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Questions For The Enemy: The Florida State Seminoles

The showdown in Arlington, TX is just two days away! As the Cowboys prepare to take on the best team in the country, CRFF had some questions for SB Nation's Florida State blog, Tomahawk Nation.

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I spent some time talking with Dylan Kidd from Tomahawk Nation this week, and let me just say, wow! This guy knows his stuff. TN has been doing an excellent job of breaking down the game all week, if you haven't made it over there, I highly encourage you to do so.

Dylan does a fantastic job of talking about the 'Noles success under Jimbo Fisher, what to expect from FSU this season, and of course, talks about the game!

All the attention is on Jameis Winston as the returning Heisman Winner and the large amount of NFL ready talent on the roster, but are there any players we might not be aware of that your are looking forward to see play?

TOMAHAWK NATION: The driving force behind Jimbo Fisher’s success at Florida State is the amount of talent he has stockpiled through recruiting. While FSU returns a significant amount of contributors from its 2013 National Title team, it did see departures, which creates opportunities for newcomers to step up this season. The most important of these on offense were two of the ‘Noles’ top three wide receivers, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw. I’m excited to see who will fill these roles. True freshmen Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane are excellent players who will see time on Saturday evening, and senior Christian Green will have an opportunity to play significant snaps for FSU in 2014. Kermit Whitfield, who returned the kickoff for TD against Auburn in Pasadena, will see an increased role on offense, and it’s hard not to be excited about him. I’m also looking forward to seeing Karlos Williams at running back in his first full season at the position, as he converted from safety after the first game of last season. His backups, Mario Pender and Dalvin Cook, are also exciting players.

On defense, FSU lost its monster in the middle in Timmy Jernigan. Nile Lawrence-Stample will have to play well at nose tackle this season and is coming off of a shoulder injury. Telvin Smith is gone from the linebacking corps, and I’m excited to see which player will step into his shoes. The ‘Noles lost safety Terrance Brooks and "star" (nickel corner) position player Lamarcus Joyner, and sophomore Jalen Ramsey will step into this role after a fantastic freshman campaign. I’m interested to see how Nate Andrews and Tyler Hunter play on the back end for FSU, as the safeties are a crucial if a bit unknown commodity on this year’s defense. It’s worth noting that while Charles Kelly is in his first year as FSU’s defensive coordinator, he was the linebacker’s coach last season, and Florida State has stressed that the defense has not changed from the one Jeremy Pruitt commanded a year ago.

One of the most anticipated players for the Cowboys is Tyreek "The Freek" Hill. His speed is unprecedented, and there’s a lot of hype around the stress he can put on a defense.  Florida State recruited Hill as well, were you surprised at all when he chose Oklahoma State?

TOMAHAWK NATION: I was not as familiar with Hill’s recruitment as our Editor-In-Chief and SB Nation’s Recruiting Director Bud Elliott, so I farmed this one out to him.

Bud: "Not entirely. Oklahoma State offered a lot more playing time than FSU and their offense is more spread oriented. I think Hill made a good decision."

I’ll certainly have an eye on Hill on Saturday evening. He’s got dynamic speed that forces defenses to account for him on every snap, and presents a real threat as a part of OK State’s inside-zone based schemes as a shot play target to the edge.

The ‘Noles hold the series edge at 3-1, but even though the history between Florida State and Oklahoma State is short, it’s fascinating. Florida State’s first nationally televised game was against OSU in the first, and only, Bluegrass Bowl in 1958. The two teams didn’t play again until twenty years later, when Osceola and Renegade made their mascot debut. Is this the type of series FSU fans want to see more of, or would they prefer a clearer path into conference play?

TOMAHAWK NATION: I think the answer to that depends on what really happens with our new college football playoff system. One thing we at TN have talked about a bunch over the off-season is how to maximize the chances of a national championship under the new rules. Will the committee really value strength of schedule? Will it look to select champions of different leagues? Will it select the teams it believes to be the best four teams? The most deserving?

If we come to find out that the diverse selection committee favors choosing four teams from different conferences, for example, I think it will mean that toning down the out-of-conference schedule is the best way to maximize the chances of making the playoff. If it really values strength of schedule, then yes, this type of match up to kick off the season becomes highly desirable. But, the conclusion that most on our staff have reached is that we expect the committee to act like poll voters, who have shown us time and again that the total number of wins is what they value, and strength of schedule is far down the list of important factors. This is maddening, as advanced statistics that account for strength of schedule are much better indicators of the quality of teams. Until the committee shows us that it truly values strength of schedule, though, it doesn’t make much sense for top programs to jack up their out-of-conference schedules at the expense of valuable wins, in my view.

