Hugh Freeze not so sure Florida State in Orlando is a 'neutral-site game'
HOOVER, Ala. — Week 1 of the upcoming college football season could be quite special, as there are many marquee matchups.
The dessert course is Ole Miss-Florida State on the Monday of Labor Day weekend. Both the Seminoles and Rebels will travel to Orlando for a neutral-site event — more on that later — at Camping World Stadium.
Each program has high expectations. While a lot of first-round NFL talent walked out the door in Oxford, quarterback Chad Kelly decided to stay one more year. In Tallahassee, even though FSU is yet to settle on a signal-caller, the rest of the roster looks to be loaded at every position offensively and defensively.
Thursday at SEC Media Days, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze had lots to say about his showdown with the ‘Noles.
“We don’t have to obviously work too hard to get prepared to get motivated for Week 1,” he said, “opening up Monday night football in Orlando, Florida, against a team the caliber of Florida State. Our kids are locked in for that and focused for that and preparing for that.”
Camping World Stadium, previously known as the Citrus Bowl, has recently undergone a complete restoration.
Because winning the SEC is difficult enough — especially having to come out of the West — odds are a team like the Rebels wouldn’t be interested in a regular home-and-home with a squad like the Seminoles.
A neutral site, on the other hand, is an easier sell, especially as a season opener. There’s no better way to prepare for the eight-game death march in the West. While FSU resides in the basketball-centric ACC, its brand of football is SEC-like in every other capacity. Jimbo Fisher and Co. will be preseason top 5.
Some sites are more neutral than others, though. Oxford is 750 miles from Orlando. Tallahassee? Only 250.
“I did get a kick out of our AD telling me it’s a neutral-site game,” Freeze quipped. “And I’d use that in quotes, ‘neutral site,’ and I explain to him, ‘Any time you go on the road to a neutral-site game and you have to use silent cadence, it shouldn’t be considered a neutral site.’ So we’ll have a great opposition there in a lot of ways, and it will be an atmosphere that we have to handle. Good thing I think we have some people in key positions of leadership that will help us do that.”
Due to construction back home, Florida State held its annual spring game in Orlando and drew 50,000 fans.
In addition to a crowd that could end up being more hostile than originally planned, the Seminoles feature one of the premier running backs in the nation in Dalvin Cook. He’s a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate.
Still, Kelly plays the game’s most important position. Whether FSU starts experienced-but-limited senior Sean Maguire or inexperienced-but-dangerous freshman Deondre Francois, Ole Miss will have a distinct advantage in the passing game. Kelly’s stated goals for 2016 are 15-0 and a national title. He’s long on confidence.
Freeze will have his hands full game-planning, both for the ‘Noles and the surroundings. But it’s nothing new for him.
“We play in a lot of difficult environments in this league,” he said, “so we’ll prepare just like we do for a road SEC game.”