Today’s featured team: Florida State Seminoles
At 9-4, the Seminoles’ 2011 season was mostly considered a failure. That just goes to show how high expectations really were down in Tallahassee last year. Starting their season as a top-10 team, their precipitous drop and subsequent rally mostly cancel each other out to be lukewarm. Hope and title dreams return in 2012 though, especially after hauling in what many have called the top recruiting class in the country. Most importantly, they’ll bring back a healthy E.J. Manuel, who could very well stick around the Heisman race for an extended period of time should FSU climb the polls. Any extended stay in the country’s top tier will be directly attributable to the rising-senior quarterback, and undisputed team leader. But not without a running game. As much as Manuel struggled for consistency last season, the running game fared far worse. On very limited carries, Devonta Freeman had just two 100-yard games, and the team failed to top 1,500 yards on the ground for their entire season. Freeman will likely get a chance to at increased carries this spring, but a rejuvenated Chris Thompson and incoming freshman Mario Pender will be lurking.
On defense, the Seminoles return nine starters from a defense that fourth in the country by allowing just 15.1 points per game. They were the league’s best passing and rushing defense, allowed the least first downs, totaled the second-most sacks, and managed to force 23 turnovers. And there’s very little the rest of the ACC will be able to do about it in 2012. If last year’s players weren’t enough, FSU pulled in two of the nation’s top recruits on the defensive side of the ball — (number-one overall) DE Mario Edwards and DT Eddie Goldman. With an entire D full of upperclassmen, the remainder’s just plug-and-play. Every starter’s an experienced junior or senior, and they’ve got piles of reserves in the secondary and on the line. If there’s one question mark, it may just be the ilnebackers. Should starters Jeff Luc or Christian Jones go down with an injury, depth becomes an issue that could rear its ugly head. What head coach Jimbo Fisher will need to key in on this spring then will be finding suitable replacements in case the worst happens. Not only will reserve development be important for this season, but this team’s next few years depend on it. As one cycle of seniors departs, they’ll be trotting out a whole new defense dependent on these young players. Based on their recent recruiting success, it doesn’t seem like it’ll be a problem any time soon.
For Fisher and the university, the last 10 years need to become a distant memory rather quickly. After one of the most impressive decades in the history of the game (the 90s and 10 straight top-5 finishes), they proceeded to experience the natural ebb back down to earth, complete with 7-5 and 8-4 marks during several of those years. If they deliver on truly being “back,” it’s 10 wins or bust. On the strength of the defense alone, it’s highly feasible.
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