After breaking down Wisconsin earlier in the afternoon, Michael Felder of InTheBleachers.net returns with the latest installment of the Crystal Ball Run Preseason Top 10. This time, he takes a look at ACC's Florida State Seminoles.
Crystal Ball Run Preseason Top 10
No. 8 - Florida State Seminoles
Florida State In One Word: Close
The Seminoles came up a game short of capping Jimbo Fisher’s debut season with an ACC Championship. Now, in year two of the process, Fisher has “his guy,” EJ Manuel, ready to take the reins from Bowden era holdover Christian Ponder as he captains the ship for the boys out of Tallahassee. Fisher, one of two Nick Saban disciples in the Sunshine State, has got all the pieces he needs from a talent standpoint to be successful, and they showed that last season in several big ways.
This year the Noles are close, and while the offense must show up, we’d be remiss to not mention Year Two of the Mark Stoops transition. If Stoops is to be the piece that gets Jimbo and company over the hump and helps the Seminoles get off the field on third downs, is one year going to be enough for them to make a full return to defensive dominance?
Why Florida State Will Live Up To Their Billing:
This answer comes in two parts, as both sides of the ball carry their own explanation. On defense, to go along with their added year of experience within the zone schemes, the answer will be conditioning. The Seminoles' bodies wore down towards the end of games and as the year got long. They were lean and were not built to sustain the punishment they endured on a game-by-game basis. With another year in the strength and conditioning program, expect to see the defense succeed in closing out series and getting off the field a lot quicker.
As for the offense, EJ Manuel is where things will start for the 'Noles. He is a big, physical quarterback who can make all the throws, and as we saw in his spot duties during Christian Ponder’s injury issues, he manages the game well. Folks are trying to pigeonhole Manuel as just a thrower or just a runner, but the truth is he’s a big, athletic pro-style passer who is physically quick enough to lose tacklers and big enough to shake defenders off. Guys like running back Lonnie Pryor and wide receiver Bert Reed are going to be instrumental in moving the ball, and Florida State has plenty talented players looking to show what they can do with their shot at the ball.
Why Florida State Could Disappoint:
Mistakes and miscues. The system the 'Noles installed on defense is only a year old, and they showed in multiple games, including losses to Virginia Tech, North Carolina and North Carolina State plus a near loss to Clemson, that mistakes can be costly in their scheme. Opponents running free through zones as young players feel their way through things is a cause for concern as Mark Stoops continues to look for the lineups he can count on to line up and be on the same page.
On offense, a true first-year starter might be cause for concern, except we’ve seen enough of Manuel in bowls and big moments to know he can be darn good. Florida State’s all set for the skill positions, but the offensive line situation leaves many question marks. It is still an experienced bunch, but the real issue will be how players respond coming back from off-season surgeries and injury rehab stints.
Key Game: Oklahoma (Sept. 17)
The 'Noles take a trip up to Clemson, and they’ve got the looming end-of-season road trip to Gainesville for their annual rivalry game with Florida. But before we get to either of those, there is a bit of a marquee “revenge” game with the Oklahoma Sooners. Last year the Seminoles got embarrassed 47-17 in Norman, and this year with both teams in your Crystal Ball Run Preseason Top 10, Jimbo’s boys will look to get some redemption. A win here will start the “we’re back” chatter that will help buoy spirits and get Florida State set to storm through the ACC.
On The Spot: EJ Manuel
Obviously the offensive line and the skill players will be on the spot this year, but the title for “most on the spot” has to go to EJ Manuel. With great talent comes great responsibility, and the “EJ for Heisman” train is already warming up in the station. A win against Oklahoma and a good start will truly test the mettle of a kid who appears to have it all together.
Manuel’s got to answer the bell, and how he responds to both the successes and failures of the 2011 season will write the bulk of the story this year for Jimbo’s 'Noles.
The Seminoles are close. They appear poised to retake the ACC, as a combination of transition among their main rivals and a well-stocked roster have opened the window for success. The contest against a lot of folks’ No. 1 team will be a measuring stick and a reality check for Florida State’s team and fans.
Win that game and expect to see the Tomahawk Chop make a healthy return. Lose close and Florida State should still be the team to beat in the ACC in 2011. Have a repeat showing of last year and expect more of the same out of Tallahassee: an up-and-down year, where opportunity is given to the other team and the 'Noles fail to capitalize when it is given to them.
Best Case Scenario: 12-0, ACC champions, BCS title
Worst Case Scenario: 8-4, Chick-fil-A Bowl