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Five Keys for Florida State

By BJ Bennett
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A to-do list as Florida State prepares to take on Alabama.

Florida State has the toughest opener of the college football season: a showdown with top-ranked Alabama in Atlanta's new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Seminoles will likely need to be at their best this weekend, with the following keys standing as absolute musts;

1. Protect Deondre Francois -- Florida State ranked 108th in the country allowing 36 sacks a year ago, while Alabama led the nation with 54; on paper, that looks quite problematic for the Seminoles. If Florida State can't at least manage the line of scrimmage, especially in terms of protecting their undersized quarterback, it will likely be a long night. The pressure will very much be on tackles Derrick Kelly and Rick Leonard on the edge, along with the running backs and tight ends, to pick up pass-rushers in the Crimson Tide's attacking 3-4 scheme. Even if it requires utilizing more max-protect play-calling, the Seminoles, who don't have a proven option behind Francois, must keep their quarterback upright. In addition to blocking success, Florida State will likely need to insulate Francois from big hits through the use of a consistent ground game, screens and quick passes.

2. Derwin James Must be Everywhere -- It was an off-season of great fanfare for James with a number of outlets listing him as the premier player in college football, hype his talent warrants. The all-everything safety should shine on a stage like this. James will be busy as Alabama has a mobile quarterback in Jalen Hurts, a 240-pound running back in Bo Scarbrough and one of the nation's premier receivers in Calvin Ridley. In his lone full game a year ago, a high-profile pairing with Ole Miss, James recorded eight total tackles and an interception; he may have to be even better against the Crimson Tide on Saturday. Something else to think about, James is listed as a starting kick returner for Florida State.

3. "Noonie" Needs to Go Off -- In a hard-fought defensive slugfest in the Orange Bowl versus Michigan, receiver Nyqwan Murray was the difference. Though he caught just two passes, they were for a total of 104 yards and two touchdowns, the late game-winner included. Murray has the ability to both beat defenders one-on-one in space and run past them downfield. There isn't much production down the depth chart on the perimeter, so Murray will be looked to early and often. In a matchup where momentum will be absolutely-critical, Murray has the potential to change the game.

4. Don't Beat Yourself -- Flagged for 948 penalty yards, the third-most in college football, Florida State often beat Florida State last fall. In their three losses, the Seminoles were whistled a staggering 34 times for 315 yards and had a late pass interference call that pushed North Carolina into position for a game-winning field goal; they won't be able to absorb mistakes like those against Alabama. Taking care of the football and avoiding live ball mistakes, errors which could turn directly into points given who is on the other sidelines, goes without saying. Florida State can't give college football's top-ranked team any extra help. The margin for error is already slim enough.   

5. Start Strong -- In games against Ole Miss, Miami and NC State this past year, Florida State was able to overcome slow starts en route to victory. The season-opener against the Rebels saw the Seminoles down 28-6 late in the second quarter; Nick Saban and Alabama don't give up leads like that. Both from the standpoint of play-calling from a position of strength and avoiding having to rally from behind against one of the nation's best defenses, the first quarter will be especially-important for Florida State.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: / Twitter: @BJBennettSports