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Aug. 3, 2003
By Jerry Kutz, courtesy of The Osceola
A Florida State assistant football coach and I were having a casual, off-the-record conversation recently, discussing summer vacations and family, when the subject of football came up. “After looking at the schedule it’s apparent to me that your team could be better this year and the coaching staff could do better job and ya’ll could still lose four games,” I said. The coach gave me quizzical look, one that communicated disagreement, before breaking down the upcoming schedule from his perspective. The casual conversation led me to take a second look at what some call the nation’s most-difficult schedule.
His point was this: every one of the teams on that schedule has to play Florida State with some questions of their own. It’s a natural tendency for FSU fans and beat writers to focus on all of FSU’s unanswered questions and to forget every team graduates players and to rebuild to some extent every year.
My initial perspective was based on the fact that the Seminoles will play ten bowl teams, including Miami (Fiesta), NC State (Gator), Notre Dame (Gator), Maryland (Peach), Georgia Tech (Silicon Valley), Wake Forest (Seattle), Colorado (Alamo), Virginia (Continental Tire), Clemson
(Tangerine) and Florida (Outback). Seven of the Seminoles’ foes were recently ranked among the top 27 teams in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll. Ranked 12th in that poll, the Seminoles will play No. 3 Miami, No. 13 Maryland, No. 14 N.C. State, No. 17 Virginia, No. 18 Notre Dame, No. 21 Florida and No. 27 Colorado.
The conversation led me back to opponent websites and preseason annuals to study key points about both FSU and its opponents.
Before we look at the opponents, lets take an objective look at the questions facing the 9-5 Seminoles when they report on Wednesday, August 6.
Defensively, the Seminoles finished an uncharacteristic 61st out of 117 Division 1-A teams. More surprising was the secondary’s performance (85th). Five starters return in the secondary, and there is experienced talent backing them up. Defensive ends look improved too but questions will linger until the pass defense improves.
On offense, where the ‘Noles finished 32nd in total offense, there are questions about depth on the line and consistency at receiver and quarterback. The preseason magazines tell us the ‘Noles have four starters returning but offensive tackle Alex Barron and center David Castillo performed well as starters in the last few games of last season. Tight end Paul Irons and receivers PK Sam, Cro Thorpe and Dominic Robinson aren’t rookies either.
There is a question at punter but not kicker.
As you scan the opponents, most have a long and serious list of concerns of their own.
Duke actually has the shortest list of questions on paper but the longest list on the field. The Blue Devils return 11 on offense, nine on defense, the kicker and the punter.
I’ll still take FSU’s list of worries, thank you very much, and stay focused on the ranked teams.
Miami has the shortest laundry list: quarterback on offense, end on defense, kicker and punter. Short but not so sweet. It’s not easy to replace a four-year starter at quarterback or break in a new punter or kicker. Ken Dorsey may not have looked like much but he was a vital cog that will be missed. There are serious preseason questions – controversy in fact — about who should win the job and there likely will be ongoing questions about who can lead the team.
Happily for Bobby Bowden, the Seminoles will play the ‘Canes in Tallahassee.
Maryland’s may have the next shortest list and happily again, Florida State will play them in the heat of early September in Tallahassee.
Athlon’s pick as ACC Champion, the Terps beat Tennessee 30-3 to ring up a 11-3 record. The Terrapins will start seven seniors on defense (ranked 36th) and six on offense (ranked 41st). Like Miami, this UM has a very good secondary returning and like the ‘Canes lose their defensive ends. With Bruce Perry back at tailback, look for Ralph Friedgen to mix more run into his attack, which will be a stern home opener for Mickey Andrews defense.
Biggest question facing Maryland is: Can this veteran squad handle the heat and Florida State?
This game, and the game the following week with Georgia Tech, which returns seven on offense and defense, will tell us a great deal about Florida State.
Notre Dame, NC State and Virginia have proven they can beat the Seminoles and all are capable this year too, if the ‘Noles do not bring the A game. Each established veteran quarterbacks but still have laundry lists.
The Irish may have the fewest of the three. In addition to needing a more consistent kicker, the Irish have to replace four linemen from an offense that was ranked a dismal 108th but who cares? ND won 10 games last year with a 13th ranked defense and return eight of those scoundrels who claimed 33 turnovers. All eight are seniors.
Unhappily, this one is played at South Bend on Nov. 1st, when the weather can be a factor.
NC State has seven returning on an offense that was ranked 39th, including four-year quarterback Philip Rivers. They’ll have to break in a new offensive coordinator, a new quarterback coach and two rookie linemen. Only four return on the nation’s 14th ranked defense. While Chuck Amato is excited about the potential, he will have to break in two freshmen and two sophomores. Serious questions remain at punter and kicker.
After two straight wins, Amato comes to Tallahassee. The good news is it is homecoming. The bad news is NC State is the only team to have beaten Bobby Bowden for homecoming the last time here.
Virginia and head coach Al Groh seem to be the media darling. Sporting News picked the young Cavaliers to take the ACC crown in spite of the fact they finished 80th in offense, 100th in defense and 108th in rushing defense. FSU lost four games, leading many to the edge of the precipice, but we forget the Cavaliers lost five. The media talks about the improvement of the Virginia squad but the fact is U Va lost to Georgia Tech, Penn State and Virginia Tech late in the season. Plus, Groh lost his offensive coordinator to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
While FSU fans wonder whether the Seminoles veteran secondary will improve, Virginia has only one starter returning.
FSU fans worry about youth on an offensive line that was ranked 35th in rushing. U Va will start two rookies on a team that ranked 82nd. And while Sporting News intimates the new coordinator will feature the run, proclaiming “for the first time in (Al) Groh’s tenure, Virginia has size and experience on the offensive line”, that line is still 17 pounds per man lighter than FSU’s.
FSU catches Virginia in Charlottesville, scene of the Seminoles first ACC loss back in 1995.
Colorado is noted as a running program but the Buffs must replace four offensive linemen, great runningbacks, the starting fullback, the tight end and the quarterback. Not an easy task when you consider that Gary Barnett does not like to throw the ball and that the three competing quarterbacks have 10 snaps between them. Did I mention they also must find a replacement for the top punter in the nation and find a kicker too.
Seven starters return on defense of which six are seniors. Let’s see northern school comes to Tallahassee heat with little or no offense but a senior-laden defense… sound a little like Notre Dame last year to you?
Florida head coach Ron Zook must replace six on offense, nine on defense, solve serious problems in the kicking game and teach his Sports Information department the difference between a Crock and a Gator.
In case you’ve been out of the country, the UF media guide featured a picture of Zook with a crocodile. Wonder how many pundits will use the term crocodile tears after the first Gator loss.
If you must travel to Gainesville, this just might be the year to do it.
While Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and Clemson are certainly capable of beating Florida State, the word among the players is watch out for North Carolina. The Tar Heels return eight from an offense and eight from a defense that ranked below 100 in nearly every statistical category. In other words, this season opener is a brier patch.
Louisville in Carolina Blue.
Last time the ‘Noles played in Chapel Hill they were maddeningly overconfident and were bludgeoned by a team that didn’t accomplish much else that year. FSU coaches should not let the players watch film of UNC in 2002. Instead, they should run the 2001 film of UNC students pouring out onto the field.
Apparently the FSU coaches are trying to deliver that message as redshirt freshman linebacker Buster Davis assured me that the most important game, the one that will set the tone for the entire season, is that North Carolina game. Work hard. Play sound. Dominate where possible. If the coaches can get that point across during two-a-days, the rest of Florida State’s laundry list will take care of itself.