Archive for the ‘Florida State Seminoles’ Category

Thank you, Savannah State. I’m sorry you have become the Poster Child for one of college football’s biggest sins, but at least we now have a lot of people involved in the sport screaming about mismatches – these get-your-brains-beat-in-for-a-big-payday games.

I’m proud to say I’ve been harping about this for years, but it wasn’t until Oklahoma State whacked Savannah State 84-0 that so many other people became upset about this annual embarrassment to the sport. It is a hot topic these days with national pundits, particularly those folks who make a living analyzing college football for the TV networks.

The screams to stop this horrific scheduling picked up even more steam when Savannah State went to slaughter last week in Tallahassee, losing only 55-0 to FSU because the game was stopped in the third quarter because of dangerous weather conditions.

Here’s been the accepted formula for college football’s elite: Schedule one, if not two, home games each year against a patsy; write them a big check; pad your school’s record and coach’s resume.

The guilty schools justify this practice in many ways. They argue the money helps the victims pay their bills. They contend the outclassed players get to enjoy the experience of playing in a big stadium. They whine that they need a few “soft” games because of their grueling conference schedules.

Right.

Do the players who get embarrassed benefit from the money? Is it an enjoyable experience to get whipped 84-0 anywhere, anytime? If every major conference team played only competitive opponents wouldn’t it balance out in the end? Imagine, if you can, an NFL teams softening their schedules by playing a couple of semi-pro teams.

Next to the embarrassed players, the biggest losers are the fans. They pay a lot of money for tickets and in booster contributions to watch garage games.

There is hope we’ll see a reduction of these ridiculous games in the near future. When a four-team playoff starts with the 2014 season, strength of schedule reportedly will be a major factor in which four teams are selected are a yet-to-be-named committee. Of course, if every elite program schedules a couple of dogs . . . well, maybe we won’t see an end to these types of games.

One of the biggest question marks for me entering the 2012 college football season is when will the fans of the state’s Big Three schools start hollering for their coaches’ jobs. Sadly, that’s the era we live in.

That’s even the case at Florida State where the expectations of a great season have many Seminole fans thinking national championship. Will 10-2, the ACC title and a BCS bowl bid be enough for Coach Jimbo Fisher to escape the wrath of FSU fans?

Probably not.

Will fans of Florida and Miami be understanding of another six- loss season for their second-year head coaches, Will Muschamp and Al Golden?

No.

I don’t expect any to lose his job, but it won’t be pretty.

Strangely, Golden may hear the fewest boo birds because not much is expected of the Hurricanes and their fair weather fans don’t move the needle very high when it comes to passion and numbers.

Muschamp is in the biggest danger of having his ears blasted by unhappy fans. Even the youngest Gator fans still remember national championships in ’06 and ’08. They also remember Florida losing six of its last eight regular season games last fall. Thus far, the young first-time head coach has been given a pass. Former coach Urban Meyer caught most of the fans’ ire for last season.

Gators fans won’t be as forgiving this season. Rebuilding is a dirty word for fans of elite programs. They pay their coaches millions and give them every resource imaginable and they expect quick dividends.

I don’t expect much improvement from the Gators. I see a 7-5 record, and I think things go bad early. A loss in Game 2 at Texas A&M will set the tone for another year of mediocrity. The real bummer will come the week after a home loss to LSU when the despondent Gators lose at Vanderbilt. To make things worse, I see losses to Florida’s two biggest rivals, Georgia and FSU.

The Seminoles are talented enough to win the national title but quarterback E.J. Manuel has to, one, stay healthy and, two, play better than he ever has. After a 5-0 start, FSU’s national hopes will disappear with a loss at N.C. State. Then there’s that Thursday night trip to Blacksburg, Va., in early November. Why would FSU play another Thursday night road game? Past experiences haven’t been pleasant and this one won’t be either.

As for the ‘Canes, I think the road continues to be bumpy. They simply lack talent, particularly at the line of scrimmage. How about three straight home losses to UNC, FSU and Virginia Tech? Miami finishes 5-7.

In summary, 2012 will not be a year to remember for state’s Big Three.

With the college football season only hours away and the NFL only 10 days away, there are two storylines I’d like to share with you.

First . . .

