2011 Record: 9-4 (5-3 in ACC)
Head Coach: Jimbo Fisher (19-8 at FSU; 11-5 in ACC)
Last Bowl Game: 2011 season Champs Sports Bowl: beat Notre Dame 18-14
Out of Conference: 9/1 vs Murray St, 9/8 vs Savannah St, 9/29 at USF
Stats to Cheer: had 41 sacks in 2011 (1st in ACC); allowed just 125 plays of 10 yards or more in 2011 (1st in ACC)
Stats to Fear: lost 46 starts to injury in 2011; converted 38.31% of third down conversions in 2011 (9th in ACC); allowed 40 sacks in 2011 (last in ACC)
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: (Offense: 8; Defense: 9; Specialists: 1)
Key Defensive Returnees: DE Brandon Jenkins (41 tackles, 8 sacks), LB Christian Jones (56 tackles, 3 sacks), LB Vince Williams (54 tackles, 2 sacks), CB Xavier Rhodes (43 tackles), S Lamarcus Joyner (54 tackles, 4 INT), DT Everett Dawkins (25 tackles), DE Bjoern Warner (37 tackles, 7 sacks), DT Timmy Jernigan (30 tackles, 2.5 sacks), DT Anthony McCloud (25 tackles, 2 sacks)
Key Offensive Returnees: QB EJ Manuel (18 TD, 8 INT), RB Devonta Freeman (579 yds rush, 8 TD), WR Rashad Greene (38 rec, 7 TD), WR Rodney Smith (36 rec, 4 TD)
Top Recruits: DE Mario Edwards (Scout.com's #1 DE), CB Ronald Darby (#1 CB), QB Jameis Winston (#2 QB), DT Eddie Goldman (#4 DT), RB Mario Pender (#6 RB), DE Chris Casher (#7 DE), OLB Markuss Eligwe (#6 OLB)
Inside Scoop with Adam Tolliver:
CFBZ: Running the football was an issue for the Seminoles last year. How is the OL looking and who do you see stepping up at RB?
Adam Tolliver: So far, the offensive line is improving at a steady clip--to the point that the elite Seminole defensive front is taking notice. The big uglies on the offensive line will likely average 6'4, 315+ lbs. this season, which is the biggest they will have ever been for Jimbo Fisher's offense at FSU. They look the part, but it's still too early to say how good they will be, being that the majority of the first five has very limited starting experience. This could be a work in progress all season, but still a far cry from the debacle that was 2011.
At running back, there is talk of Chris Thompson returning to his 2010 form, where he was a big play threat for the Seminoles. FSU will always have a running back by committee type of system as long as Fisher is in charge, which means that sophomores James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman will have to take the next steps in their young careers. By all accounts, the bunch has looked good thus far in fall camp.
CFBZ: With the loss of Greg Reid, who will replace him at corner and as the kick returner?
Adam Tolliver: At the moment, it appears that second year corner Nick Waisome is the likely starter at the field corner position vacated by Greg Reid. He will fight off the likes of true freshman Ronald Darby, who has been getting the second team reps and has an advantage on Waisome both size and speed wise. That is not to say that Waisome is slow, but Darby has elite track speed.
Speaking of Darby, he is also one of several players vying for a position in the return game. Fellow freshman speedster Marvin Bracy will make his case in the punt and kick return games, but so will Kenny Shaw and Rashad Greene. It will be difficult for any of these candidates to surpass the proven commodities of Lamarcus Joyner and Karlos Williams at kick returner, but they are all talented and someone will emerge from the group. Regardless of who ends up where, despite the immense speed and talent, it's difficult to imagine the play-making and natural instincts of Greg Reid being immediately replaced.
CFBZ: Who are some under the radar players on this squad that we should keep an eye on?
Adam Tolliver: On defense, I have reason to believe that OLB Terrance Smith will take a serious step up in his second season on campus. He's a skilled pass rusher who has a knack for making plays in the backfield. His time on the field may be somewhat limited, but his speed and versatility will put him in position to make a few plays when he gets out there.
On the offensive side of the ball, I believe Christian Green could have a big season at receiver. He racked up nearly 400 yards receiving last season as a redshirt freshman and got a great deal of yardage after initial contact. Green's name is sometimes forgotten among his talented position group peers, but he has as much talent as any on the roster and now has experience to go along with it.
CFBZ: What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2012 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
Adam Tolliver: In order for the 2012 season to be a success for FSU, they will need 11 wins and some hardware. Whether that be an ACC Championship, BCS bowl win or both, the Seminoles need a legitimate post season win that cannot be discredited under their belt. 11 wins would put them right at 30 wins over three season, which is all but impossible to scoff at. Granted, there will be critics who will never let go of games that FSU "should have won" in the first three years of Jimbo Fisher's tenure, but 30 wins in three seasons is elite company and there's no way around that.
This is Jimbo Fisher's third year at the helm of the Seminoles. So far he's done a good job winning 19 games in two years but the team hasn't lived up to lofty expectations. The injury bug hit last year as the team lost 46 starts to injury (8th most in the Nation according to Phil Steele).
The offense will be led by EJ Manuel. Manuel matured a lot throughout his first year as starter. In his first seven games he threw 13 TDs and 8 INTs and in his last five games he threw 5 TDs vs 0 INTs. The Seminoles had injury issues on the OL and in the backfield and it resulted in a true freshman leading them in rushing. The receiving corps best players last year were underclassmen so that position group should continue to improve this season. The success and failure of FSU's offense will come down to the OL.
FSU's defense is stocked with talent. FSU's defensive line will be one of the best in the Nation with Brandon Jenkins, Bjoern Werner, Timmy Jernigan, Everett Dawkins and Tank Carradine. I could go on but it's really an embarrassment of riches along the line. The next line of defense loses Nigel Bradham but still should be very good. The linebackers are led by Christian Jones, Vince Williams and Telvin Smith and have some good young talent behind them. The secondary must replace two of the teams six leading tacklers and they also recently lost Greg Reid. If there is a weakness on this defense, it will be the secondary. That being said, the secondary still has Xavier Rhodes and Lamarcus Joyner. Sophomore Karlos Williams will be a player to watch. He's a hybrid safety/LB that could play either position and could help out in the defensive backfield. Florida State had the best defense in the league and that should continue again this season.
Will this finally be the year that Florida State breaks through and matches up with their expectations? The toughest three games on the calendar are Clemson, VT and Florida and two of those three are at home so the schedule plays out well for the Seminoles. If the offense can keep their players on the field, Florida State should be playing in the ACC Championship Game for the third time in the eight year history of the game and who knows what happens if they win that game.
Top 25 Countdown
#12 Michigan State
#14 Kansas State
#16 Virginia Tech
#17 Boise State
#19 Ohio State
#23 Oklahoma State
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