By Brett Jula
Florida State's Campus Correspondent
Since the turn of the century, a lot of things have changed for the Florida State football program, and most of it has not been for the better.
After enjoying perhaps the greatest run in college football history where the Seminoles had 14-straight finishes in the Associated Press poll's top-five and won two national championships, FSU fans watched their team compile an uncharacteristic 75-42 record over the past nine seasons
But the rather-abrupt end to the 'Noles' reign of dominance is a change that pales in comparison to the one they will experience in 2010.
For the first time since 1975, the iconic Bobby Bowden will not be roaming the sidelines as Florida State's head coach. While the change shouldn't be too drastic since new head coach Jimbo Fisher has been FSU's offensive coordinator since 2007, it should be a surreal feeling for everyone when Fisher - not Bowden - leads the Seminoles onto the field against Samford in their September 4 opener.
Fisher brings with him a revamped coaching staff as well, headlined by defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, the man in charge of following another legend in Mickey Andrews, who served as Bowden's defensive coordinator for 26 seasons.
Even through all the changes and transitions, one constant in Tallahassee is high expectations, and that trend continues as the 2010 season approaches.
Despite a forgettable 7-6 campaign in 2009, Florida State enters this season ranked 20th in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll and is the overwhelming favorite among media members to win the ACC's Atlantic Division. So many times in the last 10 years we've seen the 'Noles not live up to their preseason expectations, but there appears to be a different vibe surrounding this year's team with a new coaching staff and the massive chip on their shoulder from last season's disappointment, leading me to believe 2010 could be far different from past teams who failed to meet expectations.
The majority of that chip resides on the shoulders of the Seminole defense, which sophomore defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel described last year's unit as "embarrassing" at the team's media day on August 8.
Embarrassing may even be too kind of a word to describe last year's defensive performance. A unit historically known for its blazing speed and relentless pass rush, the Seminoles were the ones being torched on a weekly basis, finishing 108th nationally in total defense and 94th in points allowed, surrendering an uncharacteristic 30 points per game.
To say Stoops' work is cut out for him is likely an understatement, given the defense's struggles and the players making a defense transition from Andrews' man-to-man base defense to Stoops' multiple zone coverage and blitz schemes. The good news for Stoops is he will have plenty of talent to work with, albeit unproven.
The linebacker corps should be the defense's strongpoint led by junior Nigel Bradham, the top-rated high school linebacker back in 2008. Bradham is one of the most physically imposing linebackers in the conference and led the team in tackles as a sophomore with 93. Joining him in starting roles will be seniors Mister Alexander and Kendall Smith. Alexander came on strong last season, earning more time as the year progressed and wound up with the second-most sacks on the team with five. Also expected to make impacts this season at linebacker are highly-touted freshmen Christian Jones and Jeff Luc.
The secondary may be the biggest question mark for the Seminoles, as they will have to replace three starters from a year ago. The lone returning starter is senior cornerback Ochuko Jenije, who will likely move to safety this year. Redshirt freshman Xavier Rhodes is the leading candidate to replace first-round draft choice Patrick Robinson at the one corner position with sophomore cornerback Greg Reid holding down the other cornerback position. Reid will again also make a biggest impact on special teams, as he led the nation in punt return average last season at 18.4 yards per return as a freshman. Locking down the other safety position is junior Terrance Parks.
As much as fans will have their fingers crossed while the defense is on the field, the offense should make them breathe easier and take pressure off a defense that will need time to grow into Stoops' scheme.
Spearheading an offense that returns nine starters will be senior quarterback Christian Ponder, who is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate and will be protected by the most experienced offensive line in the conference. Ponder was sensational in his nine starts last season before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury against Clemson, leading the ACC in total offense with an average of 321.8 yards per game and throwing 14 touchdown passes.
Ponder's list of targets took a big hit when Jarmon Fortson, the team's no. 1 receiver heading into the season, was dismissed from the team earlier this month. Junior Bert Reed will now likely be Ponder's go-to guy. Reed is coming off a strong sophomore season that saw him make 60 catches for 710 yards - both good for second on the team.
Ponder loves to spread the ball around, however, and it's expected that junior Taiwan Easterling and sophomores Willie Haulstead and Rodney Smith will see their share of balls thrown in their direction. With Fortson's dismissal, it will have to be a collective effort from the receiving corps if the passing game hopes to be effective.
The backfield should be a team effort as well, as the Seminoles boast one of the deepest backfields in the nation with four backs expected to see significant snaps. Junior Jermaine Thomas and sophomore Chris Thompson should see the majority of the carries, but sophomore Lonnie Pryor proved to be effective both in the running and passing games a year ago and will be counted on to do more in 2010. Fisher is also very high on junior college transfer Debralle Smiley, who gives the Seminoles a bruising, powerful changeup from the speedy running styles of Thomas and Thompson.
Though expectations are high for the Seminoles this year, FSU does face a difficult schedule including four opponents who were ranked in the AP preseason Top 18 including arch-rival Florida (3), Oklahoma (8), Miami (13) and North Carolina (18) in addition to another tough non-conference home contest against BYU. The Seminoles, though, should have a potent offense and a defense that has nowhere to go but up, and were named by the media in the annual ACC preseason poll to reach the ACC Championship Game. Falling short of that likely will be considered a disappointment, which is putting a lot of pressure on Fisher in his first year as coach. But I expect Fisher to embrace these high expectations and use them as motivation to fuel a successful 2010 campaign.
|Head Coach Jimbo Fisher|
Florida State formally named offensive coordinator
Jimbo Fisher to succeed the legendary
Bobby Bowden as the ninth head football
coach in school history on Jan. 5, 2010. Fisher
has spent the past three seasons as FSU's offensive
coordinator and two years as head coach in-
waiting. He came to the Seminoles after
seven seasons (2000-2006) at LSU as offensive
coordinator, helping the Tigers to the 2003 BCS
National Championship. His offenses at Florida State and at LSU have been
highly ranked nationally, and he has earned a reputation as a developer of
standout quarterbacks, including Christian Ponder, who led the ACC in total
offense this past season. Under his direction, FSU has developed a balanced
offensive attack. The Seminoles were second in the ACC in total offense,
averaging 420.5 yards per game; less than two yards behind the top spot.
FSU ranked fourth in the ACC in both passing and rushing offense.While at
LSU he coached five quarterbacks who were selected in the NFL Draft and
he helped the Tigers to 70 wins (70-20 overall record) - the best seven-year
victory total in the program's storied history. LSU also made three BCS
Bowl appearances in that stretch. Fisher coached the only two 3,000-yard
career passers in LSU history in JaMarcus Russell and Rohan Davey. He
also coached the only 3,000-yard career passer in Auburn history in Damyeune
Craig. In 2001, Fisher was named a finalist for the prestigious Frank
Broyles Award, which is presented annually to the nation's top assistant
football coach. Fisher began his 22-year coaching career as a graduate assistant
at Samford with Terry Bowden in 1988, became offensive coordinator
in 1991 and moved with the younger Bowden to Auburn as quarterbacks
coach for the 1993-98 seasons. In 1999 he served one year as the offensive
coordinator at Cincinnati, where the Bearcats offense was ranked 16th
nationally. A 1989 graduate of Salem College, Fisher played quarterback
collegiately for Terry Bowden at both Salem and Samford University. At
Samford in 1987, he set a school record with 34 touchdown passes and was
named the Division III National Player of the Year.
||Samford (ESPNU, Noon)
|Sept. 11||at Oklahoma (ABC/ESPN2, 3:30 p.m.)
||BYU (ESPNU, 3:30 p.m.)
||NC State (ESPN, 7:30 p.m.)
|2010 Preseason Information|
2009 In Review
In its final season with legendary Head Coach Bobby
Bowden at the helm, Florida State won five of its final seven
games to earn its 28th consecutive bowl trip and 33rd straight
winning season under Bowden...The Seminoles' 33-21 win
over 18th-ranked West Virginia in the Konica Minolta Gator
Bowl gave FSU a 7-6 overall record while the win was the
389th and final victory for Bowden as the veteran mentor
retired after the bowl triumph...The Seminoles finished with
a 4-4 ACC record, good enough for third place in the Atlantic
Division...The finish was made more impressive by the fact
that starting QB Christian Ponder, who led the ACC in total
offense, had a spectacular season derailed by a shoulder
injury in the 9th game...Still, FSU rallied behind backup QB
EJ Manuel to win three of its last four contests...The win
over WVU was one of two for the Seminoles over a nationally-
ranked team as FSU also overwhelmed 7th-ranked BYU
on its home field, 54-28...G Rodney Hudson keyed an effective
FSU offensive line and was named the ACC's Jacobs
Blocking Trophy winner, presented annually to the league's
top blocker...Hudson was also named a first-team All-America
(FWAA, SI.com)...True freshman CB Greg Reid made an
immediate impact, leading the nation in punt returns (18.4
avg.) while returning both a punt and pass interception for
touchdowns...He was named a 3rd-team All-America by The
Sporting News and Rivals.com....LB Dekoda Watson and
CB Patrick Robinson both earned second-team All-ACC
honors while T Andrew Datko and Reid (as a specialist)
were named Honorable Mention All-ACC...Freshman NG
Jacobbi McDaniel was a 2nd-team Freshman All-America
pick by CFN.