I understand how excitable and passionate Gator and Seminole fans are. I know you’ve been chomping and chopping at the proverbial bit for a new season. I get it. But understand you will learn nothing about the upcoming season this Saturday.

The Gators quarterbacks will look much improved. The Gator receivers will get open. The Gators will gain yards running between the tackles. Your defense will be dominant.

Remember, you’re playing Bowling Green. This game is a freebie and is a resume builder you’re your coach.

The Seminoles think they’ll be in the national championship. They may be. It really is up to senior quarterback E.J. Manuel. If he finally plays anything like what FSU expected when he became Coach Jimbo Fisher’s first super blue chip recruit, the Noles have a real shot. Their defense may be great. There are a bunch of future NFL players among the receivers and defensive backs.

Manuel will sparkle this week. Remember, you’re playing Murray State.

Second . . .

Maurice, will you please hurry up and end this silly holdout. I’m tired of talking about it but that’s all anybody asks me about these days.

You tried to make a point that the Jaguars couldn’t live without you. Well, you’re wrong. They are, indeed, moving on and, like your new owner said, you’d better jump on ‘cause the train is leaving.

Yeah, you’ve taken a major PR hit, but it isn’t a fatal blow. Or at least it doesn’t have to be. Report now, act humble and get to work. If you play well, the fans will forgive you. If the team wins, the fans will forgive you. If you play well and the team wins, you’ll be a bigger star and celebrity than ever.

If not . . . well, let’s not go there right now.

For the record, I’m calling you Maurice until this absurd holdout ends. MJD and MoJo were nicknames of endearment and, frankly, there’s nothing endearing about someone who acts like a spoiled – not to mention misinformed – brat.

I’m a big Mike Martin fan. I think the FSU baseball coach is as good it gets in his profession. On top of that, he’s on my top 5 list of the best people I have met in covering sports for more than 50 years.

Okay, he’s never led the Seminoles to an NCAA baseball championship. Nobody’s perfect.

Unfortunately, that’s what is brought up most often when the subject turns to the FSU coach. And because we live in a world where one ring can wipe away a lot of failures and in a world where no ring can overshadow years of outstanding success, Martin seldom gets his due.

I’m in the minority on this. I understand that. But in my world, a true sign of greatness is consistently performing well at the highest level – through the different eras and with a constantly changing cast of teammates and foes.

Martin has taken the Seminoles to 33 consecutive NCAA tournaments. He has guided FSU to 14 College World Series. Those are staggering numbers that reveal Martin’s excellence in recruiting, coaching and leadership.

Maybe this year will be the year Martin gets that coveted ring. The Seminoles enter the tournament seeded No. 3 overall.

If FSU doesn’t win the title, Martin will hear the same ol’ criticism, mostly from his own fans: He can’t win the Big One. Some will suggest – again – that it’s time for Martin to step aside, enjoy retirement and let someone younger take a crack at coaching FSU.

It has been argued that anyone who has a clue to what he’s doing can have a reasonable amount of success coaching FSU’s baseball program. I agree. FSU makes baseball a priority. It has some of the finest facilities in America. It is located in a baseball-rich state where the sport can be played year-round. Those are huge advantages over, say, the Michigans of the world. Still, it isn’t as easy as it seems.

Martin and I have joked about how basketball coaches moan about losing players to the pro game after only one season. We laughed about how football coaches were livid when star players were allowed to leave after three seasons.

College baseball coaches have fought those battles for decades. Martin can’t count the number of blue-chip recruits he worked – and signed – who never spent one day as an FSU student. High school baseball stars have gone straight to pro ball since the days of Cobb and Ruth. Top programs have to recruit the top players, but they also must work tirelessly to find the players who are ignored by the pro scouts but have the potential to develop into all-Americans. It is a task that loaded with frustration.

And it is worth noting that baseball is a game where winning 70 percent of your games is outstanding. Imagine fans of elite football programs being happy with a 7-3 record? Inferior baseball teams can beat the best with one hot pitcher, one crucial error or one line drive hit right at a defender.

The odds are Martin would have won a national title by now. Maybe this will be the year. Mike Martin deserves one, not to prove he can coach, but to please those people who don’t understand the game and what he’s already accomplished.

 

Florida State plays Miami this Saturday in Tallahassee. Why should we care?

