Friday, August 1, 2008

season preview: Florida State

I write up these season previews a couple days in advance, which is going to take some getting used to because I wrote that whole hate post about FSU with the idea in mind that I had already written this season preview. Written, yes. Posted, not so much. Enough whining then. On with the show.


9/6: Western Carolina
9/13: Chattanooga
9/20: Wake Forest
9/27: Colorado
10/4: @Miami
10/16: @North Carolina State (Th.)
10/25: Virginia Tech
11/1: @Georgia Tech
11/8: Clemson
11/15: Boston College
11/22: @Maryland
11/29: Florida

Skip: Virginia, Duke, North Carolina

Projected starters:

QB: Drew Weatherford (5Sr.)
RB: Antone Smith (So.)
FB: Seddrick Holloway (Jr.)
WR: Greg Carr (Sr.)
WR: Preston Parker (Jr.)
TE: Caz Piurowski (Jr.)
LT: Rodney Hudson (So.)
LG: Jacob Stanley (So.)
C: Ryan McMahon (So.)
RG: Will Furlong (rFr.)
RT: Antwan Greenlee (rFr.)

LDE: Benjamin Lampkin (5Sr.)
DT: Budd Thacker (Jr.)
NG: Paul Griffin (5Sr.)
RDE: Everette Brown (rJr.)
SLB: Dekoda Watson (Jr.)
MLB: Derek Nicholson (Sr.)
WLB: Maurice Harris (So.)
CB: Tony Carter (5Sr.)
FS: Darius McClure (5Sr.)
RV: Myron Rolle (Jr.)
CB: Patrick Robinson (Jr.)

K: Graham Gano (Sr.)
P: Graham Gano (Sr.)

Coach: Bobby Bowden (128th season) (actually 33rd)

(Italics indicate new starter.)

Media prediction: 3rd, Atlantic Division

All-ACC selections:
2007 1st team: LB Geno Hayes (graduated)
2007 2nd team: OG Rodney Hudson, K Gary Cismesia (graduated)
2007 HM: CB Patrick Robinson, P Graham Gano
2008 preseason: OG Rodney Hudson, DE Everette Brown, S Myron Rolle, P Graham Gano

Florida State is in a world of hurt.

A quick look through their spring depth chart reveals little of the pain. The above list of projected starters is no more enlightening. What the list doesn’t reveal is the stunning array of suspensions, departures, and injuries that have bombarded the Seminoles since last December, when a massive cheating scandal was unleashed on the school before the Music City Bowl. FSU left behind 36 players for various reasons – the school was nonspecific on who was being left behind for what, claiming only a combination of injury and violation of school policy and citing privacy concerns – and the result was a loss to basketball-school Kentucky. FSU will have approximately 10-15 players suspended for the first three games of the season (this number is somewhat reduced from the initial investigation because some of the players involved have left the team), and in typical FSU fashion they have scheduled for the start of the season I-AA patsies Western Carolina and Chattanooga – patsies not because of their I-AA status, but within I-AA.


Part of the reason things don’t look so bad at first glance is because FSU returns most of their skill position players. Drew Weatherford will be a fifth-year senior, and even garnered a couple of preseason ACC POY votes. The only major loss here was WR De’Cody Fagg, and he will be replaced for most of the season by burner Preston Parker. “Most of the season” because Parker pled guilty to misdemeanor gun and drug charges and will be suspended for the first two games of the season. (Criminoles haters will no doubt take note of the opponents that FSU scheduled for themselves during this time.)

The real problems show up on the offensive line. Sophomore Rodney Hudson started eight games last year as a true freshman, was consistently graded the highest of FSU O-linemen by the coaches, and made various and sundry freshman All-America teams. So they're in good shape at the left tackle spot. After Hudson, things get dicey real fast. A number of offensive linemen are among those caught up in the cheating scandal and will miss the first three games of the season. (Criminoles haters will no doubt take note of the opponents that FSU scheduled for themselves during this time.)

Worse, FSU lost two projected starters in Daron Rose and Evan Bellamy. Rose left school for junior college to try and regain academic eligibility – he was one who missed the Music City Bowl. Bellamy is sidelined through no fault of his own: a recently-discovered blood clot will force him to miss the season due to the necessary blood-thinning medication. The upshot of this is that Florida State has zero offensive linemen of any class higher than sophomore. Not a single upperclassman. Adding to the blocking woes is the loss of TE Caz Piurowski, one of the many suspended for three games. Piurowski subbed in last year both at TE and on the offensive line, sometimes switching jerseys mid-game in order to do so, so FSU will take a further hit in their ability to block. TE Jonathan Hannah left the team in the summer, leaving TE duties to be filled by Matt Dunham in Piurowski’s absence. (Criminoles haters will no doubt take note of the opponents that FSU scheduled for themselves during this time.)

The offense, if it ever has any blocking, should run smoothly. Antone Smith strikes fear in the hearts of nobody, but he is solid, and Greg Carr and Parker will cause plenty of problems for opposing defensive coordinators. Whenever Weatherford gets a chance to throw, things will happen for the Seminoles, but the severe lack of depth on the line may make that difficult. If pass protection breaks down, it may force the coaches to find ways to get freshman E.J. Manuel onto the field to make plays with his legs.


The defense was not untouched by scandal, either. Marcus Ball was projected to start at weakside linebacker this season but couldn’t stay out of trouble last season and finally wore out his welcome this summer; he is no longer with the team. And though FSU tried to keep a secret of the suspended players, starter Dekoda Watson is one of them. Watson is said to be the best of the players wrapped up in the scandal.

Defense, however, is probably where the Seminoles will have to hang their hat. Myron Rolle, whiz-kid student, all-around good guy, and fearsome safety, is probably the best and most recognizable player on the team, and the leading returning tackler. He’s well known as an excellent stopper with a nose for the ballcarrier, but needs to intercept some passes to take his game to the next level. (A little coachspeak there.) If he doesn’t, throwing against the Noles is still not to be taken lightly, as starting CBs Patrick Robinson and Tony Carter combined for 10 picks in 2007.


K Gary Cismesia is gone, and that’s not good news for FSU fans as Cismesia had managed to avoid causing any reiterations of “Wide Right”. P Graham Gano takes over kicking duties. Gano has not yet attempted a field goal in a game, but did use his all-ACC leg to handle kickoff duties in addition to his punting. Returns will be handled primarily by Preston Parker.

Florida State is no stranger to scandal and criminal behavior – some of their brightest stars have also caused some of their biggest headaches – but the academic cheating scandal brought to light last December is the largest and widest-ranging yet. After the scandal, pile on the other various departures (some scandal-linked) and injuries, and you have a Florida State season teetering on the brink. FSU is little-used to entering the ACC season as anything other than prohibitive favorites; this year, just one writer picked them for the title game in Tampa. The schedule is both difficult and favorable. They skip three of the least-regarded teams in the conference, which does not help them. But they get all the really tough games – Clemson, VT, Florida – at home. Not to mention the heinous scheduling of two of Division I-AA’s worst teams so as to soften the blow of the suspensions. Florida State should be a bowl team this year, but not to a really good bowl. And if the O-line can’t hold up, watch out.

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