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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 27: Florida State

Fisher, the former right-hand man, takes over for a legend -- and is an upgrade (in 2010).

Not that this makes his departure any less painful, but the time had clearly come for Bobby Bowden and Florida State to part ways. It’s all about winning, after all, even when you – depending on who you ask – hold the record for most career victories. When it comes down to it, Bowden’s departure was not a result of his advanced aged, as Florida State would have given the 80-year-old coach an extension if he had won 10 games. Nor was his ouster solely a result of a power struggle within the university. Winning cures all and mediocrity breeds contempt, at least in major college football. (Not quite how Twain put it, I know.) Are you taking notes, Jimbo Fisher?

Conference
Atlantic Coast, Atlantic

Location
Tallahassee, Fla.

Nickname
Seminoles

Returning starters
16 (10 offense, 6 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 18

2009 record
(7-6, 4-4)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 40

2010 schedule

  • Sept. 4
    Samford
  • Sept. 11
    at Oklahoma
  • Sept. 18
    B.Y.U.
  • Sept. 25
    Wake Forest
  • Oct. 2
    at Virginia
  • Oct. 9
    at Miami (Fla.)
  • Oct. 16
    Boston College
  • Oct. 28
    at N.C. State
  • Nov. 6
    U.N.C.
  • Nov. 13
    Clemson
  • Nov. 20
    at Maryland
  • Nov. 27
    Florida

Last year’s prediction

The Seminoles have not won the Atlantic division since 2005, but I am very confident that this team will both take the division and challenge Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech as the best team in the conference. Much of my confidence stems from what I believe to be a rapidly growing and improving offense, which will have the luxury of a more experienced quarterback and even better line play. Looking at the schedule, I have the Seminoles facing a number of stiff tests (B.Y.U., Georgia Tech, U.N.C., Florida, among others), which may prevent the team from reaching 10 wins the regular season, but I’m very confident that this fall will see the Noles finish the regular season 9-3 and atop the Atlantic division.

2009 recap

In a nutshell Fisher, the former F.S.U. offensive coordinator, will face the daunting task of not only replacing a legend, but leading the Seminoles back into the national conversation. The job he has done with the offense has been solid, but Florida State’s defense has taken a significant step back not just from the glory days, but from the early 2000s. The 390 points F.S.U. allowed last fall was a new school record, shattering the previous mark and setting a new low for the Bowden era. If that side of the ball can mimic the improvements made by the F.S.U. offense, the Seminoles could return to the Top 25. That’s a big if, however. How bad was last year’s defense? Try the worst in program history, by quite a significant margin. In an eight-game stretch from Oct. 3 through the end of the regular season, F.S.U. gave up 277 points, or 34.6 points per game. It didn’t make fans feel any better that the offense, consistently strong, averaged roughly 28 points per game over this same period. So, for one final year, Fisher came out smelling like a rose, or thereabouts; beginning in 2010, he’s responsible for the total package.

High point A 54-28 win over then-No. 7 B.Y.U. on Sept. 19 nearly convinced some that Florida State was improved. While that thought turned out to be completely false, the B.Y.U. victory stood as the high poift of the season until a Gator Bowl win against West Virginia. A nice way to close out a season, but a bittersweet way to end a career.

Low point A 17-7 loss to South Florida – a team led by an amazingly inexperienced quarterback – on Sept. 26 was the beginning of the end. It would have taken a major run through A.C.C. play for Bowden and his longtime assistants to be retained; unfortunately for them, the Seminoles finished 4-4 in conference play, losing to B.C., Georgia Tech and Clemson over the next five weeks. In the season finale, Florida handed F.S.U. its third consecutive loss in the series by at least 27 points.

Tidbit As noted, F.S.U. allowed 277 points over the final eight games of the 2009 regular season. The Seminoles never allowed more than 258 points in any full season from 1984-2000. They never gave up more than 206 points in any season from 1987-94 or more than 203 points from 1996-2000. In all, F.S.U.’s 390 points allowed is 59 points greater than the next-worst defense in school history, the 1973 Seminoles. I can keep going. Florida State allowed fewer than 390 points combined in each of the following two-year periods during the Bowden era (take a deep breath): 1977-78, 1978-79, 1979-80, 1980-81, 1986-87, 1987-88, 1988-89, 1991-92, 1992-93, 1993-94, 1996-97, 1997-98, 1998-99, 1999-2000 and 2003-4.

