Florida State is still in the College Football Playoff race

Powered by Dalvin Cook and a strong defense, the Seminoles have a chance to overcome their first loss of the season.

| 12 months ago

Florida State is still in the College Football Playoff race

After their loss to Georgia Tech, Florida State has little wiggle room if they are to make the College Football Playoff — they have to win the ACC and run the table to stand a chance. Even if they do that there will be doubters — a loss to what has been a disappointing Georgia Tech team isn’t easily forgotten. Even with winning out, they likely need the rest of the season to play out in a particular way to overcome that damaging defeat.

Defense has been a staple for the Seminoles in 2015. Florida State is allowing just 16.1 points per game, 11th in the nation, and have yet to allow any opponent to reach 25 points. A number of players have really stood out on that side of the ball for the Seminoles — DT Nile Lawrence-Stample (+19.1 overall grade) and DE DeMarcus Walker (+16.2) particularly.

Offensively it’s been the Dalvin Cook show. In this season of stellar running back play, Florida State has one of the very best in Cook, who is tied for fourth in the nation among backs with a +20.5 overall grade. Cook is averaging 4.4 yards after contact, 13.6 yards after the catch, has forced 46 missed tackles for a 142.3 elusive rating, and is tied for second among Power-5 backs with a 64.9 breakaway percentage. In short he’s been outstanding.

Aside from Cook’s explosiveness, the Florida State offense is best described as efficient. QB Everett Golson’s interception against Georgia Tech was the Seminoles’ first turnover in 2015 — they entered that game as the only team in all of college football (812 teams) without a single turnover on offense. A remarkable stat when you combine Golson’s history with a starting offensive line without a single player grading positively in pass protection.

Golson’s 11:1 touchdown to interception ratio is terrific, and a vast improvement on his career at Notre Dame where he finished with 41 touchdowns to 20 interceptions. That ratio goes a long way to explaining his +18.8 overall grade. Of course, relying on interception numbers alone to gauge a QBs capacity for taking care of the ball can give a false impression. We can go beyond that, by looking at turnover-worthy plays (TWP), those errant or misjudged passes which could, and probably should have been picked off by opponents. This season Golson has just three such passes, one of which was the pick he threw against Georgia Tech. He’s averaging just 1.4 TWPs for every 100 passes thrown, that’s tied for second in the nation (min. 100 pass attempts), and compared favorably to his rate of 4.7 TWPs per 100 attempts last season with Notre Dame.

As well as taking care of the football, Golson has linked up well with receivers Kermit Whitfield (+7.5), Travis Rudolph (+2.5) and Jesus Wilson (+1.0). However, placing an emphasis on taking care of the football comes at a cost, if you aren’t willing to challenge good coverage, then there are less big plays. We can measure that by looking at the number of big-time throws (BTT) a QB makes — those that earn a higher grade due to difficulty, placement and other factors. Golson has nine such plays this season, giving him a very healthy 3:1 BTT to TWP ratio. However, that is at a rate of just 4.3 BTTs per 100 pass attempts, below average for QBs with at least 100 attempts. By contrast Michigan State QB Connor Cook is among the best with a rate of 10.5.

The Seminoles have gotten this far into the season through solid defense, limiting mistakes and leaning on Dalvin Cook. A sound strategy given the way Cook has been playing, and one that would likely have them 7-0 if not for an unlikely play by Georgia Tech CB Lance Austin. But that may not be enough to overcome an impressive Clemson team, which means Golson may have to be more willing to challenge good coverage.

| Analyst

Kevin has been an analyst at Pro Football Focus since 2014, with a particular focus on college football.

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