Neither team is ranked. FSU is 6-3 and lost at Wake Forest. Miami is 5-4 and lost to Virginia.

Neither team will win the Atlantic Coast Conference championship — as if that matters. Everyone who follows college football knows the ACC is the Barney Fife of the BCS conferences. For the record, the Big Least is the Floyd the Barber of the BCS.

There’ll be a lot of NFL scouts at the game, but no one considers these rosters to be loaded with slam dunk pro stars of tomorrow.

So I repeat: Why should we care?

Well, I can’t speak for you, but I care because 1, I love college football; 2, this is one of the great rivalries in college football; 3, the game should be competitive; 4, I’m a Floridian.

The disinterest in the game is a reflection of how we live in an age where it isn’t about the beauty, the excitement and the fun of the game but about championships. No longer is second place – much less third place or lower – any kind of achievement. There’s THE winner and everyone else is a loser. Lose the Super Bowl and you’re a loser. Lose the BCS Championship Game and lose and you’re a loser. You get the point.

A colleague of mine maintains if the game doesn’t mean anything (i.e. path to a championship) then there’s no reason to watch. I couldn’t disagree more.

Let me make it clear: I love winners. I love champions. I want my teams to win championships. But I understand there’s only one champion. The way I see it, there’s the champion, but not everyone else deserves the loser label.

I don’t watch my teams play only if they’re contending for a title. Sure, I’m more excited when my teams are winning and contending. But I watch sports because I enjoy them. Its fun. I love the competition; the drama; the fact there’s no script. I love the camaraderie sports create. I love the debates and the tailgating; the atmosphere and the fact sports allow me to ignore the problems of everyday life for fleeting moments.

I appreciate the consistently good play of teams

I don’t consider the Buffalo Bills of the 1980s as losers. I admire and respect the fact they made it to four straight Super Bowls, the only team to do that in NFL history.

I grew up loving the North Carolina Tar Heels’ basketball team. Would I have enjoyed it more if Coach Dean Smith had won more titles? Absolutely. Did I admire Smith’s record of making it to the Final Four so many times? Absolutely. I didn’t consider it a failure.

Do I wish the Atlanta Braves of Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine had won more than one World Series? Certainly, but I consider winning 14 straight divisional titles an incredible achievement.

I’m excited about Saturday’s FSU-Miami game. Why? Because it’s FSU and Miami. That’s enough for me.

Championships are the icing on the cake, not the entire dessert.

 

Let’s not be too quick to bury the Florida State Seminoles. Have they been disappointing, falling from a preseason No. 5 ranking to three straight losses and a 2-3 record? Absolutely. Is the program spiraling backwards? Not necessarily.

Yeah, I know “they” say it’s all about winning. I know “they” say good programs don’t lose to Wake Forest, which has the smallest enrollment among major college schools. I know “they” say you are what your record says you are. I know “they” say “just win, baby”.

But the truth is FSU is only a handful of plays from being 4-1, maybe even 5-0. Also, keep in mind that FSU’s last three opponents have a combined record of 14-1. The lone loss was by Wake Forest in overtime at Syracuse. Two conquerors of the Seminoles, Oklahoma and Clemson, are ranked among the top 8 in the nation.

I’m not suggesting FSU should be included among the elite. Clearly, FSU has problems. The biggest problem is defense. In the three losses the Noles have given up 93 points, being susceptible to big plays because of a mediocre pass rush and sloppy tackling in the secondary. Both were expected to be strengths. Defensive coordinator Mark Stoops is catching most of the heat. Offensively, the run game has been a joke.

But FSU is loaded with athletes. The Noles are strong and they can run. Perhaps the biggest preseason concern, depth at quarterback, is now a non-issue. Backup Clint Trickett struggled against Wake Forest, but he proved against Oklahoma and Clemson that he’s far more talented than advertised.

More good news for FSU is the upcoming schedule. The combined record of the last seven regular-season opponents is 19-22.

It shouldn’t be ignored that some insightful college football observers felt the Seminoles were still a year away from being a top-10 caliber team before the season began. Have the Noles underachieved or were the self-named experts who ranked them in the top 10 in the preseason polls simply guilty of being overambitious? I’ve said many times I find it laughable how the “experts” always talk about teams underachieving and choking instead of blaming themselves for overrating the teams that don’t fulfill the experts’ prophecy .

