for Thomas in 2016.
On offense, I think it's tight end Ryan Izzo. He's another player who wasn't as highly rated as a recruit but has been a dependable blocker and receiving target. He'll need to help his right tackle, Rick Leonard, quite a bit in pass protection, as Leonard just made the move to offensive line this spring after playing defensive end his first two years at FSU. We're expecting some bumps in the road for Leonard early on, but hopefully Izzo can minimize the damage.
6. Do you think that the success of the rushing attack and inexperience at quarterback will yield a significantly more run-heavy offense this year, or are the gloves off for Francois? What is there to like about his game, and where does he struggle?
This is a question we asked heading into last season, as Fisher had never before really committed to a run-first offense while at FSU. To our delight, and my surprise, he did just that in 2015. The offense ran through Dalvin Cook, as it should have, and FSU's mediocre to bad quarterback play was minimized as much as it could be. Having Dalvin and most of the offensive line back would lead one to believe that there will be a similar focus on the ground game in 2016. We really like the length the ‘Noles have at tackle and are excited for the potential for a really strong outside zone running game, but as I mentioned, I don't expect that to be the most common running play that Ole Miss will see on Monday night.
However, being a ground-first offense does not mean that FSU won't throw the ball with Francois, particularly on early downs. In fact, I expect FSU to do just that. I think Ole Miss will play their 8-man box, 3-high and quarters looks with soft coverages on the outside. That's almost automatically a passing look for FSU on early downs, which will run "stick" and get the ball out to their receivers, taking advantage of the soft cushion. As far as Francois's strengths and weaknesses, the little we know suggests he has a strong arm, and the spring game showed that he's a competent runner, though it's not his first preference. It will be interesting to see how much Fisher runs him, as FSU's quarterback depth behind him is virtually nonexistent. We'll find out what his weaknesses are when live action starts, I think, aside from the natural ones stemming from being a redshirt freshman.
7. How does this game shape up? Give a final score prediction, and explain how it got there.
I'm assuming that Boselli starts instead of Eberle, which seems like the most likely outcome to be at the time of writing this (Wednesday morning). The word I've used most often when describing this game has been "volatile." It's game one against a talented, yet somewhat streaky Ole Miss team, and FSU has its own questions to answer coming into the season. I expect a lower-scoring game than most probably will. I like FSU's ability to contain Chad Kelly and limit the Ole Miss receivers, as I think this defense has a chance to be really special. The injury to Eberle is going to mean some busted plays and three-and-outs. It's cliché, but it really just depends on the play of Francois. If he's good and is able to take advantage of the numbers Ole Miss will devote to stopping Cook, FSU is going to be a very difficult team to beat all season. If he's average, I think this will be a very close game. I don't think FSU can win with bad play from Francois on Monday night.
Keys: Limit big plays from the Rebel offense and make them score in the red zone; competent quarterback play to take the easy yards on the outside when they're there. My prediction is 21-17 Florida State, and I'm looking forward to what should be a great opening game.