Former players in the N.F.L.

38 OT Alex Barron (Dallas), WR Anquan Boldin (Baltimore), DE Everette Brown (Carolina), DT Brodrick Bunkley (Philadelphia), CB Tony Carter (Denver), WR Laveranues Coles (New York Jets), CB Antonio Cromartie (New York Jets), DE Chauncey Davis (Atlanta), DT Darnell Dockett (Arizona), DT Andre Fluellen (Detroit), K Graham Gano (Washington), WR Michael Ray Garvin (Detroit), WR Richard Goodman (San Diego), DT Leroy Guion (Minnesota), LB Geno Hayes (Tampa Bay), OT Mario Henderson (Oakland), OG Montrae Holland (Dallas), S Chris Hope (Tennessee), LB Kenny Ingram (New York Giants), K Sebastian Janikowski (Oakland), DT Travis Johnson (San Diego), FB Greg Jones (Jacksonville), CB Bryant McFadden (Pittsburgh), DE Eric Moore (Carolina), WR Rod Owens (New England), CB Patrick Robinson (New Orleans), S Myron Rolle (Tennessee), LS Garrison Sanborn (Buffalo), LB Ernie Sims (Philadelphia), RB Antone Smith (Atlanta), OT Tra Thomas (San Diego), LB Lawrence Timmons (Pittsburgh), LB Toddrick Verdell (Houston), RB Leon Washington (Seattle), S Pat Watkins (Dallas), LB Dekoda Watson (Tampa Bay), OG Ray Willis (Seattle), LB Kamerion Wimbley (Oakland).

Arbitrary top five list

New York Knicks point guards from 1993-1999
1. Derek Harper.
2. Charlie Ward.
3. Doc Rivers.
4. Chris Childs.
5. Greg Anthony.

Coaching

Jimbo Fisher (Salem College ’89), entering his first season at the head of one of college football’s premier programs. Fisher has been a part of the F.S.U. staff since 2006, when he was hired by Bowden to run the Seminoles’ sputtering offense. A year later, Fisher was tabbed as the coach-in-waiting when Bowden opted to retire. Of course, Fisher did not know when that would be, though he would have received a nice bonus if Bowden had remained in place for another season. For all the struggles F.S.U. has gone through since 2006, it’s difficult to place any blame upon Fisher’s offense. The Seminoles have averaged nearly 32 points per game over the last two seasons – the 434 points scored in 2008 was the program’s most since 2000 – while the defense, as noted, set new program lows last fall. It’s because of the success of his offense that Fisher has been able to escape Florida State’s recent downturn unscathed, with his reputation intact and the promise surrounding this new era at a fever pitch. In some ways, though few coaches would embrace the opportunity to replace a legend like Bowden, Bowden’s struggles over the last decade allow Fisher a bit of leeway as he adjusts to his new position. It’s not as if the Seminoles are coming off a national championship, after all, and the university does not expect one in Fisher’s first season. But don’t be confused: This is Florida State, and winning means everything. Fisher is accustomed to serving under the limelight, both as offensive coordinator at F.S.U. and in his service in the same capacity at L.S.U. (2000-6). The Tigers went 70-20 over Fisher’s seven-year period as coordinator, reaching seven bowl games, winning a pair of SEC championships (2001, 2003) and the 2003 national championship. His F.B.S. experience includes a season as the quarterbacks coach at Cincinnati (1999) and six seasons as the quarterbacks coach at Auburn (1993-98). At Auburn, Fisher coached under Terry Bowden and alongside Tommy Bowden, then the offensive coordinator. His time as an assistant coach began under one Bowden, Terry (at Samford University), and ended under another, Bobby. Florida State fans sincerely hope he learned more from the latter Bowden, obviously.

Tidbit (coaching edition) As one would expect, there are have been changes on the F.S.U. coaching staff. There are a few holdovers, however. James Coley adds the offensive coordinator title to his duties as tight ends coach, though we all know Fisher is doing the heavy lifting on offense. Lawrence Dawsey will continue as receivers coach, the great Odell Haggins as defensive tackles  coach and Rick Trickett as assistant head coach and offensive line coach. Joining these holdovers is D.J. Eliot, who will coach the defensive ends; Dameyune Craig, the new quarterbacks coach; Greg Hudson, the assistant head coach for the defense and linebackers coach; Eddie Gran, the associate head coach, special teams coordinator and running backs coach; and Mark Stoops, the defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach. Quite a mouthful. The final two names stand out, of course. Gran is both a premier running backs coach – he sent multiple backs to the N.F.L. while at Auburn – and premier recruiter. Stoops, of the coaching Stoops, most recently his brother Mike’s defensive coordinator at Arizona.