That’s the analytical side of me speaking. As a fan, I love this match up. It’s really nice to be preparing for a week one showdown with an excellent program like Oklahoma State at a great neutral site venue. It adds to the excitement of this fantastic sport, and it allows us to interact with a fan base that we otherwise wouldn’t. It’s really an unfortunate balance between this selfish enjoyment and what’s best for the program, at least with respect to my current view of the post-season system.

The job Coach Fisher has done at FSU is incredible. Bobby Bowden struggled to stay above .500 his last five years in Tallahassee, going 8-5, 7-6, 7-6, 9-4, and 7-6. In Jimbo Fisher’s first four years he’s gone 10-4, 9-4, 12-2, and 14-0 with a National Championship. How was he able to turn the program around so quickly?

TOMAHAWK NATION: Florida State has advantages in resources that most programs in the country simply do not. Most importantly, it is located in an extremely fertile recruiting area, able to dip into South Florida and conveniently located near Central Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. It has a history of success, excellent facilities, a winnable conference, warm weather, beautiful women, a dedicated fanbase, etc. – everything needed to thrive in modern college football, even in spite of a comparative disadvantage in terms of funding relative to surrounding SEC schools. This is what made the downfall of the program during the 2000’s so awful. Florida State operating anywhere near peak capacity is a top-15 team year in and year out at worst. The program was far, far from its peak when Bowden retired in 2009.

When Fisher took over after Bowden’s ouster, the Florida State program lagged behind the best in the country in terms of modernity. Jimbo immediately set out to upgrade FSU’s facilities (namely the indoor practice facility), increase support staff, implement top-level nutrition and strength and conditioning programs, and change the way FSU managed its roster. His "Process" approach, learned from Nick Saban, was the model for Fisher’s program in Tallahassee. This, combined with FSU’s advantages in resources, led to a very quick turnaround. This is Florida State at peak capacity.

Then there’s the quarterback. The depth is better, but the starting talent right now is comparable to what it was in 2012, which featured a team nowhere near as good as the one on the field last season. There are other contributing factors, but the primary difference is Jameis Winston. He’s just a transcendent player who understands what FSU is trying to do on offense and makes the guys around him better. The players believe in him and the team believes in itself. A special player at quarterback can elevate a team to elite status for a few years, but Jimbo’s modern program has assured that the Seminoles can play at a very high level even after his departure.

Last year Jameis Winston and company accomplished just about everything there is to accomplish in college football. How concerned are you about complacency setting in with this team? Everybody gets off the bus ready to play, but what about the drive during the off-season, and practice? Will the hunger still be there?

TOMAHAWK NATION: This is something we worry about, but with the team as a whole rather than Winston himself. Jameis is a very hard worker who was diagramming offensive plays against cover-3 looks in fourth grade. He’s a student of the game (gotta throw in a cliché here and there), and Fisher routinely comments on Winston understanding what he wants to do on offense and constantly wanting to digest more and more. He’s lost bad weight he gained on the awards ceremony tour last season, and is a natural leader of the offense. Kermit Whitfield was talking this week about how the receivers were running the same routes at all hours of the day this summer so as not to let Jameis down.

However, the ‘Noles lost two immensely important and vocal leaders to the draft last spring. Telvin Smith and Lamarcus Joyner were the guys getting teammates out of bed, spurring them to do the extra work, and ensuring that practices were at the highest level last season. Just who exactly will step into these shoes in 2014 was and remains a point of concern for us. Jalen Ramsey is a heck of a player, but is he the type of vocal leader the defensive group needs to reach the spectacular heights that it did in 2013? Time will tell. The team’s approach in throttling the opposition week in and week out last season and improving every single game was instrumental to its success in 2013. ‘Noles fans hope it isn’t found lacking this year.

Oklahoma State and Mike Gundy are big fans of the hurry-up no-huddle offense. What are some of the things Florida State will do on defense to handle the quick tempo? Are there concerns about missed assignments or defensive mismatches against a player like Tyreek Hill since he could line up at receiver or running back without making a substitution?

