Of all the major programs in college football, none is at a bigger crossroads this year than Florida State. The Seminoles parted ways with head coach Jimbo Fischer, who won three straight ACC titles from 2012-14, and the national championship in 2013. Fischer’s program also had considerable off-the-field issues and last season collapsed to 7-6. Willie Taggart was hired to restore order and I’m not at all certain that the Seminoles have the right guy.
Taggart has a nice overall track record as a head coach. He rebuilt Western Kentucky and South Florida, then went to Oregon last year where he had a 7-5 season. I can look past his overall record of 47-50, because he inherited terrible teams in his first two jobs. The work with WKU and USF rightfully earned him a shot to be in a Power 5 conference.
But Florida State is not any ordinary power school situation. It’s one of the few programs in the country that can legitimately aspire to a national title and has in fact done it three times in the last 25 years. In a state loaded with recruiting prospects, it’s one of college football’s gem jobs. And I don’t see where a 7-5 season at Oregon, a place we know you can at least win at a high level, is a qualification for the job.
Recruits took notice. Florida State had been recruiting at a level pretty close to Alabama’s under Fischer, routinely bringing in top 5 classes. They slipped to 11th. Now that’s still pretty good, and it’s well possible that the instability of a coaching change makes it a one-year aberration. But it’s still noteworthy and in a recruiting world where momentum is everything, the Seminoles have to feel the sense of urgency to immediately turn perceptions around.
The perception is simply this—that FSU is a descending power, no longer on a par with Clemson, in danger of being eclipsed by Miami and more on a par with Virginia Tech or Louisville—a good team who can win on any given Saturday, but not a national championship threat.
Moreover, Taggart is going to be heavily dependent on young players. There are 13 freshman and sophomores projected to start on Labor Day Night against Virginia Tech. The recruiting slippage had actually started in the final year under Fischer, so this means the least talented classes in the Seminole program are the ones ready to take over, without any experience.
I would like to see Willie Taggart succeed. Although I would recoil at any labeling of myself as PC or an SJW, I do think the scarcity of African-American head coaches is, at minimum, troubling. Taggart is known for running a disciplined operation and that would be a welcome change from the anything-goes-off-the-field regime under Fischer. But in the cold reality of college football, that won’t matter if Florida State isn’t competing for ACC championships, College Football Playoff berths and national titles.
It’s always interesting to see what informed opinion in Las Vegas thinks and they’re even more pessimistic than I thought—Florida State’s Over/Under for wins this year is 7.5. I”m not that down on the ‘Noles. I think they can go 8-4. But until we see Taggart put up a really monster season in Tallahassee, the doubts will linger and I think he at least needs ten wins this year to stop the bleeding on the recruiting trail. And that I would not bet on.