TSX Report: Florida State

Despite the Seminoles' loss in the ACC championship game, there was little disappointment in recapping the season. Florida State (9-4) wound up getting the ACC's second-place bowl trip to the Chick-Fil-A-Bowl in Atlanta to face South Carolina. This is a renewal of a rivalry that existed when the teams were formerly independents. They met 18 times until both become conference members the early 90s.

"I like the direction we're going," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. "I told our players, I thanked them for the work they did and setting a standard of how to do things, how to prepare and how to practice.

"And our young guys have to carry that legacy on. There's a lot of guys that have been in this situation. I think the environment was good for them to learn from."

The Seminoles vowed to return and take it another step higher by advancing to play in a BCS bowl, something Florida State has not done in five years.

By playing in Atlanta, however, against an SEC foe on New Year's Eve, the game should spur Florida State fans to buy up their ticket allotment and create a true neutral-field setting against the Gamecocks, who lost the SEC title game in the Georgia Dome.

NOTES, QUOTES

PLAYERS TO WATCH

--TB Ty Jones, despite missing three games this season, has gained a single season career-high 510 yards on 83 carries. He scored a career-high three touchdowns in the ACC championship game, though he only had 24 carries. He is averaging a robust 6.4 yards per carry.

--WR Bert Reed is on course to become one of Florida State's all-time leaders in receptions. With a team-leading 53 receptions, the Panama City, Fla., native pushed his career total to 136 catches, which is seventh on the Seminoles' all-time list.

--QB E.J. Manuel, if he plays, has proven he can be an effective backup with solid performances in relief this season against Clemson and Virginia Tech. Manuel was the quarterback in last year's Gator Bowl victory against West Virginia.

--Coach Jimbo Fisher has turned the direction and the perception about the Florida State program in a positive direction. The team's nine regular-season wins were the most since 2003. The record included wins against rivals Miami and Florida for the first time in the same season since 1999. Fisher overhauled everything about the program, and it has made a difference. On the other sideline will be South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, a Florida legend for his playing and coaching career with the Gators.

BOWL HISTORY: Florida State is 23-14-2 all-time in bowl games, headlined by a 14-year unbeaten streak that began in 1982. This is the Seminoles' 29th consecutive year playing in a bowl game, the longest streak in the nation.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I've been to that bowl three or four times in my career. They do a phenomenal job. Anything involved with Chick-fil-A, they're first class. It's one of the best bowl games you can go to, the way they treat you, the hospitality. Atlanta is a great town, and playing in the dome, it's a great environment there." -- Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

BOWL BREAKDOWN

Scouting the running game: The Seminoles had their worst rushing performance in the ACC title game, gaining only 53 yards against Virginia Tech. The Seminoles went into the game fourth in the ACC in rushing offensive, averaging 177.7 yards. Part of the problem was injuries to top backs Jermaine Thomas, who didn't play, and Ty Jones, was hampered. But there is direct correlation in games this season between Florida State's running success and its overall performance. The Seminoles will face a South Carolina team that has run the ball well all season.

Scouting the passing game: Whether it's Christian Ponder or E.J. Manuel at quarterback, the Seminoles should feel confident. Manuel passed for 288 yards and one touchdown against the Hokies, and he has plenty of experience. The Seminoles' challenge will be trying to contain another mobile quarterback, South Carolina's Stephen Garcia, who brings a run-pass threat.

Scouting the run defense: Overall this season, the Seminoles have been effective in stopping opponents' rushing attacks. It's certainly been a big improvement from the past two seasons. This group will be tested by South Carolina's bullish tailback, Marcus Lattimore, who has scored 17 regular-season touchdowns and rushed for nearly 1,200 yards.

Scouting the pass defense: As they showed against Virginia Tech, the Seminoles have left too many wide receivers wide open after failing to produce pressure with their front line. Opponents have exploited the Seminoles' youthful cornerbacks and safeties, who have been through a lot of trial-and-error this season.

Scouting the special teams: The Seminoles won't yield to anyone in the kicking game. Placekicker Dustin Hopkins has enjoyed a stellar season, aside from missing a field goal against North. Punter Shawn Powell is one of the better punters in the country. Punt returner Greg Reid has forced teams to kick away from him or angle punts to avoid giving him the center of the field to get into space.

Intangibles: Both teams are coming off disappointing losses in their conference championship games. That will be an emotional factor. Whichever team can sell this game the best to players and make it seem like it really matters will likely emerge with the win. The Gamecocks were blown out in the SEC title game against Auburn, but they have produced their two biggest wins, upsetting then-No. 1 Alabama and winning at Florida, following losses. Given the fact he's playing a former rival, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier figures to have his team eager to play. The Seminoles were not favored to beat Virginia Tech, but they were hoping to get to the Orange Bowl. They may have run out of fuel on defense with depth issues.

ROSTER REPORT

--QB Christian Ponder (elbow) became one of the biggest storylines on the final weekend of the season. Florida State played it secretive about Ponder's availability, presenting a picture that everything was normal and Ponder had a great week of practice. The truth was, team doctors told coach Jimbo Fisher that Ponder's elbow, which had been getting fluid drained each week, now contained blood in the fluid. That was enough to hold him out. It's entirely possible that Ponder may undergo surgery and either miss the bowl game to get ready for the NFL combine and Senior Bowl, or have a procedure that will allow him to play.

"When you start draining blood, you've got to be a little careful," Fisher said. "I wasn't going to jeopardize his future for one football game, and (the elbow) just needed rest.

"Early in the week, it wasn't bad, but then it started getting really sore later in the week and started getting hard. It wasn't worth taking a chance on his future and his career."

--TB Jermaine Thomas (knee) may be ready for the bowl game, which would give the backfield a big boost.

--TB Ty Jones (ankle) should be at full strength with the time off.


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