Players to watch

Perhaps no other group in the country has made quite the same improvement as the Florida State offensive line since the start of the 2008 season. Think back to that September: three freshmen starters, two sophomores; a group still struggling to find its footing under line coach Rick Trickett; a major question mark. Two years later — and with the same five starters now experienced, seasoned A.C.C. linemen — this group is one of the best in the country. One player, senior left guard Rodney Hudson, is the best interior offensive lineman in the country.

How good is Hudson? A handful of linemen don’t allow a single sack in a season; more than you’d think, in fact, especially from guard to guard. Hudson took that a step further in 2009: he didn’t allow a single quarterback pressure, an outstanding fact. Hudson is the best of this bunch — he’s the best of any bunch — yet the rest of the line warrants praise. Senior Ryan McMahon is a top 10 center in the country. Left tackle Andrew Datko, a junior, was an honorable mention all-A.C.C. choice last fall; he’s maintained his solid technique while adding much-needed size to his frame. He’ll bookend the line with Zebrie Sanders, another junior entering his third season in the starting lineup. Rounding out this group is junior David Spurlock, who will start at right guard. The line brings 142 career starts into the season, among the most of any front in the country. This group has improved with each of those starts — come September, it’s ready to dominate.

The Seminoles might have the best backup quarterback in the country in sophomore E.J. Manuel, who went 3-1 as a starter a year ago. In a perfect world, however, Manuel wouldn’t see the field in 2010. In a perfect world, Christian Ponder, the fabulous senior, would remain healthy for 13 games — 14, in fact; his 2009 campaign ended after nine games, when Ponder suffered a season-ending shoulder injury after attempting a tackle against Clemson. Christian: if you turn the ball over — you rarely do, but when you do — just head for the sidelines.

How good is Ponder? He’s a Heisman contender, in my mind, the finest F.S.U. quarterback since Chris Weinke and the best quarterback in the A.C.C. In nine games last fall, the senior threw for 2,717 yards and 14 touchdowns while completing 68.8 percent of his attempts, ranking among the most statistically impressive passers in the country in nearly every meaningful category. His one-year progression from 2008 to 2009 was among the most underrated individual improvements in the country last fall; as scary as this might sound to the rest of the conference, Ponder could make similar strides in 2010. It’s nice to have Manuel in reserve, but the Seminoles need a healthy Ponder in order to rise back to the top of the Atlantic division.

What does Ponder have to work with in the passing game? Junior Bert Reed will lead the way, much as he did a year ago in a 60-catch, 710-yard campaign; both totals led the team. Look for an improved performance from Taiwan Easterling, who played admirably last fall — 35 receptions for 442 yards — despite making a rapid recovery from an off-season Achilles tendon tear. Now a year removed from that injury, Easterling should have recovered all of the speed that made him a prized recruit — both for football and baseball — three cycles ago. This group will also receive a boost from a handful of youngsters, such as the physically imposing sophomore Rodney Smith and incoming freshmen Christian Green, Greg Dent and Kenny Shaw. Of these newcomers, Green seems the most likely to make an immediate impact. Perhaps Ponder won’t have an all-American to work with; he’ll still have several talented weapons at his disposal.

The running back situation remains muddled. This is more due to options at the position than any projected lack of production, however, with four backs capable of landing the starting role come September. It’s difficult not to view junior Jermaine Thomas as the favorite in this regard, even if he currently stands second on the depth chart. He rushed for a team-best 832 yards and 9 scores last fall, giving him 1,314 yards rushing over his first two seasons. He reached that output in 10 starts, showing an ability to make 15-20 carries per game; this was my biggest question mark for Thomas entering last season. He’ll have to fight off three fellow underclassmen to maintain his role in the starting lineup. One is junior Ty Jones, whose 251 yards rushing ranked second on the team last fall. The Seminoles could also turn sophomore Chris Thompson (120 yards, 2 touchdowns) or sophomore Lonnie Pryor (158, 4 scores), with the latter earning praise for his strong performance during the spring.

