CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Congratulations, everyone. We made it.
The unofficial start of football season, otherwise known in the Atlantic Coast Conference as ACC Football Kickoff (or “Media Days” in general parlance), is here. Beginning Wednesday, the league’s 14 football schools will converge at a posh hotel in downtown Charlotte, N.C., for two days of interviews, photos and video shoots.
Conference media days have become pep rallies of sorts for their respective leagues, and the ACC in 2018 has plenty to brag about: Two football national titles in five seasons (including, of course, Florida State’s in 2013), a representative in five straight BCS national championship games or College Football Playoffs, and a nation-leading 10 bowl teams a year ago.
And, for the first time in a long time, there’s a fresh air around Florida State as it sends its representatives to Charlotte. Over the last few years, ACC media has had a pretty good idea of what to expect from the Seminoles’ contingent, which typically included a pair of established upperclassmen.
But that’s set to change this year, as coach Willie Taggart will meet the ACC media throng for the first time. And he’ll be joined by a sophomore running back (Cam Akers) and a junior defensive end (Brian Burns).
While it’s not unheard of for FSU to send a redshirt sophomore or junior to ACC Kickoff, Akers is the youngest Seminole to attend the event since at least 2007.
With that in mind, here are five storylines surrounding the Seminoles as they step into the spotlight in Charlotte.
Meet the new boss: Florida State fans have had plenty of opportunity to get to know Taggart over the last few months, and they’ve seen firsthand his energy, enthusiasm and reverence for all things FSU.
Wednesday, however, will provide the first interaction with Taggart for several reporters covering the league’s other teams, and probably for some national media, too.
It’s no secret that people outside Tallahassee have sometimes struggled to see why those close to the program are so excited about the new era – FSU said goodbye to one of four active coaches to have won a national title and seems to be happy about it? But if Taggart’s track record is any indicator, it won’t be long until he’s made believers out of everyone in attendance.
Speaking of program perceptions …
Where will FSU land in preseason poll? There was a time when Florida State was virtually guaranteed to be the media’s predicted ACC champ. But after the ebbs and flows of the past few years, Clemson has established itself as the ACC’s current standard, with everyone else looking to catch up.
That’s unusual territory for Florida State, although it’s not necessarily a negative – the Tigers were picked to win the league in 2013; the Seminoles went on to win the ACC and national championships.
A repeat of that scenario in 2018 is a nice thought. Clemson is all but a lock to be picked to win both the Atlantic Division and the ACC, and don’t be too surprised if Miami ends up voted second.
While those potential slights would irritate those in Tallahassee, they wouldn’t be too far out of line for a team that went 7-6 last season and replaced its coaching staff. It will be up to the Seminoles to outperform those expectations and, besides, Taggart might be glad to have a little extra bulletin board material to show his players during fall camp.
Akers, Burns take center stage: Akers and Burns are both excellent choices to represent Florida State in Charlotte, but the selections still raised a few eyebrows when they were announced a few weeks ago. After all, the Seminoles have productive seniors both in the backfield and on the defensive line and, under the previous staff, it’s pretty easy to imagine that Jacques Patrick and Demarcus Christmas would be the ones serving in this capacity.
Akers’ and Burns’ selections are the latest of many signs that things are a little different around here. Both should attract plenty of attention during their media sessions on Thursday – Akers is one of the most exciting young players in the country, and Burns, with 15 career sacks, has All-America potential to go along with the extra motivation that comes from a third year at the collegiate level.
What about those quarterbacks? Taggart will take part in at least one recent tradition at ACC Kickoff: Answering questions about a quarterback competition. The 2018 season will mark FSU’s fourth preseason race at the position in the last six seasons, and this year’s contestants – Deondre Francois, James Blackman and Bailey Hockman– are sure to be hot topics during Taggart’s media sessions.
Taggart will certainly field questions about Francois’ continued recovery from knee surgery, and he’ll likely update the progress that each has made over the last few months. Beyond that, though, anyone looking for hints at the depth chart will likely be disappointed. There’s still more than a month to go before FSU’s season opener, and little incentive for Taggart to tip his hand.
Buzz builds as opener approaches: Florida State has been in plenty of high-profile season openers over the last few years, but, this time, the Seminoles will have a conference opponent along for the ride.
FSU’s Labor-Day clash with Virginia Tech is one of three high-profile, Week-1 matchups in the ACC, and the only one to feature two teams from the league. (Louisville opens with Alabama in Orlando, while Miami meets LSU in North Texas.)
As such, there’s likely to be plenty of focus on the game, starting with Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente during Wednesday’s session and continuing when the Seminoles arrive on Thursday.
Expect Fuente and Taggart to field questions about each other – the two have crossed paths on the football field for more than 20 years, first as players at rival schools Western Kentucky and Murray State, and later as coaches at South Florida and Memphis.