Friday, August 22, 2008

Florida State Preview

2008 Schedule
Sept. 6
Sept. 27Colorado (in Jacksonville)
Oct. 4@Miami
Oct. 16@N.C. State
Nov. 1@Georgia Tech
Nov. 22@Maryland

2007 Results: 7-6 overall, 4-4 ACC (4th Atlantic Division); lost to Kentucky 35-28 in the Music City Bowl

Offense: Just as it has over the last three seasons, it begins and ends with the offensive line. Drew Weatherford may really be just a mediocre quarterback, but when he has less than a few seconds every snap to make reads and deliver the ball before he gets clotheslined, it's tough to accurately gauge what he might do with simply adequate protection. Ditto for the running backs, chiefly Antone Smith. When he gets so few holes to hit, and when he consistently has to break tackles in the backfield, it's difficult to tell how he'd perform with a simply average line. And so it goes with the receivers....very few times lately have you see a Seminole wideout take a beautiful toss in stride down the sideline or on a pretty post pattern; there's never been enough time for the QB to deliver those kinds of passes. Last year's line was the worst of the Bobby Bowden era, with poorly developed players learning a new scheme, mixed with inexperienced young talent. And it certainly didn't help that injuries depleted the OL depth chart to just seven roster players at one point last season. The 2008 line is still a work in progress, but the best players from last year's unit are back and have bought into OL coach Rick Trickett's proven style. Regardless of the line, one player is sure to sparkle this season and that is Preston Parker, a poor-man's Percy Harvin. Whether at wideout, running back (304 yards last season in place of the injured Smith) or punt returner, he can score every time. And lest I forget...Weatherford by no means has secured the QB position. Sophomores Christian Ponder and D'Vontrey Richardson both stepped up in the spring while Weatherford was recuperating from knee problems. Ponder has a better arm and Richardson has excellent scrambling ability. It's now a question of whether Weatherford's experience is too much of an asset (33 starts and a number of big wins) or a liability (just 20-13 as a starter, and he's conditioned to the awful protection and will scramble early or hurry throws unnecessarily). OC Jimbo Fisher's first big personnel decision since the succession plan announcement (see "Coaching" below) will be scrutinized aplenty.

: By FSU standards, last year's defense was an abomination, ranking 42nd nationally in total and a stunning 85th in pass defense (against the generally lame ACC offenses to boot). Part of the reason for that was a dip in overall talent, but much of it had to do with the lack of depth the Noles have so often used to their advantage over the years. The good news is that some of the weak links have departed, but more importantly a horde of talent returns from the injury bug which should resolve some of the depth concerns. The line should be back to usual Seminole standards as DE Everette Brown is killing people in practice and earning comparisons to some of the best ever linemen in Tallahassee. The LB corps loses mouthy Geno Hayes but returns a deep pool of talent and brought in the nation's best linebacker recruit in Nigel Bradham. The secondary looks to have returned to the usual standards as corners Patrick Robinson (6 picks in just 5 starts last year) and Tony Carter return, along with junior rover Myron Rolle, who after a stellar freshman year in 2006 was unfocused last season due to - and this may be the only time you'll ever read this in a major football preview - an overemphasis on academics (he's already earned his degree and is a finalist for a Rhodes scholarship). His talent is undeniable, he's stepped up his offseason conditioning and has shined in practice.

Special Teams
: What looked solid and stable just two days ago now appears very murky. Punter Graham Gano (43.4 yds per boot in '07) was injured the other day in practice and will miss the first month of the season. And to add salt to the wound, he was also slated for kickoffs and as Gary Cismesia's replacement at placekicker. I have no idea who takes over now. The return game is set with Parker back for another year on punts and Micheal Ray Garvin handling kickoffs for the third straight season.

Coaching: Last December's announcement of the "Head Coach in Waiting" plan has at least given Seminole faithful a timetable as to when the purgatory of the final Bobby Bowden years will end (2010 at the latest). Whether offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher is the right man for the job remains to be seen, although several schools over the last few years sure seemed willing to give him a shot (most recently West Virginia last December). Fisher's offense was less than impressive last season, but with what he inherited from the failed Jeff Bowden experiment, it wasn't much of a surprise. From a recruiting standpoint, the coaching plan has sparked a renaissance of sorts; the Noles had a great class this winter and have stockpiled a lot of talent so far in the early-commit stage this summer. On paper, the succession plan looks like a winner; in practice, who the hell knows?

Odds & Ends: Guess who led the nation in "pass-interception avoidance" (yes, that's a real stat) in 2007? That would be Weatherford, with just three picks in 318 attempts.....Over the last five seasons the Seminoles have been underdogs just twelve times, but four of those came in the final five contests last year.....Bowden has gone 38-36-1 against Top 10 opposition in his 32 years at FSU; Joe Paterno's record against Top 10 opposition in his career is 31-40

Schedule Analysis: About as generous as the Noles could hope for. FSU smartly set up the first two games with 1-AA opponents in order to minimize the damage from the dozen-plus three-game suspensions levied by the school over last year's academic fraud case. The problem is that the ACC designated the third opponent as Wake Forest and the Deacons have been able to defeat full-strength FSU squads two years running. The season could easily hinge on that game, as an FSU upset could lead to a possible 6-0 start (and perhaps 8-0 if Virginia Tech has the off year I think they'll have). On a more general note, the two bye-weeks don't offer much help (the first is opening weekend, the second before a Thursday-nighter with N.C. State), but the four road games are spread out nicely and all four are winnable. November is the toughest part of the slate, with Clemson, BC and Florida coming to Tallahassee while a trip to Maryland (the Noles have lost two straight in College Park) looms before the showdown with the Gators. Duke, North Carolina and Virginia are off the schedule in this year's rotation.
Projected Wins: Western Carolina, Chattanooga, Colorado, @N.C. State, Virginia Tech, Boston College
Projected Losses: Wake Forest, Florida
Toss-Ups: @Miami, @Georgia Tech, Clemson, @Maryland

Primo Seminole Blogs: Chant Rant, Scalp 'Em, Tomahawk Nation

Heartwarming You-Tubery:
"Don't know what ya got, 'til it's gone..."

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