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EJ Manuel looks to lead FSU to an ACC title this season.
The Florida State Seminoles check in at No. 9 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.
Offensive MVP: EJ Manuel, QB
There’s no question Florida State has to be better in offense in 2012. Spring practice concluded with question marks remaining about the offensive line and rushing attack – two areas that plagued the Seminoles last year. Manuel didn’t have a bad first season as the starter (2,666 yards and 18 touchdowns), but more was expected out of him. A shoulder injury suffered against Oklahoma hindered the offense’s development, and Manuel never seemed to be comfortable behind a shaky offensive line. The senior has the talent, but it’s time to put everything together. If Manuel plays up to expectations, Florida State’s offense should show improvement on the stat sheet.
Upset Alert: at NC State (Oct. 6)
Florida State’s last trip to Raleigh didn’t go so well. The Seminoles lost 28-24 to the Wolfpack in 2010, which was their second defeat at NC State in the last three matchups. Florida State will be on upset alert once again this season, as the Wolfpack return quarterback Mike Glennon and most of the key players from a defense that forced 39 turnovers last season. NC State lost 34-0 in Tallahassee last season, but this matchup should be much closer in 2012.
Revenge/Biggest Game: Clemson (Sept. 22)
Not only is this a revenge game for Florida State, but this matchup will have a significant impact on the race to win the ACC Atlantic. The Seminoles were without quarterback EJ Manuel in last year’s contest and lost only 35-30 to the Tigers in Death Valley. Clemson’s biggest question mark is an offensive line that loses three starters, which figures to be an issue against Florida State’s loaded defensive line. The Seminoles are 2-5 against the Tigers in their last seven matchups. However, both of Florida State’s victories came in Tallahassee and it should be favored to get revenge on Sept. 22.
Defensive MVP: Brandon Jenkins, DE
The Seminoles are loaded on defense, so there’s no shortage of candidates for this honor. Jenkins has been one of college football’s top pass rushers over the last two years, recording 21.5 sacks and 36.5 tackles for a loss. His numbers declined slightly from 2010 to 2011, which can be blamed on receiving more attention from opposing offenses. Jenkins should threaten 10 sacks, while leading one of the top defensive lines in the nation.
Trap Game: at USF (Sept. 29)
A week after the matchup with Clemson in Tallahassee, the Seminoles hit the road for a stop against in-state rival South Florida. These two teams have met only once, with the Bulls winning 17-7 in Tallahassee in 2009. Considering the magnitude of the game against Clemson, and a hungry South Florida squad looking to earn bragging rights with the state’s top programs, this is a dangerous trap game for Florida State.
Breakout Player: Rashad Greene, WR
Some could say Greene broke out last season after catching 38 passes for 596 yards and seven touchdowns. However, an ankle injury forced him to miss four games and he was never 100 percent when he returned to the lineup. Greene’s numbers were solid for a freshman, but can only get better with a full complement of snaps in 2012. Don’t be surprised if Greene approaches 60 receptions with 1,000 yards and 10 scores this year.
Bounce Back Candidate: Xavier Rhodes, CB
After a standout freshman season, big things were expected of Rhodes in 2011. He played in all 13 games, but picked off only one pass after recording four interceptions in 2010. Rhodes did not earn all-conference honors and his play left a lot of room for improvement. The junior needs to have a big season to work his way back into the mix for the first round of the NFL Draft, and his play in 2012 should closely resemble his freshman campaign.
National Title Defining Moment: at Virginia Tech (Nov. 8)
It’s not going to be easy for the ACC to get a team into the national championship this year, but this game will have major top 25 implications. While neither team’s schedule is clear of potential land mines, it’s not unreasonable to think Florida State and Virginia Tech could enter the Nov. 8 matchup unbeaten. The Seminoles have lost two out of the last three matchups to the Hokies and have not won in Blacksburg since 1989. Virginia Tech also has a huge advantage with this game scheduled on Nov. 8, as this will give the Hokies plenty of time to sort out their offensive line and running back concerns. With both teams expected to win their division, this should be an ACC Championship Game preview.
Freshman to Watch: Mario Pender, RB
A freshman led Florida State in rushing last year and it wouldn’t be a surprise if that happened again in 2012. Devonta Freeman and Chris Thompson hold the early edge in the battle to start at running back, but Pender will get another opportunity to earn playing time in the fall. He ranked as the No. 37 overall player in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and will be expected to contribute significant snaps this season.
Comeback Player: Chris Thompson, RB
The rushing attack was almost non-existent for Florida State last year, as it ranked 104th nationally by averaging just 112.2 yards per game. Finding a spark on the ground does rely on an improved offensive line, but the Seminoles are hoping the return of Thompson can help. He rushed for 83 yards and one touchdown through the first five weeks of last year, but suffered a broken back in the loss to Wake Forest. He missed most of spring practice with a broken hand, so rust could be an issue early in the year. Even if Thompson doesn’t lead the team in yards, having a veteran presence and his pass-protection out of the backfield will be a boost to an offense that struggled to establish anything on the ground last year.
Newcomer to Watch: Karlos Williams, S
Safety hasn’t been a position of strength for Florida State’s defense in recent years, but Lamarcus Joyner stepped up and solidified one spot last season. Is it Williams’ turn in 2012? Junior Terrence Brooks left spring practice with a slight edge, but it will be difficult for the coaching staff to keep Williams off the field. He was ranked among the top 25 players in the 2011 signing class by most scouting services and recorded eight stops in 12 games last year. Even if Brooks starts, Williams should play a key role in Florida State’s secondary this season.
Position Battle: Offensive Line
This unit was a mixture of inexperience and overall bad play last season. The Seminoles started 10 different players up front, including a handful of freshmen. This group played well in the second half of the Champs Sports Bowl against Notre Dame, but can they find that same rhythm for the entire 2012 campaign? Line coach Rick Trickett and head coach Jimbo Fisher may have found a solution to some of the line’s problems, as Cameron Erving switched from defensive tackle to left tackle and solidified that position in the spring. The front five is going to be young and could decide whether or not Florida State wins the ACC Championship in 2012.
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