Sunday, December 10, 2017
Colleges

Jimbo Fisher: Lessons learned, lofty expectations warranted (w/video)

TALLAHASSEE — After Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher finished rattling off the caveats of a tough schedule, an improved ACC and all the uncertainties that come on the first day of preseason camp, he addressed the Seminoles' sky-high expectations.

"As long as we have the attitude of getting better and working and understanding they're going to get coached … I think we'll be outstanding," Fisher said Tuesday. "I don't expect anything but (that)."

Neither does anyone else.

That's why the Seminoles, not defending national champion Clemson, are the favorite to win the ACC. That's why they're a fixture of preseason College Football Playoff projections. And that's why they'll enter the mammoth Sept. 2 season opener against Alabama ranked in the top five, if not the top two.

But then again, FSU was in a similar position last year. The 'Noles began the season ranked fourth in both polls before a 3-2 start knocked them out of the national championship picture on the first weekend in October.

Looking back, Fisher said some of last year's problems happened due to youth in key positions. The inexperience led to inconsistencies, like following a 20-point road win over USF with a last-second home loss to North Carolina. By the time FSU tried to correct it by forcing each player to sign a pledge promising to accept coaching and play with full intensity, it was too late.

"I think those things, hopefully, we've learned," Fisher said.

Fisher won't know for sure until the season begins, but he likes the early returns — the focus players are showing in meetings, the way they accept feedback and the intensity at which they attacked offseason workouts. If those intangibles come together, Fisher's Seminoles have the talent to back up their August accolades.

FSU counts 20 returning starters from a team that finished 7-1. A top-six recruiting class bolsters a nucleus that includes quarterback Deondre Francois, the reigning ACC rookie of the year. The team began practice Tuesday with no significant injuries or academic casualties.

Even some of the roster's potential pitfalls could be strengths, like the loss of all-time leading rusher Dalvin Cook. Fisher called former five-star prospect Jacques Patrick the starter, although another five-star recruit, Cam Akers, will challenge him immediately.

FSU loses its top two receiving targets (Travis Rudolph and Cook), but Fisher continues to rave about Nyqwan Murray and Wharton High alumnus Auden Tate. That pair combined for 11 touchdowns last fall.

"You have two main guys coming in," Fisher said. "That's about as good as anybody has."

The defense figures to be even stronger.

When ESPN unveiled its list of the country's top 50 players Tuesday, four FSU defenders were on there — linemen Derrick Nnadi and Josh Sweat, cornerback Tarvarus McFadden and do-it-all safety Derwin James, who was No. 1 overall.

"That means you have talent," Fisher said. "That means it's possible for you to do that. … They've all got to turn possible into probable."

If that happens, FSU's championship expectations have a shot at coming to fruition.

'Nole notes: Fisher praised former five-star recruit George Campbell (East Lake High), who is fully recovered from a core muscle injury that sidelined him last season. Campbell could crack into the receiver rotation. "You have seen a guy driven to get back," Fisher said. … For now, Fisher said former defensive end Rick Leonard will be the top left tackle after starting six games at right tackle last year.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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