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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. 3: Florida State

Miami is no longer a threat. Florida’s lack of offensive punch has left the Gators lagging behind. Nowadays, Florida State’s title quest runs through two A.C.C. opponents: Clemson in the Atlantic, Virginia Tech in the Coastal. For every team with title aspirations, the first step towards greatness comes during conference play; the Seminoles must first tackle the Tigers and Hokies before turning their sights towards the rest of college football’s landscape. But with this the year that F.S.U. puts it all together under Jimbo Fisher, the Seminoles can begin readjusting their line of vision – the Seminoles can think bigger, beyond the boundaries of the A.C.C., and begin measuring themselves against the truly elite: Alabama, Oregon, L.S.U., U.S.C., Georgia, Oklahoma and the rest. How does F.S.U. measure up? The talent is there. The coaching is there. The confidence is there. The schedule is certainly there. What’s this team’s ceiling? Try Sun Life Stadium – on Jan. 7, 2013.

Conference
Atlantic Coast, Atlantic

Location
Tallahassee, Fla.

Nickname
Seminoles

Returning starters
16 (8 offense, 8 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 4

2011 record
(9-4, 5-3)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 23

2012 schedule

  • Sept. 1
    Murray St.
  • Sept. 8
    Savannah St.
  • Sept. 15
    Wake Forest
  • Sept. 22
    Clemson
  • Sept. 29
    at U.S.F.
  • Oct. 6
    at N.C. St.
  • Oct. 13
    Boston College
  • Oct. 20
    at Miami (Fla.)
  • Oct. 27
    Duke
  • Nov. 8
    at Virginia Tech
  • Nov. 17
    at Maryland
  • Nov. 24
    Florida

Last year’s prediction

I’m talking a jump from 10-4 to 14-0, though there’s that looming date with Oklahoma growing closer and closer in the distance. What needs to go right in order for F.S.U. to run the table? Not all that much, but the small factors that must go this team’s way is what provides the slight distance between the Seminoles and Alabama, Boise State and the Sooners, the three best teams in the country, in my mind. I think the Seminoles drop one game in the regular season — and no, I’m not automatically saying that loss will be Oklahoma. This outstanding defensive line could chew up and spit out the O.U. offensive front, mind you. But I think we’ll see one slip-up for a relatively young team, albeit one with solid experience.

2011 recap

In a nutshell Perhaps not the finish Florida State imagined in August, but the Seminoles did weather several storms in winning at least nine games for the second straight season — something the program hadn’t achieved since 2003-4. Perhaps no other team in college football was so drastically stymied by injuries, and not just at quarterback, where E.J. Manuel again struggled staying on the field, but also along the back end of the defense and the offensive line. By the time the Seminoles took the field against Notre Dame in late December, the offensive line was manned by four true freshmen. One, 17-year-old right tackle Bobby Hart, should have been in high school. Yet the Seminoles persevered, perhaps coming with one or two breaks of an 11-win regular season.

High point Another sweep of the Sunshine State. Not that either win was pretty, mind you. On Nov. 12, F.S.U. overcame a late Miami (Fla.) charge and its own offensive incompetence in a 23-19 home win. In the regular season finale, the Seminoles gained only 95 yards of total offense in a 21-7 win over Florida in Gainesville.

Low point The games that got away. After tying Oklahoma at 13-13, the Seminoles allowed 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter for its first loss of the season. That was followed by a 35-30 loss at Clemson, which was followed by a 35-30 loss at Wake Forest. A 14-13 loss to Virginia in November literally brought Jimbo Fisher to his knees.

Tidbit Florida State enters 2012 having held its last eight opponents to 19 points or less: Duke, Maryland, N.C. State, Boston College, Miami (Fla.), Virginia, Florida and Notre Dame. This is the longest streak in the A.C.C. since the Hurricanes’ nine-game stretch in 2005. To snap Miami’s mark – putting another notch in their belt at Miami’s expense, I should add – the Seminoles merely need to slow down Murray State and Savannah State to open the season.

