There are so many talented running backs in college football that it’s sometimes easy to forget about Florida State’s Dalvin Cook. He doesn’t flick runners off his back quite like Leonard Fournette does with his power and size, and he doesn’t display versatility like Christian McCaffrey.
Sure, Cook was a second-team CBS Sports All-American in 2015. Yes, he dealt with nagging ankle and hamstring injuries that sidelined him at times. But let’s not forget Cook averaged 7.4 yards per carry, significantly better than more publicized runners like Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry (5.6 yards), McCaffrey (6.0 yards), Ezekiel Elliott (6.3 yards) and Fournette (6.5 yards).
“It just means keep working,” Cook said. “If you keep working, the results will pay off. I’m a guy about results and I know if I keep working, keep putting in the time, everything will pay off for itself.”
The Seminoles will go as far as their quarterback play (it will be talented redshirt freshman Deondre Francois to start the year) and a potentially elite defense take them in 2016. This is a national championship contender if everything goes right. And even if it doesn’t, there’s Cook to count on, something Florida State couldn’t say for sure last summer.
Cook’s future was so uncertain last August that Florida State took two teams photos, one with him and one without him. Cook was awaiting trial after being accused of punching a woman following an argument outside a bar in which Cook said he was trying to defuse an argument between the woman and a teammate. A jury found Cook not guilty of misdemeanor battery after deliberating for less than 25 minutes and Florida State reinstated him.
Still, the perception was Cook had become the latest Florida State player with behavioral problems. Cook initially told police he didn’t remember getting into a fight or any argument with the accuser and couldn’t remember if he was drinking.
Over the past year, the Seminoles have seen fewer arrests surface publicly. Then on Friday night, Florida State strength coach Vic Viloria was arrested on DUI charges after being found asleep at the wheel of his vehicle on I-10. He admitted to drinking in his on-campus office earlier in the night.
Coach Jimbo Fisher attributes the decline of player arrests, in part, to educating them about identifying problems before they happen and teammates helping one another to leave before trouble occurs.
“Nothing has changed,” Cook said. “We’re just holding each other responsible. We just keeping everything down to a minimum. We’re just holding all the younger guys to a certain standard and we’re pushing the older guys. If you see a guy out, take care of him.”
Said Fisher of Cook: “He has grown in the role of his responsibility to leave his legacy here as the guys did before him.”
Cook needs 1,261 rushing yards to break Florida State career rushing record held by legend Warrick Dunn. Despite essentially missing two full games and portions of others in 2015 with injuries, Cook rushed for 1,691 yards and 19 touchdowns. He put up 194 yards on Clemson and 183 vs. Florida.
As great as Fournette is, one NFL scout recently told Yahoo Sports that Cook is “every bit as good” as Fournette. Cook has confidently said he believes he’s the best college running back. Quick, who had the most runs of 20-plus yards in 2015? That would be Cook and New Mexico State’s Larry Rose III. Cook was tied for the most runs of 50-plus yards and ridiculously had four runs of 70 yards or more.
Cook has worked on becoming a better receiver so defenses focus on him without the ball. He had 24 catches for 244 yards in 2015. He knows stacked boxes are awaiting him again, especially if the Seminoles don’t provide a more threatening passing game than they had in 2015.
Florida State’s quarterbacks ranked 35th nationally in QB rating and 38th in passing yards per game. In the final four games against FBS opponents in 2015, Sean Maguire threw five touchdowns and six interceptions. Cook got bottled up by Houston in the Peach Bowl, holding him to 33 yards on 18 carries. Maguire is out to start the season due to an injury.
“I don’t adjust, I just be me,” Cook said of defenses focusing on him. “I be Dalvin. That’s how it goes.”
But in truth, Cook did adjust some. He gained 10 pounds in the offseason and now weighs 213 pounds, a size that he believes is perfect for him. Cook underwent offseason shoulder surgery to repair a labrum tear but declared himself 100 percent for this season.
Cook patterns his style after Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles. He runs down the reasons why he likes Charles this way: “Not a big back. Not afraid to run between the tackles. Could run 60 or 80 (yards) at any point on the field. Can catch the ball well. Can block. Not big at all.”
The quarterback question will go a long way toward the Seminoles’ national title hopes. On defense, Fisher and some players are speaking confidently about what they think could be their best defensive unit in years. Remember the name Derwin James, a sophomore defensive back with freakish athleticism.
“He jumped over Sean Maguire and he was standing up,” Cook said of James. “That’s one thing he can do, he can jump. He ain’t gonna shy down from nothing. Come Saturdays, you’re gonna see a different animal from him.”
Florida State’s standards under Fisher are so high that a 10-win season in 2015 was viewed negatively. Houston’s domination of Florida State at the Peach Bowl left a sour note the Seminoles can start to immediately erase in Week 1 against Ole Miss.
“We’re gonna make a statement,” Cook vowed.
Sure, it’s bravado. But it may also be a warning. Either way, it’s probably best not to sleep on Cook and the Seminoles in 2016.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / Don’t sleep on the No. 4 Seminoles and Dalvin Cook, the best RB with least hype