If we’re talking preseason top ten rankings, according to Rule 7, Clause B-9 of the College Football Commandments given to Keith Jackson on platinum tablets in the year 16 B.C., we’re required to include today’s highlighted team. Ranked ninth in the Rant Sports Top 25 as we continue our 100 previews in 100 days are the Florida State Seminoles of the ACC.
Recruiting success has exploded under Jimbo Fisher (top 2 classes according to 247 Sports in 2011 & 2012) to the point that 2012 strikes me as his climax. Which way are the ‘Noles headed? They haven’t finished in the final ballot of the Associated Press Top 5 since that wondrous streak under Bobby Bowden — 14 straight years, 1987-2000 accomplishing the distinction — concluded.
Four losses in 2011, two coming against heavyweights Virginia and Wake Forest slowed the notion that dominance was buying real estate in Tallahassee. So this fall, Fisher employs a Heisman candidate and a voracious defense in hopes of wresting control of the division from Clemson and perhaps creating a better picture of the program than a Google Image search that returns 17,000 shots of Jenn Sterger.
The renaissance begins under center. E.J. Manuel (2,666 yards, 18 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 65.3% completion rate) has the pedigree, the experience, the dual-threat ability and the moniker of a man who probably plays a smooth saxophone. In 2012, his health likely mirrors Florida State’s ascension.
At running back, sophomore Devonta Freeman (579 yards, 8 touchdowns, 4.8 YPC) figures to earn the majority of carries assuming a back issue that kept him out of spring practice resolves itself. If Freeman’s slow on the mend, Chris Thompson (83 yards, 1 touchdown, 2.9 YPC) and James Wilder, Jr. (160 yards, 1 touchdown, 4.6 YPC), the latter who served days in jail over the summer, will see more time in the Seminoles backfield.
Manuel enjoys no shortage of targets out wide. Willie Haulstead (38 catches, 587 yards) returns from concussion issues that sidelined him for all of 2011. He’s joined by Rodney Smith (36 catches, 561 yards), Rashad Greene (38 catches, 596 yards), Christian Green (26 catches, 450 yards) and extremely talented tight end Nick O’Leary (12 catches, 164 yards). It’s a tale as old as time recruiting Florida athletes. Find a guy named “Green” that runs a 4.4, teach him a go route and make sure the quarterback puts enough air under the ball. That formula is as potent as Force = Mass x Acceleration.
If there’s a hindrance to the offense, it exists in the youth of the offensive line. Those with experience total just 46 career starts.
Were you an addict of the sport and the thing in life that frightened you most was an athletic, terrorizing defensive line that appears sit three-deep, it probably behooves you to avoid this Florida State unit. Defensive ends Brandon Jenkins (35 tackles, 8 sacks, 12 TFL), Bjoern Werner (31 tackles, 7 sacks, 11 TFL) and Cornellius Carradine (31 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 8 TFL) bring as much production back as any collegiate position coach could dream.
Their tackle brethren Timmy Jernigan (23 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 6 TFL), Everett Dawkins (20 tackles, 2 sacks 3 TFL) and Anthony McCloud (19.5 tackles, 2 sacks, 5 TFL) do the same. So what is defensive coordinator Mark Stoops planning with true freshmen 5-stars Eddie Goldman and Mario Edwards? Whatever he pleases but I’d hate to be the opposing offensive line in a 4th quarter blowout when they enter the game. Should Florida State win the ACC and challenge for a national title (ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit picks them to hoist the crystal), this group allows it.
With that sort of artillery up front, it eases the jobs of players behind them. Christian Jones (44.5 tackles, 3 sacks, TFL), Vince Williams (42 tackles, 2 sacks, 5 TFL), Telvin Smith (35 tackles, 3 sacks, 8.5 TFL) hold down the weakside and middle linebacker spots and the combination of Nick Moody and Nigel Terrell alleviate the strong side. Assuming the defensive line envelops blockers at a Galactus-like pace, there’s plenty of sacks and stops behind the line of scrimmage to be had by these blitzers.
In the secondary, the dismissal of Greg Reid stings but his special teams contributions might have blurred his value on defense. Lamarcus Joyner (46 tackles, 4 interceptions, 3 PBU) and Terrence Brooks (14 tackles, 1 interception, 5 PBU) both play an active (re: ball-hawking) safety role with former uber-recruit Nick Waisome replacing Reid at corner and starting opposite Xavier Rhodes (39.5 tackles, 1 interception, 4 PBU).
Most ACC teams failed to torch this group in 2011 with the exception of Clemson’s Tajh Boyd. That Tigers-Seminoles positional battle might be the difference between a trip to the Orange Bowl and another disappointing finish.
By the end of September, we’ll have an idea whether Florida State intends to confirm their preseason stature. For reasons that only make karmic sense to the college football gods, Florida State has struggled with Wake Forest recently and the Seminoles host the Demon Deacons September 15th, followed by a home game against Clemson. Win both and BCS fever rises, split them and folks might wonder what’s so great about that Fisher guy anyway.
Traveling to Blacksburg on a Thursday night in November won’t be easy but Florida State remains a favorite there on talent alone. Florida and Will Muschamp might want revenge for the 2011 pasting the Gators took, though I don’t see it happening. A conference title and fringe national championship contention represents a successful 2012. Anything less and Florida State will be subjected to whether they’re “back” and then we’ll do the same thing all over again next preseason.