Florida State Seminoles
9/18: Brigham Young
9/25: Wake Forest
10/2: @ Virginia
10/9: @ Miami
10/16: Boston College
10/28: @ NC State (Thursday)
11/6: North Carolina
11/20: @ Maryland
Skip: Duke, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech
QB: Christian Ponder (5Sr.)
RB: Chris Thompson (So.)
FB: Lonnie Pryor (So.)
WR: Bert Reed (rJr.)
WR: Jarmon Fortson (Jr.)
TE: Beau Reliford (Jr.)
LT: Andrew Datko (Jr.)
LG: Rodney Hudson (Sr.)
C: Ryan McMahon (5Sr.)
RG: David Spurlock (Jr.)
RT: Zebrie Sanders (Jr.)
LDE: Markus White (Sr.)
DT: Everett Dawkins (rSo.)
NT: Jacobbi McDaniel (So.)
RDE: Brandon Jenkins (So.)
SLB: Nigel Carr (Jr.)
MLB: Kendall Smith (Sr.)
WLB: Nigel Bradham (Jr.)
CB: Ochuko Jenije (5Sr.)
CB: Greg Reid (So.)
FS: Nick Moody (rSo.)
SS: Terrance Parks (Jr.)
K: Dustin Hopkins (So.)
P: Shawn Powell (Jr.)
Coach: Jimbo Fisher (1st season)
(Italics indicate new starter.)
Media prediction: 1st, Atlantic Division
2009 1st team: G Rodney Hudson
2009 2nd team: LB Dekoda Watson, CB Patrick Robinson
2009 HM: QB Christian Ponder, OT Andrew Datko, KR Greg Reid
2010 preseason: G Rodney Hudson, QB Christian Ponder
(Italics indicate departed player.)
Not seeing Bobby Bowden on the sidelines is going to take some getting used to for Florida State fans, but the transition to Jimbo Fisher should be a smooth one. Still, it's been some time since FSU was the dominant force in the ACC. This season will be interesting in that we get to see whether the Seminoles' stagnation was simply due to having an aging head coach (Bowden is over 80 years old), or if we should simply get used to something in Tallahassee other than the perennial national title contenders of the '90s.
Florida State is pushing Christian Ponder heavily as a Heisman candidate, but he'll need to break out of his shell a little bit and take another step in his development for that to come to fruition. In 2009, Ponder needed to shake some inconsistency woes from the previous season and did so admirably, completing almost 69% of his passes before a season-ending shoulder injury in early November. As a third-year starting quarterback and a fifth-year senior, Ponder is the focal point of this year's offense.
Having a third-year starting quarterback is something every team would love to have, but it's not uncommon, either. What is uncommon is having a third-year starting offensive line. All five linemen are back for their third year together as a unit, and the left side is where the major-league talent resides. It starts with left guard Rodney Hudson, a likely first-round pick in the 2011 NFL draft. Andrew Datko, the tackle on that side, is another guy who gets some all-conference pub, but the playcaller for the offensive line is the center, and having fifth-year senior Ryan McMahon holding down the job gives FSU a major advantage. McMahon has never failed to start a game for three years and has a chance to finish the season as the Seminoles' record-holder for career starts. And of course, right tackle Zebrie Sanders's patience is legendary.
Jermaine Thomas was last year's leading rusher, but he might have been supplanted by Chris Thompson. Thompson was used sparingly last year and most of his yardage came on his single 49-yard carry against Georgia Tech, but his performance in spring ball leapfrogged him ahead. Thomas himself didn't emerge until later in the season, 60% of his 163 carries coming in just four games, so there is some unsettlement at the running back position that needs to be dealt with. Starting fullback Lonnie Pryor isn't really fullback-sized and figures to be part of the tailback conversation as well.
Last year's leading receiver has graduated, but Bert Reed was just one catch and 19 yards shy of being the leader himself, so there shouldn't be much dropoff outside. FSU traditionally has little trouble filling its receiver slots, and Reed has a golden opportunity to improve on his 710-yard season, perhaps even with a 1,000-yard campaign. Reed is smallish for a receiver, but 6'3" Jarmon Fortson starting opposite him should occupy opposing defenses' taller cornerbacks. Taiwan Easterling's future might lie in baseball, but he's a real threat as well. Look for all three of these players to rack up large numbers, because FSU's offenses traditionally use the tight end and running backs as afterthoughts in the receiving game, and Ponder should have all the time he needs to find one of them.
This unit definitely does not have the continuity of the offense, but it might be as talented. FSU must completely remake its defensive line and secondary and replace star linebacker Dekoda Watson as well, and there are precious few senior starters. Much is made of the combined 142 starts on the offensive line; the defensive line is the opposite, with just 21 combined starts, and 12 of them belong to senior DE Markus White. After Watson, White had the most TFL on the team with 10.5, so he'll be a crucial part of the transition. On the other side, Brandon Jenkins didn't start a single game last season but still led the team in quarterback hurries, and sophomore DT Jacobbi McDaniel was a five-star recruit and the nation's #15 prospect when he signed in 2009.
As for that new secondary, its reinvention is being led by future superstar Greg Reid. Reid was a fellow five-star in the same class as McDaniel, and as the team's punt returner last year he averaged an incredible 18.4 yards per return. Reid steps into a starting cornerback spot opposite fifth-year senior Ochuko Jenije after apprenticing under first-round pick Patrick Robinson, and despite playing in a reserve role, Reid still grabbed two interceptions in 2009.
Now then, chaps, it's a shame that true freshman linebacker Nigel Terrell can't magically switch places with senior MLB Kendall Smith. For one, Terrell is an outside linebacker, and for two, Smith is a major do-it-all presence in the middle of the field: 85 tackles, 7 for loss, 2 sacks, and a pick highlight his stat line. So why do I prefer Terrell? Because he'd look great on the depth chart next to starting OLB's Nigel Bradham and Nigel Carr. It's the attack of the Nigels, guv. Pip pip.
Anyway, it probably doesn't matter as Carr's season and career are in jeopardy after his arrest on multiple felony counts of auto burglary and assorted other charges. In his place would step Mister Alexander, a top-notch athlete whose career has been thus far derailed by a myriad of injuries. An injury-free Alexander may be a step up from Carr anyway, and on the other side, Bradham is the team's leading tackler from 2009.
Junior punter Shawn Powell has a strong leg, averaging over 41 yards in 2009. Kicker Dustin Hopkins missed a few kicks last year, hitting on 70% of his attempts, but he was a freshman. His consistency should improve. Greg Reid will likely handle the returns again, and he's a threat to take one to the house - far and away the ACC's best punt returner.
The combination of a senior quarterback, supremely experienced and talented offensive line, and the usual array of targets should be a lethal one for FSU's opposition. Last year the lack of a consistent running game was a little bit of an Achilles heel, but the O-line is so good that the running backs will be good enough just by association. The receivers aren't Peter Warrick and the backs aren't Warrick Dunn, and that's why you don't see FSU hailed as a national title contender, but they're plenty enough for the division. The defense will need some time to gel, and if it does so early, the Noles will be the favorite in most of their games. Even if the young defense has problems that last all season, the passing game should be more than enough to keep the Noles within striking distance in any game. FSU's nonconference schedule is admirably difficult, but they skip the two Techs and thus have an easy path to success in the conference. This will be a bowl year for FSU, of course, and the Orange is the goal.