Tidbit (kicking edition) Senior kicker Dustin Hopkins won’t set the F.B.S. record consecutive extra-points made, unless F.S.U. puts together the greatest offense in football history. Entering his senior season, Hopkins has made 130 straight extra-points; the record, 233 straight, is held by former Texas Tech kicker Alex Trlica. What lies in Hopkins’ path is the A.C.C. record, however: that’s 160 straight, by former Georgia Tech kicker Luke Manget.

Tidbit (defense edition) The Seminoles have allowed 278.8 yards per game and 4.2 yards per play in the team’s 19 wins over the last two seasons. In contrast, F.S.U. has allowed 403.7 yards per game and 5.5 yards per play in its eight losses since the start of the 2010 season.

Former players in the N.F.L.

32 LB Mister Alexander (Houston), WR Anquan Boldin (Baltimore), LB Nigel Bradham (Buffalo), DE Everette Brown (Detroit), DT Brodrick Bunkley (Philadelphia), CB Tony Carter (Denver), CB Antonio Cromartie (New York Jets), OT Andrew Datko (Green Bay), DE Chauncey Davis (Chicago), DT Darnell Dockett (Arizona), DT Andre Fluellen (Detroit), WR Richard Goodman (San Diego), DT Letroy Guion (Minnesota), CB Mike Harris (Jacksonville), LB Geno Hayes (Chicago), OT Mario Henderson (San Diego), S Chris Hope (Atlanta), C Rodney Hudson (Kansas City), K Sebastian Janikowski (Oakland), FB Greg Jones (Jacksonville), S Terrance Parks (Kansas City), QB Christian Ponder (Minnesota), P Shawn Powell (Buffalo), CB Patrick Robinson (New Orleans), LS Garrison Sanborn (Buffalo), OT Zebrie Sanders (Buffalo), RB Antone Smith (Atlanta), LB Lawrence Timmons (Pittsburgh), RB Leon Washington (Seattle), LB Dekoda Watson (Tampa Bay), LB Markus White (Washington), LB Kamerion Wimbley (Tennessee).

Arbitrary top five list

Quarterbacks in New York, 1995
1. Charlie Ward.
2. Boomer Esiason.
3. Dave Brown.
4. Tommy Maddox.
5. Bubby Brister.

Coaching

Jimbo Fisher (Salem College ’89), 19-8 after two seasons at the head of one of college football’s premier programs. Fisher has been a part of the F.S.U. staff since 2007, when he was hired by Bobby Bowden to run the Seminoles’ sputtering offense. A year later, Fisher was tabbed as the head-coach-in-waiting when Bowden opted to retire. For all the struggles F.S.U. went through from 2007-9, it’s difficult to place any blame upon Fisher’s offense. The Seminoles averaged nearly 32.0 points per game from 2008-9 – the 434 points scored in 2008 was the program’s most since 2000 – while the defense set new program lows in 2009. It’s because of the success of his offense that Fisher was 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, his predecessor’s struggles over the last decade allowed Fisher a bit of leeway as he adjusted to his new position. 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.

Offensive line to watch

The only position grouping where F.S.U. doesn’t rank among the top two in the A.C.C. – and the Seminoles are no lower than second elsewhere, and a very distinct first more often than not – is the offensive line, where Rick Trickett’s search for the best starting five might continue into the early stages of this coming season. Before getting to personnel, three reasons why F.S.U.’s front is ready to take a step forward: one, this is obviously a drastically more experienced group, even if the Seminoles lost a trio of contributors in Andrew Datko, Zebrie Sanders and David Spurlock; two, this is far and away the program’s biggest line in years; and three, I see subtly improved depth across the board, especially along the interior. The line will be better – but just how much better, and what sort of improvement does F.S.U. need to see up front to win a national championship?

