Behind Enemy Lines: Seminoles

In Part II of our Behind Enemy Lines series prior to ULM vs. Florida State, Matt Vines of The News Star asks John Crist from Nole Digest for all the insider scoop on Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles.

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According to a survey done by ESPN's "SportsNation," Chief Osceola throwing his spear into the turf is the best tradition in college football.

Matt Vines: I've seen pregame traditions like Auburn's "War Eagle" circling the stadium and Tennessee running through the "Power T." I'm excited to see Chief Osceola and Renegade ride out and to hear all the chanting. Where does Florida State's pregame activity rank among the best?

John Crist: That very question was asked recently of college football fans by ESPN's "SportsNation," and Chief Osceola throwing his spear into the turf at Doak Campbell Stadium emerged victorious is the No. 1 tradition in the game -- and the voting in the final wasn't that close. The runner-up was all the Michigan players running out of the tunnel and jumping up to smack the "Go Blue" banner at the Big House. The Chief Osceola-Renegade combination really is something to see in person, and even though I've been to countless Florida State games over the years, both as a student and as a member of the media, it gets me every time.

You might not even notice that the flaming spear only sticks in the turf for a second or two, as somebody instantly removes it once Renegade sprints away from midfield.

MV: E.J. Manuel hasn't been the full-time starter at quarterback but has subbed in some key situations and performed quite well. He's well respected by the ACC coaches since he was chosen to the preseason first team, but do Florida State fans have any reservations about him at all?

JC: As you suggested, Manuel isn't the typical first-time full-time starter since he has gotten the call a few times in the past when eventual first-round pick Christian Ponder got injured, so Manuel already has a 4-2 record under his belt and a pair of bowl victories. That being said, his career touchdown-to-interception ratio is only 6-to-10, which is curiously being ignored by a lot of fans since optimism is running rampant in Tallahassee these days -- rightfully so with a No. 5 preseason ranking in the coaches poll and a No. 6 in the AP. The 6-5, 245-pounder has all the tools to succeed and a plethora of weapons to utilize in the passing game, but even former Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward was rather shaky for half a season or so when he took the reigns as a junior in 1992.

While I think he is going to be a very good quarterback one of these days, when I hear ESPN's Desmond Howard predict Manuel is going to win the Heisman and lead the Seminoles to a national championship in 2011, I think that's a bit premature.

MV: Jimbo Fisher spent several years waiting in the wings under Bobby Bowden after a long and prosperous career as LSU's offensive coordinator. Were there a lot of changes in the program during Fisher's first season, and do Florida State fans believe he's the guy to return the Seminoles to dominance in an ACC that is viewed as pretty weak by outsiders?

JC: The uniforms may still be garnet and gold, but it's simply incredible how much of a difference Fisher has already made in just his second season as the top face on the totem pole. He got FSU into the 21st century by bringing in one of the most respected coaching staffs in the country, revolutionizing the strength and conditioning program and even recruiting a different kind of athlete. While Bowden was a sucker for speed and fielded too many offensive and defensive linemen that were undersized, Fisher has put together a much more physically imposing roster at just about every position, plus they can all still run the way the 'Noles have always run.

Most importantly, accountability among the players is no longer an issue with Fisher in charge, and it showed during preseason camp since the team didn't have so much as a curfew violation off the field -- the inmates started to run the asylum during the latter stages of the Bowden era.

MV: ULM quarterback Kolton Browning has the athleticism to escape the rush and get out of the pocket, and he will probably need every ounce against Florida State, whose 48 sacks were tied for first nationally this past season. How good are the pass rushers considering that an experienced secondary can lock down receivers? And will Browning make it through the game with two true freshmen linemen in front of him, including the left tackle?

JC: That freshman left tackle you mention, he's going to have his hands full Saturday because lining up across from him more often than not will be junior defensive end Brandon Jenkins, who is an All-American candidate and arguably the best pure pass rusher in college football. On the other side of the line, Jenkins' speed and quickness is contrasted by the brute strength sophomore Bjoern Werner uses to get to the enemy passer -- turn on the tape of the Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over South Carolina, and there are stretches when Werner is totally unblockable. Off the bench, Cornellius Carradine is a junior-college transfer with serious skills, and, at least according to Werner, "Tank" is the strongest Seminole in the weight room.

This defense also blitzes a lot more than it used to in the Bowden regime, as senior Nigel Bradham recorded five sacks from his linebacker position in 2010.

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MV: It wasn't long ago that Florida State coordinator Mark Stoops had a respectable amount of success as the coach at Arizona. Will he be a head coach again, and do schools consider him when compiling a list of candidates?

JC: No question about it, Stoops is going to be a head coach again at the FBS level, and it could happen as early as next season. From the moment Stoops arrived, smart Florida State fans knew he probably wouldn't stick around for long because he is a sound defensive mind and, obviously, coaching is a way of life in his family -- brother Bob Stoops and No. 1 Oklahoma come to Tallahassee in two weeks. Though don't look for Stoops to end up at some small directional school that isn't relevant in the BCS, as he could be a candidate for a big-time job like Ohio State if the Seminoles are as dominant on defense as their talent suggests they can be.

Legendary former defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews used to rush the front four and then play man-to-man in the secondary from snap to snap because he usually had superior athletes on the field, but Stoops employs a much more intricate scheme in terms of blitz packages and zone coverage.

To go back and read Part I of this Behind Enemy Lines series, where Matt answered five questions from John, Click Here

John Crist is the editor-in-chief of Matt Vines is the ULM beat writer for The News Star.

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