By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.
Florida State Seminoles 2012 Spring Preview
2011 Record: 9-4, 5-3 ACC
Spring practice: March 19-April 14
Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 9
Passing: EJ Manuel, 203 of 311, 2,666 yds., 18 TD, 8 INT
Rushing: Devonta Freeman, 120 car., 579 yds., 8 TDs
Receiving: Rashad Greene, 38 rec., 596 yds., 7 TDs
Tackles: Christian Jones, 56
Sacks: Brandon Jenkins, 8
Interceptions: Lamarcus Joyner, 4
Redshirts to watch: WR Kelvin Benjamin, DB Kaelin Smith, LB Arrington Jenkins
Early Enrollees: P Cason Beatty, OL Daniel Glauser, RB Mario Pender
JUCO Transfers to watch: OL Daniel Glauser, OL Menelik Watson
Sept. 1 Murray State
Sept. 8 Savannah State
Sept. 15 Wake Forest
Sept. 22 Clemson
Sept. 29 at South Florida
Oct. 6 at NC State
Oct. 13 Boston College
Oct. 20 at Miami
Oct. 27 Duke
Nov. 8 at Virginia Tech
Nov. 17 at Maryland
Nov. 24 Florida
Offensive Strength: The Seminoles struggled to find the right mixture on the offensive line last year, but that didn’t slow down the passing attack. Quarterback EJ Manuel is back for his second year as Florida State’s starter and the receiving corps is one of the deepest in the ACC.
Offensive Weakness: As mentioned previously, the offensive line was an issue for Florida State last year and heads into 2012 as the team's biggest question mark. The Seminoles threw several young players out on the field last year and that experience should pay dividends in 2012. Getting improved play out of the line would also help jumpstart a rushing attackthat ranked a disappointing 104th nationally last season.
Defensive Strength: With nine starters returning, Florida State should have one of the best defenses in college football next season. The defensive line will continue to set the tone for the rest of the unit, as ends Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner are back after combining for 15 sacks last season. Despite losing two key contributors to the secondary, the Seminoles will be near the top of the pass defense stats once again in 2012.
Defensive Weakness: Considering what Florida State has coming back, there’s not much to be concerned about on defense. The biggest issue will be finding a replacement for linebacker Nigel Bradham, who led the defense with 86 stops last year. While it’s not really a defensive category, the Seminoles have to find a replacement for All-ACC punter Shawn Powell.
Spring Storylines Facing the Seminoles
1. Here come the high expectations once again. Florida State was picked among the top 10 teams by most preseason polls, but finished with a disappointing 9-4 record and a berth in the Champs Sports Bowl against Notre Dame. The turning point of the season occurred in Week 3, as the Seminoles lost 23-13 to Oklahoma. Quarterback EJ Manuel was injured in the loss to the Sooners and missed Florida State’s loss to Clemson and came off the bench after the Seminoles fell behind against Wake Forest. Although the Seminoles didn’t meet the preseason expectations, they did finish with wins in seven out of their final eight games. Most preseason predictions won’t start coming out until May or June, but early indications have this team picked near the top of the ACC and among the top 10-15 teams for 2012. Considering what Florida State returns, there’s no reason for this team to finish with a 9-4 record once again – and the Seminoles are certainly hungry to prove they are back as a national powerhouse.
2. If Florida State is to contend for the national title, the offensive line has to show big improvement. This group allowed 3.2 sacks per game and rushers averaged only 3.3 yards per carry. Making matters worse is the line loses its best player from last year in left tackle Zebrie Sanders. While last year’s numbers are not pretty and replacing Sanders is a tall task, the Seminoles return several players with experience. Center Bryan Stork and guard Jacob Fahrenkrug are the most experienced returning options, but Bobby Hart, Austin Barron, Garrett Faircloth, Tre Jackson and Josue Matias all received starts last season. Line coach Rick Trickett is regarded as one of the best in college football and it will be important to find the right mix and develop some chemistry in preseason workouts. If Florida State struggles up front once again, this team will have trouble winning the ACC Championship.
3. The offensive line deserves much of the blame for last season’s struggles on the ground, but this is one area the Seminoles need to focus on in spring practice. Devonta Freeman is back for his sophomore year after rushing for 579 yards and eight scores last season. Big things were expected of James Wilder last year, but he managed only 160 yards and was suspended indefinitely due to an off-the-field incident. Freeman will likely be the No. 1 back when the season opens up, but incoming freshman Mario Pender could work his way into significant carries. With quarterback EJ Manuel and a plethora of talented receivers returning, there’s no question Florida State will be able to move the ball through the air. However, this offense needs to develop more balance in 2012.
4. Coordinator Mark Stoops should be feeling good about his defense in 2012. The Seminoles ranked fourth nationally in total and scoring defense last season, while finishing second against the run. Considering nine starters are back, it’s not out of the question this defense could be just as good, if not better than it was last year. The defensive line is one of the best in college football, led by ends Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner. The interior line is stacked with depth, including future star Timmy Jernigan and honorable mention All-ACC performer Everett Dawkins. The two biggest question marks for Stoops and the defensive staff will be finding a replacement for Nigel Bradham at linebacker, as well as replacing Mike Harris and Terrance Parks in the secondary. Although those three players were key contributors, their departure isn’t going to significantly hurt the defense. There’s plenty of depth and young talent waiting to step into key roles this spring. It’s up to Stoops and this defensive staff to sort things out in the linebacking corps, as well as get the new faces acquainted in the secondary.
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