The first answer: quite a bit better, for the reasons listed above. The second answer: F.S.U. would need to not only find a starting five and at least three competent reserves, but would also need to stick with the same group, not to mention avoid injuries. There were simply far too many moving pieces last fall, in large part due to injuries, for this offensive front to find any rhythm or momentum over the course of the year. The end result was the four-freshmen lineup F.S.U. trotted out against Notre Dame; while the rookies acquitted themselves as well as could be expected, that’s obviously not an optimal scenario.

What’s been striking to me is that Fisher and Trickett clearly started from scratch when evaluating this line heading into 2012. Take left tackle, for instance, where F.S.U. is going to open the year with sophomore Cameron Erving, a converted defensive tackle who has taken well to the role since swapping sides earlier this offseason. Two of the four Champs Sports Bowl freshmen will retain their starting roles: Josue Matias at left guard and Tre’ Jackson at right guard. The line will take its cue from junior center Bryan Stork, the most seasoned returning contributor; while still an option outside, Stork’s experience could be a huge asset between the two sophomores. While junior Menelik Watson is listed as the starter at right tackle, it’s safe to say that he and senior Daniel Glauser are co-starters – both are going to play until one puts a stranglehold on the top spot.

So what do I see up front? I see a line that will get better as the year wears on, should everyone remain healthy. I see very good interior depth in senior Jacob Fahrenkrug and sophomores Bobby Hart, Austin Barron and Sterling Lovelady. I see question marks outside, with a converted defender on the blind side and a still-unsettled competition on the right. I see a line that will do a tremendously better job running between the gaps from left to right guard. I see a line that remains somewhat questionable in pass protection, due to the issues at tackle. What else? Consider: F.S.U. opens with Murray State and Savannah State. This line needs to slide into the season without being overly tested. In addition, I only see two teams with the sort of fronts that could potentially take advantage of F.S.U.’s lingering concerns over protection: Virginia Tech and Florida.

There’s no sugarcoating this fact: F.S.U.’s ability to win the national title hinges entirely – 100 percent, every single iota – on the line’s ability to protect the quarterback. You’ve heard about E.J. Manuel’s inability to stay healthy; well, one way to keep the senior healthy is to keep him clean. With a healthy Manuel and a strong interior running game, Fisher’s offense is ready to take off. This offense goes only as far as the line takes it; Florida State goes only as far as the offense takes it. If all goes according to plan, Trickett has cemented a starting five by Wake Forest, the line stays healthy all season and the two starting tackles help F.S.U. maintain a comfortable pocket.

Players to watch

E.J. Manuel is ready to make a run for the Heisman. This is my opinion, and it’s an opinion based on the idea that Manuel, while a senior, is only just now prepared to take the mammoth-sized step forward that all quarterbacks take once they accumulate ample experience. Consider: Manuel was thrown to the wolves as a freshman in 2009, when he was totally unprepared for a starting role; he was much improved in 2010, when he made 93 attempts as Christian Ponder’s backup; and was often great last fall, especially after the loss to Wake Forest. You’ve seen steady and clear progression over the last three seasons, but what you have not seen is Manuel getting prolonged snaps in the starting lineup. Even with his experience in 2009 and 2010, Manuel should be considered a second-year starter.

The light is about to turn on. While the numbers won’t necessarily show this fact – just in his own league, Tajh Boyd and Mike Glennon will have loftier totals – Manuel’s physical gifts rank him very much among the elite class of quarterbacks in college football. Most of all, he’s a good fit for what F.S.U. wants to do on offense: Manuel is not only supremely accurate in the intermediate game, but also overlooked nationally as a downfield passer – in all, Manuel is one of the most accurate throwers in the country. The issue isn’t just experience but also staying healthy, as we saw last fall; in that case, it’s on the line to keep Manuel upright. There should be no question that Manuel can get it done for this offense.

He can do even more. I loved Manuel’s performance against Notre Dame, when, on a fractured fibula, he willed an injury-ravaged offense to a four-point win. That’s the sort of performance that not only wins hearts and minds but also lends confidence, and you could say that at that point – after two uneven weeks – Manuel needed a boost more than most. So what’s he going to do as a senior? Make his name known nationally. I know that Manuel still has much to prove, but if he can stay clean, he’ll absolutely pick teams apart in the short game, over the middle, downfield and on play-action. In my mind, Manuel’s ready for a big year – he’s going to lead this offense to the top of the A.C.C. and into a B.C.S. bowl.

