SEC fans, how much do you know about some of your nonconference opponents? If you haven’t studied up yet, we’re doing a series this week that will look at some of the marquee nonconference games involving SEC teams in 2016 and the opponents that they will face.
Next up are the Florida State Seminoles, who play Ole Miss to open the season.
Opponent: vs. Ole Miss (in Orlando, Florida)
Date of matchup: Sept. 5
Offseason storyline: Can the Noles get back to the College Football Playoff? Are they national championship material again? A lot of people seem to think so with all the defensive talent returning, that guy Cook still on campus and a more experienced offensive line leading the way. Top receivers Rudolph, Jesus "Bobo" Wilson and Kermit Whitfield return after they all caught at least 50 passes last year, and while the quarterback spot is undetermined, Sean Maguire started five games last year and redshirt freshman Deondre Francois could be a star in the making. Francois could be the favorite to win this spot, but former top recruit Malik Henry will get his shot, too.
Even if the quarterback position is unsettled going into Week 1, the Noles return 10 starters away from QB. What should also help a title run is the fact that FSU returns six defensive starters and six players that led or tied for the team lead in game-by-game tackles in 2015. Also, more than half of FSU's players on the defensive side of the ball finished the 2015 season with at least 20 tackles (9 of 17). The Noles are loaded, and while Clemson is getting most of the ACC attention, there's no reason to count FSU out of the playoff this fall.
What's at stake for Ole Miss: This is a statement game for an Ole Miss team that has a chance to not only compete for the SEC title but a spot in the College Football Playoff. Getting started against a team as talented as Florida State is perfect because a win would not only boost the confidence of this group but a loss doesn't end the season, and it gives the Rebels a huge blueprint for improvement. Hugh Freeze has been building a nationally-relevant team in his four years, and here's a chance for him to beat a national power not named Alabama in front of the entire country. This will be a bowl-like atmosphere for the Rebels, and it'll be a major test for Ole Miss's rebuilt offensive line. The Rebels are having to replace all five starters from last season up front, and there's a chance that true freshman Greg Little could make his first start at left tackle against the Noles.
No pressure or anything with Walker and two other starters along FSU's defensive line returning.
This isn't a must-win for Ole Miss, but people will take plenty of shots at the SEC if the Rebels lose. Fair or not, that's how it goes when you pit two of the best from the SEC and ACC together in a primetime spot. This is also a chance for Ole Miss' running game to get some momentum. Akeem Judd and Jordan Wilkins are bigger backs than what the Rebels have been used to under Freeze, but both still have a long way to go. While both guys averaged more than 5 yards-per-carry last season, they were both behind the departed Jaylen Walton and Kelly in rushing last year. A good game from either will go a long way for the Rebels.