Many of my colleagues are now saying FSU could struggle to win six games and become bowl eligible. To risk being guilty of doing exactly what I criticize my colleagues of doing, I still expect FSU to win at least five of the remaining seven games. It wouldn’t be shocking for the Noles to win out. The Thursday night game at Boston college (Nov. 3) was seen as a possible loss, but the Eagles have been awful so far. Instate rivals, Miami (Nov. 19) and Florida (Nov. 26 in Gainesville), are playing well below their preseason hype.

It has been said the Noles should start playing for 2012. Now that is stupid.

Quik pix: Okay, the Noles stumbled at Wake Forest, but they won’t this week at Duke; the Gators have been overmatched the last two weeks, but they are better than Auburn and prove it on the road; host North Carolina has too much defense for the newly named Miami Tropical Storm; visiting Georgia struggles at Vandy but wins; visiting Virginia Tech discovers Wake Forest is for real. Last week: 3-2 (16-9 overall).

 

In listening to the media and fans it was difficult to determine who won and who lost last week as Florida and Florida State finally were tested.

Florida defeated Tennessee 33-23 in a game that wasn’t that close, but Gator Nation isn’t celebrating all that much, and understandably so. Meanwhile, FSU lost 23-13 at home to top-ranked Oklahoma, a defeat that left much of Seminole Nation feeling good about itself. A columnist for the Tallahassee Democrat even went so far as to say the game signaled FSU’s return to elite status in college football. That’s a bit over the top.

The Gators should, indeed, feel good about their defense. The Vols couldn’t run the ball a lick. They do have a much better than average passing game, but the Gators made it look ordinary with a ferocious rush. The Vols’ best plays were pass interference penalties against Florida.

What should concern the Gators is their lack of wide receivers and power running. Too often the Gators have to settle for field goals because of these weaknesses. No wide receiver has emerged as a threat. Thus far, even against inferior opponents in the first two games, Florida’s passing game basically is quarterback John Brantley dumping off the ball to his small but speedy running backs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. It has worked beautifully to this point, but you can figure on Alabama and LSU, to say two future opponents, doing a better job of containing them. Against teams of that caliber, it’s reasonable to think the Gators will face some critical third-and-short situations. Converted quarterback Trey Burton looks like Florida’s best option.

The Gators’ biggest concern, however, is their rash of penalties. Tennessee benefited from 16 penalties for 150 yards. The Vols declined two other penalties. In three games the Gators have been penalized 34 times for 270 yards. Florida plays with great emotion – no doubt feeding off of their super hyper coach, Will Muschamp, who looks like a heart attack waiting to happen. Can they keep their emotion and play with poise? They’d better or they won’t have a chance of beating better competition than they’ve faced.

As for FSU, there were many positives even in defeat. It was a 13-13 midway through the fourth quarter with starting quarterback EJ Manuel on the sideline with a shoulder injury. The Noles can run with any team and they have quality great depth.

But they continue to struggle running the ball even with a bunch of veteran backs and an experienced offensive line. Manuel’s accuracy has been so-so and now he’s injured. And if ever there was a game when the home crowd should have helped, this was it. Doak Campbell Stadium was packed and loud. If the Noles are an elite team, they have to win in such an environment.

There’s no doubt FSU is better than it has been. No team wants to play them. But until they beat a top 10 team and win a tough road game, the Noles aren’t elite.

Quick pix: Florida can pick the final score against Kentucky; the Seminoles take a step back because of a Okie hangover, losing at Clemson; Georgia Tech’s offense has been on fire, but the Jackets cool down this week, and still beat visiting North Carolina; Georgia makes it two straight wins because host Ole Miss is the SEC’s weakest link; former SEC member Texas A&M slows down Oklahoma State’s passing attack enough to win close. Last week: 2-3 (5-5 overall).

 

What have we learned thus far during this college football season?

For one, when it comes to pure entertainment/excitement/thrill-a-minute football, the college game at its best gets the nod over the pro game. And I say this after one of the wildest, highest scoring opening weeks in NFL history. It doesn’t get much better than South Carolina beating 45-42 Georgia; Michigan beating Notre Dame 35-31; Auburn beating Utah State 42-38 and Mississippi State 41-34; Baylor beating TCU 50-48; Texas beating BYU 17-16 to mention a few games.

