Jimbo Fisher has a lot of work to do to get Florida State back to being an ACC and College Football Playoff contender heading into the 2018 season. That much is obvious.
While the season-ending injury to star quarterback and offensive leader Deondre Francois affected the fortunes of the Seminoles’ 2017 campaign, this is a premier program that is expected to excel even when top players go down.
Simply put, there is no excuse for a team as talented as Florida State and ranked No. 3 in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll not to be able to field even an average offense and have so many lapses on defense.
So what should be done this offseason?
The biggest issue that Fisher needs to address is the offensive line, which once again struggled and has arguably been the worst unit in Power 5 football in 2017. This has been a problem for the past few seasons, which is stunning considering the amount of overall talent the Seminoles are able to bring in each recruiting cycle.
For whatever reason, this program has been plagued by consistent pass protection issues. We saw Francois get pounded last year and show his toughness by making it through a full season. This fall, freshman quarterback James Blackman has been battered as well, and there were times when it looked like he might not get up after a big hit. FSU has no chance of being a premier program once again if it can’t keep its quarterback upright.
Florida State is also one of the worst teams in the country in allowing tackles for loss per game, as the run blocking has made the departure of star tailback Dalvin Cook even more tough to swallow. While primary rushers Cam Akers, Jacques Patrick and Amir Rasul are all averaging more than 5 yards per carry, there have been several games in which the backs have not been able to find consistent holes, putting more pressure on the young signal caller. It’s tough for even the highest-rated running backs to be successful if they don’t have help from teammates up front.
Whatever the reason, FSU hasn’t been able to field a strong offensive line the past several years, so I would not expect offensive line coach Rick Trickett to be back. The results haven’t been there, whether it is coaching, recruiting or something in the water in Tallahassee. Perhaps Mike Bloomgren, who is the offensive coordinator/offensive line coach at Stanford, will be in the mix as Fisher looks for a fix. Bloomgren is from Tallahassee and graduated from Florida State in 1999, and he began his coaching career as an undergraduate assistant for Bobby Bowden.
There also are whispers that Randy Sanders won’t return as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach. There is no doubt that the quarterback position has been a problem in 2017, and Blackman’s rawness at the position is only part of the problem. Fisher may have lost faith in Sanders, so it would not be surprising to see Dameyune Craig assume the quarterbacks coach role after Fisher brought him back as an analyst this past offseason. His recruiting prowess will only help the offensive side of the ball as well, so expect a retooled offensive staff for 2018.
While injuries have plagued the position, receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey also could be a victim of a staff overhaul as the team’s pass catchers haven’t been as explosive. Sure, quarterback play has had something to do with it. But Florida State hasn’t had the explosiveness that it needs at the position. And that’s been surprising.
On the other side of the ball, Fisher realizes that there are too many future NFL players on the team to have underachieved this season. The lack of turnovers forced has been alarming, so it’s tough to envision coordinator Charles Kelly coming back. There seems to be a lack of “buy in” from his players, and there doesn’t seem to be that same type of fire as when Jeremy Pruitt was running the defensive show. And there have been too many breakdowns and a lack of leadership, especially late in games. With the proliferation of spread offenses with dual-threat quarterbacks, Floirda State has struggled to contain such offensive operations. That needs to change if it has any chance to compete with the likes of Clemson and Miami, the two “it” programs in the ACC right now.
When a former major power endures such a trying season, changes are bound to occur. How many tweaks Fisher makes to his coaching staff is uncertain, but Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly made sweeping changes after last year’s disaster and he had the Fighting Irish competing for a CFP berth this year. It’s the nature of the business and coaches realize it’s simply business, especially when a culture of complacency seemingly sets in.
Despite the struggles of the 2017 Seminoles, Fisher’s name has been linked to Texas A&M, which could be primed to part ways with Kevin Sumlin. Fisher has been linked to LSU during the past couple rounds of the coaching carousel, but he remained in Tallahassee. Perhaps the Aggies will go hard after Fisher if they elect to make a change, as Texas A&M athletic director Scott Woodward has maintained a relationship with Fisher since their days at LSU.
In his eighth season with the Seminoles, Fisher has the unwavering support of university president John Thrasher, who recently said that Fisher will remain at the school as long as he wants to be there and that he is confident that the team will rebound.
Perhaps at some point Fisher will pursue another avenue, but for now the focus is on finishing 2017 strong by earning a bowl bid and extending the nation’s longest postseason streak. Extra practices for the younger players during bowl season will only help for 2018 and beyond.
There’s no doubt that this offseason is crucial for Fisher as Florida State tries to become not just an annual national contender again, but also remain atop its league once again.