TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – There will be a Labor Day showdown against a Southeastern Conference opponent, eight games against teams that played in last year’s postseason and nine games played within the state of Florida.And Doak Campbell Stadium – with its newly-christened Champions Club in the south end zone – will host national runner-up Clemson, ACC Coastal champ North Carolina, rival Florida and a rare Friday-night contest against Boston College.
It’s all part of a 2016 Florida State football schedule that’s as compelling as it is challenging. Here are the highlights:
Runnin’ with the Rebels
For the first time since 1961, Florida State will meet Ole Miss on the football field. The Orlando Citrus Bowl will host the Seminoles and Rebels for a season-opening, nationally televised game that could jumpstart a run to the College Football Playoff for the winner. The Seminoles have become a fixture on Labor Day in recent years. They topped Pittsburgh to start the 2013 season, and played a series of Monday-night games against Miami and Clemson in the 2000s.
The Rebels, the only team to beat national champion Alabama in 2015, just polished off a 10-3 season with a 48-20 romp over Oklahoma State in the Sugar Bowl. But they also must contend with the losses of several key players, including lineman Laremy Tunsil, receiver Laquon Treadwell and defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche.
On the road again
Tallahassee won’t see much of the Seminoles in September. After opening the season in Orlando, FSU has one home game against Charleston Southern before hitting the road for back-to-back games at Louisville and South Florida.
FSU had its way against Louisville (won 41-21) and USF (won 34-14) in 2015, but the Cardinals and Bulls both finished their seasons on hot streaks and will be looking for bigger things in 2016.
Louisville bounced back from an 0-3 start to finish 8-5 on the season, and USF won seven of its last eight regular season games before falling to Western Kentucky in the Miami Beach Bowl.
The Seminoles will get their second look at U of L quarterback Lamar Jackson, whose star seems to be rising after a 453-yard performance in the Cardinals’ 27-21 win over Texas A&M in the Music City Bowl.
Louisville is also the site of one of FSU’s most memorable recent wins. After falling behind by three touchdowns, the Seminoles rallied for a 42-31 victory.
The latest turn in the ACC’s divisional schedule rotation means the Seminoles get a rare chance to host the North Carolina Tar Heels. UNC, the defending ACC Coastal champion, is set to visit Tallahassee on Oct. 1 – also Parents’ Weekend – in what will likely be one of the marquee games on the league’s schedule. FSU hasn’t played the Tar Heels since 2010.
So we meet again
After UNC, FSU will head south for what should be a memorable meeting with coach Mark Richt and the Miami Hurricanes.
Richt, who served as an FSU assistant from 1990-2000, was hired by his alma mater earlier this year. He’ll be looking to end Florida State’s six-year run of dominance over the Hurricanes.
And here’s where that road-heavy early slate pays off: After visiting Miami, the Seminoles will play just two games away from home – at NC State on Nov. 5 and at Syracuse on Nov. 19.
FSU has just one bye week this season, but it comes at a great time. The Seminoles host Wake Forest for homecoming on Oct. 15 and then have their week off before the Clemson Tigers come to town on Oct. 29.
It will be a welcome change from a year ago, when FSU had its bye on Sept. 26 and then finished the season with nine games in nine weeks. This season is much more manageable – seven games before the open date and five games after.
For the last seven years, the math in the ACC Atlantic has been simple: Whichever team wins the FSU-Clemson game wins the division.
And, in recent years, the winner has had an inside track for a run at the national title.
The Tigers snapped a three-game losing streak to FSU last year, but they haven’t won in Tallahassee since 2006.
Friday Night Lights in Tallahassee
Florida State visited Boston College for a Friday game in 2015, and the Eagles are set to return the favor. The Seminoles will meet BC on Friday, Nov. 11, in their first home game played on a day other than Saturday or Monday since 2002.
The Veterans Day contest will also serve as a perfect time for FSU’s annual Military Appreciation Day. And although the game isn’t on the traditional Saturday, the primetime kickoff, coupled with the Veterans Day holiday, should allow fans to begin making their travel arrangements now.
Fisher-McElwain, Round 2
FSU coach Jimbo Fisher got the best of his newest counterpart in Gainesville, besting coach Jim McElwain’s Florida Gators, 27-2, to earn FSU’s first ever three-game winning streak in Gainesville. But despite a rough end to the season, UF appears to be trending in the right direction under McElwain. This year’s iteration of the rivalry should hold heavy implications, as FSU looks to beat Florida for the sixth time in seven meetings and further cement its place atop the state.