CHARLOTTE — When Ole Miss and Florida State meet in Orlando on Sept. 5, it will be in front of a large viewing audience that 1) will be eager to watch the conclusion of the best opening weekend of college football in recent memory and 2) will still have three days to wait before the NFL kicks off.
Throw in a pair of major Heisman candidates, two highly-ranked teams and a primetime television slot, and you’ve got the makings of a classic.
The Seminoles, led by Jimbo Fisher, are fewer than three years removed from their most recent national title, and are widely considered one of the 10 best teams in the country. All 11 starters return on offense, and the defense…
“I can see this defense being the best defense FSU ever had,” Florida State defensive lineman DeMarcus Walker said Friday at the ACC Kickoff. “It’s just the identity we have. The confidence we have. We’re disciplined. We’re talented; everybody knows that.”
It adds up to monster challenge for Ole Miss, which has dealt with plenty of off-field problems this year.
Fisher said he initially followed along when news of the Rebels’ misdeeds broke, but said he hasn’t paid attention lately and has no idea where things currently stand.
(The NCAA has yet to hand down any punishment on the athletic program, and could potentially allow Ole Miss’ self-penalties to stand as is.)
“It won’t affect it on our part,” Fisher said. “They’re still gonna have those guys on the field playing, and they’re gonna be ready to play.”
Added running back Dalvin Cook: “We want them to be locked in and ready to play Florida State, ‘cause we’re gonna be ready to play them.”
Cook is Florida State’s primary Heisman candidate this year. He racked up 1,691 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground last autumn as the Seminoles went 10-3. He’s joined in the backfield by quarterbacks Deondre Francois, a freshman, and senior Sean Maguire, who led the passing attack for much of 2015.
Who will get the start under center? It’s not clear yet, and Cook is already worried about potential miscommunication against the Rebels.
“They’re good up front,” Cook said. “They’re gonna try to do a lot of things to confuse us, clog up the alleys and keep me in the box. We’re gonna have to study a lot and watch a lot of film.”
Florida State-Mississippi is one of several elite matchups on opening weekend, and it sounds as if Fisher prefers the heavyweight fight to a cupcake non-conference tilt.
“It makes your off-season, in my opinion, so enhanced,” he said. “You know what I mean? It jump-starts it so much quicker. I’ve been extremely pleased with our attitude and our work ethic through the summer. Our weight coaches is saying it’s one of the best ones we’ve had in the last four or five years.”
Sept. 5 is 45 days away, if anyone is counting.
“They’re a great team,” Walker said of Ole Miss. “Great quarterback. Y’all know Chad Kelly. Great wide receivers. They’ve got the front line coming back. I feel like it’s gonna be a great challenge for us.”