TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – With the fireworks and barbecues now in the books, it’s officially time for preseason football. The Atlantic Coast Conference’s annual Football Kickoff (otherwise known as “Media Days”) is set for this week, which means coaches and two players from each of the league’s 14 football schools will gather at a hotel in downtown Charlotte, N.C., for interviews, photo and video shoots and maybe a few surprises
Quarterback Deondre Francois and defensive back Derwin James will join coach Jimbo Fisher in representing Florida State. The Seminoles are slated to hold a press conference at 1:51 p.m. Thursday, then spend an extended session (2:06-3:20 p.m.) with the conference’s writers.
The Atlantic Division (FSU, Louisville, NC State, Syracuse, Boston College, Wake Forest and Clemson) will make the rounds on Thursday, with The Coastal Division (Virginia, Duke, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, Miami, Georgia Tech and North Carolina) following on Friday.
As ACC Kickoff approaches, here are a few storylines surrounding the Seminoles this week:
1) Nation, meet Derwin James
Any chance that Derwin James’ return from a season-ending knee injury might fly under the radar were effectively quashed two weeks ago, when Sports Illustrated named him the No. 1 player in all of college football. Yes, ahead of reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson of Louisville, and, yes, despite the fact that James hasn’t played football in nearly a year – since Sept. 10, 2016, to be exact. But college football fans and media are bullish on James, and for good reason. After showing himself to be fully healthy during spring camp, James is now closer than ever to his return, where he can get back to his ways as one of the most exciting and disruptive players in the nation. SI’s Bruce Feldman even named James a dark horse Heisman candidate earlier this week.
But while James’ athletic prowess is obvious, ACC Kickoff represents one of the first opportunities for conference and national media to get to know James away from the field. They’ll likely find a personality as engaging and infectious as any of the FSU defenders – Lamarcus Joyner, Jalen Ramsey and DeMarcus Walker among them – who passed through Kickoff before him.
2) The evolution of Deondre Francois
Deondre Francois is plenty used to the spotlight, having been Florida State’s starting quarterback for a year. But this season feels different. Dalvin Cook was still on the team a year ago, and there was no questioning who was the face of Florida State’s offense. But Cook is now gone, and his role as the standard-bearer for the offense has clearly passed to Francois.
It’s a natural evolution: During his first year as FSU’s starter, Francois was something of a coach’s dream in his interview sessions. He carefully crafted his responses, gave constant credit to his teammates and shied away from anything that could be twisted into motivation for an opponent. In other words, he sounded like a successful modern quarterback. Expect more of the same this week.
3) Resetting the hierarchy in the ACC
The ACC enters the 2017 season with both the defending national champion and reigning Heisman Trophy winner, but, in a change from recent history, neither of those belongs to FSU. Clemson is the league’s first non-FSU national champion since Georgia Tech in 1990, and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson is the ACC’s first ever non-Seminole to win the Heisman (not including schools that later joined the league after Heisman years).
While the Tigers and Cardinals are both in FSU’s division, don’t be surprised if the Seminoles are the media’s choice to win the ACC this year. Clemson is still the champ, but it lost a host of key players from last year’s title team – including first-round picks Deshaun Watson and Mike Williams – while Louisville is looking to bounce back from a disappointing finish that saw it lose three straight games to close the year.
The Seminoles, meanwhile, seem to have plenty of positive momentum, as they finished the year winning seven of their last eight games and beating Michigan in the Orange Bowl. Factor in the returns of both Francois, FSU’s first multi-year starting quarterback since Jameis Winston, and James, along with a high-profile schedule, and it’s easy to see why some media has tabbed FSU as a trendy pick not only to win the ACC but to also make the College Football Playoff. No matter how the media’s preseason vote shakes out (results won’t be made public until next week), all three teams are sure to be asked about their place in relation to the other two.
4) Alabama, Alabama and more Alabama
The hype surrounding the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game between Florida State and Alabama has been building since the contest was first announced two years ago, but that buzz will begin its kick into overdrive this week. Not only does the game match two of college football’s premier programs – Alabama (86) and FSU (78) are the two winningest teams in the country since 2010, when Fisher took over – but it also pairs Fisher with his former mentor, Alabama’s Nick Saban.
Saban himself got the ball rolling Wednesday, when he was asked about the Seminoles during his press conference at the Southeastern Conference’s Media Days:
Saban says Florida State has as many good players returning as any team in college football. FSU "especially" is built like an SEC team.
— rickbozich (@rickbozich) July 12, 2017
Fisher, of course, served as Saban’s offensive coordinator at LSU from 2000-04, and the pair won a national title together in 2003. The two have actually met once since then, when Fisher was FSU’s offensive coordinator in 2007, which was also Saban’s first year at Alabama. (FSU beat Alabama, 21-14, in Jacksonville.) But this marks the first time that the two will go head-to-head since Fisher’s emergence as one of the nation’s top head coaches.
As a result, and given the stakes of the game – it could be the first time the Associated Press’ No. 1 and 2 teams meet in a season opener – Fisher is certain to be peppered with both Saban- and Alabama-related questions.
5) Roster updates, too
While ACC Kickoff tends to focus on big-picture storylines, the conversation usually moves toward on-field topics, and Florida State has a few to discuss. Among them, updates on the team’s progress at running back, receiver, offensive line, defensive end and cornerback, all of which lost key pieces from a year ago.
Of particular interest will be the running back position, where FSU is looking to replace all-time leading rusher Dalvin Cook but also has a pair of former five-star prospects (junior Jacques Patrick and freshman Cam Akers) waiting in the wings.
Cook’s counterpart at last year’s ACC Kickoff, DeMarcus Walker, is also gone, but the Seminoles have promising players (Brian Burns and Josh Sweat, among others) looking to fill his shoes, too.