Wednesday, August 12, 2009

season preview: Florida State

Schedule:

9/7: Miami (Mon.)
9/12: Jacksonville State
9/19: @ Brigham Young
9/26: South Florida
10/3: @ Boston College
10/10: Georgia Tech
10/17: BYE
10/22: @ North Carolina (Thu.)
10/31: NC State
11/7: @ Clemson
11/14: @ Wake Forest
11/21: Maryland
11/28: @ Florida

Skip: Virginia, Duke, Virginia Tech

Projected starters:

QB: Christian Ponder (rJr.)
RB: Jermaine Thomas (So.)
FB: Seddrick Holloway (Sr.)
WR: Taiwan Easterling (rSo.)
WR: Bert Reed (rSo.)
TE: Caz Piurowski (Sr.)
LT: Andrew Datko (So.)
LG: Rodney Hudson (Jr.)
C: Ryan McMahon (rJr.)
RG: David Spurlock (So.)
RT: Zebrie Sanders (So.)

LDE: Kevin McNeil (Sr.)
DT: Justin Mincey (Sr.)
NT: Budd Thacker (Sr.)
RDE: Markus White (Sr.)
SLB: Dekoda Watson (Sr.)
MLB: Kendall Smith (Jr.)
WLB: Nigel Bradham (So.)
CB: Ochucko Jenije (rJr.)
CB: Patrick Robinson (Sr.)
FS: Jamie Robinson (5Sr.)
SS: Korey Mangum (5Sr.)

K: James Esco (So.)
P: Shawn Powell (So.)

(Italics indicate new starter.)

Coach: Bobby Bowden (289th season)

All-ACC:

2008 1st team: G Rodney Hudson, DE Everette Brown, K Graham Gano
2008 2nd team: CB Tony Carter, KR Michael Ray Garvin
2008 HM: RB Antone Smith, C Ryan McMahon
2009 preseason: G Rodney Hudson, LB Dekoda Watson

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Media prediction: 1st, Atlantic Division

Not many people who have any kind of strong feelings for Florida State are happy with the way the program is going right now. If you hate the Seminoles, you’re probably not pleased to see they’re the media lovelies once again for the division title. And their fans note they haven’t been to an ACC championship game for the last three seasons and would like to see a return to the glory days of the ‘90s and early ‘00s. Such is Florida State in the new expanded ACC under the helm of a famous coach who’s past his prime but still wily as ever.

OFFENSE

Forget the skill positions for a moment. Probably the biggest reason for FSU’s position atop the media rankings isn’t the flashy talent that was once their calling card, but the rock-solid offensive line. The whole left side of the line in tackle Andrew Datko and guard Rodney Hudson earned various freshman all-American honors – Datko last year, Hudson two years ago. Hudson is a returning all-ACC player and center Ryan McMahon picked up some votes in that respect as well. They will have the quarterback’s blind side extremely well protected and be a terror in the running game. Along with the right side of the line – tackle Zebrie Sanders and guard David Spurlock – the entire offensive line has copious starting experience, and to make matters worse for ACC defensive linemen, not one of them is a senior. They’ll be very, very good this year – they could be stellar next year.

The question mark is the passing game. The running game will be fine: Jermaine Thomas ran for seven yards a carry in an extensive backup role last year. He probably won’t repeat that this year as a starter, but it doesn’t matter: a turtle in peanut butter could manage 4.5 YPC behind that line. What remains to be seen is how well Christian Ponder will develop from year to year, and whether the Noles can replace their top two receivers from 2008. It’s not the kind of question mark label you slap bad teams with, as in: “oh god I wonder if we can get through the whole year without the freshman quarterback pissing himself at midfield?” Still, Ponder needs to develop some consistency and improve on his 55.7% completion rate from last year. Last year in the second-to-last game, he was 19-of-24 in a brutally efficient dismantling of Maryland, then was benched for reasons of playing like complete and total ass against Florida the following week. Ponder will have all the tools a successful quarterback needs: top-quality protection, a dependable running game, talented wide receivers and an experienced senior tight end to throw to. It says here FSU will have a grinding machine for an offense that defenses will find extraordinarily hard to stop, but if they don’t, the whole world will look under center to find out why.

