TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – It’s been exactly one year, nine months and 20 days since Florida State and Ole Miss announced that they would play each other in the newly-renovated Orlando Citrus Bowl. A lot has happened since then. The Seminoles polished off a 29-game win streak, appeared in the first ever College Football Playoff game and tacked on another “New Year’s Six” bowl game appearance to boot. The Rebels, meanwhile, put together two of their best seasons in recent memory, building on a 9-4 campaign in 2014 with a 10-3 season in 2015, capped off by a big win over Oklahoma State in the Sugar Bowl. Even the Citrus Bowl got a new name – Camping World Stadium – in April.
But the game is finally here, and with it come the eyes of the college football world. FSU-Ole Miss is the only game in town on Monday night and, given the national rankings and playoff implications, it’s sure to be one of the marquee matchups of the early season.
With that in mind, here’s a look at the names, numbers and notes you need to know before the Seminoles kick off their season against the Rebels.
Note: As of now, Hurricane Hermine’s only effect on the game has been to alter FSU’s practice schedule by a bit. FSU’s campus is closed on Friday, but the team is still scheduled to practice Friday and Saturday before departing for Orlando on Saturday evening. This page will be updated to reflect any changes that come between now and Monday night.
Camping World Kickoff: No. 4 Florida State (10-3, 6-2 ACC in 2015) vs. Mississippi (10-3, 6-2 SEC)
When/Where: Monday, 8 p.m., Camping World Stadium (70,000) in Orlando, Fla.
TV/Radio: ESPN/Seminole IMG Radio Network (103.1 FM in Tallahassee)
Coach: Hugh Freeze (34-18 in four seasons at Ole Miss, 64-25 overall)
Last game: The Rebels routed Oklahoma State, 48-20, in the Sugar Bowl. QB Chad Kelly threw for 302 yards and four touchdowns.
Last game vs. Florida State: Ole Miss won the only meeting between the two schools, cruising to a 33-0 victory in Oxford, Miss., in 1961. The Rebels were ranked No. 2 in the country at the time.
Florida State opens the season in primetime, with the eyes of the college football world fixed on Orlando for the Seminoles’ Labor Day showdown with Ole Miss. After an opening weekend that features three top-25 matchups, as well as games pitting cross-conference heavyweights against each other, the Seminoles and Rebels will have the spotlight come Monday night.
Deondre Francois, a redshirt freshman quarterback and an Orlando native, will make his debut in his hometown. Fisher confirmed last week that Francois would start after taking the majority of first-team reps in both spring and fall camps. Fifth-year senior Sean Maguire had surgery to repair a broken bone in his foot nearly three weeks ago, and although he has since returned to practice, his availability for Monday’s game is not yet known.
The Seminoles and Rebels each enter the season looking to build on 10-win campaigns from a year ago and reach the College Football Playoff. FSU in particular has been a trendy playoff pick in the national media, thanks in large part to the presence of star running back Dalvin Cook and a host of talent on defense.
Ole Miss, meanwhile, must replace three first-round draft picks (offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil, defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche and receiver Laquon Treadwell). The Rebels do, however, have quarterback Chad Kelly, the SEC’s leading passer in 2015, back in the fold.
One offensive and defensive player from each team who could swing the game
Ole Miss: It’s perhaps a little too obvious to go with the quarterback, but the Rebels’ Chad Kelly will provide the Seminoles with a unique and difficult test right out of the gate. Not only did Kelly, the nephew of Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Jim Kelly, throw for 4,042 yards and 31 touchdowns last season, but he also ran for 500 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground.
On defense, defensive end Marquis Haynes could be one of the better pass-rushers the Seminoles face this season. The Jacksonville native posted 10 sacks a year ago and will likely be a handful for whichever FSU tackle he lines up against. While All-American Roderick Johnson can likely hold his own, the Rebels could move Haynes to the other side in an attempt to match him up with Rick Leonard, who appears in line to make his first career start at right tackle.
Florida State: The Rebels ranked 104th nationally in passing yards allowed last season, and they’ve since lost their two most experienced defensive backs to graduation. If Ole Miss’ new DBs take a while to find their footing, that could provide an opportunity for FSU’s Travis Rudolph to make a quick impact. The junior receiver posted seven catches for 201 yards his last time out, and he enters this season with high expectations after earning rave reviews from both teammates and coaches for the work he’s put in during the offseason.
On a similar note, Ole Miss lost all five starters on its offensive line (although, due to injuries, a few returning Rebels have starting experience), which makes the prospects of facing FSU’s DeMarcus Walker and Josh Sweat that much more daunting. Assuming Ole Miss pays extra attention the senior Walker, Sweat might have a great chance to introduce himself to the nation.
