Last Season: 9-4, 5-3, beat Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl
AP Poll: 18
Coaches Poll: 19
Although the Florida State Seminoles may be on probation from the NCAA, don’t expect the program to roll over and enter the dark abyss of irrelevance. Head coach Bobby Bowden won’t let that happen. So while times for Florida State may be a bit harder these days, the culture of winning refuses to change. It is that gritty determination that has led Bowden to over 300 career victories.
The grit that defines Florida State was on full display last year. Despite loosing early in the year to Wake Forrest, the Seminoles found themselves in contention for an A.C.C into early November. Although those hopes died with a mid-November loss to Boston College, there is plenty of optimism in Tallahassee.
That optimism rests on the shoulders of quarterback Christian Ponder. As a sophomore, Ponder threw for over 2000 yards and 14 touchdowns. However, he will have to improve on his decision making and efficiency. Ponder finished sixth in the conference with a completion percentage that hovered a little over 55%. This number would not be awful if he had made better decisions with the football. But he didn’t. He threw 13 interceptions to go along with his fourteen touchdown passes. This number will no doubt need to go down if the Seminoles are to improve on a four loss 2008.
Ponder should have the time to make better decisions. Florida State returns an offensive line that is both strong and young. Not one of the big guys on the offensive line is a senior. While that doesn’t really affect the outlook this year, it further points out the depth that Florida State has on the line going forward.
The biggest hindrance to Ponder having a break out year may be the receiving core. Leading returning receiver Taiwan Easterling missed spring practice with a ruptured Achilles. Easterling caught 30 passes last season for 322 yards and only one touchdown. While he is reportedly good to go for the season opener, one can’t help but wonder if the injury will have any ill-effects early in the year.
Receiver Rod Owens has off the field issues after being suspended indefinitely because of a DUI charge earlier in the season. He is expected to only miss a game or two, but it’s still a bit of a question mark. Owens caught fifteen passes for 183 yards last season. Also look for Richard Goodman to return after missing 2008. Goodman, a senior, had twenty catches in 2007.
Combined with a quarterback that needs to improve and a shaky receiving core, the passing game will be something to watch closely in the first couple of games.
A running game that struggled last year will have to replace its leading man, Antone Smith. Last year, Smith averaged just over sixty yards a game last year. But loosing Smith may not necessarily be a bad thing. The young combo of Jermaine Thomas and Carlton Jones has excellent potential. Thomas ran for 482 yards on 69 carries last season, averaging seven yards per carry. Jones has explosive ability. While carrying the ball only four times in the bowl game, Jones gained 55 yards on four carries. A thunder and lightning type of attack can easily be seen with these two talents.
But the biggest job this season will be rebuilding a defense that ranked third in the ACC in total defense and fifth in scoring defense last season. Only three starters return from this shutdown group. Defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews is expecting a lot out of Kendrick Stewart, Jamie Robinson, and Patrick Robinson.
The losses of Everette Brown and Myron Rolle hurt this defense big time. Brown will be replaced by Markus White. White had 5.5 tackles for losses last season. As a former junior college player of the year recipient, White has the reputation, but needs to show that he can do it at a higher level.
The linebacking core will miss its two top tacklers. This means that they will be relying on Dekoda Washington.
The Seminoles are benefitted by the division they play in. Not one other A.C.C Atlantic team is ranked in the coach’s poll or the A.P top 25. Despite question marks on both sides of the ball, Florida State is still the class of the Atlantic. Once they get to the A.C.C championship game in November, they are probably toast, but a manageable schedule won’t keep them from at least playing for the title.
3 Games To Watch
September 7th- Miami (FL)- An inter-state rivalry to close out week one. Bobby Bowden used to talk about how much he hated this type of game to open the year. But even he can’t deny the major statement it would make. Miami is a program on the rise again and a win against them may look better on the bowl resume then it may have in years past.
October 31st- N.C State- Widely regarded as the Seminoles top competition in the A.C.C Coastal division, the Wolfpack boast one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Russell Wilson. He may be tough to contain if the defense doesn’t rebuild as smoothly as planned.
November 28th- @ Florida- This is an interesting game. It may not mean a thing for Florida State if the A.C.C Coastal is already clinched. But if it’s not completely, the Seminoles will be in the forever unenviable position of needing to beat the Gators. In November. On the road. OUCH!