The running game welcomes back senior Chris Thompson, who missed most of last season with a back injury. Two years ago, Thompson led the team in rushing; with him sidelined, the Seminoles turned to sophomore Devonta Freeman (579 yards), whose struggles mirrored the injury issues up front – after rushing for a combined 209 yards against Duke and Maryland, Freeman gained 290 yards on 69 carries over the year’s final six games. Stronger play up front will lead to greater production on the ground, as you might expect, but don’t look for one back to do all of the heavy lifting: F.S.U. will continue sharing the wealth among two or three backs. What Thompson gives this offense isn’t a 200-carry back but rather some big-play potential, and this was missing last fall.

The third option would be James Wilder Jr., an awesomely gifted sophomore who is still finding his footing in this offense. At the very worst – if Wilder Jr. continues to struggle with the mental side of the game – he can be a valuable option in short-yardage situations, especially near the goal line. If everything clicks, Wilder Jr. can be a 125-carry, tough-running top back who can be extremely successful running behind the interior of the offensive line. But it’s not necessarily just a matter of time for Wilder Jr.; he has a tremendous amount to prove before making the sort of impact most expected upon his arrival. If he falters, F.S.U. could turn the short-yardage role over to senior fullback Lonnie Pryor.

When discussing F.S.U.’s recruiting efforts since Fisher took over prior to the 2010 season, most highlight the staff’s ability to reel in five-star defensive tackle after five-star tackle – and it has been impressive, by the way. But nearly as impressive has been the way this staff has rebuilt F.S.U.’s receiver corps to the point where it ranks among the deepest groups in the country. Leading the way is sophomore Rashad Greene (38 receptions for 596 yards and 7 scores), who led the team last fall in each major receiving category despite two major impediments: one, he was a rookie, and two, he missed four full games due to injury. A year later – and after an absolutely sublime performance against the Irish – Greene is poised to become one of A.C.C.’s top three receivers.

F.S.U. will go eight deep at the position. There’s Greene and Rodney Smith (36 for 561), a lanky senior who must be used more in the red zone. There’s junior Jarred Haggins and dangerous sophomore Christian Green (26 for 450), who head into the opener jostling for the starting role in the slot. Juniors Kenny Shaw (34 for 418), Greg Dent (12 for 236) and Willie Haulstead, the latter back from injury, supply superb depth. Freshman Marvin Bracy has worked his way into the two-deep. Redshirt freshman Kelvin Benjamin gives F.S.U. another bigger target on the outside. At tight end, the Seminoles return sophomore Nick O’Leary (12 for 164) and add in Penn State transfer Kevin Haplea, who could be a huge asset as a blocker. Loaded – this group is packed to the gills.

Take note: Something special is happening in Tallahassee. In 2010, Mark Stoops’ first season as defensive coordinator, F.S.U. moved from 109th nationally in total defense to 42nd; to 20th nationally in scoring after bottoming out at 94th in 2009. Last fall, the Seminoles leapt into rarefied air: fourth in total defense, second against the run, fourth in scoring. How does that look? Well, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Every piece of the front four returns, should one potential contributor return from injury. While there’s one publicized loss in the secondary, it’s unbelievably survivable – don’t believe what you hear about Greg Reid’s departure having a huge impact on F.S.U.’s pass defense. And the Seminoles are entering their third season under Stoops. This defense is going to be filthy.

It’s a defense led by the best defensive line in college football – yes, better than L.S.U.’s front. It’s so good it’s scary: F.S.U.’s talent, depth, experience and potential makes it one of the great positional groupings in the entire country, in fact. I’m not sure where to begin – at end or inside. I could sum up the interior in one sentence: sophomore Timmy Jernigan (30 tackles, 6.5 for loss) is a backup. That’s all you need to know.