For two, we’ve learned that the college game is still one of a few “haves” and a lot of “have-nots”. Many college football advocates say parity has come to college football. They contend the gap between the elite and the bottom half, maybe two-thirds, of the 120 so-called major schools has closed significantly. They point to the success of Boise State, TCU and Utah as proof. They say scholarship limitations, the lure of getting early playing time as a quicker way to the NFL and TV exposure has spread the talent more than ever.

The facts don’t support such an argument. After two weeks we’ve already witnessed more than two dozen routs of 40-plus points. Close to home we’ve watched the Gators outscore two far inferior opponents by 80-3 and FSU whip two patsies by a combined 96-10.

Have those games helped Florida and FSU get ready for the “real” season? I don’t think so. Has it hurt them? Probably not. But we can take little from what we’ve seen from the Gators and Seminoles thus far. We don’t know if the Gators’ new pro style offense is for real. We don’t know if the Noles are ready to regain elite status.

This Saturday we’ll get a better idea if Florida is an SEC East contender and FSU is a national contender.

The Gators are favored by 9½ over a Tennessee team that’s trying to regain its status as a big-time program. The Vols have lit up the scoreboard for 87 points with a dynamic passing game against better competition (admittedly, not by much) than the Gators have faced. If Florida is to beat the Vols then the Gators will have to do a better job of getting to the quarterback.

The Noles have a more daunting task, hosting top-ranked Oklahoma. The experts obviously believe in FSU, making it’s a 3½-point.This despite the fact the Noles have not effectively run the ball well against the likes of Louisiana-Monroe and Charleston Southern.

Clearly, the FSU-Oklahoma game is the bigger of the two on the national stage, matching the No. 1 and No. 5 teams, but there’s more pressure on the Gators. A home loss to Tennessee could send a crippling message to a Gator team in transition with a new coaching staff and new schemes, not to mention a juggernaut of a schedule in October. FSU could recover from a close loss and still be in the national hunt.

Quik pix: Gators continue dominating the Vols, winning by 10; FSU gets revenge from last year’s spanking at Oklahoma and wins by 3; Ohio State worsens the nightmare in Miami and wins by 14; Auburn loses its rabbit’s foot and falls by 3 at Clemson; Notre Dame loses another home game, falling to Michigan State by 7. Last week: 3-2 (not using spreads).

 

A Gator fan approached me this week and with such obvious conviction said, “I feel a lot better about my team now than I did before the season.” There’s no doubt in my mind that many, maybe most, Gator fans feel the same way.

Isn’t it incredible what slapping around a lightweight can do for a passionate fan base?

Florida dominated Florida Atlantic. If those same teams play 100 more times, Florida will be 100-0 even if the Gators play poorly.

What can fans learn when their team wins an obvious mismatch? Not much. Truth is these are everything-to-lose-nothing-to-gain games. To the credit of the Gators, they did exactly what they were supposed to do, win convincingly. Only if they had struggled in a specific area would we have gotten an insight as to what to expect for the remainder of the season.

This week is more of the same. The Gators will beat UAB.

Even in victory, Gators fans should be worried if Florida doesn’t dominate the lines of scrimmage; if the passing game isn’t efficient; if they struggle running the ball.

Week 3 will give Florida fans a realistic peek into the future. Florida is a better team than Tennessee, but the Vols are respectable. Its possible Florida could play its best football to date in week 3 and lose.

QB John Brantley easily had his best performance as a Gator. What impressed me the most about his play was his discipline? In other words, he didn’t try to force anything; he didn’t get greedy. Or as Coach Will Muschamp put it, Brantley took what FAU gave him, and that meant dumping the ball to his running backs on swing passes. The offensive and defensive lines were dominant as they should have been.

We still don’t know if Florida’s receivers can run precision routes and if Brantley can be on target going down field.

Florida State also won its opener easily, shutting out outmanned Louisiana-Monroe 34-0, but I doubt Seminole fans are more excited now than they were a week ago. The Noles struggled running the ball. If the Noles don’t run the ball better against good completion they can forget about being in the hunt for the ACC championship much less the national championship.