Total offense: FSU: 424.0 YPG (51st nationally in 2015); Ole Miss: 517.8 YPG (10th)
Scoring offense: FSU: 31.7 PPG (47th); Ole Miss: 40.8 PPG (8th)
Passing offense: FSU: 255.8 YPG (38th); Ole Miss: 334.7 YPG (10th)
Rushing offense: FSU: 168.2 YPG (69th); Ole Miss: 183.1 (45th)
Total defense: FSU: 336.9 YPG (19th); Ole Miss: 385.8 YPG (54th)
Scoring defense: FSU: 17.5 PPG (9th); Ole Miss: 22.6 PPG (33rd)
Passing defense: FSU: 191.6 YPG (21st); Ole Miss: 258.8 YPG (104th)
Rushing defense: FSU: 145.3 YPG (37th); Ole Miss: 127.1 YPG (23rd)
Number of note, courtesy of Pro Football Focus: In 2015, Cook gained 698 yards when running behind or around the left tackle, and he gained 396 yards when running behind or around the right tackle. That made up 64.5 percent of his total rushing yardage (1,696). This could come into play on Monday, as, like FSU, Ole Miss likes to use five DBs in its base defense and will likely depend on its cornerbacks to help keep Cook contained.
“I think they are going to have a little bit more of that ‘eye of the tiger’ that we saw a few years back. When you have such success – and they’re still very good, and it’s not like they fell off the Earth, they just didn’t quite have that same mystique about them that they had there for a while – I think sometimes you lose your edge when you win so much. And I think after a 10-3 season that was finished off with an embarrassing loss to Houston in the Peach Bowl, I think there are enough players on that team that experienced that, that they’re kind of mad. I expect them to play with a chip on their shoulder.” – ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit on what he expects from Florida State on Monday and this season.
“If that doesn’t get you excited, maybe football isn’t for you,” – FSU RB Dalvin Cook on the prospects of playing on Monday Night Football
“Defensively, we’ll handle him real well. We’ve got a real game plan for him and we’re going to shut him down.” – Ole Miss defensive end Marquis Haynes on FSU’s Dalvin Cook
“I remember him quite vividly. We thought he was a tremendous talent with a big arm.” – Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze on FSU quarterback Deondre Francois, who Freeze recruited out of high school
Florida State is looking to win its seventh straight season opener. The Seminoles are 6-0 in openers under coach Jimbo Fisher and 53-16 all-time. Ole Miss has won 17 of its last 20 season openers.
Monday marks the 10th time FSU has opened its season at a neutral site. The Seminoles are 8-1 all-time in neutral-site openers, and have won seven straight such games. Their last loss came in 1989, when Brett Favre-led Southern Mississippi beat the Seminoles, 30-26, in Jacksonville.
FSU will also play its 11th game in the city of Orlando and first in the regular season since 1996. The Seminoles are 8-0-2 all-time in “The City Beautiful,” with their most recent game an 18-14 victory over Notre Dame in the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl.
In something of a roster quirk, the Seminoles return 17 starters from last year’s team, but have only nine scholarship seniors.
Francois is the fourth FSU quarterback to make his first career start under Fisher. The Seminoles won two of those games (Jameis Winston at Pittsburgh in 2013, Maguire vs. Clemson in 2014) and lost one (Clint Trickett at Clemson in 2011).
Francois will also be the fourth freshman quarterback to start an opener for the Seminoles (Chris Rix 2001, Drew Weatherford 2005, Winston 2013) and just the eighth freshman quarterback to have started in any game for FSU.
Cook enters the season needing just 1,261 yards to break Warrick Dunn’s all-time FSU rushing record.
Cook’s brother, Deandre Burnett, plays for the men’s basketball team at Ole Miss.
Ole Miss is 10-12 against top-25 teams under Freeze, 3-3 against top-five opponents. FSU under Fisher is 13-8 against the top 25.
Curious about Ole Miss’ offense? Coach Hugh Freeze breaks it down on the dry-erase board here:
Travis Rudolph became an international sensation this week thanks to a kind gesture at a Tallahassee middle school. You can read about it on our site here, and also check out what some of the local media had to say here, here and here. If you’re into more of an international flavor, here are reports from the BBC, the Aftenposten in Norway and the Mundo Deportivo in Spain.
Brendan Sonnone of Noles247 details how FSU walk-on Jake Rizzo has simulated Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly in practice.
Ryan Clark of Warchant.com writes that FSU’s more experienced players are eager to rally around their new QB.
Jared Shanker of ESPN.com takes an in-depth look at FSU offensive line coach Rick Trickett.
Antonio Morales of The Clarion-Ledger has Ole Miss’ perspective on Deondre Francois.
Ben Garrett of OM Sports writes that the Ole Miss defensive end Marquis Haynes grew up in a family of FSU fans, but he’s a Rebel now.
This is about as good as college football gets in September: Two highly-ranked, non-traditional opponents with star players and national title aspirations meeting under the lights in a neutral stadium. It’s like a bowl game to start the year, only it has far heavier implications than most bowl games.
Just a hunch, but this one feels like it could be sloppy at times. The Seminoles are breaking in a new quarterback, at least one new offensive lineman and several new defenders. And the Rebels are set to debut a new offensive line combo and two new defensive backs, to go along with several other different faces in expanded roles. Throw in a big stage, bright lights and a national TV audience, and it won’t be too much of a surprise if there are some noticeable jitters early on. The key for Florida State, then, is to get them out of the way early and, hopefully, have things tightened up by the second half.
Even without its three first-round picks, Ole Miss is probably still too talented to let the Seminoles get too comfortable. But if FSU’s defense can keep Kelly in check long enough for Francois to find his footing – or at least hand it off to Cook a few times and let Cook do his thing– the Seminoles ought to be able to come out of this one unscathed and start the season on a very high note.