Our colleague Chris Low pointed out the teams he is buying and selling heading into 2017, so this is the perfect opportunity to look at the top 5 returning ACC teams and determine whether they are playoff contenders or pretenders.
Next: Florida State
Reasons the Seminoles are contenders: No ACC program recruits at a higher level than Florida State. Nationally, only Alabama (and maybe Ohio State) outpace the Seminoles on the recruiting circuit. So in most seasons, the Seminoles will enter the fall with the conference roster with the highest ratio of blue-chip players. That is the case this year, when not only does Florida State have a bulk of ESPN 300 players on the roster, but many of them are returning starters.
If the defense truly turned the corner last season and didn’t simply feast on inferior offenses, then there is reason to believe the unit will be among the country’s best in 2017. The line will be one of the very best with a combination of pass-rushers and run stuffers at every spot. Linebacker Matthew Thomas broke out against Michigan, and the secondary returns Tarvarus McFadden and Derwin James.
Offensively, it will be tough to mask the losses of Dalvin Cook, tackle Rod Johnson and a handful of solid receivers. Their quarterback returns, however, as will the rest of the offensive line. Nyqwan Murray has matured enough to see the field regularly and be a big-play threat, and Auden Tate and George Campbell could be the taller receivers the Seminoles have needed since Kelvin Benjamin’s departure. They will be the ACC favorite.
Reasons the Seminoles are pretenders: For nearly the entire season, the offense sputtered against Power 5 opponents in the first half of games. It was solved late in 2016, but as it’s plagued the Seminoles for three seasons, it’s not a guarantee the offense won’t revert to its old patterns eventually. Jacques Patrick and five-star newcomer Cam Akers will help limit the loss of Cook, but at least early on, the running game could struggle without its centerpiece. Deondre Francois has a great tutor in Jimbo Fisher and had a strong redshirt freshman season, but it remains to be seen whether he’ll be able to handle more of a load. He completed less than 60 percent of his passes -- a Florida State first since 2008 -- and didn’t fare well against Clemson, Florida or Michigan. The offensive line was part of the issue, but Francois’ toughness opens himself up to big hits. He’s not afraid to hold onto the ball even as a 300-pound body bears down on him. The offensive line and receivers need to play better around him, too.
The defense wasn’t tested against a dual-threat quarterback in the second half of the season, so a few questions still linger despite the resurgence. And they’ll have to play the Power 5's best running quarterbacks: Alabama's Jalen Hurts and Louisville's Lamar Jackson.
Verdict: Contender. Duh. The hot finish to 2016 coupled with the talent all over the roster leaves no doubt the Seminoles are a contender. Enough questions exist that it’s ambitious to label them as the preseason No. 1, but the Seminoles are worthy of a preseason top-five spot. A neutral-site opener against Alabama and a road game at Clemson highlight the schedule, but the tough nonconference slate and the ACC’s new strength provide a cushion. Florida State as a one-loss ACC champion is getting into the College Football Playoff, and this is a group capable of a season close to flawless.