DEFENSE

This could be a bit dicey. On the one hand, you might notice there’s just one player out of eleven among the projected starters that’s not an upperclassman. All the starting linemen are seniors, as well as both safeties. However, the story here is that while all these guys have plenty of experience in the rotation, many of them will be full-time starters for the first time. Florida State lost a lot of talent to graduation and there’s a lot more turnover than you’d expect with a depth chart so chock full of seniors.

The stars and leaders are supposed to be LB Dekoda Watson and CB Patrick Robinson. Robinson had a big sophomore season in 2007 but struggled with injuries last year and only intercepted one pass, leading to his being overlooked for preseason all-ACC honors in a conference with a lot of tough competition for those where the secondary is concerned. He’ll need to be excellent because fellow starting cornerback Ochucko Jenije is moving to the defense full-time after being primarily a special-teams player in his first two seasons. Either one could be in jeopardy of losing playing time if true freshman Greg Reid looks ready to live up to the hype he generated as a class of ’09 recruit.

The linebackers should be solid or better. Watson was one of the “big four” ACC defensive players being mentioned for DPOY. Kendall Smith and Nigel Bradham look like the most inexperienced members of the starting defense if you only consider their class, but both got extensive playing time in the two-deep last year. Much of the attention will be on defensive ends Kevin McNeil and Markus White, finally getting their turn in the spotlight after backing up two extremely productive bookends last year, one of whom (Everette Brown) was a second-round pick in the draft last year. Big things are generally expected of White, who’s been productive in his own right despite playing second fiddle to Brown for a few years.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Graham Gano was both kicker and punter for the Seminoles, but he’s in the pros now, and while Shawn Powell has enough punting experience to make a more or less seamless transition, FSU has to jump back into the kicking pool with their eyes closed. James Esco or possibly Nathan O’Jibway (who I really just wanted to mention so I could type his name because it sounds like the punch line to a joke about crossing an Irishman and an Iroquois) will handle the kicking duties, and Noles fans will hold their breath as is always the case with a new kicker.

Edit: Mistake-point-out time - see comment #1, where NoleCC of Seminole blog Scalp 'Em has recalibrated me as to the kickers. Dustin Hopkins is your man. Hopkins was the more or less consensus #1 kicker in the '09 recruiting class, but the point stands about breath-holding. New kickers always give fans the jibblies. Muchas gracias for the fix.

OUTLOOK

Florida State will be in contention and be the likely favorite for the division title from start to finish, but there are still a fewhurdles to overcome to win it. Most of them have something to do with Christian Ponder. The end result last year was not bad overall, Ponder had his games, but he also had his debacles, and it helped sink Florida State’s ACC CG hopes. Worse, there’s no experienced backup – second-stringer E.J. Manuel is a redshirt freshman and had all the star ratings coming out of high school but has never taken a college snap. The defense will likely be fine, but even if it’s not, the onus will be on Ponder to take the next step. If he doesn’t, and FSU misses the ACC CG again, or if they lay another egg against Florida, fair or not Ponder will take the heat for it. FSU is going bowling, that much is a given, but a second-tier bowl won’t be good enough this time around.

3 comments:

NoleCC said...

FYI, Esco will likely not be the starter. It's a true freshman's job to lose, Dustin Hopkins.

Pat said...

Random question: Do you know any sources of UVA Football torrents? I don't get to watch many games live anymore, and a torrent would be a great way to catch-up. For Michigan fans, mgovideo.com is a great torrent source, and I was wondering if there was such a thing for UVA football.

Thanks

Brendan said...

I sure wish I did. I've been looking around - not exhaustively, but still - and I haven't found anything. If I do you can bet the video library will expand, but as of yet there's nothing that I know of.