Each week we'll do a rundown of what went on throughout the state. In this iteration we break down what happened last season and what to look for in the year ahead. The big question of course will be: who ends up ontop of the mountain by the end of the season?
1) Florida State
The Seminoles could count 2015 as a "reloading" type of season for their offense. They had lost Winston as their starting QB to the NFL and were starting a fresh set of youngsters along the offensive line. Even with the "drop off" in high level talent the Noles still rolled to a 10-3 record. This was in large part due to extraordinary running back Dalvin Cook as he reeled off 1,600 yard season and 19 touchdown effort. Considering Cook nursed an on again off again hamstring strain for most of the season the numbers are impressive.
Heading into 2016 Head Coach Jimbo Fisher returns nine offensive linemen who made starts from last year's team and a potentially fresh and injury free Cook. If the defense keeps their end of the field clean (which they usually do) FSU could have the pieces in place to make another playoff run. The only possible hindrance is that they'll be starting a redshirt freshman quarterback in former 5-star recruit Deondre Francois due to an offseason foot injury to incumbent Sean Maguire. When you have a Heisman hopeful ready to run in your backfield though, you have to wonder how much the Noles will try and lean on their run game rather than their developing passing attack.
The Gators when you looked at their offensive output in the second half of last season "were who we thought they were" which was pathetic. Will Grier led the offense through the first half of last season and then was suspended due to a failed drug test. During his run at leading the offense the Gators were 6-0 and humming along in the rough and tumble SEC. After Grier's rules violation, the Gators became a dink and dunk offense under Treon Harris that leaned on the scrambling quarterbacks running abilities as well as their cadre of running backs. Down the stretch in their final three games against all worthy opponents (FSU, Bama in the conference Championship game and Michigan in the bowl game) the Gators simply got outpaced and, to be honest, crushed. In the final three games the Gators lost by a combined margin of 97-24. The nadir being the FSU game of 27-2.
Heading into next season Coach McElwain hopes that newly minted starter Luke Del Rio (Harris has decided to transfer) and/or Austin Appleby can right the passing game. Florida the last 10 or so years has always had a stout defense. If they can keep their ground game on track and their passing attack on schedule they could be a top 25 team. This season should be a great litmus test to see if McElwain can work his offensive magic on a previously bland squad.
The Canes start the season with uneven expectations. With the recent departure of previous Head Coach Al Golden and the arrival of Mark Richt, Miami has had a breath of fresh air whip through the program. Many of the local coaches are raving about the new staff's attention to detail and how the new regime is fitting their scheme around the personnel on hand in the local area instead of the other way around. Even with all the good vibes though Miami had many holes in their roster heading into spring camp and by the end of the spring period, the holes have expanded into cavernous gaps (specifically at wide receiver and linebacker as you all know).
Will Coach Richt and the new staff game plan around their shortcomings or will the season come to a crashing halt after the murderer's row of opponents in October?
4) South Florida
The best way to characterize the Bulls last season would be simply to say "the light came on." The first three games of the year USF was 1-3. If we take out the first game of the season when they played the FAMU Rattlers, the Bulls got steam rolled by FSU by 20, Maryland by 18 and then the upstart Memphis Tigers won by a touchdown in Tampa. The rest of the year though, Coach Willie Taggert and his offensive gashed opponents with a read option run heavy offense to cruise into their bowl game and finish the season on a 7-1 run. In their bowl game the Bulls lost a shootout with the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. Don't be deceived, per SBN's computerized rankings, the Hilltoppers statistically finished 15th in the country so they were a worthy opponent.
Looking ahead to next season you should be "Bullish" (sorry, I had to) on USF. With another year under Quinton "Wanky" Flowers' belt as the dual threat quarterback, the Bull could be off and charging (two puns in a row, I'm going to the corner) in the AAC.
5) Florida International
Slow and steady could be just what the doctor ordered at FIU. The Owls are going into year three under Head Coach Ron Turner and are looking to take yet another step forward in their progression from literally the worst team in college football only three years ago to possibly being... not so bad. In Turner's first season the Golden Panthers were an abysmal 1-11. Last season they went 4-8 but showed small improvements along the offense. With the defense beset by injuries right away in September last season the fruit of the bad luck can be seen now with all the players returning and looking to provide depth.
The real question I have to the FIU alumni has to be though: what is acceptable? Do we have to see bowl eligibility this season under Turner or does he get a guaranteed 5 years to see what his complete crop of players can do? If FIU becomes bowl eligible, even at the 6 win minimum, I have to believe that is seen as a boon for FIU.
6) Florida Atlantic
The Owl's are a fascinating team to watch. Simply put, they find unique and often creative ways to lose. Punt returns and kick returns given up to lose a game? Oh yea, that happened. Outgain your opponent by 200 hundred yards (!!!) but give up three turnover touchdowns (!!!!!)? Oh yea, that happened too. Due to all the zaniness and craziness, the Owls nosedived to a 3-9 season.
In 2016 the Owl's have the same Head Coach in Charlie Partridge but a new offensive coordinator in Travis Trickett who likes to run an aggressive and fast paced offense. If Trickett can get the offense speeding along in Conference USA the Owls could outscore their competition. If anything, it'll be a fun game team to watch if you're looking for an entertaining non BCS team.
7) Central Florida
Formulas of events can many times have their endings known before they come to fruition. Just like a recipe, if you use low quality ingredients and don't follow directions, disaster often time ensues. Last season for UCF saw the exact scenario play out. Head Coach George O'Leary wanted to retire from coaching before the year even started but UCF begged him to stay one more year. He had plans to stop being the part time AD and eventually ascend into the full time position. With his 69 year old sights set on another position, his focus turned away from game planning and to more of an admin type of roll. Due to this, the Knights cratered to an 0-8 start. After the eighth game O'Leary stepped down because he knew his heart wasn't in the game anymore. Under then interim coach Danny Barrett the Knights finished off their disappointing season 0-12.
In comes newly minted Head Coach Scott Frost. Almost the polar opposite of his predecessor. He's young, fiery and his offense is predicated on speed (he's the former offensive coordinator at Oregon). This could potentially be a "year zero" type season for UCF. Essentially, even though this is Frost's first season at the helm whatever results occur on the field will be gravy due to the stagnation that occurred over the last 18 + months of the O'leary regime. The turning over of the roster will be seen quickly and be very prevalent in the first few seasons. As players age and gain experience we'll see if Frost was the right choice. It just won't be known for a few seasons though.
What are your thoughts guys? Anyone should move up or down? Post your thoughts.