Monday, August 9, 2010

FSU Preview: Can Jimbo Fisher Return The Seminoles To Championship Form?

Florida State enters a new era in 2010 with legendary head coach Bobby Bowden departing and Jimbo Fisher taking over the reigns. FSU fans are hungry for a return to national prominence after several disappointing seasons.

To get a better look at the Seminoles, I contacted Garnet and Great for their take on FSU’s upcoming season.

Q: How smooth has the transition been from Bobby Bowden to Jimbo Fisher?

A: Bumpy at first, now going surprisingly smooth, a far cry from the loud and divided fan factions at the end of last season. The Bowden loyalists, who believed the legendary coach deserved at least one more year at the helm, seem to have moved on.

FSU’s fan base now appears to be solidly behind Jimbo Fisher, his new coaching staff and revamped system -- covering everything from nutrition and weight training to academic monitoring and sports psychologists -- that closely mirrors Nick Saban’s process for success.

Q: Was Christian Ponder's injury a blessing in disguise last year?

A: It appears so. Ponder has hinted that he would’ve been in the 2010 draft had he stayed healthy and maintained his impressive offensive stats. The ’09 injury caused him to rethink the draft as he healed.

So Ponder enters his senior year as a 100% healthy QB who’s probably stronger and smarter, knowing when not to tuck and run, playing behind one of the best O-lines in the country.

A second benefit of Ponder’s injury was E.J. Manuel evolving from a green backup to a tried and trusted quantity at QB. After Ponder went down, E.J. won three out of the four games he started, losing only to arch-rival Florida.

Q: The Seminoles have steadily improved their rush game from a low of 94 yards per game in 2004 to 179 in 2008 and 150 in 2009. Is this more a product of better running backs or better offensive line play?

A: Both. O-Line Coach, and Vietnam Marine vet, Rick Trickett has molded his youngsters (three '08 starters were freshmen) into a lean 'n mean unit.

Meanwhile, recruiting brought in a fleet of running backs -- mainly three-star guys who’ve proved at least as capable as some four and five-star RBs that suited up for the 'Noles during the decade.

This season four backs with game experience will fight for the starting job under new RB coach Eddie Gans, a well-traveled motivator who developed NFL top 5 draft picks Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown.

Add to the mix newcomer Debrale Smiley, a bruising big back who had one impressive season of JC ball.

Q: Florida State has always had dazzling athleticism at the skill positions. Who are the guys that need to step up this year?

A: On offense, ‘Nole fans are hoping WR Jarmon Fortson shifts gears from good to great. The 6’3” junior has a reputation for making the spectacular catch, often followed by dropping an easy one. Fortson is a devastating blocker and has amazing potential. In fact, if he can put it all together this season, he might get a green light from NFL teams to leave for the 2011 draft. [Updated: Fortson has been dismissed from the team]

The defensive player most overdue for a big year is DE Markus White. He’s a former JUCO star who once terrorized QBs but has been slow to deliver in two seasons at FSU. A new defensive staff and scheme should maximize White’s abilities and put the teeth back in the ‘Noles pass rush.

Q: Will CB Greg Reid be used on offense and in what capacity?

A: No one knows for sure, except Jimbo Fisher and his offensive coordinator. But Fisher has said, “we’ll have a plan” for using Reid. And he threatened as much during ACC media days -- though that may have been more to psych opposing D-coordinators.

My guess is that we see Reid on an occasional gadget play, and probably as a decoy. Any shrewd D-coordinator would probably be distracted by Reid’s lining up on offense and try to dial up adjustments.

Perhaps a better bet is true freshman CB Lamarcus Joyner doing double duty. Fisher has all but promised that the 5-star recruit will see action on the offensive side of the ball.

Q: I read new DC Mark Stoops is bringing in a new zone scheme. What are the major changes we will see after years under Mickey Andrews?

A: A more diverse scheme that mixes man and zone coverage, while keeping the offense off-balance with far less predictability than Coach Andrews' mostly-man look.

Stoops also has a reputation for developing players, especially DBs, the weakest link in the ‘Noles uncharacteristically poor D in 2009.

Q: The 'Noles always recruit well. Who are the top freshman that could see significant playing time this year?

A: Fortunately, FSU has enough experience on the roster so that only one true freshman should see significant playing time. That would be LB Jeff Luc, a 5-star man-child who enrolled early and earned a second-string spot during spring practice.

Other true freshmen who will probably see the field in 2010 include DE Bjorn Werner, LB Christian Jones, and aforementioned CB Lamarcus Joyner.

Three JC transfers could become big contributors. They're fullback/H-Back Debrale Smiley and DT Amp McCloud, two local guys (from nearby Thomasville, GA), who graduated from a Mississippi Community College.

Another junior college addition might be Glen Stanley, a speedy pass rusher who committed to Southern Cal in February, but got a recent release from the Trojans. I say, “might” because Stanley still must clear the academic hurdle of being accepted at Florida State.

Q: FSU finished in the AP Top 5 for 14 straight seasons until 2000. What will it take for FSU to get back to the nation's elite?

A: The obvious answer is to win ten games or more -- a tall order this year with non-conference games against Oklahoma, Florida and BYU. Specifically, though, earning that elusive elite status will depend largely on winning in the sunshine state.

Beating the Gators and Canes on a regular basis will ensure a Top Ten finish, as long as FSU takes care of business in the ACC.

We’ll also add beating South Florida. The 'Noles tripped in a first-ever meeting with the Bulls last year, but have a chance for payback in 2012 when they travel to Tampa.

Q: FSU has lost 6 in a row to in-state rival Florida. What will it take for the Seminoles to get this series more competitive?

A: Recapturing the cachet of a top program, the cool factor, and one that top high school playmakers want to sign with. I believe FSU is about halfway back to what it was in the dynasty days of the 90s.

Now with complete control of the program, Jimbo Fisher is fully implementing a process that’s state-of-the-art for today’s elite teams. New coaches have been added who are strong recruiters and bring fresh ideas to energize. All of these are steps back to parity with that team that FSU fans have always wanted to beat most.

Q: Describe a successful season this year. Describe a disappointing one.

A: Ten or eleven wins, which includes W’s over Florida and Miami. A marginally successful season would be 10 or 11 wins and being edged by the gators. That would at least demonstrate progress.

A disappointing season? Another 7 - 6 record. FSU faithful have been left with a 7 - 6 hangover three of the last four seasons. Yet another of those -- especially with the heady expectations of new coaches, a potential Heisman QB and experienced OL -- would be too much to take.

Q: What is your prediction for the season

A: I’m chugging the Garnet & Gold Kool-Aid: 10 - 2, plus a bowl win.

My Take on FSU…
The days are gone when FSU by walking onto the field would have an opponent intimidated and already beaten in the ACC.

After suffering through inconsistency at the position, Christian Ponder finally gives FSU a threat at the QB position something they have not had since Chris Weinke drove a mini van around Tallahassee.

The offensive line has taken its lumps, but has experience now so this unit should be a strength.

I am befuddled at how bad their defense was last year. Mickey Andrews always had a top-notch group so it must have been the players. The lack of elite talent is clearly seen at defensive end where the ‘Noles used to have a pass rushing threat every season.

Until FSU can recruit better on this side of the ball I expect new DC Mark Stoops to struggle.

The schedule to win the Atlantic sets up nicely having BC and Clemson at home.

This is a big reason why I have Fisher going to an ACC Championship Game in his first season

9-3, 1st in Atlantic Division

Thanks again to Garnet and Great for their insight.

Previous Previews:
Georgia Tech

Wake Forest
NC State
North Carolina

Boston College

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