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Willie Taggart facing extreme pressure heading into a critical 2019 season at Florida State

Thirty-six years. That's how many consecutive times Florida State had been to a bowl game prior to the 2018 season -- Willie Taggart's first as the coach of the Seminoles. Sure, the 2006 Emerald Bowl was later vacated. But that has nothing to do with the point -- Taggart's first season in Tallahassee was an abject disaster. 

They lost 24-3 at home in Week 1 against Virginia Tech, were dominated for about 50 minutes before squeaking past FCS foe Samford and then got smoked in Week 3 at Syracuse, 30-7. After that loss, I wrote that "Willie Taggart won't be one-and-done at Florida State" in the postgame wrap. The simple fact that such a sentence had to be written after just three games tells you all that you need to know about the trajectory of the program. Former coach Jimbo Fisher left a slight mess, but Taggart emptied the closet and drawers, threw the clothes all over the room and wrote all over the walls.

Now it's his job to clean it up, and it starts on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET, when the Seminoles open the doors at Doak Campbell Stadium for the Garnet & Gold Spring Game. All eyes will be on Taggart, and what he has done to prepare this team and prepare himself for a year that will be loaded with pressure. 

Taggart has shown the ability to adapt to the changing offensive landscape of college football throughout his career at Western Kentucky, South Florida and Oregon, and will have to do it quickly in 2019 after his team finished 110th in the country with 5.12 yards per play. Luckily, star running back Cam Akers is back for his junior season and can help the transition to a new full-time starting quarterback. 

That's where things get a little sketchy. James Blackman filled in for an injured Deondre Francois two years ago with mixed results. Sure, that's to be expected for a then-true freshman who is thrown into the fire unexpectedly. But he's made only one meaningful appearance since then -- a 26-of-46, 421 yard performance last year in a loss at NC State. He's the incumbent, but Taggart lured former Wisconsin starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook after Taggart spent a few months scouring the graduate transfer market. Hornibrook led the Badgers to a 26-6 record in three years, but he threw 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions last year, and isn't exactly fleet of foot.

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They are the only two options after Florida State failed to sign a high school quarterback for the second straight season.

If the Seminoles offense is going to get back to the glory days, it's on the offensive line -- not the quarterback -- to flip the script. The offensive line has been a sticking point for the Seminoles for the better part of the decade. Out went Greg Frey and in came Randy Clements in the offseason to try to fix a broken position group that lost three starters and has struggled since the late years of the Fisher regime. 

If the offense isn't fixed, Florida State is going to be mired in mediocrity for the third straight season (second under Taggart), and Seminole brass will have a decision to make. His six-year, $30 million contract is a big figure, but not exactly surprising for a big time college football program that was forced into a quick decision two offseasons ago. His buyout figure, though, might make the margin for error a little bigger for Taggart. TomahawkNation.com reported in December 2017 that Florida State would owe Taggart 85% of the remainder of the amount due if things didn't pan out. That would be $17 million after this season.

Pricey? Yes. Irresponsible? Maybe not. If the woes continue -- specifically the remarkable lack of coaching acumen showed by Taggart in preparation and game management -- administrators might be able to pass a hat around the stands to reach that figure in a hurry.

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Florida State has to deal with the 900-pound gorilla in the ACC Atlantic every year when it squares off with reigning national champion Clemson. But even the decent teams in the division -- Syracuse, NC State, Boston College, etc. -- should be firmly entrenched in the rear view mirror of Taggart's Seminoles even during rebuilding years. This is Florida State. This is the same program that ripped off 14 straight top five seasons. This is the same program that should be in the division title mix every year -- especially with stud running backs on the roster like Akers.

Taggart's tenure has been terribly disappointing so far. If that doesn't change, his time in Tallahassee could come to an abrupt end. We'll find out Saturday if it looks like things could be changing for the Seminoles.

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