So there are few questions, if any, about the health of this offense. The defense, on the other hand, must prove itself. It might be a question of confidence for this group: Can it rebound mentally from last season’s disgrace? A new voice helps — Stoops is a proven commodity, one hungry to prove himself outside the shadow cast by the success his brothers have experienced at Oklahoma and Arizona, respectively. One thing I know about Stoops: he won’t settle for anything less than a supreme effort. Production stems from effort, says Stoops.

He’ll be very hands-on with the secondary, which returns talent but little in terms of consistent production. Any discussion of talent begins with sophomore cornerback Greg Reid, the rising superstar whose future success — barring injury — is nearly impossible to fathom. Like all freshmen, Reid did suffer from a lack of consistency last fall; nevertheless, he was able to compete against high-level competition based solely on his athletic gifts, leaving me excited as to his potential when his technique matches his physicality. He’ll join returning starter Ochuko Jenije in the starting lineup, though sophomore Xavier Rhodes will factor into the mix — at least in a nickel back capacity. Cornerback also landed a boost with Mike Harris’s arrival on campus, as the JUCO transfer’s eligibility was in question during the summer.

With all due respect to the departed starter, Korey Mangum will be very easily replaced by junior Terrance Parks. Again, no shot against Mangum, who certainly gave his best effort. He should have been replaced last season, however, and was criticized — often rightfully so — for his missteps at the back end of this defense. Parks is relatively unproven, playing in only nine games last season in a reserve role, but represents an upgrade at the position. Sophomore Nick Moody is ready to step into a starting role at free safety: he made two starts last fall, chipping in with 33 tackles as Jamie Robinson’s top reserve.

The linebacker corps took a hit following Nigel Carr’s off-field indiscretion, as the junior was expected to hold down a starting role on the strong side. His projected suspension — one year, if not more — should allow senior Mister Alexander to step into the lineup. If he can remain healthy, I might add, as Alexander has been hampered by injuries throughout his career. Alexander might also lack the size and strength to stand up on the strong side, which could force F.S.U. to entertain the notion of moving junior Nigel Bradham over from the weak side. This is a nice idea, but shouldn’t be this staff’s first move: Bradham is an all-American candidate on the weak side. That’s not to say his skill set wouldn’t translate nicely to the opposite side, just that it doesn’t necessarily make sense to tamper with success.

Let’s say Bradham remains on the weak side. Senior Kendall Smith (85 tackles, 7 for loss, 2 sacks) is back in the middle. What are the other options on the strong side? Sophomore Vince Williams has the size to stand up against the run, but he’s penciled in as Bradham’s reserve. What about Jeff Luc? Could this monster land an immediate starting role? It helped the true freshman to have arrived on campus in January, giving him valuable time learning this defense. He’s a middle linebacker, however, and best suited for that spot. Looking at the depth chart in this manner, perhaps F.S.U. would be best suited moving Bradham to the strong side: either Williams would move one spot up the depth chart or Bradham would swap spots with Alexander — a converted safety. What about Smith on the strong side, Luc in the middle? The possibilities, while not endless, are plentiful. Regardless, the group would have been stronger with Carr in the starting lineup.

Position battles to watch

Defensive line The Seminoles don’t lack for talent, as is always the case. This line must improve, however, particularly in getting to the quarterback. This onus will be on senior Markus White, whose junior campaign must be considered a disappointment. More was expected from White; more will be needed in 2010. He’ll likely be joined in the starting lineup by Brandon Jenkins, a rangy, athletic sophomore who flashed potential as an edge rusher as a true freshman last fall. This pair should start, but keep an eye on sophomore Toshmon Stevens, White’s current reserve, who should be used as a situation rusher in passing situations. What’s the issue at end? The Seminoles lack prototypical depth, as well as proven production. With this talent, however — and the new defensive coaching staff — it wouldn’t be surprising to see F.S.U. make a significant improvement in getting to the quarterback. Depth is also an issue along the interior, though it’s hard to not be excited about the potential of sophomore starters Jacobbi McDaniel and Everett Dawkins. Throw into the fire as a true freshman, McDaniel responded as well as one could expect from an unseasoned rookie: strong at times, inconsistent at others, always one snap away from making a play well beyond his years. Dawkins is easy to root for: a former defensive end, he played inside last fall — despite being woefully undersized — in an effort to aid F.S.U.’s depth. Now with an added 20 pounds on his frame, he could be poised for a big season.

