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Brutal Schedule Awaits FSU

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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The Seminoles will meet the last two champions and twice-defending SEC East winners, also hosting the Heisman Trophy winner in 2017.

Florida State is one of college football's elite programs and will field a dynamic team again this fall. Led by the likes of quarterback Deondre Francois, safety Derwin James and cornerback Tarvarus McFadden, the Seminoles, who ended last season with wins over Florida and Michigan, deserve to be one of the national favorites. Awaiting Florida State, however, isn't just mighty Alabama to open the year; the Seminoles, start to finish, have one of the toughest schedules in the country.

The opener could not be more of an opportunity or more of a challenge. Florida State will make history in Atlanta's brand-new Mercedes-Benz Stadium against the Crimson Tide, playing the first game ever in the $1.2 billion facility. Alabama will almost certainly enter the game as the number one team in the polls, winners of 26 of its last 27, the lone loss in that span coming by one play, with one second left, in the national championship game. Hyped as the G.O.A.T, the greatest opener of all-time, this showdown will feature title-winning head coaches, future first round draft picks and very little margin for error.

"I scheduled it, so I'd better be ready for it," Jimbo Fisher acknowledged at the ACC Kickoff.

Remarkably, the Seminoles will meet the last two College Football Playoff winners and the twice-defending SEC East champions, all away from home, also hosting the reigning Heisman Trophy winner in 2017.

But wait, there's more. The Seminoles will see four defenses that just slotted in the top eleven nationally in a major statistical category -- in the first month of the season alone. Alabama led the nation in scoring and total defense, Miami finished fifth in tackles for loss per game, North Carolina State stood eighth in rush defense and Wake Forest was eleventh in sacks per game; the Crimson Tide, Hurricanes, Wolfpack and Demon Deacons are Florida State's first four power five opponents.

The summer favorite in the ACC Coastal Division, Mark Right's Hurricanes won five straight to finish last year. Though the Seminoles have controlled the rivalry series in recent seasons, the past three meetings in the series have been decided by a total of ten points, including, most recently, a one-point comeback win for Florida State. Six of the last seven games in Tallahassee, dating back to 2003, have been decided by one possession. In addition to Miami's defensive prowess, the Hurricanes return the league's leading rusher, for a back, and receiver.     

After losing 63-20 at Louisville a year ago, the Seminoles undoubtedly have Lamar Jackson's return trip to Tallahassee circled. Last fall, Jackson became the first FBS player in history with 3,300 passing yards and 1,500 rushing yards in a single season, scoring 51 total touchdowns. When the garnet-and-gold meet the man with the bronze statue, something will have to give. Jackson scored five times in the 2016 meeting.

Defending national champion Clemson will welcome Florida State to town in early November. The Seminoles have won just once in the upstate since 2001, when Florida State claimed the BCS National Championship. Similar to Alabama's stretch of dominance, the Tigers are a remarkable 31-2 in their last 33 games, their two losses in that stretch coming by a combined six points. Clemson will enter the year as one of the favorites to make it to the College Football Playoff once again. 

Not long after traveling to Death Valley, the Seminoles will promptly play rival Florida in The Swamp; two of college football's toughest venues await two weeks apart. The Gators have played Alabama in the SEC Championship Game two seasons running. Florida is poised as a leading contender for yet another trip. A year ago, the Gators were not played within 13 points at home.

Should Florida State advance to the ACC Championship Game, a rematch with Miami, or Virginia Tech or Georgia Tech loom as the likely challenger. A lofty ranking would result in another national showdown, or two, in the postseason.  

Seven teams gained over 6,800 offensive yards in 2016; the Seminoles will soon play three of them. Defensively, 12 teams held foes to 18.5 points per game or less; Florida State will play four. The Seminoles absolutely deserve the distinction of being considered one of the game's top contenders a championship. It's a distinction they will undoubtedly have to earn.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Matt Osborne and Kevin Thomas on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network and is the sports director for multiple ESPN Radio affiliates based throughout southeast Georgia. @BJBennettSports