Woe is us.
What is catastrophic in Tallahassee is a cause to rejoice for many, if not most other programs in the country. How did FSU rise to this level of expectation that would leave us wondering what went wrong in a season many others would love to have? By never being content with being anything less than the best, that's how. For that reason, 8-4 is a catastrophe by our admittedly ridiculously high standards. As fans, we all understand the amazingly unfortunate set of circumstances that came about in the 2001 season that had us all knowing that "This just isn't our year" from the beginning, even going back to the dismal performance in the Orange Bowl to send our high powered 2000 team out with a most non-glorious whimper.
In 2002, gone is our lack of senior leadership. Gone are our youth and inexperience. Gone are our insane number of serious injuries (knock on wood). Gone, but not forgotten, is the shock of the death of one of our own. Gone is our need to start a completely inexperienced freshman at the most important position on the field. In other words, barring another bizarre alignment of the planets between now and the start of the season, 2002 will mark a return of the Seminoles to the lofty perch we have grown accustomed to at or near the top of the college football world.
Aided greatly by mass defections of underclassmen from the other in-state schools, I have to say that FSU has as good a chance as any team out there to win it all in 2002. Had UF and UM returned all their underclassmen, I'd say we would have our hands completely full and then some with those teams, but I think we're right there with them now in returning talent and experience. All things being equal, it's just a matter of which of the three Florida teams gels and has the best team chemistry that will decide which of us will take our customary State of Florida slot in the national championship game, more likely than not to be against the Big 12 champion yet again. With UF and UM playing each other, we will see a long awaited return to having a true state champion among the Big 3 if one of our teams is fortunate enough to win both games against their state rivals. This is a big bonus for FSU who has been the only school to play two in-state rivalry games for too long now.
In this peculiar year of thirteen regular season games for FSU, the Noles will put a strong foot forward in the strength of schedule department with out of conference games against Miami, Florida, a rising Louisville program with a senior Heisman trophy candidate at QB, an underrated Iowa State program that has quietly positioned themselves just below the upper-crust of the insanely tough Big 12 conference and has a Heisman candidate of their own at QB, and a Notre Dame team that should be much improved under new coach Tyrone Willingham. I think if it comes down to a dead heat in the polls and computer polls, strength of schedule is definitely going to be a strong ally of the Noles to get us into the #1 or #2 spot at season's end should we take care of business on the field. That strength of schedule will also be a strong ally for shaping perception in the human polls that could be of strong benefit to us.
Which bring us to what's going to happen on the field in 2002. I've decided to do a unit by unit breakdown of how I think FSU is looking going into the 2002 season. On offense, the Noles return nine former starters, with departures only at the underutilized tight end and fullback positions. On defense, FSU returns 8 starters from a unit that took it's lumps in the 2001 season. We also return our kicker and punter from last year's squad for a total of 19 returning starters out of a possible 24. Inexperience isn't going to be the problem if things don't click in the 2002 season.
Chris Rix (6-4, 210, So.) Adrian McPherson (6-4, 180, So.) Fabian Walker (6-2, 216, Jr.)
FSU returns an abundance of wealth at the QB position. We are so loaded with potential here it's ridiculous. As maligned as Chris Rix was among many fans for his tendency to turn the ball over in the 2001 season, there were an equal number of fans, including your's truly, that saw nothing but greatness ahead for the superstar-in-the-making. The numbers would side with those that are drooling over what's going to happen for the FSU offense once Rix's mental ability and experience level catch up with his athletic ability. Consider that in Rix's *freshman* season, he had the third highest QB rating for FSU since 1988, behind only the Heisman trophy winning years of Charlie Ward in 1993 and Chris Weinke in 1999. Not too shabby for a guy that hadn't even taken a snap in college football prior to his first start in 2001. The potential is mind-boggling.
How far FSU will go in 2002 will largely depend on Rix's ability to get a better feel for when to tuck the ball under to run, when to throw, and when to just throw the ball out of bounds to avoid a sack. If he develops just one-half of Charlie Ward's magical instincts on the field, he will be an absolute terror because his athletic, throwing and running ability have already proven to be top-notch. Also vital to his development is the need to improve on his decision-making in choosing which receiver to target in the pattern. Last year, I noticed that he had a tendency to try to go long before settling for an underneath option, even when the deep receiver was double-covered and the underneath man was all alone. I attribute part of that to his inexperience and his likely inability to make all the proper reads in the progression of options in the pattern, but I also sense that at this stage in his career, he's the type that will try for the home run even when the team only needs a single.