Game(s) to watch

Rivalry games with Miami and Florida top the list. Not to mention games against Oklahoma and B.Y.U. in September. Keep an eye on the the Boston College game, which should determine the winner of the Atlantic division. Wake and Clemson have given F.S.U. fits in recent years.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell Calm down, take a deep breath and relax. This season will be marked by transitions, both along the sidelines and on the field, with this proud program searching for its voice under this new coaching staff — the first new staff since 1976, Bowden’s debut season. What should we expect? A better performance, without question. Don’t for a moment think it’s sacrilegious to call Fisher an upgrade over Bowden, or his new crop of assistants an upgrade over Bowden’s old buddies — he is and they are, at least when comparing the 2010 staff to the 2009 version. Will this improvement manifest itself in the win column? Most certainly: anything less than eight regular season wins would be surprising. Nevertheless, despite the potentially dominant offensive attack, don’t look for this team to put forth the type of performance I believe we’ll begin to see from these Fisher-led Seminoles in the near future — say, beginning in 2011. As for this season, however, I expect a few missteps. Landing Stoops was a coup for Fisher; nevertheless, the defense remains a question mark. The Seminoles don’t lack for talent — at every level, in fact. Still, this group needs to come together under a new voice, with a slightly tweaked philosophy, and will be tested by a handful of strong offensive attacks. The F.S.U. offense, on the other hand, should again rank among the best in the conference; this group, like the defense, will face several talented attacks: Oklahoma, B.Y.U., U.N.C. and Florida, among others. Having said that, it’s impossible to find any qualms with this offense, which won’t struggle for points. Remember: in the big picture, this is a very young team — especially on defense. A new day has dawned in Tallahassee, one that should have fans primed for a revival in the near future. I think strides will be taken in 2010, but F.S.U. is not quite ready to be viewed as one of the Top 25 teams — teams, not in terms of its talent — in the country. This team is close… but let’s give Fisher one year to remove the negatives — lack of effort, for starters — that plagued Bowden’s last teams. If the early reports are to be believed, he’s already pushed this team forward in that area.

Dream season Fisher leads the Seminoles to 10 wins, a program first since 2003.

Nightmare season Florida State hits a new low: 5-7, the program’s first losing season since 1976.

In case you were wondering

Where do Florida State fans congregate? Warchant.com and Nole Digest house the two largest and most dedicated message boards for F.S.U. chatter, but the best football coverage is found at Tomahawk Nation. As always, let me know of any sites I may have missed.

Up Next

Who is No. 26? Our next program’s mascot made an appearance at the opening ceremonies for the XIX Olympic Winter Games.

You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. Zaboo says:

    Utah makes sense at 26, although I have a hard time believing Swoop was at the ceremonies.

    Members of the Ute tribe might have been, though.

  2. Ezra says:

    if the Utes are #26, they’re substantially under-rated.

  3. TresselBall says:

    Tremendous. We are almost in the Top 25. Can you smell it men?

  4. Drew says:

    Boston College cracks the Top 25? Take that, USA Today Coaches’ Poll!

  5. Joey says:

    yes Drew! BC is in the top 25 above ND FSU and Clemson. Based on these rankings we will be projected to lose 1 game to VT probably. i like the respect

    Paul: Please don’t consider the ranking to signify which team would win on a neutral field. I think B.C. will achieve more than Clemson, but could certainly lose to the Tigers on any given Saturday.

  6. Joey says:

    i understand paul

  7. Zaboo says:

    Unfortunately, this also means Stanford is in the top 25…

    Ugh, this defense-less team going this high is… defenseless.

  8. Tom says:

    Look — I like Stanford too. But Top 25? How do you replace Toby Gerhart? (Trick question. You can’t.). 8-win season in down-year Pac 10 would be a reasonable miracle.

  9. Washington Irving says:

    I’ve appreciated all of your previews this summer, but it’s difficult to judge at the margin how informed the analysis is until you read the breakdown of the team you follow most closely. This is the most well-reasoned, insightful and complete analysis I’ve seen on FSU, and I wanted to give you your due. Well done.

  10. [...] Five and Five: No. 27, Florida State By PAUL MYERBERG Paul Myerberg is getting you ready for the upcoming college football season over at Pre-Snap Read. The Quad will also feature a daily look at each of Paul’s top 50 teams in the country heading into the season opener. Today’s team, No. 27, is Florida State. You can find a larger Florida State preview here. [...]

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