Jernigan, a future star – he could be a star today for nearly every other program in the F.B.S. – will serve as the backup at nose guard to senior Amp McCloud (25 tackles, 5.0 for loss), a returning starter. That’s fantastic. To start the year, the third option on the nose will be redshirt freshman Nile Lawrence-Stample, though that’s not the Seminoles’ only option; if he’s healthy, senior Jacobbi McDaniel would slide into the rotation at the position. But that’s a question mark. Is McDaniel, who injured his ankle last October, going to play at all this season or take a redshirt, creating more separation for this program? That’s the only question Fisher, Stoops and this staff need to answer before starting conference play.

Senior Everett Dawkins (25 tackles) will start at the three-technique spot, backed up by junior Demonte McAllister and true freshman Eddie Goldman, who has thus far lived up to his five-star billing. And what about the program’s second five-star recruit, Mario Edwards? There’s so much talent at end as to likely leave Edwards on the sidelines, barring injury. The starting pairing of junior Bjoern Werner (37 tackles, 7.0 sacks) and senior Brandon Jenkins (41 tackles, 8.0 sacks) trails only Texas’ Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat for the best duo in the country; their top backup, senior Tank Carradine (38 tackles, 5.5 sacks) is like Jernigan: he’d start everywhere else, just not in Tallahassee. This group is going to eat offensive linemen for lunch or dinner, depending on the time at kickoff.

Losing Reid hurts far more on special teams than it does in the secondary, though F.S.U. does need to find his replacement in the starting lineup. As expected, Stoops – who also coaches the secondary – will head into the opener with sophomore Nick Waisome as the starter. But that will change, with the only question how quickly F.S.U. opts to move true freshman Ronald Darby, a major recruit, into the lineup at field cornerback. For Waisome, any hope of retaining the top spot depends not on his ability to force turnovers but rather his ability to play error-free football; if he’s consistent in his technique, doesn’t freelance and plays up to Stoops’ baseline for the position, Waisome could be one of the great surprises on this defense. However, I’d be very surprised if Darby doesn’t move ahead of the sophomore before the heart of A.C.C. play.

F.S.U. has two all-American candidates in the secondary. The first is junior Xavier Rhodes (43 tackles), who, when healthy, motivated and on his game, can be one of the best cornerbacks in the country. The second is strong safety Lamarcus Joyner (54 tackles, 4 interceptions), who moves over from free safety, and superlatives run dry when discussing the junior. There’s nothing he can’t do: run with receivers – he played cornerback in the bowl game – jam up in the box, cover downfield from sideline to sideline – this defense asks much of Joyner, and he delivers without fail. And you know what? I feel like he’s not valued to the right level nationally. Folks should pay attention: Joyner’s a star. Rounding out the secondary is free safety Terrence Brooks, who played behind Joyner a year ago.

Where’s the weakness? Nowhere. The front four will throw body after body after body at offensive lines, eventually wearing down all but a select few groups in the country – perhaps Alabama, and I’d love to see these lines go head-to-head in January. If the interior is as good as it can be, it’ll absolutely dominate Clemson’s offensive front; likewise Virginia Tech, though the Hokies will have two months to round into form before taking on the Seminoles. The linebackers are steady but overshadowed, as I’ll touch on below. Joyner is a glue piece for the entire secondary. Could this be the best defense in college football? Without even the slightest doubt.

Reid’s departure does leave a hole on punt returns, as mentioned above. F.S.U.’s solution will be use Greene and Shaw, and while both are gifted, it’s only logical to expect a downturn in explosiveness. The Seminoles will also continue to use Joyner on kick returns, which is a mistake; he’s far too valuable. F.S.U. also loses one of the nation’s best punters in Shawn Powell, which is a second concern. In a positive vein, there aren’t many better than Hopkins: he’s prolific, accurate, consistent, steady under fire and a major, major weapon on kickoffs.