If Rix can just improve on his decision making, it is possible that he will get all the way there in 2002, given his steady learning curve in 2001. That improvement should come naturally with experience. Anything beyond a normal improvement level from Rix, and I think we'll be playing for all the marbles this year. I'm not going to expect him to have a magical dream season, but I'm not going to eliminate it as a possibility. I am going to expect something closer to Rex Grossman's season for UF last year, one in which he would put up gaudy numbers most of the time, but still had enough green on him to not be able to avoid the bad game he had against Auburn that seriously hampered UF's title hopes. The primary difference is that Rix is going to put up much bigger numbers than Grossman on the ground, which will be a valuable weapon in the FSU offensive arsenal that may help us in avoiding the upset in those tougher- than-expected games all good teams face in their quest for greatness.
The fact that Rix is a running QB that has shown a reluctance to slide to avoid taking punishment in a year where we are having 13 regular season games means that depth at QB is going to be very important. It will be very interesting to see the development of Adrian McPherson and Fabian Walker this year. McPherson had an up and down freshman campaign where one week he would look smooth as silk and ready to take over the starting position and the following week he would have the "deer in headlights" look to him while trying to avoid an oncoming blitz. Will McPherson redshirt to put some separation between himself and Rix and Walker to gain more playing time for himself in the future? Or will he end up battling Rix for the starting position, or take over the starting position in the event of a Rix injury? Will Walker's patience and desire to be a Seminole be rewarded with serious playing time in the next two seasons with Rix and McPherson around? Will Walker eventually take over the position as many expected him to do prior to being forced to go the JUCO route? There are any number of possibilities at the QB position for FSU and the crystal ball is very cloudy in trying to predict what's going to happen here. I hope McPherson doesn't end up transferring because I still think he will end up making serious headlines for FSU in the future. Football has a way of producing unexpected twists and turns, and at any moment in a long regular season, our team's fortunes may be in McPherson's or Walker's hands. I feel very good that we have so much potential talent at this position.
Robert Morgan (6-0, 195, Sr.) Anquan Boldin (6-2, 226, Jr.) Talman Gardner (6-2, 200, Sr.) P.K. Sam (6-3, 195, So.) Craphonso Thorpe (6-2, 175, So.) Joey Kaleikini (6-0, 195, Jr.) Chauncey Stovall (6-2, 200, Jr.) Dominic Robinson (6-1, 190, So.) Chris Davis (6-0, 170, Fr.) Lorne Sam (6-2, 180, Fr.) Travis Smith (6-0, 190, Sr.) Geondrell Jackson (So.) Dwight Williams (5-9, 153, Fr.) Jason Staples (So.)
This is a position where we *should* be fine, but we really won't know for certain until we see how well Robert Morgan and Anquan Boldin do after returning from major injuries that kept them both sidelined for the entire 2001 campaign. Talman Gardner stepped up in their absence with a breakout junior season and would have to be termed as the returning leader of this unit. The Seminoles will have to replace the deep threat provided by 1st round NFL draft pick Javon Walker, but should be able to do so with the services of Craphonso Thorpe. P.K. Sam exceeded a lot of people's expectations with a very solid freshman year, and if word from spring practice is any indication, he seems ready to build on that to become a serious threat within our offense himself.
The Seminoles are five deep at receiver with proven talent with a lot of experience. Ideally, we like to be at least six to eight deep at this position, so additional help is going to have to come from somewhere. Chauncey Stovall finally getting his clearance to play is a big boost for us in hopes of finding that skilled sixth receiver to contribute at a championship level immediately. Chris Davis' knee injury putting him out for the season was a major blow to our WR depth when coupled with losing Dishon Platt to academics, but gaining the services of Chauncey Stovall cushions that blow considerably. The surprising (to me) move of Dominic Robinson from cornerback to wide receiver gives us another potential weapon at the receiver position, but if Robinson wasn't good enough to crack our two-deep rotation at cornerback, then perhaps some of his incoming hype as a recruit was not legitimate or justified. Time will tell on that. In a pinch we can also use Nick Maddox and Willie Reid as wide receivers as they have extensive experience at the position from previous years.
I feel good about what we have at this position, but I'm more reluctant to call us loaded than many others would be. I'm going to wait to see how Boldin and Morgan are able to come back from their injuries before getting too excited about our prospects at WR. I think we're strong, but to be loaded, I have to feel extremely good about our starters and extremely confident in our depth. I'll be singing our praises at WR if Boldin and Morgan return at 100% and Morgan gets more consistent at hanging on to the ball than he was in the 2000 season, but I want to see it on the field before saying it's going to happen. As it is we have several guys that have proven themselves to be good, but still have work to do before proving themselves to be great. I do feel better about the WR unit coming into this season than I did last season though.
