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Examining the expectations for Florida football teams in 2017

If the early prognostications mean anything, then a level of success is going to surround the state of Florida in 2017.

Most of the too-soon predictions for next season have FSU contending for a playoff spot. They think USF could have its best season ever. They think Florida and Miami will both be solid. The predictions come despite FSU losing Dalvin Cook, despite Florida losing much of its defense, despite USF losing Marlon Mack and despite UM losing Brad Kaaya.

ESPN has FSU second in the nation to Alabama. CBS has the Seminoles third. Sporting News has FSU sixth, same as Pro Football Focus. SB Nation has FSU fourth.

USF is 10th by CBS. They’re 20th on ESPN, 25th on Sporting News, 15th by Pro Football Focus and 21st by SB Nation.

Florida is ranked 21st by ESPN, 14th by Sporting News, 21st by Pro Football Focus and 18th by SB Nation. They are unranked by CBS.

UM is 16th by ESPN, 24th by CBS, 21st by Sporting News, 17th by Pro Football Focus and 19th by SB Nation.

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FSU ranked eighth in final AP poll; three other state teams ranked

In the final Associated Press poll of the year, the debate anymore is not who is No. 1.

It’s how the rest of the field sorts out.

This year, for instance, there was never any doubt that Clemson and Alabama would be 1-2 in the polls. But Southern Cal climbed to No. 3 in the final poll.

The two national semifinal losers finished behind the Trojans. Washington was fourth and Ohio State sixth (behind Oklahoma).

Four of Florida’s teams made the top 20 in the poll. FSU finished No. 8 and Florida No. 14 in the polls. USF finished 19th, the first time ever the team has been ranked in the final poll. Miami was 20th.

LSU was 13th. The Tigers, Florida and USF all climbed six spots in the final poll.

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FSU has big shoes to fill with the departure of Dalvin Cook

FSU has a lot of players coming back to its football team. One who won’t is a big one.

Dalvin Cook finished the season as the nation’s No. 1 running back, according to Pro Football Focus. It remains to be seen if Cook is the top back taken — some mocks seem to prefer LSU’s Leonard Fournette — but Cook’s season put him above everyone else in college.

Cook finished the year with 1,765 yards and 19 touchdowns on 288 carries this season, and also finished as the Seminoles second leading receiver with 488 yards and a touchdown on 33 receptions.

Here is what PFF’s Gordon McGuinness had to say about Cook:

“Coming into the year, the big question was who would emerge as the best running back in the nation, with strong candidates in Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey. In the end, it was Cook who had the best year, capping off an incredible collegiate career with an impressive three-game stretch to end the year that summed up his play nicely.

In games against Syracuse, Florida and Michigan, he averaged 3.7, 4.8 and 6.0 yards after contact per carry, and forced 33 missed tackles. Particularly against Michigan that really is incredible, with 119 of his 145 yards coming after contact and Cook forcing a missed tackle once every two carries.

“Cook led all running backs in 2016 with 1,195 yards after contact, the most of any running back in the nation, but also more than all but 31 running backs managed total rushing yards. The best pure runner in the nation, Cook stands out in terms of raw stats, advanced stats and passes the eyeball test too, with plenty of quality runs of four and five yards in his repertoire. In a year when many of the top running backs in the nation didn’t live up to expectations, Cook was able to tie a career best in touchdowns and post career-best numbers in rushing yards and yards after contact.”

FSU has a few candidates to run the ball next year, including junior Jacques Patrick, freshman Cam Akers, Ryan Green, Amir Rasul, freshman Khalan Rayborn and freshman Zaquandre White.

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Two recruiting sites say FSU is having a Top 10 recruiting year

The rich, evidently, get richer.

The recruiting sites are writing that most of the Florida schools are doing well in recruiting, led by FSU, which both 247sports.com and Rivals.com see as having a top 10 recruiting class again.

