Florida State picked up an important win in a Leon County court in Tallahassee on Monday.
Sophomore running back Dalvin Cook was found not guilty of a misdemeanor battery charge, clearing the way for his return to the team.
Now the Seminoles have to hope that wasn’t their biggest win of the year.
Florida State, which has won 24 consecutive ACC games and three consecutive conference titles, has plenty of talent but it doesn’t have another player like Cook, who ran for 1,008 yards in a part-time role last season.
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With Cook, the Seminoles have the ability to return to College Football Playoff, a year after losing to Oregon in the semifinals. The strength of their nonconference schedule might hurt them, but after Monday’s decision – after only 10 hours of trial time and 25 minutes of deliberation by the jury – the Seminoles are back in the driver’s seat in the ACC.
The season kicks off Thursday night with North Carolina’s tilt with South Carolina at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. The ACC season will end on the same field on Dec. 5 with the conference championship game.
Your guide to the 2015 ACC football season:
Want more? Joe Giglio’s expanded team previews are part of the 2015 ACC Football Forecast
Five games to watch
1. Ohio State at Virginia Tech (Sept. 7)
Despite how 2014 ended, the Hokies really did start the year with a win over the national champion Buckeyes.
2. Notre Dame at Clemson (Oct. 3)
The Fighting Irish fancy themselves as national title contenders, but those preseason dreams can’t come true without a win in Death Valley.
3. Florida State at Clemson (Nov. 7)
The ACC wisely pushed this game to later in the season. The Tigers should have a healthier Deshaun Watson by then. The winner of this game has won the ACC the past four years.
4. Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech (Nov. 12)
Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech’s magician of a quarterback, meets the ACC’s best defense in a Thursday night showcase game. It doesn’t get any better in the Coastal.
5. UNC at N.C. State (Nov. 28)
Both schools have a chance at double-digit wins this season but probably not without one here. N.C. State, 35-7 victors in Chapel Hill a year ago, has won six of the past eight in the series.
Five names to watch
1. Justin Thomas, QB, Georgia Tech: In Paul Johnson’s option offense, the junior (1,086 rushing yards, 1,719 passing yards) was every bit as good as all-time option greats Tommie Frazier and Tim Tebow.
2. James Conner, RB, Pitt: The Pitt junior quietly set an ACC record last season with 26 rushing touchdowns in 13 games.
3. Marquise Williams, QB, UNC: The fifth-year senior might actually do a little less. He doubled as the Tar Heels’ leading rusher last season, but the offense could do more.
4. Jacoby Brissett, QB, N.C. State: He wasn’t the only reason N.C. State improved from 3-9 to 8-5 last season, just the biggest.
5. Jeremy Cash, S, Duke: The Blue Devils will rely on their defense this season and Cash is the best in an experienced bunch.
1. Everett Golson, QB, FSU: The senior graduate transfer will have more talent around him at FSU than he did in 2012 when he led Notre Dame to a 12-0 regular season and a spot in the national title game.
2. Nyheim Hines, WR, N.C. State: The talented freshman had a dream high school career at Garner and should be a nightmare for ACC defenses.
3. Gene Chizik, defensive coordinator, UNC: The former Auburn coach adds immediate credibility to a UNC defense that can’t possibly be as bad as it was last year.
4. Pat Narduzzi, head coach, Pitt: The ACC’s only newcomer inherits three exquisite gifts from Paul Chryst (who left for Wisconsin) – Conner, receiver Tyler Boyd and a soft schedule.
5. Friday night football: The ESPN overlords want it, so we will have it, including N.C. State at Virginia Tech on Oct. 9.
1. Florida State poll angst: Seemed like every week the CFP committee invented reasons to dock the Noles for not losing. Hopefully the nebulous, and totally meaningless, concept of “game control” has been retired.
2. Miami’s uniforms: “The U” invented swagger, as the saying goes, and it was complete with a Nike swoosh on the left shoulder. Like everything else at Miami, all good things must come to an end with the switch to Adidas.
3. East Carolina: For the first time since 1998, the Pirates will not play at least one in-state ACC team. Overall, ECU has won four straight against the ACC. ECU hosts Virginia Tech on Sept. 26.
4. Chad Morris: A real-life version of Coach Taylor from “Friday Night Lights,” Morris left his gig as Clemson’s offensive coordinator to be SMU’s head coach. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney went 40-11 in the four seasons Morris called the plays.
5. Jameis Winston: The player? Absolutely. Everything else? Not so much.
Predicted order of finish
(with projected record in parenthesis)
1. Florida State (11-1 overall, 7-1 ACC): Dalvin Cook and safety Jalen Ramsey were two of the biggest reasons FSU went 13-0 before the playoffs. Eleven NFL draft picks are gone, but those two supreme talents remain.
2. Clemson (10-2, 6-2): Dabo Swinney’s kingdom for Deshaun Watson’s health. That’s a fair trade, if it leads the talented Tigers to an ACC title.
3. N.C. State (9-3, 5-3): The door is open for a big season, will the Wolfpack walk through?
4. Louisville (7-5, 4-4): Bobby Petrino is banking on a slew of transfers to offset a serious talent drain.
5. Boston College (6-6, 3-5): The Eagles have played above their talent level the past two years and will continue to do so under Steve Addazio.
6. Syracuse (4-8, 1-7): The sledding only gets tougher for the Orange and third-year coach Scott Shafer.
7. Wake Forest (3-9, 0-8): Rebuilding projects take time but Dave Clawson brought in a talented freshmen class to start a foundation.
1. Virginia Tech (9-3, 6-2): The Hokies give longtime coach Frank Beamer one more division title in what turns out to be his swan song.
2. Georgia Tech (9-3, 6-2): With an easier schedule, the Yellow Jackets would have walked through the division. Instead, they get Clemson and FSU in cross-over games.
3. UNC (8-4, 5-3): Larry Fedora said before last season it was time, what he really meant was this is the Tar Heels’ year.
4. Duke (7-5, 4-4): So many questions on offense, but the defense is strong and the schedule could not be any weaker.
5. Pittsburgh (7-5, 4-4): Two ACC wins each for the Panthers’ two stars, James Conner and Tyler Boyd.
6. Miami (7-5, 3-5): The Canes would love to prove the media wrong again.
7. Virginia (4-8, 2-6): Questions on offense, holes to fill on defense and another tough schedule for the Wahoos.
Player of the year: James Conner, RB, Pitt
Coach of the year: Jimbo Fisher, FSU
ACC championship: Florida State beats Virginia Tech
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio