Countdown to Kickoff: Florida State Seminoles
Fisher Looks to Take Next Step Forward
At many schools, consecutive bowl wins accompanied by 19 wins and a 4-0 mark against your two main in-state rivals would constitute a successful couple of seasons. At Florida State, where lofty goals continue to adhere to the standard set by the program's late-90s heyday, Jimbo Fisher's first two seasons merely signify the beginning of the job. FSU's 2011 season received a mixed review. Though battered by injury which made its offensive line a revolving door and cost QB EJ Manuel one game and parts of two others, the team started 2-0 out of the gate, lost three straight, then reeled off a 7-1 closing stretch that was capped by a 31-7 thumping of Florida and a tightly contested 18-14 Champs Sports Bowl win over Notre Dame.
There are plenty of reasons to believe that this could be a resurgent year for Florida State. The 'Noles return 16 starters from a group that suffered its four losses by a total of 21 points, finished fourth in the FBS in total defense (275 yards allowed per game), and finished third in the ACC in scoring offense (30.6 ppg). The returning talent will be augmented by a quality-over-quantity 19-man recruiting class that was ranked second nationally by ESPN.com.
Manuel, despite the injuries which hampered him even after his return, had a solid debut as a full-time starter in 2011, finishing second in the ACC in passer rating. Manuel completed 65.3 percent of his passes and threw for 18 touchdowns with the third-fewest interceptions in the league among qualifiers. He finished off the season by throwing 121 consecutive passes without a pick. Chris Thompson (845 yards in 2010, just 83 in an injury-shortened 2011) is healthy and the leading candidate to be the primary running back, but count on hearing from Devonta Freeman (579 and 8 TDs) and James Wilder (160 yards in 2011). The receiving corps is led by Rashad Green (38 catches, 15.7 avg, 7 TDs in just nine games), with Rodney Smith (36 catches, 4 TDs), Kenny Shaw (34 for 418), Greg Dent (12 for 236 yards), Christian Green (26 for 450), and redshirt freshman Kelvin Benjamin, with tight ends Nick O'Leary (12 for 164) and Dan Hicks also expected to play significant roles. The line loses only tackle Zebrie Sanders, and will use experience to regroup after a massive bout of injuries led to the unit allowing the most sacks in the ACC in 2011.
FSU was difficult to run against in 2011, leading the ACC in rush defense (82.7 yards per game on 2.35 yards per carry) and finishing second overall in the FBS. The 'Noles complimented that with a 20th-ranked pass defense that picked off 16 passes and finished tied for sixth (with fellow ACC member Virginia Tech) in the FBS in sacks with 41. The Seminoles lose their two leading tacklers from this group in linebacker Nigel Bradham (86 tackles, 9.5 TFL) and cornerback Mike Harris (58 tackles), but return a long list of blue-chip contributors that includes the defensive end trio of Brandon Jenkins, Bjoern Werner and Cornelius Carradine (20.5 total sacks), and a collection of run-stuffing tackles in Everett Dawkins, Timmy Jernigan, Anthony McCloud and Dermonte McAllister. Christian Jones, Vince Williams, and Telvin Smith return their 152 combined tackles and eight sacks to the linebacker corps, a unit that is gaining some speed with the transition of Nick Moody from safety. The secondary took a surprise blow when cornerback Greg Reid was dismissed, but Xavier Rhodes at corner and Lamarcus Joyner at safety give FSU two All-ACC caliber defensive backs.
PK Dustin Hopkins has been a Lou Groza finalist each of the last two years and is 68 points away from passing Maryland's Nick Novak as the ACC's all-time leading scorer (393 points). The other special teams spots are more of a question mark. A freshman will step into the punting job. The loss of Reid takes away a dynamic punt return threat, though Greene, Shaw, Freeman and true freshman Ronald Darby are all possibilities to become big-play performers in the return game.
Twelve seasons have passed since Florida State last won the National Championship, a drought that seems twice that long to the avid fan base. Expectations are always high in Tallahassee, and if they can stay injury free, Fisher's Seminoles might finally have the horses to bring them to fruition.
2011 In Review
Florida State's Jimbo Fisher could be forgiven if he briefly played the "what if" game with regard to his second season as head coach in Tallahassee...The Seminoles were plenty good last year, posting a 9-4 overall record and 5-3 mark in the ACC, while downing Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl and finishing the year ranked 23rd in both the AP and USA Today national polls...But FSU was close to so much more...Three losses by a total of just 11 points derailed any BCS hopes and the Noles' worst loss of the year was by only 10 points to then No. 1-ranked Oklahoma...The injury bug hammered the Seminoles big-time in 2011, seriously impacting FSU's offensive line and putting key performers such as QB EJ Manuel, RBs Chris Thompson and Jermaine Thomas and WRs Rashad Greene, Willie Haulstead and Bert Reed on the sidelines for various periods of time...Florida State's defense, led by LB Nigel Bradham, came to the fore down the stretch, finishing 2nd nationally in rushing defense, 4th in scoring defense and 4th in total defense... P Shawn Powell led the nation in punting, averaging 47.04 yards a punt and earned consensus first-team All-America honors... PK Dustin Hopkins, who led the ACC in points per game (8.4) and totaled 110 points, was an Honorable Mention All-America as was T Zebrie Sanders.
In total numbers, Florida State's losses to graduation were fairly minor as the Seminoles lose just eight starters, three each on offense, four on defense and Powell on special teams. On offense, the 'Noles will be without WR Bert Reed, who finished his career as FSU's 4th-leading career receiver, T Zebrie Sanders, who started 50 games, and TE Beau Reliford. On defense, the 'Noles will miss its top two tacklers in Bradham (86 tackles, 9.5 TFLs), the leader of its stingy defense, and CBs Mike Harris (58 tackles, 1 Int., 9 breakups) and Greg Reid, who was dismissed from the team prior to fall practice, as well as S Terrance Parks. Reid, who ranks 5th on the ACC career punt return yardage list, will also be missed on the Seminoles special teams.
Numbers and Notes
2 - The national ranking of Florida State's recruiting class of 2012 by ESPN.com. The high ranking of the class was made even more impressive in that FSU signed just 19 in this class compared to 25 for top-ranked Alabama.
8 - With DEs Brandon Jenkins, Bjoern Werner and Cornelius Carradine leading the way, Florida State tied for 8th nationally in QB sacks, averaging 3.08 per game. The trio of Jenkins (12.0, 8.0), Werner (11.0, 7.0) and Carradine (8.0, 5.5) combined for 31 TFLs and 21.5 QB sacks.
25 - Florida State's 18-14 win over Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl was its 25th bowl victory and increased its bowl record to 25-14-2 (.634), the 6th best winning percentage nationally of team's with 15 or more appearances in bowl games.
30 - Florida State has the nation's longest current consecutive bowl participation streak. FSU's trip to the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl last year was its 30th straight bowl trip.
121 - QB EJ Manuel did not throw an interception in his final 121 passes of 2011, a streak which covered the Seminoles' final five games of the year. FSU was 4-1 in that stretch, losing only a one-point decision to Virginia.
130 - PK Dustin Hopkins has made 130 consecutive PATs. The ACC record is 160 by Georgia Tech's Luke Manget during the 1999-02 seasons.
Florida State 2012 Football Schedule
Sept. 1 vs. Murray State
Sept. 8 vs. Savannah State
Sept. 15 vs. Wake Forest
Sept. 22 vs. Clemson
Sept. 29 at USF
Oct. 6 at NC State
Oct. 13 vs. Boston College
Oct. 20 at Miami
Oct. 27 vs. Duke
Nov. 8 at Virginia Tech
Nov. 17 at Maryland
Nov. 24 vs. Florida