Position battle(s) to watch

Linebacker The Seminoles are going to miss Nigel Bradham on the weak side; he was the first F.S.U. defender since the great Marvin Jones to lead the team in tackles in three straight years. But while F.S.U. will miss Bradham’s leadership, you have to love what this year’s group, which returns two starters and a few meaningful reserves, can achieve behind F.S.U.’s jaw-dropping defensive front. The Seminoles made two noteworthy moves: one was transitioning junior Christian Jones (58 tackles, 3.0 sacks) from the strong side into Bradham’s old shoes on the weak side. In the second move, Stoops and this staff pushed strong safety Nick Moody (23 tackles), a former starter, into Jones’ role on the strong side. So it’ll be this pair flanking senior Vince Williams (54 tackles, 5.0 for loss) and junior Telvin Smith (42 tackles, 8.5 for loss).

F.S.U. will use the same rotation inside: Williams is the more prototypical middle linebacker, one who can give this defense strong support against the run, while Smith’s strength lies in his ability to play in space and in coverage. Depth on the outside comes from redshirt freshman Terrance Smith and true freshman Reggie Northrup, who will open the year on the strong and weak side, respectively. So why is this one of the top two linebackers corps in the A.C.C.? Because of the big boys up front, for one, but also because of the group’s flexibility: Moody’s background will be an asset, the Williams-Smith combination is extremely useful and Jones can clearly shift from the weak to the strong side in a pinch. These guys can get it done.

Game(s) to watch

This is a nice way to slide into the season: four straight home games, starting with two F.C.S. foes and ending with Clemson. The big games? Clemson’s a big one, though the Seminoles can still take home the Atlantic with a loss. Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg on extra rest, is a conference title game preview. This year, Florida comes to Tallahassee. Every game is big, in fact, because F.S.U. is not earning a berth in the national championship game unless it runs the table – of this I’m nearly 100 percent sure. The Seminoles will get up for Clemson and the Hokies, especially with the latter on a Thursday night, but I can see two trap games: South Florida and N.C. State. The former comes right after Clemson, so there is a slight chance for a letdown. N.C. State is an interesting team, especially if Glennon can get rolling early. But it should be said that neither team should beat the Seminoles; F.S.U. is outrageously more talented than both.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell Barring injury, which sidelined Florida State’s quest for a breakthrough last fall, this team will challenge for the national title. There’s simply too much to like and too few question marks, even if the one issue does loom large: the offensive line. For me, the question isn’t whether F.S.U. is going to do a better job running the football; the line’s overall size – drastically improved over the recent past – and strong interior ensures that F.S.U. will taste far greater success on the ground. The question revolves around the line’s ability to keep Manuel clean, and this will remain a concern until the two new tackles take on teams like Wake Forest and Clemson to end September. If the line rounds into form – and I think it will, though it won’t be a dominating group – there may not be a better team in college football.

Manuel is going to have a superb season. Returning Thompson at running back grants the backfield a much-needed big-play threat to go with Wilder Jr., Pryor and Freeman. The receiver corps is one of the deepest in the nation. There’s no better front four in the country: F.S.U.’s defensive line is going to rip game plans to shreds. While overshadowed, the Seminoles’ linebackers are quick, flexible and strong in coverage, especially when Smith steps in for Williams at middle linebacker. There are two all-American candidates in the secondary, led by one of the nation’s best in Joyner. There is a dangerous amount of talent, some wonderful coaching, some tremendous depth and competition across the board – and there’s the feeling that this program is chomping at the bit for September.

I’m still convinced that last year’s team could have made a championship run. Not to win the title, perhaps, but to hang in the mix deep into November. In other words, I don’t think F.S.U. disappointed last fall, falling short of expectations for the umpteenth consecutive season; Seminoles were simply decimated by injuries. A year later, F.S.U. is ready to break out. There’s too much here: there’s too much for Fisher and his staff to work with. The schedule is too workable to miss this shot. There are seniors in key spots, gifted underclassmen at others, the program’s best depth in years. It’s all about living up to expectations, both along the offensive line and on a team-wide level. It’s time for F.S.U.’s renaissance. The only reason I have F.S.U. here, behind Oregon and L.S.U., is due to the fact that I can think that the Seminoles have a better chance of losing a game – whether because the line struggles, or Manuel is injured – than the Ducks and Tigers. No matter how you cut it, this team is superb.