Besides saying goodbye to Bowden, the winningest coach in
FSU history with 316 triumphs in 34 seasons, the Seminoles
also saw long-time defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews
retire. Though FSU lost only six starters, five are on defense
where most of FSU's problems occurred in 2009. Gone are
three starters in the secondary in CB Patrick Robinson, a
first round NFL draft pick, S Jamie Robinson and RV Korey
Mangum...Also missing will be big-play OLB Dekoda
Watson who led the team in tackles for loss (13.0) and QB
Sacks (6.5) as well as DE Kevin McNeil...On offense, FSU
lost WR Rod Owens, the team-leader in receptions (61) and
receiving yardage (729) and WR Jamar Fortson, its third leading
After three seasons as offensive coordinator and head coach
in waiting, Jimbo Fisher begins his inaugural season in
charge in Tallahassee welcoming several new faces to FSU's
coaching staff including that of new defensive coordinator
Mark Stoops, who arrives from Arizona... Improving the
defense will be a main priority, as FSU did not rank higher
than 77th nationally in any major defensive category...The
Seminoles do welcome back six starters including three upfront
in DE Markus White and DTs Moses McCray and
Everett Dawkins who are joined by DE Brandon Jenkins
who impressed in the spring...Also returning are FSU's top
two tacklers in LBs Nigel Bradham (93 hits) and Kendall
Smith (85 tackles)...CB Ochuko Jenije, who tied for the
team lead in interceptions (4) last year is the only returning
starter in the secondary, but Reid, a consensus first-team
Freshman All-America, impressed in part-time play...Offensively,
Fisher welcomes back 10 starters headed by Ponder,
a potential Heisman candidate, who completed 68.8 percent
of his passes for 2,717 yards in only 9 games...Ponder
should be well-protected with all five offensive line starters
returning to an offensive line in Hudson, an Outland Trophy
candidate, C Ryan McMahon, G David Spurlock and Ts
Andrew Datko and Zebrie Sanders...TB Jermaine Thomas
provided FSU's main ground threat last year, rushing for
832 yards and a 5.1 per-carry average in 10 starts, but TB's
Chris Thompson and Ty Jones are capable...Florida State's
receiver corps features a pair of returnees--WR's Bert Reed
(60) and Taiwan Easterling (35)--who combined for 95 receptions
for 1,152 yards...FSU's special teams should be improved
with both kickers returning in PK Dustin Hopkins
(19 of 27 FGs) and .P Shawn Powell (41.6, 5th in ACC).
Numbers and Notes
2 -For the second straight year G Rodney Hudson
has been selected to the Pre-Season Watch
List for the Lombardi Award and C Ryan McMahon
has been named to the pre-season Watch List
for the Rimington Award, given to the nation's
top center. Hudson and McMahon have also been
named to the watch list for the Outland Trophy.
5 - Florida State, which played the nation's 8th-toughest
schedule in 2009, is at it again as its 2010 schedule
includes five members of ESPN.com's early Top 25
team for this fall including #10 Florida, #11 Oklahoma,
#18 North Carolina #23 Miami and #25 BYU.
5th -All-America G Rodney Hudson became the
5th Seminole player to be named the winner of
the ACC's Jacobs Blocking Trophy which annually
goes to the league's top blocker. The other
Jacobs Award-winners are Clay Shiver (1994-95),
Tra Thomas (1997), Tarlos Thomas (2000) and
Brett Williams (2001-2002). A Seminole has captured
the award in 7 of the 18 years FSU has been
in the ACC.
18.4 -The average for CB-PR Greg Reid on his
21 punt returns last fall, which led the nation in
2009. Included was a 68-yard jaunt for a touchdown
against Wake Forest.
28 -Florida State has the nation's longest current
consecutive bowl participating streak. FSU's trip
to the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl last year was
its 28th straight bowl trip under Bobby Bowden.
142 -The number of combined starts by FSU's returning
offensive line--the most of any line in the
ACC--which for the second year, returns all fi ve
starters led by All-America G Rodney Hudson
(34) and C Ryan McMahon (39), but including
G David Spurlock (21) and Ts Andrew Datko
(25) and Zebrie Sanders (23).
321.8 -The average number of total offense yards
per game for Florida State QB Christian Ponder
in his nine starts last fall. The average would
have been the 6th-best total in ACC history had
he played one more game in order to have reached
the NCAA minimum standard for games played.