Greg Jones (6-1, 248, Jr.) Nick Maddox (6-0, 196, Sr.) Willie Reid (5-10, 185, Fr.) Lemar Parrish (6-1, 190, Sr.) Lorenzo Booker (5-11, 178, Fr.) Thomas Clayton (5-11, 194, Fr.) Leon Washington (5-9, 180, Fr.) Marlon Napier (5-9, 190, So.) George Shuler (5-9, 190, So.) Ronnie Williams (5-10, 180, So.)
RELEASE THE BEAST!!! Greg Jones finished the 2001 season serving notice that he will be a force to be reckoned with for the remainder of his FSU career. At the beginning of the season, I thought that we had the distribution of carries right with regard to Maddox starting and Jones seeing ample time as a backup. But when Jones turned the corner and blew past everyone down the sideline for his late TD sealing one of the better FSU victories of the year against Clemson, I saw a level of speed I hadn't seen from the big guy prior to that. I previously thought Maddox was the more likely back to break off a very long run (50+ yards) but after that TD against Clemson I saw that Jones could fill the bill as a breakaway threat as well as his ability to punish defenses in the trenches. For the remainder of the season, Jones showed an amazing ability to gain yardage even on plays where our run blocking was woefully lacking. Towards the end of the season, it would routinely take four or five tacklers just to bring him down. If he manages to stay healthy through the 2002 year, FSU's single season rushing record could be in serious jeopardy. The guy is a tank, period. Barring injury, I am *expecting* no less than 1,200 yards rushing for Jones this year, with a potential for 1,800+ if our OL run blocks like five seniors should.
Given the absence of experience at the fullback position, I think FSU would be well served to put Rix in the gun this year, spread the field with receivers, and use Jones as the single back as our primary offensive set. When we do not plan to feed the ball to the Beast and when we want to play out of the I formation, we should put him in at FB to clear the way for Maddox for a devastating one-two punch out of the backfield. What I saw of Jones' blocking last year has me convinced that he'd be our best option at the FB position over any of the freshmen or walk-ons we have available, and I don't think he'd mind playing the role of lead blocker for Maddox given the amount of carries he should be able to get out of the single back set. In Nick Maddox we have an extremely versatile player that should be utilized extensively as a receiving option out of the backfield when we have him in the game (and not just for passes in the flat, downfield passing to the TB should become a potent part of our arsenal again). Maddox hasn't put up the rushing numbers we all hoped for when he was initially recruited, but he is still a player that is capable of having tremendous impact on the game. If our line can open up the holes, don't count Maddox out as a serious rushing threat.
Behind Maddox and Jones we have a *serious* amount of potential talent stockpiled with Willie Reid, Lorenzo Booker, Thomas Clayton and Leon Washington. Word from our spring scrimmages had it that Willie Reid was proving to be an impact player waiting to burst on the scene and our true freshman running back trio behind him is as highly touted a running back class as we've ever recruited at FSU. Bottom line is WE ARE LOADED AT TB!!! Loaded in a major way.
B.J. Dean (5-11, 250, Fr.) P.J. Selvidio (6-2, 235, Jr.) James Buchanan (6-2, 238, Fr.) Torrance Washington (6-1, 230, Fr.) Mike Petrozcky (6-0, 220, Jr.)
As loaded as we are at tailback, we have the exact opposite situation at fullback. We have zero returning experience at this position. We're going to be starting a freshman or a walk-on if we don't utilize Greg Jones as a FB when we're in the I. I attribute our troubles at this position to our change in philosophy that occurred during the Pooh Bear Williams era at FB where we decided that the FB would no longer be a featured threat in our offense for anything other than blocking and FB dive plays. FB is no longer an attractive position to incoming recruits at FSU as it was when players like Edgar Bennett, William Floyd and Zack Crockett were major threats in the offense and so I think our suffering at the position has spiraled downward to this current low point. I have no idea which player will eventually take over the starting role in this position, or if we'll even see a FB on the field this year for more than a few plays per game. My gut is saying Torrance Washington might be the answer, but I don't think any of these guys are going to be ready to play the position at a championship level this year. I think we will have at least two games this year where we are going to wish we had an experienced and talented FB. Here's hoping our philosophy of de-emphasizing the FB position doesn't hurt us too badly this year as I fear it might. If we can convince Greg Jones to play FB when he's not destroying opposing D's with the ball in his hands from the TB position, I think that will be our best solution to the problem.
Patrick Hughes (6-5, 265, Sr.) O.J. Jackson (6-2, 220, Sr.) Paul Irons (6-2, 250, So.) Kentril White (6-0, 240, Sr.) Lonnie Davis (6-4, 255, Fr.) Matt Henshaw (6-4, 205, Fr.)
