TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/AP) — The Florida State Seminoles knew that the 2017 would be tough.
The ‘Noles saw powerhouse Alabama waiting as the first opponent on their schedule and the ascending Miami Hurricanes not long after.
It appeared a formidable challenge for a Seminoles team that should have been up to the task.
FSU was viewed as a top team in the ACC, one that would challenge Clemson for the top spot in the conference’s Atlantic Division.
Now, with Florida State off to its worst start in 41 years, coach Jimbo Fisher is left doing something he could hardly fathom two months ago.
The coach is fielding questions about what is left to play for the rest of the season.
The Seminoles go into Saturday’s game at Duke with a 1-3 record, including 1-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
That was hardly what anyone expected at the beginning of the year when they ranked third in the preseason Top 25 poll and were considered the conference favorite.
It is the worst start by a preseason top three team since 1984, when third-ranked Pittsburgh dropped its first four games. Florida State fell out of the rankings following its loss to North Carolina State on Sept. 16. This week’s poll is the first time since 2011 that Fisher’s program did not receive a vote.
“No matter what your record is, you play,” Fisher said. “We’ve got everything to play for. What if you’re a junior-eligible draft guy or senior-eligible draft guy? What’s the NFL looking at?”
Fisher is also dealing with increased scrutiny as the Seminoles are headed for their second straight disappointing season. Instead of contending for a conference title and a spot in the College Football Playoff, the Seminoles find themselves barely above .500 in their last 15 ACC games (8-7). They have also dropped their first two home games for the first time since 1974 and are 3-4 at Doak Campbell Stadium since having a 22-game home winning streak snapped.
Last Saturday’s 24-20 loss to 11th-ranked Miami marked the third time in a year that the Seminoles have been unable to hold a fourth-quarter lead at home. FSU gave up two 75-yard touchdown drives to Miami in the fourth quarter, which has ratcheted up the pressure on defensive coordinator Charles Kelly for the second straight season.
Fisher said on Monday that he has “extreme confidence” in Kelly, who is in his fourth season as coordinator.
“We’ll continue with Charles being our coordinator, and go through this year, and hope to finish the year very strong,” Fisher said.
A big problem of late for the defense has been third down. The Seminoles allowed Alabama to convert just 3 of 16 opportunities in the opener but since then opponents are 16 of 43.
The offense has been scaled back since freshman James Blackman took over after Deondre Francois suffered a season-ending knee injury against Alabama. Florida State is averaging 327 yards per game, which is sixth worst among Power Five programs.
Blackman has struggled early in all three of his starts before finding his rhythm. He was 9 of 10 for 110 yards with two touchdowns during the final 15 minutes against Miami, but he also had two interceptions early in the game.
“The thing that excites me most about him is his ability to learn and learn on the run. He doesn’t make a lot of the same mistakes twice,” Fisher said.
Florida State has never lost to Duke (4-2, 1-2 ACC) in 19 meetings, but with upcoming games against Louisville (Oct. 21), Clemson (Nov. 11) and Florida (Nov. 25), there are some concerns if FSU can keep its string of 35 straight bowl appearances alive. Even at 6-5, one of those wins would be against a Football Championship Subdivision team, which is why school officials are considering rescheduling the game against Louisiana-Monroe to Dec. 2. The game was originally scheduled for Sept. 9 but was cancelled due to Hurricane Irma.
“We had such high expectations at the beginning of the year. We’ve had some really rough patches,” tight end Ryan Izzo said. “We’ve got seven or eight more games, so we’ve just got to make the school and everybody proud.”
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)