I warn FSU fans not to get to excited this week after the Noles run over, through and around Charleston Southern. This could be the biggest mismatch of all mismatches. FSU should dominate in every phase of the game. No excuses not to if the Noles have truly rejoined the elite status in college football.

We’ll have a better idea of that in week 3 when Oklahoma visits Tallahassee. Win that one and FSU fans should rejoice until dawn.

Quik pix: Georgia upsets visiting South Carolina by 6; Mississippi State wins by 7 at Auburn and it shouldn’t be considered an upset; Alabama hammers hosts Penn State by 21; Michigan lights up Notre Dame by 10; visiting Stanford ties Duke in debate competition but wins by 40 in football. Last week: 3-2.

 

Now that the U.S. Open golf championship has come and gone, it’s time to get back to writing about football. Because the NFL is still squabbling behind closed doors about how to share $9 billion, football for the time being means college football.

Before being interrupted by the Open I’d started a compelling series of Question & Answer columns. To assure the right questions being asked and insightful and honest answers being given, I’ve taken the responsibility of providing both.  So after dazzling you with an incredible Jags Q&A, and following it up with I would believe to be a Pulitzer Prize winning Gator snapshot, today…it’s sheer brilliance, Seminole-style.

Q. Are Seminole fans a bunch of bandwagon fans?

A. Ah, a toughie right out of the box. The quick answer is yes. Now I realize there are Noles who practically live and die with FSU football. These are the folks who’d file for divorce before missing a Miami or Florida game because of a family function such as a wedding. These are the fans who’d drive I-10 in a driving rain storm to watch the Noles spank a nobody such as Charleston Southern or beat up an ACC weakling that thinks basketball first. (Good news: FSU plays at Duke this year.)

But I gotta be honest about this. Most FSU fans spew one excuse after another in explaining why they can’t make it to home games unless the opponent is Florida or Miami. The drive is too long; you have to book two nights lodging for one game; it rains too often in Tallahassee; yada, yada, yada. Truth is FSU fans couldn’t care less about the ACC and are still angry their team isn’t in the SEC. Once it is obvious the Noles are out of the national championship picture their interest in attending games all but disappears. Interestingly, FSU has become much like Miami in that there’s more national interest – in other words, they are a good draw on TV – than there is local interest. For the record, the bandwagon is getting overloaded again because it looks like the Noles are back. More on that later.

Q. Is Jimbo Fisher the coach to lead FSU back glory?

A. I had some serious doubts about Jimbo when he was hired as the head-coach-in-waiting. He was called an offensive whiz, but I remember how poorly his offenses performed at LSU in games against Florida and Auburn. And the longer Bobby Bowden kept putting off retirement the more I doubted whether or not Fisher would even stay around. He was in a difficult spot, but to his credit he remained loyal to Bowden and, obviously, worked hard to prepare for the day when he took over. His leadership qualities became obvious when he helped keep the team – players and coaches, administrators and fans – together even as they feuded among themselves.

When his time came last year he rallied the troops, calmed the fans and finished strong, closing the regular season with a convincing victory against Florida and a bowl win against South Carolina. Meanwhile, he put together what many considered the best recruiting class in the nation. An early season blowout loss at Oklahoma could have ruined the season, but FSU rallied to finish 10-4. It doesn’t hurt Jimbo that he’s now the senior head coach among the state’s Big 3 football schools. Yeah, Jimbo is the right guy.

Q. What’s the major strengthen of the ’11 Noles?

A. Talent, talent, talent. FSU is getting close to matching the unbelievable amount of talent it had 10 years ago. The key, obviously, is recruiting, but it isn’t about just signing to best players. Even during Bowden’s final years the school always seemed get more than its share of 4-and-5-star recruits. Problem was too many couldn’t get in school and still others didn’t stay long because of . . . let’s say character flaws. Remember Fred Rouse? In the last few years FSU has signed blue-chippers who could read and write on a college level and behave themselves.

Q. Which areas are the Seminoles the strongest?

A. No school is the nation can match FSU’s secondary. There are probably six to eight defensive backs who’ll dress this season that will eventually play in the NFL. Greg Reid, Xavier Rhodes, Nick Moody are studs. Incoming freshmen Karlos Williams and Nick Waisome are too talented not to play.