IMO, this is another woefully underutilized position in the FSU offensive attack. Miami schooled us in 2000 on the value of properly using the TE position. I feel *much* better about our personnel situation at this position than I do with the FB position though. Patrick Hughes did a pretty good job last year splitting time with Carver Donaldson and I don't think he'll be a liability at all. Paul Irons looked to be solid in the time he got on the field last year. I don't think either of these guys are going to make us forget Pat Carter, or even Melvin Pearsall, but I don't think we're going to be hurt by the performance we will get from the position either. Lonnie Davis is a guy that I think would be able to earn limited play time if he qualifies academically. The recent position switch of O.J. Jackson to TE is a very curious one that perhaps may indicate a future move of Paul Irons back to FB to help with that position, given that Irons came in recruited as both a potential TE or FB. The position switch of Matt Henshaw to TE is even more curious, but I hope it works out for him. I do hope we choose to utilize our TE's as potential receivers more because just the threat of hitting the TE can wreak havoc on an opposing defense. We've seen time and time again how our D has problems with covering the TE's of our opponents. IMO, using your TE's effectively is the best way to increase the amount of space your WR's have to operate in when they get their touches, and it can also do wonders for your running game by giving LB's something extra to contend with.
Brett Williams (6-6, 310, Sr.) Milford Brown (6-4, 316, Sr.) Antoine Mirambeau (6-4, 300, Sr.) Montrae Holland (6-3, 336, Sr.) Todd Williams (6-6, 325, Sr.) Ray Willis (6-6, 295, So.) Alex Barron (6-6, 300, So.) Bobby Meeks (6-3, 290, So.) Matt Meinrod (6-4, 284, Fr.) Andrew Henry-Kennon (6-4, 300, Fr.) Matt Heinz (6-4, 270, Fr.) Ron Lunford (6-5, 330, Fr.) Blake Williams (6-4, 285, Fr.) Eric Broe (6-6, 318, Fr.) David Castillo (6-2, 300, So.) Cory Niblock (6-4, 280, Fr.) Donnell Stiles (6-2, 275, So.) Craig Merson (So.)
OK, this is it. The senior year of the most highly touted OL class in FSU history. Only Todd Williams move to guard and/or being passed on the depth chart previously by Ray Willis keeps us from having a line consisting of five seniors. IMO, we have NO EXCUSES WHATSOEVER to not field the most DOMINANT line in FSU history this year with the experience we have at every position. Anything less than an OL performance equaling or surpassing what Miami has achieved in the last two seasons will be a failure in my eyes. Yes, my expectations are quite different for a unit with this level of experience.
We are as loaded as loaded can be with this unit, but as we've seen in year's past, that doesn't guarantee a stellar performance from the big men up front. Brett Williams and Montrae Holland will be the anchors of this line and I'm looking for very big things from both of them. I've been anxiously anticipating this season from the moment we signed these guys.
I want to see a season where opposing D's have to wonder whether or not they'll even be able to touch our quarterback in the course of the game (like we felt facing Miami last year after watching them shut out Jamal Reynolds and company in 2000). I want to see a season where our running backs routinely get three yards past the line of scrimmage before they have to start dancing to avoid tacklers. I want to see a season with under 10 sacks yielded. I want to see a season where a successful third and two play is a foregone conclusion where we can smugly laugh at our opponents for thinking they have a chance of stopping us and not have such plays be a cause for worry as they have been for many years now. I want to see a season where our backup linemen are getting much needed experience for next year as early as the second quarter in some games because we're going to desperately need that in 2003. I want to see pain and anguish in the faces of opposing defenses as they see their best tacklers getting pushed backwards like a blocking sled and as they try to dig their pancaked defensive linemen out of the ground. I want to see The Beast make it into the secondary untouched so he can flick aside puny opposing DB's like the gnats that they are on his way to paydirt. Am I motivating anyone here?
I hope so because last year the OL did not fill the role as the leaders on offense as they needed to do for us to be able to maintain our streaks in a year where everything else was going against us. In previous years when our OL was young and struggling, the skill players would always pick up the slack and adjust to bail us out to keep the streaks rolling. Last season we needed DOMINATION from our OL to allow Rix the time to settle in with a strong running game supporting him so he wouldn't have the weight of the team's fortunes squarely on his shoulders. That running game didn't develop early in the year and Rix was then put in a very unfortunate situation that tested the patience of many fans, unfairly so IMO. Only after Rix was able to somewhat establish himself as a threat did our running game start to develop. That we went 8-4 in such a situation is actually an amazing accomplishment because many freshman QB's would have just self-destructed under the pressure and criticism. Had it been the other way around and our passing game developed because of the success of our running game, I think FSU could have gotten through the season with some of our streaks still intact.
