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When should Florida State start playing for next year?

What are FSU’s true odds of making a bowl?

NCAA Football: Florida State at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

So any improvement to the offensive line will basically be invisible due to increasing difficulty of schedule, and the majority of fans will only be checking back in for the games in which they’re most overmatched. I still want to see weekly improvement, but Willie Taggart needs to make every decision with an eye towards maximizing 2019-20, right?

That was a question from a colleague of mine who happens to root for Florida State.

He gets it. He knows that sometimes, no matter how well a program recruits, a perfect storm of bad luck (massive injuries, transfers, dismissals, etc.) and lack of development (again, some due to previous injury) can result in one position being such a zero that talent at other spots is rendered irrelevant.

Like the Florida Gators in 2013 with quarterbacks, FSU is at that point with the offensive line.

When a line is physically beaten by the likes of Samford and Syracuse, and must face a top-five schedule nationally, there is little rational basis to expect improvement with the current available players. And in fact, the odds are probably better that the line play will look worse due to the coming step up in competition.

But I am not so sure FSU should push all the chips to the center on 2019-20 just yet.

The coming seasons will be important. But Florida State’s bowl streak of 36 years is also important to a lot of fans. It’s a great honor for the program. Without it, the decision to go all in on 2019-20 would be easy and immediate.

Given that complicating factor, Florida State probably should attempt to still make a bowl as long as that goal is within reach, provided that the efforts to make a bowl do not materially alter progress being made for Years 2, 3, and 4.

That means not doing all the wild suggestions (Cam Akers at QB full-time, run the triple option, go back to the I-Formation, max protect every play, etc.). But it does mean continuing to try to change the offense within the framework of the system being installed. So far, FSU has changed up the offense on a weekly basis, yet nothing has worked. Fans calling for change only seem to notice change if it is successful, and incorrectly conclude that no changes have been made. There is no guarantee that anything will work. When offensive linemen are grading in the single digits on a 100-point scale, most plays won’t work.

Once a bowl is no longer reasonably in reach, certain seniors and upperclassmen who aren’t really bought in - and who won’t be a part of the plan in the coming years - should take a backseat to the youth.

So what are FSU’s chances of making a bowl?

To determine this, Tomahawk Nation stats guru Ricobert1 examined the S&P+ and FPI projection models. S&P+ has FSU finishing at 3-9, while FPI has FSU at 4-8.

That is well below bowl eligibility. While some programs can reach bowl eligibility going just 5-7, Florida State is not one of those programs. This is because it is determined by a school’s academic progress.

Under Jimbo Fisher as the program rotted from the inside-out, academics slipped in a huge way leading to FSU having the worst Academic Progress Rate (APR) in the Power 5, and the only school under a 945 score.

While academics have improved significantly in Willie Taggart’s first semester on campus, most notably thanks to athletes being held accountable for going to class and tutoring sessions, one semester is not enough to undo the previous eight.

And that means FSU has to win six games to make a bowl.

What are the chances that a team the projection models see winning three or four games overachieves and actually wins six?

About ten percent. FPI gives FSU a 12.4% chance to make a bowl (shown graphically below), while S&P+ is lower than ten.

That’s not very likely. Yet 10-1 longshots hit, well, about one in every ten tries.

Given that a bowl is still a reasonable possibility, FSU should keep trying for now.

But at what point is pursuing a bowl a fool’s errand?

To make a bowl, unless it can pull a huge upset at Miami, at Notre Dame, or hosting Clemson, it will need to go 5-1 against Northern Illinois, at Louisville, Wake Forest, at N.C. State, Boston College, and Florida.

Going 5-1 against that group is highly unlikely, but possible. Knowing when to throw in the towel on 2018 and go all-in on 2019 requires a bit more projection.

If FSU can get through September at 3-3, it should keep going. And if it can get through October at 4-4, it should keep going.

Basically, the next time FSU loses one of the against Northern Illinois, at Louisville, Wake Forest, at N.C. State, or Boston College games, its chance of bowling drops to around 1-3%.

A 10% chance might be worth pursuing for program pride and streak purposes, but chasing a 75-1 shot is not.

At that point, completely shifting the focus to the future is probably the prudent move.

The schedule only gets tougher from here. The easy part is over.