Dream season Florida State nets its third national title and second undefeated season behind Heisman-worthy quarterback play and the strongest defense in college football. A few choice scores: F.S.U. 41, Clemson 21; F.S.U. 38, South Florida 3; F.S.U. 56, Miami 2; F.S.U. 28, Virginia Tech 10; F.S.U. 39, Florida 7.

Nightmare season The Seminoles suffer another round of terrible injuries, especially along the offensive line, and finish 9-3 overall and second in the Atlantic division.

In case you were wondering

Where do Florida State fans congregate? The best football coverage can be found at Tomahawk Nation, which is really, really tremendous, for F.S.U. and non-F.S.U. fans alike. There’s also Nole Digest, Warchant.com and Noles247.com for additional recruiting notes and healthy message board chatter. For more traditional coverage, check out the Web sites of The Orlando Sentinel and the Tallahassee Democrat.

Florida State’s all-name nominee DT Nile Lawrence-Stample.

Word Count

Through 122 teams 504,825.

Up Next

Who is No. 2? It’s the team that’s not No. 1. No free giveaways this year.

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Comments

  1. cedar rapids says:

    Akron?

  2. Josh H. says:

    Close Cedar Rapids…but my guess goes to Youngstown St. ;)

  3. David says:

    Oregon

  4. Eksynyt says:

    LSU

  5. Onemangang says:

    The Noles sound pretty good…

  6. Gotham Gator says:

    Why look at a calendar? The pundits are anointing F.S.U. a top 5 team and predicting their return to college football’s elite. That means it must be August. Because, nobody says those things in January. Come to think of it, they usually don’t say those things in October.

  7. NOLEITNOW says:

    @Gotham Gator
    Typical gaytor fan. F.U. will have another unproductive game against the Noles at the end of the season…not to mention against L.S.U, Alabama, and Georgia. I wish the gaytors good luck because they are going to need it to have a winning season.
    GO NOLES!!!!!!

  8. George says:

    Great write-up as usual Paul.

    One minor nit to pick: Lorenzo Booker is a Bear this season – at least as of right now.

  9. GayturdsRCryers says:

    Gotham Gator – are your jean shorts on too tight?

  10. DownByTheRiverWalkinOnWater says:

    see you in November for your 3rd consecutive loss, Gotham Gator.

  11. Rob says:

    Gotham,

    I am surprised you can write, because you show no evidence of having read anything in this preview. May God have mercy on your soul.

  12. 4th Down Back says:

    Luv the SEC talking points. FSU over hyped, blah blah blah, SEC strength of schedule, blah blah blah. Save it for the Finebaum show.

  13. Clay Davis says:

    Great writeup. If the OL can give EJ enough time to run plays against Clemson and then continue to gel as the year progresses, I see this team having no more than 1 loss (VaTech). There is not one team other than Tech that this shouldn’t beat soundly.

  14. Bill Condon says:

    Paul, Paul, Paul. I do love your analyses, but I don’t understand your continuing love affair with FSU. Teams that lose to Wake Forest and Virginia and that have proven unable to beat the top teams in their own not-so-strong conference don’t just jump from 9-4 to the top 5 in the country or to the national championship game. Didn’t happen last year (you predicted a #4 finish, while you re-ranked them at #23 by season’s end). Save these top spots for teams that deserve them. Then again, if you didn’t have these little quirks, your work would be SO good that we’d all hate you for it.

    As usual, a great analysis of the team. Thanks for that. Because of you, I am the best-informed college football fan among by friends, who, despite my encouragement, just don’t read this blog. Their loss.

  15. RedBaron says:

    Noles looks really good this year. Their gonna pound my gators into the ground AGAIN!