The thing is I think all five of our senior linemen could be NFL bound as I think the physical ability is there. Studying the line play last year for the game summaries, I didn't see any one guy consistently missing assignments. It was always one or another on one play, then someone else on another play. Often, poor blocking jobs by our FB's and TE's would wrongly be attributed to the OL. I just know that on the occasions where we got it right, the yards per play on those plays was significantly higher than otherwise. We just have to learn how to get it right a higher percentage of the time. If our OL, FB's, and TE's just learn who to hit, when and how to hit them consistently on every play, there is no doubt in my mind that we can again become the unstoppable machine we love to watch on offense.
Darnell Dockett (6-4, 280, Jr.) Jeff Womble (6-3, 290, Jr.) Travis Johnson (6-5, 275, So.) Tony Benford (6-4, 287, Sr.) Donnie Carter (6-4, 252, Fr.) Mike Shaw (6-3, 277, Sr.) Brian Ross (6-2, 300, So.)
DT is a position where I feel we are completely loaded, even if all the freshman Chris' do not qualify academically. In Dockett and Womble we likely have the best starting DT combo in the nation. Backing them up are the highly touted Travis Johnson and a guy that I've always been very high on, Tony Benford. I'm extremely happy with this as our two deep roster at this position.
Last year, Darnell Dockett quietly racked up an FSU single season record for tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Pretty good for a year where we didn't think he was quite as dominant as we were expecting him to be. If this reality is indicative that Dockett still has a lot of room for improvement, we're likely looking at a two-time consensus All-American should he decide to stay for his senior season. I hope he's able to come back strong from his unfortunate injury in the final moments of the Gator Bowl. He really started to put it all together and played like a man among boys in the Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech games. Jeff Womble also had a somewhat quiet sophomore season in comparison to expectations for him after a freshman campaign that saw him establish himself as one of the hardest hitters on the team. I think our drop-off in production at the DE position after the departure of Jamal Reynolds and David Warren had a lot to do with Dockett and Womble not quite being the terrors we were thinking they would be out of the gate.
I have no worries at the DT position whatsoever (barring injury) and expect us to be *very* difficult to run against this year.
Alonzo Jackson (6-4, 250, Sr.) Kevin Emanuel (6-4, 240, Jr.) Eric Moore (6-4, 245, So.) Eric Powell (6-4, 275, Sr.) Charles Howard (6-3, 233, Jr.) Willie Jones (6-3, 233, Fr.) Kamerion Wimbley (6-4, 225, Fr.) Broderick Bunkley (6-3, 260, Fr.) Darrell Burston (6-2, 210, Fr.)
For a team that has had a shortage of depth at linebacker in recent years, we certainly do seem to have a lot of them playing defensive end. ;-) I know the defensive philosophy has been to take LB's and make them DE's, and take DE's and make them DT's to increase team speed on the defensive side of the ball, but I think we're going a little bit too light lately at this position and we're not able to get the strong push needed to rack up the sacks any more. I'd like to see us average an extra 10-20 pounds per player at this position across the board. The 2002 defensive end corps looks to improve on an anemic pass rush in the 2001 season that totaled only 14 sacks, a number embarrassingly only equaled in the ACC cellar by Duke. I think the near total lack of an effective pass rush was the biggest problem we had last year that led to the worst pass defense numbers in the Bowden era at FSU.
Sure the DB's didn't get it done either and looked hopelessly lost at times, but they were being asked to cover their men for a lot longer than FSU DB's have typically had to cover in the past. They weren't up to the task, and they certainly must improve if we're to challenge for a championship, but I think it all starts up front. I believe with an increase in the pass rush, we will see a corresponding improvement in the defensive secondary, even if the secondary doesn't actually improve at all with their own technique and ability. Just getting greater pressure on it's own will make us a better secondary.
It's not just the defensive ends that have to do a better job in this area. We need more pressure from our interior line and linebacker blitzes. It's just that in the last decade FSU has made it a habit to have our dominating rushers lined up on the outside at DE, so that's where the focus of this area of needed improvement should be. Best case scenario for FSU at DE is for Alonzo Jackson to step up in a big way to consistently play at the best level we've seen him play at (and not just show flashes here and there) and for one guy among the rest to completely shock us by becoming a terror on the other side (Eric Moore being the most likely candidate IMO). Eric Powell has also courageously completed his comeback from a gunshot wound last season. He has wowed everyone with his testing numbers, so expect him to possibly make a major impact as well in his senior season.
I'm comfortable with our depth and experience at this position, just wishing the talent would prove to be closer to the levels we were spoiled into expecting at this position by the insanely good players from the 1995-1997 seasons. I feel very good about our ability to stop the run this year. We're going to be able to make teams one dimensional moreso than last year, so I'm hoping this will make it easier for our DL to pin their ears back and bring it.