TOMAHAWK NATION: The HUNH offenses always present concerns about alignments, busts, fatigue, etc. Defending these attacks is about preparation, discipline, and execution. Fortunately for FSU, the Seminoles saw several such offenses last season and fared very well compared to other defenses they faced. Chad Morris at Clemson tries to run 85-90 plays per game, and featured Boyd, Watkins, and several other excellent players on offense a year ago. Auburn had a similar approach in terms of HUNH, and certainly had its fair share of talent. Florida State, which finished 1st in the nation in Defensive F/+ a year ago, held both offenses to their lowest yards per play outputs of the season. The ‘Noles have been able to get lined up and execute their assignments against such systems, and I have no reason to think they won’t continue to be successful in 2014. Additionally, the Seminoles had the entire off-season to prepare for OSU’s HUNH attack, which does cut both ways, but I’d argue more preparation time is more beneficial for defenses than offenses. Now, even with a month to prepare, we saw several busts in coverage leading to big plays for Auburn in Pasadena. That’s sort of the nature of the beast with these types of offenses. They’re predicated on confusion and mismatches. So, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hill or other Cowboys break a long play here and there. I will say, though, that FSU’s defensive personnel is best suited to defend spread attacks. The secondary is talented and physical, able to make plays in space and take away the free yards such offenses are usually afforded by pressing and playing aggressively in the defensive backfield. The linebackers are fast and able to play in space, and FSU can disguise looks and blitz from just about anywhere. So, while I do expect OSU to break a few plays, I’m optimistic about Florida State’s defensive performance on Saturday.

Oklahoma State is a 17-point underdog to Florida State, but it's the closest point spread on the Seminole's schedule. How much trouble do you foresee the Pokes giving FSU, and are they the 'Noles biggest threat to a second undefeated season?

TOMAHAWK NATION: I actually did not realize that. I have a lot of respect for Mike Gundy and Oklahoma State’s program. It has been one of the best in the country in terms of consistent quality for a while now, and I think the Pokes will have another good team this season, particularly towards the end of the year. I do think this is a tough matchup for this OSU team, though. The HUNH feature of the offense is unlikely to have much of an effect on FSU. It’s an inside-zone based attack (at least on Walsh’s film), but is breaking in a new OL coach and three new starters on that unit against a very talented defensive line, and what’s likely the best secondary in the nation, a unit that plays well in run support and will take away free yards on the outside with tight coverage. The defense is facing an excellent FSU offensive line and backfield after losing two stud inside linebackers. If it can’t stop the run with its front seven, it will have to ask a whole heck of a lot of its defensive backfield, which lost its top five (!) contributors from the position group from last year. Namely, single coverage against FSU’s receivers and the returning Heisman winner. This is not a great scenario for the Pokes. I think this game would certainly be closer if it were played in a couple of months, but it’s really a tough break for Oklahoma State to be playing it on August 30.

The other games that give me the most pause on FSU’s schedule are Florida, Louisville, Notre Dame, and Miami, in no particular order. I think that any one of those teams could upset Florida State, and I think Oklahoma State could too. I’d probably put the Pokes at #3 on my worry list, right in the middle of the group. We as FSU fans know all too well that a large point spread doesn’t guarantee a victory, but Jimbo’s teams have been much better at converting these to wins than most will acknowledge, pointing to the outliers (cough NC State cough). I think FSU has a better shot than anyone in the nation to run the table in the regular season, but the odds say that expecting any team to do so is a risky proposition.

Finally, what’s your score prediction and outlook for the game?

TOMAHAWK NATION: I discussed this in general terms above, but I like this matchup as a ‘Noles fan. I think FSU’s strength on offense this year will be running the ball, with 4 of 5 starters returning on a big, nasty offensive line and a backfield loaded with talent. I believe FSU will run downhill at Oklahoma State and force the Pokes to commit more defenders to the box to stop the run, opening up advantageous matchups in the passing game for Jameis Winston, Rashad Greene, Nick O’Leary, and others, against a depleted OSU secondary. I expect the Cowboys’ offense to have measured success against the Seminoles at times, but one thing I have to note: getting behind against FSU’s defense tends to snowball. This is a defense that will play mostly nickel (4-2-5) and is very aggressive. Going down 14 early and having to go pass-heavy could be disastrous for the Pokes, as it turns loose FSU’s blitzers from all over the place and will probably cause even more turnovers against this secondary. I’m really interested to see if the Cowboys will stick with the Walsh gameplan of a diamond formation-heavy, inside-zone based attack with jets, fades, and posts on the outside, and attempting to control the ball and keep the FSU offense off of the field, or if it will attempt to do what it did against Mississippi State in that opener last season. By that I mean, will Oklahoma State try to attack Florida State with something it hasn’t put on film? The Bulldogs were not prepared for the Walsh ground attack last season, and I have in mind a more aerial approach with Daxx Garman. I’m excited to see. Either way, I think the Seminoles notch a 38-20 win in the opener. Looking forward to it, and may I say, I love y’all’s fight song.

Dylan Kidd, and Tomahawk Nation have been great all week. A big thanks to them, and to all the Florida State fans that have made it over here the last month or so.  More fan bases should be as knowledgeable and respectful as the 'Noles.