It's not just a new season at Florida State.
It's new everything.
From the coaching staff to the nutrition staff, from the weight room to study hall, and from strategy to media accessibility, this entire football program has undergone massive overhaul. As practice began Aug. 5, it was an entirely different operation.
Of course, the most glaring change is at the top. After 34 years at FSU, Bowden is retired and traveling from his homes in Tallahassee and Panama City, Fla.
"It definitely is different," said quarterback Christian Ponder. "It's hard to believe that Coach Bowden is not here anymore."
But there is also renewed excitement among the fan base and within the program for first-year head coach Jimbo Fisher and a revamped coaching staff that is much younger, much less connected to FSU. Large crowds formed whenever Fisher spoke during an offseason tour of various FSU booster clobs.
"Change brings optimism. Optimism brings hope. And hope creates excitement. That's where it's at," said Fisher, who spoke to 17 Florida State booster organizations across the state.
"Understand this," said Fisher, talking to one group. "We didn't get into this situation overnight. And you're not going to snap your fingers and say we're going to win.
"I don't know how long it will take. But I know we'll get there."
Fisher waited on Bowden's coaching staff for three seasons before getting the chance to succeed him. The new coach has had to be careful about not stepping on Bowden's legend while putting his own stamp on the program by changing almost everything.
After calling out his team after a spring scrimmage, Fisher saw a better effort in the spring game, followed by a better focus in summer conditioning. That helped convince Fisher the Seminoles are on the right track.
"I want it to happen quickly," he said.
--QB Christian Ponder has his own Heisman Trophy website (www.cp7forheisman.com), something that coach Jimbo Fisher endorsed. The Seminoles believed it was necessary to promote Ponder, especially his combined athletic and academic prowess, to help bring positive attention to the program. It has worked so far. Ponder was a runaway winner in ACC preseason Player of the Year balloting, even though the league has other experienced quarterbacks coming off better teams.
--Coach Jimbo Fisher has changed just about everything with the program. A couple of the latest changes are a return to a mid-afternoon practice to force the players to work out in extreme heat and get them better conditioned. Fisher is also following the method of mentor Nick Saban by not allowing freshman players to be interviewed and greatly limiting access, if any, to his assistant coaches. He is of the one-voice, one-team philosophy that Saban uses at Alabama.
SPOTLIGHT ON SEPTEMBER: Go ahead and circle Sept. 11. The Seminoles travel to Oklahoma in one of the marquee matchups of the weekend. This could make or break FSU QB Christian Ponder's campaign for the Heisman, not to mention the psyche of the team. This game is a measuring stick for FSU's direction. (And new FSU defensive coordinator Mark Stoops takes on older brother Bob's Oklahoma team.) The Seminoles play three of their four games in September in Tallahassee, including the ACC opener against Wake Forest on Sept. 25.
KEYS TO SUCCESS: The Seminoles have all the qualities to be great on offense. They have a three-year starting quarterback, the entire offensive line returns, the backfield is back, receiver depth has improved. In addition, the Seminoles have a strong kicking game -- with their punter and placekicker and their returners. This will be how FSU wins. The Seminoles have to excel with their offense and field position and take advantage of a consistent placekicker for points. But for this team to reach a higher level, they have to stop people, or at least force a few possessions without allowing a first down.
AREAS OF CONCERN: It's all on defense. The Seminoles have been woefully lacking on the defensive line, both in pass rush and sweep containment. That will be a priority in new defensive coordinator Mark Stoops' scheme. The other glaring defensive issue is safety, where the Seminoles had to replace both starters. One of the biggest problems is the overall lack of talent, which can only be addressed through recruiting. The Seminoles made gains the past two years, but they will be forced to play some guys earlier than normal and hope they can mature fast. For this team to be successful, they cannot get into these track meet games where the last team with the ball wins.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's something every kid dreams of. To be placed in the same sentence with the Heisman Trophy is pretty amazing to me. It's honestly a dream come true. As a kid, it's something I always wanted." -- Christian Ponder, on getting promoted for the Heisman Trophy.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
HEAD COACH: Jimbo Fisher, first year.
MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: QB Christian Ponder -- The Seminoles have not had a quarterback they leaned upon any harder since Chris Weinke graduated in 2000. That was also the last time the Seminoles reached the BCS title game. But in this case, Ponder doesn't have the same supporting cast, so his importance is magnified. So much is riding on his surgically repaired right shoulder. Even with the injury last season, forcing him to miss the final three games, he still posted the sixth-best season for total offense in ACC history. He is one of the rare three-year starting quarterbacks in FSU history.
BREAKOUT STAR: CB Greg Reid -- Though he did not start a game as a freshman last season, Reid made his greatest impact as a kick returner. He led all FBS players in punt returns with an 18.4 average and his spectacular return against Maryland, breaking tackles and tight-roping sidelines, set up the winning touchdown in the game that enabled FSU to have a winning season and continue its bowl streak. He was used on defense in nickel back formations, but this year, he becomes a starter and is expected to be the team's best cover corner and kick returner since Terrell Buckley departed in the early 1990s. Reid did not disappoint in spring practice, named the team's Defensive MVP.
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: CB Lemarcus Joyner -- The Seminoles' highest acclaimed signee was the fourth USA Today national Defensive Player of the Year to sign with FSU, joining a pair of former superstars, Derrick Brooks and Antonio Cromartie. Like Greg Reid did last year, Joyner will likely start the season as a kickoff return specialist and possibly be used in a dual punt return capacity with Reid if needed. But with a void of great cornerbacks on this roster, he's expected to challenge for playing time. He might even be used in some situational roles on offense. In high school, he helped Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas win a state title while racking up 1,091 all-purpose yards as a senior.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP:
Offense -- QB Christian Ponder, RB Chris Thompson, FB Lonnie Pryor, WR Bert Reed, WR Jarmon Forston, TE Beau Reliford, LT Andrew Datko, LG Rodney Hudson, C Ryan McMahon, RG David Spurlock, RT Zebrie Sanders.
Defense -- DE Markus White, DT Everett Dawkins, DT Jacobi McDaniel, DE Brandon Jenkins, LB Kendall Smith, LB Mister Alexander, LB Nigel Bradham, CB Greg Reid, CB Ochuko Jenije, SS Terrance Parks, FS Nick Moody.
-- LB Nigel Carr, a projected starter and one of the top players of spring, was arrested July 25 on two felony burglary charges. According to police, Carr broke into a car and stole credit cards and other items. He had also been charged with possession of marijuana in a previous incident, but police agreed to let him avoid arrest after being cooperative and having no prior criminal charge. But the felony charge triggers an automatic school policy that prohibits any athlete from playing until the felony has been resolved. After that, it will be up to head coach Jimbo Fisher on how to proceed. The likely scenario is that Carr will either be dismissed from team or be forced to miss a large portion, if not all, of the season.
--LB Mister Alexander made significant progress and will be Nigel Carr's replacement at strongside linebacker.
--The Seminoles appear to be in good shape with their incoming freshmen class. CB Mike Harris and DT Damien Jacobs were cleared for practice after meeting academic entrance requirements. Harris, a junior college transfer from El Camino CC in California, could challenge for playing time in a thin secondary.
--DT Moses McCray (elbow, shoulder) has fully recovered from offseason surgery and should contend for a starting position.