The last time the Florida State Seminoles played a really big game they were in the College Football Playoff and getting crushed by Oregon, 59-20 in the Rose Bowl on January 1. Since then, they’ve stayed in the news for off-the-field incidents and getting a transfer quarterback, Everett Golson from Notre Dame. Amidst all that it can be easy to forget that FSU hasn’t actually lost a regular season game since 2012. They face their first real test of 2015 when Miami comes to Tallahassee on Saturday night to renew a great rivalry (8 PM ET, ABC).
Florida State’s undefeated regular season last year was marked by so many near-misses that it became a storyline as to whether the defending national champs would actually be excluded from the Playoff in spite of their perfect record. Given that, it won’t surprise you to learn that the Seminoles were an atrocious bet—in spite of going 13-0 in the regular season, they only covered the Vegas number three times. And this season has started with signs that it might be more of the same.
The Seminoles are 4-0, and have covered twice, so maybe they won’t be quite the same moneyburner they were in 2014, but the early signs aren’t good. One of the ATS covers was a season-opening 59-16 win over Texas State as a (-27.5) favorite. The games against more legitimate competition haven’t gone quite so smoothly…
*A 34-14 home win over South Florida was a non-cover as a (-27.5) favorite
*A 14-0 win at Boston College was enough to cover a relatively short (-9.5) line
*A surprisingly close 24-16 game at Wake Forest decisively missed the (-19) number.
Now Florida State is giving (-9) to a Miami team that comes in 3-1, and the Seminoles might have to go with a third-string running back. Dalvin Cook, easily the team’s best offensive playmaker left the Wake game early with a hamstring injury and backup Mario Pender is already out.
That’s going to shift the burden to Golson. So far he’s avoided the turnovers that cost him his job at Notre Dame and led to the transfer—no interceptions thus far and while the schedule obviously hasn’t been very good, the Boston College defense is very good. But the mistake-free Golson has come at a price—the big plays he often made in South Bend have also disappeared.
His 7.4 yards-per-pass-attempt is pedestrian by any standard and downright poor given the opportunities he’s had for stat-padding against weak teams. The 64% completion rate is fine, but in this day and age, nothing to shout from the rooftops over. Even worse, his season-long numbers are thrown out of whack by a dramatic decline between the Texas State game and the three more legitimate opponents. In the opener, Golson was 19/25 for 302 yards and four touchdowns. Since then, we’ve seen the following…
*Against South Florida, Golson was 14/26 for 163 yards
*At Boston College, he struggled to 15/24 for 119 yards
*At Wake Forest, known for its poor defenses, Golson was 20/31 for 202 yards—not bad, but nothing to suggest he could really put up points against better opposition.
That stands in contrast to the running of Cook. The shifty little back averaged 8.2 yards-per-carry against Texas State, and his season-long average is 8.6 YPC. He’s actually done better against the superior competition, including 266 yards against South Florida and a 94-yard touchdown at Wake before having to leave the game.
Florida State’s success in running the ball leads us to another strong trend, and it’s that their games tend to go Under on the totals line. The Seminoles played eight unders in 13 games last year, and three of the four have gone Under this season.
It’s not surprising when you consider they play mistake-free, don’t make a lot of big plays and run the ball. And the talent in this program is on the defensive side of the ball. There are five seniors that are going to go in the NFL draft next spring—defensive tackle Nile Lawrence-Stamke, linebackers Reggie Northrup and Terrance Smith, free safety Lamarcus Brutus and strong safety Tyler Hunter. And the total on this game is at 51.
That’s the strong trend that has developed with Florida State over the last year and a third. They win, generally don’t cover and play Unders. The question is whether they’re on the threshold of a change. Golson has now gotten his feet wet in the system—remember, he didn’t arrive on campus until August. What if, now that he’s cleaned up his mistakes, he uses that as a foundation to again start making big plays? Then the handicapping dynamic changes.
I’ll be watching Golson and this offense closely on Saturday night. The fun part of Florida State’s season is just beginning—they have games coming up against Louisville and Georgia Tech in October and big road tests at Clemson and Florida in November. The lessons we learn about Florida State’s offense on Saturday will yield pointspread winners the rest of the way.
Jim Hurley has been a successful public handicapper since 1985, when he began a Network that emphasized a team approach to handicapping. Hurley consults with statistical analysts, personnel experts and Vegas insiders to narrow the NFL and college cards down to the most bettable games each and every week. Visit him online at www.winningedge.com.