Kendyll Pope (6-2, 210, Jr.) Michael Boulware (6-3, 212, Jr.) Jerel Hudson (6-3, 277, Sr.) Allen Augustin (6-1, 206, Jr.) Marcello Church (6-1, 215, So.) Robert May (6-0, 230, Sr.) Nate Hardage (6-1, 230, Jr.) Ray Piquion (6-0, 215, So.) Cory Collier (6-1, 226, Jr.) Sam McGrew (6-3, 230, Fr.) Buster Davis (5-11, 230, Fr.) A.J. Nicholson (6-2, 232, Fr.) Lee Weaver (6-2, 212, Sr.) Robin Charles (6-1, 210, Sr.) John Peacock (6-2, 220, So.) Eric Adair (6-0, 215, Fr.) Edgar Ter-Oganessian (5-11, 200, Jr.)
FSU starts the 2002 season rock solid at outside linebacker with rising stars Kendyll Pope and Michael Boulware. These are two guys that showed a propensity for the big play in 2001 and I think they'll only get better with experience. They are both extremely active players that I think will be able to wreak total havoc on opposing offenses once they both have their fundamentals down and learn how to make the big plays while still staying disciplined enough to prevent big plays the other way. The big question mark (pun intended) is how well Jerel Hudson is going to be able to handle the starting middle linebacker position weighing in heavier than most of our defensive linemen. Hudson played an excellent game in the Gator Bowl against Virginia Tech in his first start, so the concerns many of us have may turn out to be overstated. From what I saw of Hudson in that game, I think if he would work his tail off to get down to the 250 range in weight, I think he could be a surprise star of our defense. He was in on some of the most important defensive plays of the Gator Bowl, including a key 4th and 1 stop to get FSU the ball back late in the game. I have serious concerns about his ability to cover any speedy runners out of the backfield in passing situations, but I do think he'll prove himself to be very solid at stopping the run. FSU had a lot of trouble stopping runs up the middle last year and maybe Hudson can make a difference in this department. If he can't get the weight down and proves to be an exploitable weakness with his pass defense, I would look for FSU to employ a lot more nickel defense this year than normal.
Depth is also a major concern at linebacker, but with an excellent haul at the position in the 2002 recruiting year, it's only a matter of time before this concern is settled. Of the guys that played in 2001, I think former walk-on Allen Augustin stood out the most among our backups. He had an excellent game filling in for Kendyll Pope in the Gator Bowl and alleviated my concerns considerably for one of the three backup positions. Marcello Church had the big play with the blocked punt in the Gator Bowl, but hasn't really distinguished himself as a proven player at the linebacker position yet. Robert May is another player that could provide help, but didn't really have the opportunity to prove himself last season. JUCO transfer Nate Hardage may be the most likely source of help at the middle linebacker spot, but since we haven't seen him play a down yet, it's difficult to view this position with any certainty. Ray Piquion, Cory Collier and walkon Lee Weaver are other guys that could fill the needed roles, but have yet to show they are ready to play at the level needed to help FSU return to having a dominant defense. This situation of lots of unproven talent leaves the door wide open for true freshmen Sam McGrew, Buster Davis, and A.J. Nicholson. Time will tell if we have future stars on the horizon among this highly touted trio. Look for Edgar Ter-Oganessian to attain a massive cult following among 4th quarter rowdy fans that want to shout his name.
Stanford Samuels (5-10, 190, Jr.) Rufus Brown (5-9, 185, Jr.) Malcolm Tatum (6-1, 175, Sr.) Leroy Smith (5-10, 190, So.) Bryant McFadden (6-0, 182, So.) Gerard Ross (6-2, 185, So.) Jared Hetzel (5-10, 170, Sr.) Kasey Anderson (5-9, 175, Jr.) Anthony Bredwood (5-10, 180, So.)
Our much maligned cornerback unit comes back a year older and a year wiser after last year's torching where we saw the worst pass defense in the Bowden era. Stanford Samuels, Rufus Brown and Malcolm Tatum return as an experienced trio to anchor this unit. I think our biggest problem in the secondary last season, other than the lack of a pass rush up front, was that we don't seem to have the overall speed we are accustomed to. Unless these guys have gotten a lot faster in the off-season, I don't look for that to change much and think we're going to again have problems with the best of the receivers that we face. But I do expect a better pass rush to help with matters, and given the extra year of experience in our secondary, I think the number of receivers capable of lighting us up will diminish. I think I was most impressed with the play of Rufus Brown from this trio, but even he had his down moments last year. He seemed to be the most aggressive of the bunch and the most consistent playmaker.