The defensive line is loaded again. Brandon Jenkins is among the best DEs in the nation. DT Moses McCray returns after missing last season because of a knee injury. I can’t imagine incoming freshman Tim Jerrigan of Lake City not getting a lot of snaps. There’s depth, too.

Running back is another area of strength. Chris Thompson (845 yards), Ty Jones (527) and Jacksonville’s Jermaine Thomas (490) are proven players. Add James Wilder Jr., one of the most sought after recruits in the nation, to the mix and you have an impressive group. (I still think Wilder would help the team more at linebacker, but he has asked to play RB and so far the coaches have agreed.)

Q. You didn’t mention quarterback. Isn’t E.J. Manuel expected to replace Christian Ponder without the Noles missing a beat?

A. I don’t know about missing a beat, but Manuel should be very good. Let’s not forget that Ponder was an NFL first-round draft pick (Minnesota, No. 12 overall). Manuel did see considerable playing time because of Ponder’s injuries and he performed reasonably well. His QB rating was higher than Ponder’s and he completed 70 percent of his passes. He’s more of a natural runner, too. But Manuel had only four TD throws and an equal number of interceptions, and that means he probably needs to improve his decision making.

The biggest concern at quarterback is who gets the call if Manuel is injured? Having Manuel backup Ponder was a great security blanket. Now the backup is Clint Trickett. Let’s be honest: FSU would never have signed Trickett (6-1, 175, redshirt freshman) if his dad wasn’t an FSU assistant.

Admittedly, it’s a good sign for a team when the major problems are about backups.

Q. Any other red flags to keep an eye on?

A. I mentioned all of the talent and sometimes that can become a problem. Players want to play, period. I’ve never known a good player who was happy sitting on the bench. Most athletes handle the situation well, understanding their times will come. But there are always some players who whine and complain and that can create a cancer even if it’s done privately. Will the RBs get along? Will some of the hotshot recruits be patient? Another potential problem is players thinking about NFL gold and not staying focused on playing college ball. Coaching an ultra talented team is more difficult than coaching a mediocre team. Jimbo and his staff will have to do more than just teach blocking and tackling, pitching and catching.

Q. Are the Seminoles ready to return to elite status?

A. Most people seem to think so. Most preseason polls have the Noles in the top 10 and some have them in the top 5. The skeptics like to say that FSU doesn’t belong back in the elite until they prove it, and while 10-4 was a good season FSU were handled rather easily by the two best teams they played, Oklahoma (47-17) and Virginia Tech (44-33). FSU’s defense did vanish in its losses, which also included 37-35 to North Carolina and 28-24 to N.C. State. Top 5 teams don’t give up 40 points a game. But overall FSU made a lot of defensive improvement from ’09 to ’10 and it’s reasonable to think improvement will continue based on recruiting. Yeah, I can see a top 10, maybe top 5, finish for the Noles, in part because of their schedule.

Q. What to you like and dislike about the schedule?

A. What I dislike about it is what I dislike the most about college football. FSU has no business playing Louisiana-Monroe and Charleston Southern in its first two games. Maybe I should say those schools don’t have any business playing FSU. Whatever, they are mismatches and we have far too many of those kinds of games throughout college football.

But I like more about the Noles schedule than I dislike. Playing Oklahoma, probably the preseason No. 1 team, in the third game in Tallahassee gives FSU a national stage to prove early in the season its belongs among the elite. If the Sooners beat FSU the Noles will have time to climb back up in the polls. The ACC schedule couldn’t be much better. The Noles don’t play Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Georgia Tech. Two conference road games are against bottom feeders in Duke and Wake Forest. A possible stumbling block is playing at Boston College on a Thursday night (Nov. 3). Playing Miami (Nov. 12) and at Florida (Nov. 26) could be emotionally draining. Overall, a favorable schedule.

Q. Okay, what’s your prediction for the season?

A. I’m going 10-2. Beating both Oklahoma and Florida will be difficult. I see at least one ACC loss, probably at BC. Then FSU wins the ACC title game and goes to the Orange Bowl. I call that a fine season although I’m sure many FSU fans will jump off the bandwagon.

Q. Not so fast, big guy. I’ve got one more question. What do you think Coach Bowden thinks about the upcoming season?

A. I’m pretty sure he’s not thinking much about it. Last time I checked Bobby and wife Ann were loving retirement and he wishes he’d retired earlier.