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The Dirty Dozen: Florida State

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That’s right, we’re #TalkinBoutTheNoles in this Dirty Dozen preview.

NCAA Football: South Florida at Florida State Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

After previewing South Florida’s first three opponents — Towson, Northern Illinois, and Syracuse — we now take a look at the September 24 matchup vs. the fourth-ranked Florida State Seminoles in what will be the most anticipated home game for USF since... well, the last time they played FSU at home.

Opponent: #4 Florida State Seminoles

Date: September 24 (time TBA), Raymond James Stadium. If you haven’t bought your tickets for this one yet, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? DO IT NOW!

Head Coach: Jimbo Fisher (7th season, 68-14)

Co-Offensive Coordinators: Lawrence Dawsey/Randy Sanders

Defensive Coordinator: Charles Kelly

All-Time Series: FSU leads 2-1. After being stunned by the Bulls at home in 2009, the Noles have taken the last two contests in the series, a 30-17 road win in Tampa in 2012 and a 34-14 victory at Doak Campbell last year.

2015 Results: 10-3. With several new starters across the board and injuries piling up throughout the season, Florida State had their three-year ACC Championship streak broken by eventual national runner-up Clemson. The Noles ended the year losing 38-24 to AAC Champion Houston in the Peach Bowl.

Also, this happened. WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE.

For a really detailed look at FSU you can check out Bill Connelly’s in depth preview for the 2016 Noles. In this post we’ll give you a quick rundown of what to expect from the Bulls’ garnet and gold in-state foes.

Offense

Hmm, where should we begin with this Seminole offense? How about with preseason Heisman contender Dalvin Cook, who Bulls fan may remember (or want to forget) him gashing the USF defense for 266 yards and three touchdowns in last year’s contest.

Despite a leg injury that left him sidelined for two games last season, the Miami Central alum shattered Warrick Dunn’s school single-season rushing record, compiling 1,691 yards and nineteen touchdowns while averaging 7.4 yards per carry. Bud Elliot of Tomahawk Nation and SB Nation Recruiting has already labeled him the best running back in Florida State history, with the opportunity to hold all of the Noles’ career rushing records by the end of this season, barring injury.

Cook and fellow five-star running back Jacques Patrick will certainly have plenty of protection this season, as all nine offensive lineman who made starts in 2015 returns for this campaign First-team All-ACC LT and potential early round 2017 draft pick Roderick Johnson anchors the unit while senior LG Kareem Are will be right next to him holding things down.

Questions amount under center at quarterback with senior Sean Maguire will be out for at least the opener vs. Ole Miss with a foot injury. Should Maguire not be 100% heading into week four, highly-touted redshirt freshman Deondre Francois would take the reigns (and he might have already earned the starting job by then, anyway).

Whoever emerges as the starter will have a nice selection of returning talent in the passing game, including second-team All-ACC receiver Kermit Whitfield, Travis Rudolph, Jesus Wilson, and TE Ryan Izzo. The quartet of downfield options combined for 2,546 yards and 18 touchdowns in a year where the Seminole receiving corps was good but shaky at times in 2015. Now expectations run high for them to deliver even more.

Defense

After a ho-hum performance with new faces in 2014, the FSU defense locked down opposing offenses in 2015. They allowed only 17.8 points per game and 5.4 yards per pass on the way finishing the season ranked 10th in Defensive S&P+.

Similar to USF’s “Bull Sharks”, defensive coordinator Charles Kelly runs a 4-2-5 which gives him the flexibility to get his best five defensive backs on the field. This allowed the Noles secondary to rise to fifth in passing S&P+ last season, obviously led by consensus All-American Jalen Ramsey.

Taking the torch from Ramsey is sophomore strong safety Derwin James, who’s already being heralded as the best safety in the entire nation. The Haines City native led the team with 71.5 tackles as a true freshman, and added 9.5 TFLs, 4.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles.

James, along with the rest of the Noles’ stacked DB unit, will test themselves when matched up with the likes of Rodney Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and the rest of South Florida’s loaded receiver corps.

A front that also limited opposing rushing offenses to 3.8 yards per rush returns this season as well. This unit features third-team ACC defensive end DeMarcus Walker, Derrick Nnadi, Josh Sweat, and Demarcus Christmas.

Special Teams

How does Florida State replace All-American kicker Roberto Aguayo? Replace him with his three-star little brother Ricky Aguayo of course.

Bottom Line

As heavy underdogs in 2015, South Florida was able to hang close for two and a half quarters and make things a bit uncomfortable for FSU before Dalvin Cook stepped on the gas and put the game away.

With many of those same Bulls starters that hit their stride down the stretch returning this season, one could potentially expect a competitive contest until the fourth quarter in front of a raucous home crowd.

But to pull off the monumental upset over what many are considering a legit playoff contender, it goes without saying that Raymond Woodie’s Bull Sharks must find a way to contain the Heisman contending tailback and force Maguire/Francois to put the ball in the air.

If the defense can do that, and Quinton Flowers and company can exploit a thin FSU linebacker unit in the middle, it may be a formula for the Bulls to pull off the stunner.