Of course, the signatures are not on the line yet, so recruitings can shuffle somewhat.

The website 247sports.com has FSU fifth in the nation. They have Miami 15th, Florida 19th, UCF 60th, USF 73rd, FIU 89th and FAU 95th.

Rivals, has most of the teams in the same neighborhood. They have FSU eighth, Miami 13th, Florida 17th, UCF 50th, USF 73rd, FAU 88th and FIU 89th.

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FSU comes from behind to beat Michigan in Orange Bowl

FSU had blown it. They had the game won, and they had let it slip away. It was going to be a lousy finish for the Seminoles.

And then it wasn’t.

The Seminoles charged from behind with a memorable comeback to beat Michigan, 33-32, in Friday night’s Orange Bowl. FSU fell from ahead, then came from behind to win.

Quarterback Deondre Francois, who had one of his roughest nights, hit Nyquan Murray for 12 yards and the winning touchdown with 36 seconds to play to bring the Seminoles back.

Michigan blocked the extra point and returned it for two points and had the ball needing only a field goal to win. But Carlos Becker intercepted a fourth-down pass to cinch the victory.

“I’m as proud of this team as any I’ve coached,” said FSU coach Jimbo Fisher. “We lost a couple of games early, and people kept asking what we had to play for. If you’re keeping score, we’re playing. That’s the FSU way.”

Dalvin Cook may have played his last game for FSU. If so, he went out with an exclamation point. He had 145 yards rushing and 62 receiving. Murray had 104 yards and two touchdowns receiving.

FSU jumped on Michigan earlier, taking a 17-3 lead behind explosive plays.

Murray caught a 92-yard pass and Cook broke a 71-yard run and caught a 45-yard pass, and it looked as if the Noles might win easily.

But Michigan’s defense tightened, and their offense did just enough. Chris Evans had a 30-yard run to give the Wolverines the lead with less than two minutes to play.

On the ensuing kickoff, however, freshman Keith Gavin fielded the ball, balked, then ran ahead as teammate Kermit Whitfield signaled in vain for him to take a knee. Instead, Allen lumbered 65 yards to the Michigan 34.

At the time, Francois had hit only seven of 24 passes for 189 yards. But he hit two of his last three for 33 yards to pull out the win.

Cook said he “never thought about” sitting out the game like LSU’s Leonard Fournette or Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey. “That ain’t him,” Fisher said. Michigan star Jabrill Peppers missed the game because of a hamstring injury.

The victory would seem to clinch a top 10 finish for the ‘Noles, who won seven of their last eight games. (Michigan lost three of its last four). FSU is sure to be one of the highest ranked teams going into next year.

Said Fisher: “The future is great. I promise you that.”

 

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Memories of Bobby Bowden: Much more than winning football games

I recently was invited to a screening of “The Bowden Dynasty: A Story of Faith, Family & Football.” That’s the upcoming movie about the life and career of legendary Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden.

The film will debut Jan. 8 at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg as part of a celebration for the national college football championship game the following night in Tampa.

If you like football, or you went to FSU, or you think Bobby Bowden is an American treasure, or even if you’re a Gator, you should see this movie. It’s scheduled for simultaneous, one-night-only release at about 450 theaters around the nation, but I’m sure it will be available before long on DVD and other places.

I was invited to this screening because I covered FSU sports for several seasons starting in 1981 for The Tampa Tribune. That, joyously, included coverage of Bobby Bowden. Now 87, he coached the Seminoles for 34 years before being forced into retirement after the 2009 season.

FSU wasn’t the football colossus then that it is now. During the years I covered them, the Seminoles took on all comers – almost always on the road – to build the program. The first season I covered them, FSU had consecutive road games at Nebraska, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Pitt (with a quarterback named Dan Marino), and LSU.

For most programs, that would be a suicide mission, but FSU won three of those five games. Many football coaches are so tight they squeak but Bowden played loose, played fun, and won through innovation and a willingness to take chances. He was completely accessible, too – just call him up direct, no need to go through channels.