We also return a pair of sophomores in Leroy Smith and the extremely highly touted Bryant McFadden. If our top three at the cornerback position struggle early in the year, don't count out the possibility of McFadden playing himself into a much more significant role with this year's defense. If McFadden is truly as talented as his incoming hype would indicate, this will be his breakthrough year. The move of the even more highly touted cornerback Dominic Robinson to wide receiver leaves me waiting to see the hype proven justifiable on the field. Given that I think we're going to be in more situations this year where we are going to be playing nickel defense in passing situations, look for Leroy Smith to also fill a major role. I also expect Gerard Ross to see some meaningful minutes this season. I'm comfortable with our depth and experience in this unit as we go at least five deep with players that can play. But we still need to see each of them take their game to a much higher level before we can feel very confident that we're going to have a championship caliber pass defense.
Kyler Hall (6-1, 190, So.) Claudius Osei (6-1, 195, So.) Jerome Carter (6-0, 216, So.) Yohance Buchanan (6-1, 200, Jr.) B.J. Ward (6-3, 210, So.) Pat Watkins (6-4, 195, Fr.) Patrick Newton (5-10, 190, Sr.) Brandon Myers (5-11, 200, Sr.) Yaw Owusu (6-1, 185, Jr.) Gordy Reid (5-10, 190, Jr.) Ryan Reynolds (5-11, 187, So.)
Gone are senior safeties Chris Hope and Abdual Howard. We return a very inexperienced but seemingly talented trio in Kyler Hall, Claudius Osei, and Jerome Carter. Yohance Buchanan is a guy that came to FSU very highly touted, but must step up his game considerably this season to begin to live up to his hype. Kyler Hall wasn't the most highly touted player recruited last season, but he worked his way into some play time and has proven himself to be a very solid hitter in the secondary. Jerome Carter is definitely a star on the rise, serving notice in week one of his freshman campaign against Duke last year that he plans to be a big play contributor that will not be a stranger to the end zone. He's another guy that has already shown that he will lay some serious lumber with his tackles. I'm very much looking forward to watching him emerge as a serious force in our secondary.
As good as Hall and Carter looked last year, the guy I think I'm most excited about seeing in a major role is Claudius Osei. He seems to have a serious nose for the football when he's in there patrolling the secondary. Something about him from last year is leading me to believe he's going to be our most dependable guy back there. He doesn't seem like he'll make the biggest hits or necessarily score many points, but I think he's going to be the guy I'm most comfortable with making a key pass breakup late in the game on a 3rd or 4th and 8 type play, or making the INT to put a game away.
Behind Hall, Osei and Carter, we have Yohance Buchanon, B.J. Ward and highly touted incoming freshman Pat Watkins, so I think we can go three deep at both safety positions with guys that are going to be able to contribute. I'm very comfortable with everything about the safety position except for our inexperience. Yaw Owusu is another walk-on candidate to receive a cult fan following.
KICKERS Xavier Beitia (5-10, 210, So.) Brett Cimorelli (6-4, 220, Jr.)
The X-Man returns after an excellent freshman season, giving me great confidence in our place kicking. He does need to improve on his extra point accuracy, but missing only one FG all season makes up for the errors on the shorter kicks IMO. In the Gator Bowl, he proved he has greater range than many gave him credit for by putting a 50-yard FG and a 47-yard FG through the uprights. There doesn't seem to be an in-between at FSU with the kicking position. We're either excellent or awful and I'd be surprised if we're not excellent at this position in 2002.
Brett Cimorelli is expected to handle the kickoff duties.
Chance Gwaltney (5-10, 172, Sr.) Chris Hall (5-10, 204, Fr.) Stephen Marquis (5-11, 195, Fr.)
Last season was a nightmare in the punting department. Senior Chance Gwaltney returns to attempt to improve on last year's effort, but I worry about his ability to handle pressure-packed punting situations given last year's failures at key moments against Miami and Florida. Here's hoping our offense is good enough to make this a seldom used position. If Gwaltney is unable to improve, perhaps freshman Chris Hall can provide much needed help.
Brian Sawyer (6-2, 245, Jr.) Chad Wheeler (5-10, 235, So.)
We are LOADED at this position. Brian Sawyer returns with a world of experience at the deep snapper position, and sophomore Chad Wheeler might just be the finest backup deep snapper in the nation. Expect these two to push each other in practice and the heated competition in practice will only bring out the best on the field. Really, I have no clue how talented we are here. Sawyer has done well for us and Chad Wheeler sounds like a good deep snapper name.
