Wins, Playoff — not Heisman — priorities for Florida State’s Dalvin Cook

Dalvin Cook broke one of Warrick Dunn’s records last year when he set a Florida State single-season rushing record with 1,691 yards.

In just 25 games, Cook has accumulated 2,699 rushing yards and is already in fifth place on FSU’s all-time rushing list. And he’s within reach of Dunn’s career record (3,959 yards).

Cook has made a few things very clear this offseason. The Heisman Trophy talk is nice, but it’s often a result of wins as much as rushing yards. Being a leader is important to him. Winning games and making a run at a national title are paramount.

But when asked about his proximity to Dunn’s record, Cook said he would be honored to break it.

“Warrick has been holding on to that record for a little while now,” Cook said. “It would mean a lot to break it. Respect him a lot. It would be an honor just to break that record and to be mentioned with him.”

Cook ran for more than 1,000 yards after suffering a hamstring injury in Game 4. Despite that injury, along with missing the Syracuse game, Cook was still able to average 140 rushing yards per game.

It didn’t matter who was under center in 2015. Or who was injured on the offensive line. Against very good defenses and the weakest of the ACC, Cook was consistently successful – clearing the 100-yard rushing mark in eight of 13 games.

Cook is the engine to FSU’s offense. And if the Seminoles want to return to the playoff, he will need another year like 2015. Here are five things to watch as Cook enters the 2016 season:

He is healthy … for now: The junior from Miami was “slowed” by hamstring and ankle injuries in 2015. He’s had surgeries to both shoulders, the latest in the spring. He rehabbed over the summer and has been full-go since FSU opened preseason camp on Aug. 9. Cook’s durability has never really been questioned because he plays through a variety of injuries. But it will be interesting to see if coach Jimbo Fisher gives Cook a breather at times and utilizes sophomore Jacques Patrick more often.

Defenses isolate on Cook: Cook knows what he will see on gamedays. “Face eight in the box,” Cook said. “They’re going to stack the box. That’s just how it’s going to be.” That’s just the obvious game plan with Cook lined up at tailback. What makes Cook so effective is his vision – and once he cuts, he turns up the jets. Even against an eight-man defensive front, once he gets past the linebackers Cook is tough to catch (he had five rushing touchdowns that were 50 yards or longer).

A new starting quarterback: In theory, it should matter who FSU’s quarterback will be in 2016 as it pertains to Cook’s rushing ability. But even with the Seminoles using two quarterbacks (Everett Golson and Sean Maguire) along with offensive inconsistencies last year, Cook was still difficult to stop (he cleared the 100-yard mark in six of his last eight games).

Maguire had surgery on his right foot on Monday and will miss at least four weeks, including the opener against Ole Miss. Cook will likely line up behind redshirt freshman Deondre Francois. That would be far from ideal at many schools, especially those with aspirations of making the College Football Playoff. But Francois has shown a strong, accurate arm, good decision-making and mobility. In spring practices and preseason camp, Francois hasn’t looked like a green quarterback.

“Deondre looks sharp,” Cook said. “We still have some things to work on, but he’s getting better every day under that center and taking snaps from the (shot)gun,” Cook said. “That’s just the athlete and dog in him. He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the game.”

An improved offensive line: FSU’s line had just five career starts going into 2015, all from left tackle Roderick Johnson. Johnson won the ACC’s Jacobs Blocking Trophy and is one of the nation’s top left tackles. He leads a potential starting five that would include a senior, three juniors and a redshirt sophomore. The group has added weight and strength in the offseason and the experiences of last fall should help.

It’s too early to crank up the Heisman talk: No running back from the state’s Big 3 schools has won the Heisman Trophy. The obstacle for Cook is that he’s often grouped in with two other elite running backs (LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey). And a star quarterback, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, is the front-runner. However, if Cook maintains his career rushing average (107.9 yards per game) he would have 3,998 rushing yards for his career and surpass Dunn. The rushing record — and potentially FSU’s success in the win column — would be enough to put him in the Heisman discussion.

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