The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday October 4th

ACC preview: Florida State turns to Cook, stout defense for title hopes

In preparation for the North Carolina football team's season opener on Sept. 3, we've broken down everything you need to know about each team in the ACC. Check out the rest of our previews here.

Coach:

Jimbo Fisher (seventh year at Florida State) 

Record last year:

10-3 (6-2 ACC)

When do they play UNC?

Oct. 1 in Tallahassee, Florida

Where are they projected?

Second in Atlantic Division 

How do they play?

With uncertainty under center, the Seminoles are forced to play a ground-heavy style in 2016. But this shouldn’t bother Fisher one bit, as Florida State boasts one of the top rushing threats in the nation. The team returns 17 starters from a year ago, and if the defense — which allowed the second-fewest points per game in the ACC last season (17.5) — can get off the field quickly, Florida State should have no trouble carving up its opponent's exhausted front seven. 

Who stands out?

Three touches, 102 yards and a score … Yikes. That’s what junior running back Dalvin Cook can bring to the table. In 2015, Cook ran for a school-record 1,691 yards on just 229 carries, leading the ACC in total yardage (1,935), yards per carry (7.4) and rushing touchdowns (19). After finishing seventh in the 2016 Heisman Trophy voting, Cook's play this season will ultimately decide the fate for Florida State's offense.

On the other side, it will be hard to replace cornerback Jalen Ramsey — the fifth overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft — but more pressure on the quarterback from senior defensive end DeMarcus Walker could help. In 2015, Walker was named co-defensive MVP for the Seminoles after recording 10.5 sacks and forcing four fumbles. His presence up front could be crucial for the defense.

What is their biggest weakness?

With Everett Golson gone, the Seminoles have a real conundrum at the quarterback position. Until a few weeks ago, it was a two-man race between redshirt senior Sean Maguire and redshirt freshman Deondre Francois. But an ankle injury to Maguire puts Francois in the driver's seat for now.

As a top recruit in 2015, Francois has been praised for his accuracy, though he is not known to have a big arm. Early on, Francois will likely rely on junior wide receiver Travis Rudolph — a 2016 Biletnikoff Award candidate — who is primed for another big year with the attention Cook draws to the backfield. 

The Seminoles will also have to fill the void at kicker left by Roberto Aguayo. Aguayo is the 12th kicker in NCAA history to make every PAT, and he went 49-for-49 on attempts inside 40 yards during his collegiate career — earning him a second-round selection in the 2016 NFL draft. Florida State won nine of its 10 games decided by six points or fewer during Aguayo's career — including a 2-point ACC Championship win in 2014 and a 3-point victory in the 2013 National Championship — making it vital for Fisher to find Aguayo's replacement soon. 

Why could they win the ACC? 

Heisman-caliber running back? Check. Experienced defense? Check. Hosting their toughest opponents? Check.

The Seminoles have their work cut out for them this season. But an ACC title, or even a national championship, is possible for this ultra-talented Florida State team.

@WBOD3

sports@dailytarheel.com

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