Three Bold Gambles 2015 FSU Football Could Make


Examining a few scenarios that could shake up the 2015 FSU football season.

There seems to be a general consensus among Florida State fans ever since Jameis Winston made it official that he’d be foregoing his final two years of eligibility to enter the 2015 NFL Draft. Really, it was more of a concession: 2015 FSU football would be in a bit of a holding pattern for the ‘Noles. Given the level of talent lost to the NFL the last few years, along with inexperienced players at a number of key positions, many fans’ realistic goals have the Seminoles dropping a few games in the regular season before contending for the College Football Playoff again in 2016. There’s still a ton of talent in that FSU locker room– a lot of it just isn’t yet used to the spotlight, at least not at this level. 

Now, a two, three, or even four-loss campaign could still see the ‘Noles competing in a prestigious bowl game. But are there moves FSU could make to, perhaps, pull off a season more similar to the last couple years? Maybe.

Below, I’ve come up with a few increasingly risky moves the ‘Noles could — could — make to roll the dice in hopes of upping the chances of turning 2015 from a transitional yet solid season to a remarkable, great campaign. However, these options carry with them substantial potential downside as well; they’re most aptly characterized as prospectively higher-risk, higher-reward scenarios. And an important disclaimer, folks: I don’t necessarily think FSU should do these things– they just open up some different possibilities. Here goes, in order of increasing boldness:

1. Start Mavin Saunders at Tight End

Ryan Izzo took most of the first-team reps at the tight end spot this year, as well as starting with the ones on the Garnet squad at the FSU Spring Game. Neither of these 6-6 redshirt freshmen is going to step in as another Nick O’Leary right away, and Izzo is probably the safer bet, because he’s a more accomplished blocker. But Saunders, who has 15 pounds on Izzo, is an athletic freak, a tight end potentially more in the mold of Jimmy Graham or recent North Carolina star Eric Ebron, now with the Detroit Lions.

Saunders’ blocking has improved, and he really flashed in the Spring Game, showing great body control while adjusting to balls to make some impressive catches. He finished with 6 grabs for 91 yards and a score, and he’s the tight end most likely to turn a respectable gain into a huge play.

Izzo is probably the best play, as a better blocker, but Saunders is the sexier option who could really change games– for better or for worse.

2. Make Jalen Ramsey the Punt and Kick Returner

In FSU’s championship season of 2013, Kermit Whitfield was the best kick returner in the country. That fell off considerably last year, as Whitfield had a rather sub-par season (he also took on added responsibilities, trying to break into the receiving corps, to be completely fair to Whitfield). On punts, the reliable Rashad Greene was usually back deep, as Jimbo Fisher maintained that possession was far more important to him than sterling return skills (not that Greene was even close to disappointing, as the ‘Noles finished second in the ACC in punt return average).

It was a sound strategy on Fisher’s part: when your offense features a veteran line, Winston, Greene, O’Leary, and an emerging Dalvin Cook, you don’t need flashy returns– simply delivering the ball to the offense is good enough. Well, with the exception of Cook, those players are gone, so it behooves FSU to treat the return game as more of a facilitator for the offense; the better the return, the shorter distance to the end zone — and field goal range — for this inexperienced group.

Ramsey’s the leader of the defense, having started more games than any other Seminole on that side of the ball. An increased risk of injury is not something ‘Noles like to hear associated with his name. But he showed an incredible knack, at least returning kicks, during the Spring Game, and this piece, after all, is all about gambles. Ramsey’s feel for the game, featured in the open field with the ball in his hands, could spark several FSU drives and serve to flip the field for Sean Maguire.

3. QB1: De’Andre Johnson?

About Maguire: this gamble would fall under the disclaimer I offered earlier as a bold move I’m not necessarily certain I agree with, but let’s just think about this. No. 10 seems firmly in control of the starting job at present. He’ll probably get the nod come fall. Maguire is in his fourth year in Tallahassee, the only ‘Nole to have started — and won — a game at QB in college (a big game, at that), and has stepped up his leadership nicely, at least from what we’re allowed to see, and per the comments of Fisher.

Maguire figures to be steady, and thus, the safe choice, but this piece isn’t about safe. Maguire often looked a beat behind during the Spring Game, when he went 22-44 for 289 yards, two sacks, no TDs, and two interceptions (which should have been three, had Ramsey not dropped a late pick). Johnson worked with the twos and went 8-11 for 155 yards, three sacks, two touchdowns, and no picks. It’s worth noting that Maguire was throwing against the likes of Ramsey and Derwin James, while Johnson faced the second, and sometimes third-team defense, due to injuries.

But given the focus of this column, I’m less concerned about numbers than the more general approach Johnson brought. He went deep early and often, quickly drawing a pass interference call. The real risk and reward of Johnson was shown later. He went the wrong way on a play, and felt the wrath of Fisher thereafter. Did he tone it down, play it safe, to get out of the coach’s doghouse? Not in the least. On the very next play, he threw a 42-yard perfect strike to Ermon Lane for a touchdown.

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Simply put, Johnson went for it. Fisher had him in for the two-minute drill at the end of each half, and each time, Johnson delivered six (the second time around to the aforementioned Saunders, with whom he seemed quite comfortable). The strength of Johnson’s arm had been well touted prior to his arrival in Tallahassee, but he’s really showed a very nice touch as well. He also is quite adept scrambling, which can alway cause problems for a defense.

Also, he, like Winston in 2013, is an unknown quantity– a scary prospect for FSU fans, but a daunting one for opponents as well, who really just have high school footage of Johnson running a different offense.

There’s the very high likelihood that Johnson would rely on his legs too much and take some bad sacks, while also forcing some passes late that would wind up as picks. The smart play is probably to ride Maguire’s tenure, along with the dynamic backfield of Cook, Jacques Patrick, and Mario Pender. But Johnson sure does look like a gamer.

A quick post-script: I did not include starting Derwin James at safety in this article because I think that that should — and will — happen. Thus, it’s logical, rational, and even likely, and qualifies as neither “bold” nor a “gamble” for the 2015 FSU football program. It’s a must.