Week #1: Previewing Wake Forest
Week #2: Previewing Georgia Tech
Week #3: Previewing Texas A&M
Clemson at Florida State
Clemson won Bowden Bowl V in dramatic fashion last season by thoroughly dominating the Seminoles from start to finish only a week removed from a near meltdown in Winston-Salem.
Clemson's 26-10 win was even more dominating than the score may indicate, and the Tigers would eventually win the next three games of the year to finish 9-4 on the season. It was the first time a son had beaten a father in college football, and the win by Clemson and head coach Tommy Bowden gave the Tigers the much needed confidence sorely missing in the first 4 years of the program.
This will be the 4th game of the year for the Tigers in 2004. I have predicted in the previous three preview articles that Clemson will win the first three games to start the 2004 season. I predict Florida State will split their first 2 games to be off to a 1-1 start to the season with an opening day loss to Miami followed by a win versus Alabama Birmingham.
Bobby Bowden is in his 29th year at Florida State where he has compiled a 269-67-4 record. The Seminoles are coming off a 10-3 season with wins over North Carolina, Maryland, Georgia Tech, Colorado, Duke, Virginia, Wake Forest, Notre Dame, N.C. State, and Florida. In 2003, the Seminoles lost to Miami twice and to Clemson.
While Bobby Bowden has ruled the roost in the ACC since his arrival, things have slipped slightly for the Seminoles in the past few years. Offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden has received massive criticism for the vanilla offense the Seminoles being run under his watch. Mickey Andrews, the defensive coordinator that for so many years could do no wrong, has watched his defenses give up more points in the past few years than in the mid 1990's when the Seminoles were dominating the conference.
On offense, Florida State returns 9 starters from last year's team that averaged 403 yards a game (4th in the ACC and 37th in the nation).
Leading the way will be Chris Rix, a quarterback who has received his fair share of criticism through the years.
Make no mistake, Rix does not lack talent. He can throw the ball on a rope and is as mobile a quarterback that FSU has had since Charlie Ward. But he is sometimes a riverboat gambler, and the Seminole offensive coaches have simplified down the offense for fear of his mental mistakes.
Rix does a poor job of reading defenses (strange considering almost all former FSU QB's could read defenses magnificently) and he still has a problem with running out of the pocket before he needs to. The good news is that Rix is that he is a competitor that wants to be a great QB. He takes losing as hard as anybody on the FSU team, and that is a quality you want in a quarterback.
|Chris Rix returns for his senior season in Tallahassee.|
Florida State is good but not great at the wide receiver position. Craphonso Thorpe, assuming he returns healthy after breaking his fibula last year, is a special talent at one receiver spot. Chauncey Stovall is also talented and he appeared to be improving down the stretch last year to the point where the FSU coaches feel like he will be a go to guy in 2004. Beyond that, FSU is talented but lacking in experience. Chris Davis and Willie Reid had 43 catches between them and appear poised to be the #3 and #4 receivers for the Seminoles, although neither has blazing speed or size. Freshman DeCody Fagg enrolled in January and went through spring drills, so the talented signee may have a chance to make an impact this year. Although there is no Peter Warrick or dominating receiver on the roster, there is good talent at wide receiver that puts the Noles in the top half of the conference. If Rix can consistently get them the ball, the Seminole receivers can make plays, even if they can't control a game like some of their peers from the past.
The entire offensive line returns in 2004 and most of the nagging injuries from last year have also healed. The banged up line for the Seminoles were good if not dominating last year, but with the entire group returning the expectations are for this to be a special group. Alex Barron and Ray Willis are as big and athletic as any tackles in the league. Matt Meinrod and Bobby Meeks will work with center David Castillo to open plenty of holes in the middle for the running backs. This offensive line is easily the most talented and deep in the conference heading into the year, so expect the FSU coaches to lean on that strength as the season goes on.
On defense, FSU returns 5 starters from a defense that gave up only 332.3 yards a game last year (3rd in the ACC, 26th in the nation).
The defensive line will have to retool with the losses of Darnell Dockett, Kevin Emanuel and Jeff Womble. Replacing Womble will be the easiest task with Brodrick Bunkley taking over giving the Seminoles more strength and size at one tackle. Nose guard Travis Johnson was impressive in the spring and should solidify the middle for the Seminole defense. The ends are talented in Chauncey Davis and Eric Moore. Moore led the team in sacks last year (7 1/2) and he is the prototypical undersized FSU defensive end. The coaches love the upside of end Kamerion Wimbley who should provide depth for either end position. This is a unit that overall will have to prove itself because, on paper, this is a unit that ranks in the bottom half of the league. And without a great defensive line, you cannot have a great defense.
Most teams cannot lose their entire starting unit at linebacker and not fret too much, but FSU may have that luxury. Allen Augustin, Michael Boulware and Kendylle Pope are gone and so are the 249 tackles that they brought to the table. But the Seminoles have recruited some outstanding linebackers that will have the opportunity to make noise in 2004. Ernie Sims is the headliner of that group, and at 6-0 and 220 he has the quickness to make any play on the field. But A.J. Nicholson, who only started 3 games last year, is the guy to keep your eye on. He completely dominated during spring practice, and he most certainly will be an upgrade from Pope at the weak side linebacker position. This unit will need to get their feet wet before it shines, but by mid season this group could be as good as any in the league. Good thing Clemson plays the Seminoles in week 3.
In the secondary, FSU returns two of the 4 starters that gave up a respectable 212 yards through the air last year. Stanford Samuels and Rufus Brown are gone, but neither were the quality defensive backs that FSU is used to and they won't be terribly missed. Bryant McFadden has the potential to be the prototypical shut down corner at one end, but the Seminoles will have to keep an eye on Leroy Smith at the other corner. Smith was usually the guy being picked on last year by teams that tried to move the ball through the air against the Seminoles. The safeties are above average, not dominating, but there is depth throughout the secondary to give Coach Andrews options as the year goes on. Gerard Ross, Kyler Hall, B.J. Ward and Antonio Cromartie could start at most schools, but they head into fall practice in backup roles. This unit, much like the linebackers, is talented but unproven. Finding the right mix will be critical to this unit being in the top half of the conference.
Xavier Beitia returns after hitting on 19-of-25 field goals in 2004. He has a fairly strong leg (6-8 from 40+ yards) but he had some critical misses during the season against Clemson, N.C. State and Miami that shook his confidence a bit. Chris Hall will take over the punting duties, averaging almost 50 yards a kick in three attempts last year.
Summary and Prediction
There is a demon in the closet for Clemson in Tallahassee as Clemson is a dismal 0-6 in Tallahassee since 1990 by a combined score of 258-41. As ugly as that sounds, it's worse when you break it down per game. The average loss in Tallahassee has been a brutal 43-7 and that includes a respectable showing in 2002 when the Tigers lost only 48-31.
Clemson proved in 2002, and then reiterated that proof in 2003, that the Tigers can hold their own now talent-wise with the Seminoles. The Seminoles are not leaps and bounds better than Clemson talent wise, and most in the FSU camp would not argue that point.
So can Clemson go to Tallahassee and win? Surely they can. While the Seminoles will more than likely be favored, it would certainly not be the upset of the century if Clemson were to win. The Tigers will have momentum and a ton on the line to play for. But it is hard for me to shake the nightmares that Tallahassee has given us all over the years.
Clemson is good enough to win, but it probably won't. The trek to an ACC Championship in 2004 will hit a major speed bump as the Seminoles continue their dominance in Tallahassee, and revenge the 26-10 loss from last year.
Florida State 24 Clemson 14