  16. Jmac823200 says:

    @Bill, I don’t understand how you don’t understand. I mean he’s CLEARLY laid out his case and it really is hard to argue against it. Yes, they lost 4 games last year but if you look at the fashion in which they lost, you’ll see that they were actually a FEW plays away from winning those games. OU, at that time was the better team and there aren’t really any excuses for UVA. This team could have easily been 11-1 (Loss to OU) just like that. The BIG if for FSU is the Offensive Line if the OL plays well, FSU will have a great year. Everyone think it’s an excuse but this team was really hit hard with the injury bug. How often do 4 true freshmen start a bowl game on the line? Probably hasn’t happened in the modern CFB Era. The played well late in the game on all those guys (included others) have returned.

  17. Hokieshibe says:

    “FSU is back!”
    -every sports writer every August for the last 5 years

    I’m glad they finally learned to stop hyping Miami…

  18. Bill Condon says:

    Jmac, I think FSU’s a good team–but not a great team. Over the years since Fisher assumed the reins, they’ve had great talent and a lot of excuses for why the season went south on them (evidence that they’re good is that 9-4 is “south”). And they scheduled far better opponents when they were independent than they have since they have been required to play mostly ACC teams. A good team can build a good record within the ACC and then tank outside. But FSU has lacked consistency even inside the ACC (Wake, UVA), so until they can leap that hurdle, I don’t see them as worthy to be a top 5 team. Top 25? Usually so.

  19. peace says:

    If we have normal injury luck we should be pretty good. Phil Steele said we lost 41 starts to injury last year. More then any unit in the country last year. Were going to be good knock on wood, how good depends on the oline and injuries.

  20. Lee says:

    FSU doesn’t have the o-line to win a national title. Manuel is also way to inconsistent. Their defense is title worthy though.

    My Gators are going to give them all they can handle this fall.

    Both teams have great defenses and bad offenses.

  21. Jmac823200 says:

    @Bill at this point, nobody deserves to be ranked but can you honestly name many teams that you think will be better? This is a game of luck but if their were no injuries on any teams at all last year, FSU doesn’t lose 4 games. The most they lose is 2 (OU and UVA) but I honestly think they’d lose only to OU. FSU was a good team last year with bad luck.

  22. Bill condon says:

    Look at Paul’s rankings. You are pretty much admitting that OU belongs above them and probably West Va. So they are 13 at best. I also think Arkansas and Stanford can beat FSU. So like i said, I put FSU in the top 25, but not the top 5. But hey–we get to start finding out for realz THIS WEEK! Gotta love opening week.

  23. Jmac823200 says:

    Although I believe FSU is a better team this year, putting OU ahead of them would be fair. West Virginia would not beat FSU (they have their number), Arkansas maybe if the coach were not fired they’d have a chance but Stanford definitely wouldn’t have a chance. FSU has an SEC caliber defense. If they are they nation’s best, don’t be surprised. Mark it down when the draft comes around.

    Cheers to opening weekend! The only thing that sucks for me is that I have to be up @ 3AM for the ND vs. Army game since I’m in Hawaii.

  24. Bill Condon says:

    @Jmac–agreed on the FSU D. As for ND/Army–OUCH! I have a hard enough time watching east coast games at 9:00 a.m. You are dedicated.

  25. Dave says:

    First off, neither of those first two games should even count towards the win column. One FCS patsy is weak enough, but TWO? Come on, Noles, you’re better than that. Just schedule Talahassee High and get it over with.

    Second, way to keep it classy with the “gaytors” comments. This isn’t ESPN.com.

    I’ve got no love for the SEC in general or UF in particular, but I know who I’ll be rooting for on Nov. 24.

  26. Gotham Gator says:

    I am a very happy Gator today. I am also feeling very clever after posting the below on this article on August 30.

    Why look at a calendar? The pundits are anointing F.S.U. a top 5 team and predicting their return to college football’s elite. That means it must be August. Because, nobody says those things in January. Come to think of it, they usually don’t say those things in October.

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