Crystal Ball Run Preseason Top 10: No. 7 Florida State

This week, we are releasing our very own Preseason Top 10. Leading off was West Virginia at No. 10 and Ohio State then followed at No. 9, and this morning we hit on Arkansas at No. 8. Which brings us to today and a trip to Tallahassee, Florida, where our No. 7 team, the Florida State Seminoles, rule the day.

Crystal Ball Run Preseason Top 10

No. 7: Florida State Seminoles

Florida State in a word: Arrival

Maybe it is fitting I return to CBR with a look at Florida State as I unapologetically grew up a Noles fan. Moreover, and probably more importantly to you the reader, I unapologetically DO NOT pull any punches when discussing the reality of this Seminoles football team.

In a word, I chose “arrival”: why?

A year ago the College Football world (experts, writers, reporters) from a national perspective pegged the Seminoles with lofty expectations. The fact is, though you would have been hard-pressed to find someone (like myself) covering FSU with a mirroring expectation akin to the national pundit. Since the regime change that was (Bowden to Fisher); the year the Seminole-faithful have openly discussed and fawned over was, where we now reside, the year 2012.

Two-thousand-twelve, a year marked as “the future”, has arrived and with that, it is put up for shut up time for the Seminoles.

Why Florida State will live up to billing:

When looking at the 2011 Florida State season that was; yes, disappointment oozes off the presses: but why? For starters, it was a very talented squad; moreover, even if the lofty expectations were a season early, those expectations also give a negative connotation to the season as it was—without noticing, really, anything else of importance. A preseason rank should be based on what is seen, the talent you know, or perceive, on paper. A preseason rank should NOT be tied to 2011 disappointments without noting factors involved. You cannot predict injuries—or JeffBowdenism (a belief system of thinking your name makes you an offensive coordinator).

CBS gives FSU a No. 15 ranking:

“Based on returning talent, Florida State should probably be ranked much higher, but I’m hesitant to put the Seminoles higher after last season when FSU was arguably the nation’s most disappointing team.”

A few lines later the same report says:

“This season the Seminoles have nine returning starters each on offense and defense”.

So, okay, I understand the premise: Florida State disappointed last year. But why? Was it because the Seminoles underperformed? No. Did injuries play a factor? Yes. Did (insert reason or excuse) play a determinant factor? Yes (surely).

This is not an attempt to justify the end—a 9-4 record—by excusing the totality of the season; however, proper perspective should be taken note of. In 2010, Florida State earned its first 10-win season since 2003. With just a simple glance, one would think Florida State took a step back from its 10-win season to 9 wins a year ago: think again.

In 2010, two of Florida State’s four losses were of ten points or more (Oklahoma 47-17 and Virginia Tech 44-33); in 2011, Florida State lost one game (Oklahoma 23-13) by ten points—the other three losses were by a combined eleven points: that is improvement.

One cannot assume EJ Manuel will be lost to injury early in the season (like was the case a season ago—which played a pivotal roll in Florida State’s losses to Oklahoma, Clemson, and Wake Forest); but it is reasonable to believe, with another season under QB-guru Jimbo Fisher, that Manuel will improve upon a 2,666 yard—18 TD—8 INT performance in 2011. A healthy QB, a deep receiving corps, a duo of young backs, in James Wilder and Devonta Freeman, with a healthy Chris Thompson and an improving Florida State offense overall will be the ticket to Miami for the BCS National Championship game with, arguably, the top returning defense in the country.

Florida State ranked fourth nationally in total and scoring defense last season, and finished second against the run. As mentioned, nine starters are back and as good as the Seminoles were a year ago, they may just improve. Defensive Ends Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner are back; the interior defensive line, led by Timmy Jernigan and Everett Dawkins, go three and four deep with guys who could play anywhere in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The defensive strength is the line but depth is the name of the game from there back to the secondary for the Seminoles. Again, 2012—and the depth that is on this roster—is the “arrival” year. No excuses.

Why Florida State will disappoint:

Last year, the offensive line was abysmal for Florida State. The issues there were the cause of a-many problems that trickled outward for the Seminoles offense. This group allowed over three sacks a game and averaged the same amount of rushing yards per carry: both numbers are less than enviable. To make matters worse, on the offensive line; Florida State’s best player in left tackle Zebrie Sanders has moved on. Undoubtedly, Florida State is banking on the youth-movement it was forced into a season ago with the, now experienced, likes of: Bryan Stork, Jacob Fahrenkrug, Bobby Hart, Austin Barron, Garret Faircloth, Tre Jackson, and Josue Matias. (Florida State has also brought in two JUCO offensive lineman)

Key Game: at Virginia Tech (Nov. 8)

Florida State’s first big game is at home versus the Clemson Tigers (Sept. 22); its key game, however, will be following an open date, on the road, versus the perennial ACC favorite the Virginia Tech Hokies. If one assumes Florida State defeats Clemson at home (10-3 at home versus Clemson all-time), then one could easily assume a fully healthy Florida State bunch could be headed into Blacksburg, Virginia undefeated (9-0) with two games to go before clinching a berth to Miami.

Final Verdict:

2012 has arrived, but have the Seminoles?

If Florida State gets through its first three games without major injury the Seminoles, I believe, match-up quite favorably against inner-division-foe Clemson. Get by the Tigers and the Seminoles could be visualizing a return to Crystal Ball folklore.

A lot is riding on 2012: in a new age of College Football—that is, a playoff system—Florida State could propel itself into the yearly, and this time legitimate, talks that are enjoyed by the Alabama and LSU’s of the world.

Can Jimbo Fisher make his mark?

Personally I think the answer to both, previous asked questions, are YES.

Best Case Scenario: 13-0, BCS Championship

Worst Case Scenario: 8-4, finish behind Clemson and possibly NC State