The long offseason of 2018 is coming to a close. Florida State football is now just one month away from taking the field vs. Virginia Tech for the season-opening match-up.
By now, most fans have read up on the position groups, players, coaches, and every other factor in the lead-up to the season. It’s time for the actual predictions to be put on paper.
The unknown will play a large factor in Florida State’s year, that much is (ironically) for certain. We don’t claim to be clairvoyant — instead, we’re piecing together what we’ve seen and heard since spring practice, which leads to some unexpected conclusions. This piece won’t bat 1.000, but it will be interesting to look back on it and see how close we came to accurately catching the surprises.
Prediction: Starting QB Passes for No More Than 20 Touchdowns
Why not start out with an eye grabber? Francois passed for 20 touchdowns in 2016 and James Blackman passed for 19 in 2017. It makes sense to assume that either option will cross the 20-touchdown threshold in 2018. Consider however that both are going to have growing pains in a new system with a coach who is attempting to exploit team strengths.
Both Blackman and Francois are competent passers, but how much can truly be expected with all the uncertainty at both the quarterback and wide receiver positions? What if new head coach Willie Taggart can’t fully decide and rotates them in for specific situations?
This doesn’t mean the starting quarterback is going to have a bad year. On the contrary, it could be seen as a very efficient year at the helm of a potent offense — an offense that isn’t as reliant on the arm of a quarterback to punch it into the end zone.
Prediction: Khalan Laborn Pushes Cam Akers for Starting Reps
Much of the narrative surrounding FSU’s run game has centered on Cam Akers as a near-Heisman worthy player. This is accurate, but it does suggest that Akers is far-and-away the most talented player in the backfield.
He’s the most proven, but in terms of talent, Laborn is right on his heels. Don’t forget that Laborn was a consensus high 4-star/low 5-star recruit coming out of high school. The difference between him and Akers is much smaller than a surface-level examination would reveal.
Taggart’s offense is also going to require a lot of production from the ground game. Laborn will get his touches to prove why he was considered the No. 1 all-purpose back by multiple services. When he capitalizes on it, Laborn will be right behind Akers on the depth chart and contending for starting reps.
Prediction: Four Receivers Record 500-plus Yards
The above prediction has not occurred since 2014, when Jameis Winston was under center and the group of Rashad Greene, Nick O’Leary, Travis Rudolph, and Jesus Wilson were the main threats. Only two players last year broke 500 receiving yards: Nyqwan Murray and Auden Tate.
Florida State’s wide receiver depth looks much better since the 2018 recruiting class arrived. The experience is missing but the raw ability is something to watch throughout the season. Since pretty much everyone will be getting a fair shot at playing, it’s not unreasonable to expect an even distribution of receiving yards. Having a 1,000-yard receiver seems unlikely, but a group of 500-yard receivers is achievable.
Prediction: Two Lineman Earn Postseason Honors
The offensive line in 2016 and 2017 was a jumbled mess thanks to a variety of injuries and sub-par coaching. Some games they’d play above expectations, and others they would regress horribly.
That being said, the line is still getting much more flak than it probably deserves. There is still talent in the chamber that simply was not being used properly. Now the task for offensive line coach Greg Frey is to get them up to speed with an up-tempo offense.
Multiple linemen last year had promising Pro Football Focus grades in run-blocking, which Taggart’s offense is going to rely on. This shift away from their weaknesses and towards their strengths will reveal that FSU can win games in the trenches with players currently on the roster. For this, at least a couple linemen will be highlighted by either the ACC or national publications.
Prediction: Wally Aime Becomes a Top-3 Lineman
We know that FSU will be rotating plenty of players in at least one defensive end spot. Brian Burns will get the large majority of reps in a pass rushing role, while there’s a list of three or four players contending for edge-setting duties.
One of those is Wally Aime, who bided his time as a rotational defensive tackle these past couple of seasons. He slimmed down to just 270 pounds during the offseason and provides more experience than either of the other two main candidates, Josh Kaindoh and Janarius Robinson.
Being a “starter” in this role probably won’t mean much. Florida State will be experimenting with all combinations to see what works best, as well as general defensive scheme variations. Given Aime’s upside and the reports that came out of spring practice, 2018 looks like the year he could become a top defensive lineman.
Prediction: Dontavious Jackson Earns All-ACC Honors
There’s so much uncertainty with who starts at the linebacker spot next to Jackson that most bold predictions would be shots in the dark. In the spirit of keeping this article grounded, Dontavious Jackson will be the choice for the bold prediction at linebacker.
Jackson remains the lone linebacker that coaches are fully confident in as the 2018 season approaches. That could change in fall camp but it’s not likely. This also means that Jackson will be much more comfortable in his role this year and will come right out the gate as a starter. He’ll use this boost of confidence to propel himself to an All-ACC year.
Prediction: Cyrus Fagan Leads Team in Interceptions
Turnovers are usually an unpredictable part of the game. Data shows that they are based on luck and that there’s not much that coaches can do to encourage them. That being said, certain players in the secondary are more likely to grab them based on their roles within defenses. For Florida State this season, that role looks like it will go to sophomore Cyrus Fagan, who is projected to start at free safety.
Fagan had no interceptions or forced fumbles in 2017. However, the position he is expected to start at means he will be roaming in coverage more than last season. He could begin recording takeaways early on.
Prediction: No Return Touchdowns
Wouldn’t the actual bold prediction be that FSU does return a kick or punt for a touchdown? Not necessarily. Willie Taggart’s special teams have recorded at least one return touchdown in three straight seasons. Compare that to Florida State, whose only return touchdown since the 2013 season was Jesus Wilson in 2016 vs. Charleston Southern.
Some have discussed an expected improvement thanks to a new coaching staff that views punting and kicking in a fundamentally different way. That might happen, but since this is a bold predictions story, let’s go with one of the very few bold guesses available.