TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida State’s 2018 football schedule came out Wednesday, and, seeing as kickoff with the Virginia Tech Hokies is still more than eight months away, that leaves plenty of time to pore over the details that make up the slate. Let’s get right to it.
1) Opener with VT takes on added significance: Yes, the season opener sets the tone for every team in the country, but, now that we know what follows, FSU’s Labor Day meeting with Virginia Tech seems to carry with it some extra weight.
FSU fans need to look no further than last year to see how the effects of an opener can linger into the rest of the season. And while the Seminoles’ loss to Alabama was disappointing (to say nothing of the injury to Deondre Francois), that game didn’t have any conference implications. This one does. FSU of course aspires to return to the College Football Playoff, but the Seminoles can’t do that without first climbing back to the top of the ACC. A loss won’t eliminate that goal, but knocking off one of the top teams in the Coastal Division – at home, and in coach Willie Taggart’s first game, no less – would be a great place to start. Especially since the Seminoles will have played at Louisville, at Miami and at Syracuse by the time the season reaches its midway point.
2) Showdown in South Florida: After seven years of dominance from Florida State – and a dormant decade from Miami – the Seminoles and Hurricanes feel like they have a rivalry again. Even with UM middling under previous regimes, Hard Rock Stadium always filled up when FSU came to town, and that will no doubt be the case on Oct. 6, when the Seminoles look to win their seventh straight game at Miami.
The Hurricanes should be no worse than 4-1 at the time of the meeting (they play LSU in their opener) and, complicating things from the FSU perspective, will have 10 days to prepare for the Seminoles following a Thursday-night game with North Carolina.
The FSU-UM game goes a long way toward defining each team’s season in every year, but this edition has bigger-picture implications. There’s no doubt that Miami has some momentum after last year’s 10-3 campaign and, in an odd twist, coach Mark Richt is now the most tenured coach among the state’s “big three” programs. Dominance over Miami and Florida was a hallmark of FSU’s success over the last decade, and that success paid big dividends on the recruiting trail. The Hurricanes are out to prove that the pendulum has permanently swung in their direction, while the Seminoles have a chance to show that last year was nothing more than a blip on the radar.
3) No favors with road swings … but when would be better? Back-to-back road trips to Louisville and Miami, and then North Carolina State and Notre Dame, at first blush look like cause to say “Gee, thanks a lot” to the league office. (It doesn’t help that FSU hosts Clemson before heading to Raleigh.) But given the options, the ACC might have served the Seminoles as well as it could.
Knowing that FSU would begin its season with two home games in the span of five days, it was virtually assured that the Seminoles would be headed on the road for a conference game on Sept. 15. And they will – at Syracuse. While the Orange is no slouch, the feeling here is that most fans would prefer that FSU’s third game in 12 days be played at the Carrier Dome, rather than, say, in Louisville, Miami, or Raleigh.
We saw exactly how that dynamic played out in 2016, when FSU began on a Monday with Ole Miss, played Charleston Southern at home and then took a tired team to Louisville a few days later. It’s never an ideal situation, but, in this case, it’s probably best to leave the Cardinals, Hurricanes and Wolfpack for later in the season.
4) Make Clemson matter: The maxim has held true for nearly a decade: The FSU-Clemson winner will win the Atlantic. But during the last two seasons, that’s been a bit of a misnomer. Because even if FSU had beaten Clemson in 2016 or 2017, it would have needed further help to win the division.
So if the Seminoles’ goal in 2018 is to return to the ACC Championship Game, then their goal is also to return to the days when FSU-Clemson was a de facto contest for the division title. To do that, they’ll probably need to enter that game with no worse than a 4-1 record in league play. Which would mean they’ve beaten at least some combination of Virginia Tech, Miami and Louisville, with Syracuse and Wake Forest unlikely to be pushovers either.
It’s a tall order, but it’s the type of challenge that a program of Florida State’s stature should always embrace.
5) ACC’s prominence well established, for better and worse: Not all that long ago, there were fears that the ACC was slipping among “Power 5” conferences and that an undefeated ACC champion might not have a strong enough resume to make the College Football Playoff in a given year.
So much for that.
The ACC has been represented in all four years of the CFP, with Clemson claiming the title in 2016. The league has also boasted a Heisman Trophy winner, a resurgent Coastal division (at least with Virginia Tech and Miami) and the promise of a TV network on the horizon.
The days of Florida State and Clemson being the sole football forces in the league seem to be over.
This is a good thing. But it also means that days of walking through the conference – as FSU did as recently as 2013 – are over, too. The Seminoles have a difficult schedule this year because, in this era of the ACC, they have a difficult schedule every year.
Clemson is still committed to being elite, Miami and Virginia Tech are on an upswing, and there is a handful of teams that can reasonably challenge for a division crown on an annual basis.
It all leads to a schedule like the one Florida State has in 2018 – manageable, but undoubtedly filled with compelling tests.