His greeting was always the same: “Hey buddy!”

I remember one game against Louisville when the kickoff was moved to late on a Saturday night, which wreaked havoc on newspaper deadlines. The Seminoles were expected to win easily. So what would be the harm, I asked him, if I came down in the break before the fourth quarter and asked a couple of quick questions for my story?

I think you can imagine Bowden’s answer.

“Use your own judgment,” he told me.

FSU was ahead 35-3 after three quarters that night. Sports Information Director Wayne Hogan, now with the Florida Sports Hall of Fame, escorted me the field, shaking his head as we went. I asked my questions and zipped back up to my spot in the press box.

Imagine asking that same favor today of Urban Meyer or Nick Saban – or even most high school coaches.

Without question, though, my No. 1 Bowden memory came after I had moved from beat writer to columnist at the Trib. It was the opening game of the 2004 season at Miami. The day before, Bowden had attended the funeral of his 10-year-old grandson, Bowden Madden, who had died in a car wreck.

I was assigned to do a story of how the coach handled such a tragedy. The Seminoles lost 16-10 in overtime, like that mattered much. I hung back in the postgame news conference until all the talk about the evening’s battle was done, then approached. Bowden was gracious as always, even admitting, “It was hard for my mind not to be somewhere else.”

I went on about my business interviewing other people that night when I heard my name. I turned to see Bobby Bowden as he was headed toward the team bus. He flipped the cap he had worn during the game in my direction and said, “Give it to your grandson.”

The cap sits on my mantle, waiting to be delivered when I have a grandchild. I will tell him the story of a coach like none other.

The movie of Bowden’s life is compelling and revealing, and it’s more than worth the two-hour investment in time. The project was spearheaded by FSU alumnus John Correy.

Rob Harvell and Brian Goodwin are the co-directors. They have worked on some of the outstanding ESPN documentaries, including “I Hate Christian Laettner.”

They captured the essence of a man who did more than win a lot of football games. We know how important college football is in the South, but what happens when the games are over is the true measure of a coach. Bobby Bowden changed lives and I was blessed to have a ringside seat for things I never will forget.

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FSU can remove much of the disappointment with Orange victory

It says a great many things about the FSU program that this will be remembered as a season of underachievement.

After all, the Seminoles are ranked 10th in the country. They have a shot at 10 wins. Dalvin Cook was eighth in the country in rushing. Demarcus Walker was tied for second in sacks. Tarvarus McFadden was tied for first in interceptions.

Still, for a team that has won a national title and been in the playoffs in recent seasons, this wasn’t quite acceptable. The ‘Noles lost to Louisville, badly, and dropped games to North Carolina and to Clemson. They won four in a row at the end of the season, but by then, much of the stretch run the team anticipated had disappeared.

That’s why tonight’s Orange Bowl game against Michigan has a hint of relevancy. The Wolverines are rated No. 6 in the nation, and only a double-overtime loss to Ohio State kept them out of the playoffs.

The game itself is intriguing in its matchups. Cook will go against the nation’s second-ranked defense, featuring Jabrill Peppers. Jimbo Fisher and Jim Harbaugh are both alpha coaches.

A clue as to how tonight might go? Think about the red zone. FSU leads the nation, scoring on 52 of 54 trips (42 touchdowns). On the side, Michigan is the nation’s second-best red zone defense, allowing only 68 percent of scores.

There aren’t many teams that can justify disappointment to a top 10 finish with 10 wins. FSU is one of them.

If FSU can take advantage of a Michigan defense that has struggled recently against the run, it will take much of the stain off of their season. Not all of it – the program’s standards to too high – but some. It’s been a long time since the loss to Clemson, and the thoughts of next season — when quarterback Deondre Francois returns — are cheery. This could be remembered not as a season of underachievement, but one of building.