The off-season injury to Chris Davis and the loss of Dishon Platt to academics take away two potential weapons we had coming in with our 2002 recruiting class. I suppose that means that we'll again see Craphonso Thorpe and P.K. Sam back for kickoff return duties again, and Dominic Robinson back for another year of punt returning in his quest to live up to his Prime Time II nickname. I had the impression that Robinson was very close to breaking one several times last year, but he never was able to elude the last tacklers. I feel comfortable with him returning punts again in 2002. But our kickoff return team is an area that must improve tremendously. We were all hyped at the potential of Cro Thorpe on the kickoff return team, but I have to say that the production was very disappointing. Too many times, Thorpe and Sam seemed very rigid and quick to go out of bounds in their return style and too many times we found ourselves starting with the ball inside our own 20 after very lackluster returns. Here's hoping they can improve on last year's effort, or that we find another answer somewhere. Incoming freshman Pat Watkins is another possible contributor to the return game.
Offensively, I think we're going to be extremely potent. The better we're able to run the ball, the better our chances will be to run the table and take it all, so our line play is again going to be crucial. If our line can play at the level players with our level of experience should be expected to achieve, then what that does for us is it gives us some leeway in any game where Rix is struggling. I'm thinking we're going to have at least one game where an underdog is going to give us more than we bargained for and Rix is going to show the inexperience of an underclassman and nothing will go right for him. Having a solid and reliable ground game will mean the difference between victory and defeat in that game and could mean the difference between playing for the national championship or not.
I think the following are the keys to our success in 2002:
1. Our offensive line must improve tremendously over their 2001 effort and play at a much higher level than we've seen in the last 5 years or so. If our line plays up to my level of expectation, I think the sky is the limit for the FSU offense. We could average as many as 48-50 points per game, even against a difficult schedule if the OL proves ready to DOMINATE and the other question marks below are answered positively on the field. I think we're going to fall short of what I'm hoping to see up front, but still could have enough to be a formidable offense averaging in the 40-43 points per game range if we can stay healthy.
2. Chris Rix must play smarter. He must get smarter in his decision making, better with his field instincts, and all the things that should naturally come with greater experience. He's seen the game at it's fastest speed, so he shouldn't be surprised by anything he sees this year, or have the need to adjust to a whole new game. Most importantly, if he's going to carry the ball as much as we'd like to see him carry it with his running skills, he has to learn to tuck the ball away and not fumble.
3. Anquan Boldin and Robert Morgan must prove ready to pick up where they left off prior to their injuries and then some. If we get solid play from them and Boldin proves to be the playmaking threat we expected him to be previously, we should be in really good shape offensively.
Most of last year I was saying that our problems on defense were far more troublesome than our problems on offense. Nothing has changed my mind from that thought. The question marks on defense entering the 2002 season are much bigger than those on the other side of the ball. What will it take for FSU to return to having one of the dominant defenses we grew so used to during the dynasty years? Here are the keys in order of importance:
1. We must develop a formidable pass rush. Ideally, we will see more sacks from just the DT positions than we saw from the entire DL last year. Our DE's must get more active. Absent a greater pass rush, I think we'll be hard pressed to average under 20 points given up per game against the schedule we're facing.
2. Our secondary has to step up with their coverage skills. We can't have any plays with complete breakdowns like we saw so embarrassingly against North Carolina last year. We also need more interceptions.
3. Jerel Hudson has to step up to fill the void left by the departure of Bradley Jennings and has to prove himself capable of getting the job done in the pass defense department. I put this as third on the list of importance because if he struggles with pass coverage, we can cover for that by going nickel more frequently whereas I don't think there are ways to hide any weaknesses in the first two keys listed above.
I think FSU will be back near the top of the heap in college football in 2002. But I don't think we're going to go all the way. I'm seeing two losses in the regular season. One of those losses will come at Miami as I don't think we're going to overcome the hostile road conditions in the Orange Bowl. I think Miami QB Ken Dorsey has enough of an experience advantage over Chris Rix that he'll be able to win that one for the Canes. I don't think a Miami victory in this game will be an upset. I also see one other loss coming as an upset from one of the following games (Iowa State, Louisville, Florida or North Carolina State). I'm not sure which of these games it will be, but I definitely get the feeling that we'll have one loss among those games.
The loss will come because Chris Rix will have a very bad day that he has to get out of his system before he can arrive at a level of true greatness. This upset loss can be avoided if our OL is ready to win games on the ground. If we avoid this upset loss, I think we'll be in the national title game as I think Miami is going to lose one (likely to either Florida or Tennessee) and we'll get the nod over them again in a controversial manner by way of our strength of schedule, or we might meet Miami in a rematch. If we make it, winning it all will certainly be a possibility, depending on our eventual opponent. But I'm going to err on the side of a conservative pick and will say we will go 11-2 during the regular season and then win our bowl game to finish back in the Top 5, perhaps in the Top 3.
Now that I've gone on all these limbs, we'll see none of this come true in 2002. ;-)