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You can read the entire Florida State preview in Athlon Sports' 2011 ACC magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
#4 Florida State
ACC Atlantic PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Jimbo Fisher , 10–4 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: James Coley | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mark Stoops
For all of the good things Christian Ponder accomplished in his three years as Florida State’s starting quarterback, a strange sense of excitement has surrounded his graduation. It’s not that FSU fans failed to appreciate Ponder’s ability or production; he was unquestionably the Seminoles’ best quarterback since Chris Weinke won the Heisman Trophy following the 2000 season. But there has been a buzz about new starter EJ Manuel since he signed with FSU in February 2008, and his limited playing time thus far has done nothing to diminish those expectations.
While filling in at various stages during Ponder’s injury-plagued junior and senior seasons, Manuel went 4–2 as a starter and was named MVP of the 2010 Gator Bowl. He also came off the bench to guide the Seminoles to a Chick-fil-A Bowl victory against South Carolina at the end of last season.
And when he takes over as the full-time starter, Manuel will be surrounded by perhaps the most talented offense FSU fans have watched in a decade. The Seminoles return their top five running backs, all of their top receivers, and they have a slew of talented newcomers entering the fold.
FSU will go undefeated in ACC play.
Though he came up as an offensive coach, Jimbo Fisher knows full well the importance of quality defense — especially after serving for several years on Nick Saban’s staff at LSU. And when he talks about the Seminoles’ chances for success in 2011, the second-year head coach sounds more excited about that side of the ball than he does his own offense.
“On defense, we’ve got some very, very good people — up front, in the secondary and at linebacker,” Fisher says. “We’re athletic. We’re big. We’re long. We’re physical. We can run. We can cover. … I love the group of guys we’ve got. As much (talent) as I’ve been around on a team in a long time.”
Fisher’s excitement starts in the secondary, where the Seminoles are absolutely loaded at cornerback. They have Chick-fil-A Bowl Defensive MVP Greg Reid on one side and Xavier Rhodes, a 2010 Freshman All-American, on the other.
But FSU should be much improved in the front seven as well, and coordinator Mark Stoops should have more freedom to add wrinkles now that all of the key players are entering their second seasons in his system.
Greg Reid, CB Can change games with big-play skills on defense and as a return specialist.
Brandon Jenkins, DE A dominating pass-rusher who also can drop back in zone-blitz packages.
Xavier Rhodes, CB A freakish athlete for his size (6'2", 205); can be a lock-down corner.
|Sept. 3rd||UL Monroe|
|Sept. 10th||Charleston Southern|
|Sept. 24th||at Clemson|
|Oct. 8th||at Wake Forest|
|Oct. 15th||at Duke|
|Oct. 29th||NC State|
|Nov. 3rd||at Boston College|
|Nov. 26th||at Florida|
Fisher believes he has the best punter-kicker combination in the country with senior Shawn Powell and junior Dustin Hopkins, and they both are coming off impressive seasons. Powell’s 44.3-yard average was the best in the ACC, and Hopkins finished second in the country with 41 touchbacks on kickoffs. Reid continues to be one of the nation’s top punt returners, but FSU will need to show more big-play potential on kickoff returns.
Florida State’s players, coaches and fans are confident this program is on the cusp of a return to national prominence, but those dreams will be tested during a crucial two-game stretch in late September. First, the Seminoles will play host to an Oklahoma team that simply dismantled them last year in Norman, Okla. Then, they will go on the road one week later to face Clemson, which always seems to give them fits; FSU hasn’t won at Death Valley since 2001.
A loss in either game will feel like a major setback, but the Seminoles still would have a strong chance to improve upon last season’s 9–3 regular season.