Game time is 8 p.m. in Miami.

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Could FSU ride its momentum to win in Orange Bowl game?

Before you convince yourself how big a favorite sixth-ranked Michigan is over FSU in Friday night’s Orange Bowl, perhaps you should re-consider the last month.

You know, when FSU was 4-0.

You know, when Michigan was 2-2.

Perhaps more things than momentum will matter when the two clash. But FSU has played its best football, especially on defense. Michigan has played well, too, especially in a double-overtime loss to Ohio State, but still, the Wolverines have lost two games in late November.

Still, Michigan ranks as the second-stingiest defense in America, behind Alabama, which is going to make it tough for FSU’s Dalvin Cook and Deondre Francois. FSU has climbed up to a respectable 29th in defense, but tough games against Louisville, USF and Clemson still hold the Seminoles down some.

One of the things that gives hope to FSU is the steady progression of quarterback Francois, only a freshman. He leads the Seminoles’ 24th-ranked offense (Michigan is 46th).

“To be honest with you, when Deondre came in and played, it was just as if he was an experienced quarterback,” FSU wide receiver Travis Rudolph told the Tallahassee Democrat.

“I mean, you guys probably think, ‘Oh, he’s just a redshirt freshman,’ but I feel like he played at the level of a junior or a senior.”

Francois came into the season wanting to earn the respect of his teammates and coaches.

“(I wanted) to become a better player each week,” Francois said.

“Just to grow. On the field and off the field. Basically, to get my teammates to trust me, to become a better leader, and just fight for my team.

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FSU’s Jimbo Fisher finds the rewards of staying in Tallahassee

Turns out, not coaching at LSU is fairly lucrative.

Just ask FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, who received a raise and a contract extension by staying home.

FSU extended Fisher Monday, bumping his salary to $5.5 million and an extension through the 2024 football season. Fisher, whose name was mentioned with both LSU and Texas in the last month, will stick with his young talent with the Seminoles.

Total guaranteed compensation over the length of the 8-year contract will reach $44.4 million.

“Coach Fisher has done an outstanding job in leading our football program, and is clearly one of the top coaches in college football,” Stan Wilcox, Florida State University Vice President and Director of Athletics, said.

“”He is committed to maintaining the elite status of FSU football and we are fortunate and proud to secure him for the long term.”

Fisher was ranked fifth nationally among the sport’s highest paid coaches behind Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh ($9.04 million), Alabama’s Nick Saban ($6.9). Ohio State’s Urban Meyer ($6) and Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops ($5.5), according to USA Today’s college coaches’ salaries database.

It also marks the fourth consecutive year FSU has increased Fisher’s compensation.

“I am proud to be the football coach at Florida State University, and I am happy we were able to reach a long-term contract to have our staff in place for a long time,” Fisher said. “We are committed to developing young men in all phases of their lives and we have the administrative staff in place to do this.

“Florida State is a special place and I look forward to continuing to build on our past success into the future.”

Fisher’s team was a young one this season, with freshman quarterback Deondre Francois leading the way. The Seminoles will be one of the ACC favorites this  coming season.

Fisher is 77-17 at FSU. His team faces Michigan in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30.

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Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston settles with woman accuser

Tampa Bay Bucs’ quarterback Jameis Winston can just worry about the playoffs.

If anything else was on Winston’s mind, he put it to rest Thursday when he and accuser Erica Kinsman have reached a settlement in her lawsuit.

John Clune, a lawyer for the woman, Erica Kinsman, on Wednesday night confirmed a report first published by TMZ Sports, saying, “The case has been resolved to the satisfaction of the parties.”

Kinsman, who said she was raped by Winston when the two were at Florida State, reached an undisclosed settlement in her case. Kinsman had been awarded $950,000 in a suit against Florida State regarding the handling of the allegations.

Winston has never been charged criminally in the case. FSU’s code-of-conduct hearing also found no wrongdoing.

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