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Florida State is close to embarking on the long and winding road to Omaha, site of the College World Series. Let's not cut corners here. Does FSU have the talent to win it all? Click here to read Drew's latest report on the Seminoles.

We're now less than a week before the 2003 march toward Omaha begins again and the question on everyone's mind is of course: "Will this be the year that FSU finally wins it all?"

Let's not get ahead of ourselves though. Before the 'Noles have a chance to win it all, they have to do something that they haven't done since 2000 - actually make it Omaha.

During the 1990s, it seemed as if it was Florida State's birthright to land in Omaha in early June, going eight times in 10 years. Since 2000, however, the Noles have stumbled in the Super-Regionals, in 2001 to Georgia and in 2002 to Notre Dame. So what must this year's squad do to make it back to that hallowed field in the middle of a state full of corn?

Of course the easy answers are the obvious ones - stay free of injury, play solid defense, don't peak too early, etc.. But let's dig a little deeper and figure out a few specifics:

Junior catcher Tony Richie.
Stephen Drew needs to relax and try not to shoulder the entire load all by himself. During the Notre Dame series last season, and specifically the final game, Drew seemed tense and tried to make up for the rest of the team's batting woes by himself. Great bloodlines or not, having that kind of pressure tends to wear a person down. By that last game, Drew was exhausted - both mentally and physically.

Tony Richie must continue to take charge behind the plate. Nearly everyone who has seen any preseason practice so far has talked about the change in Richie this season. He's really taken charge out there on the diamond and it's very apparent. Richie's defense has always been there and his bat really came alive last season. Now the mental aspect seems to be there as well and will help make Richie a more complete player and should provide much needed on-field leadership.

Senior pitcher Matt Lynch.
Along with Richie, Matt Lynch is another player who's leadership is going to be needed out there. In his first three years, Lynch has seen it all at Florida State so nothing should surprise him. As it was for much of 2002, it's going to be up to Lynch to set the pace for the weekends with his series-opening starts. As the season wore on last year, Lynch got better and better, culminating with three complete games in May against Duke, Maryland, and finally Clemson in the ACC Tournament. That kind of outright dominance is going to be a big key if the Noles are going to make it to the 'Promised Land'.

Jerrod Brown needs to keep playing the solid defense that earned him second team All-ACC honors in 2002 and needs to get plenty of at-bats with the bases-loaded, a situation where Brown usually excelled in 2002. Coach Mike Martin admits that Jerrod was the biggest surprise of the 2002 campaign, coming seemingly out of nowhere to win the first base starting nod, but Brown's carefree spirit also seemed to loosen up the rest of the team, especially in big games. Brown needs to continue to have fun and let it show, to remind the other players that it's still a game.

Senior firstbaseman Jerrod Brown.
Marc LaMacchia turned the corner in 2002 and was almost as dominating as Lynch was, yet nobody seemed to notice since his stats were always just behind Lynch's. While LaMacchia may not sneak up on any opponents in 2003, there's every reason to believe he will continue to progress and become one of the better pitchers in college baseball. Another 10-plus win season will be needed and should also turn him into a fairly high draft pick come June.

Daniel Hodges needs to continue be one of the nastiest pitchers in the land for FSU to go far into postseason play in 2003. It's no secret that FSU has had trouble nailing down a closer for quite some time now. It seems that just when someone gets comfortable in that role, the meltdown begins for one reason or another.

Mike DiBlasi in 2000, Justin Lord in 2001, and Eric Roman last season all suffered the same fate. Hodges has something on all of them, a screwball that is nearly impossible to hit when thrown correctly. He's got no 90+ MPH fastball as most traditional closers have, but his 'junk' got the job done in the last half of 2002 and should be successful this season.

Tony McQuade must hit better for power and needs to drive in more runs. In 2002, McQuade had the second highest batting average on the team at .376 yet was seventh in RBIs. Simply put, much of his work was done with the bases empty. For the Seminoles to advance to the next level, McQuade needs to be much more of a clutch hitter and less of a 'lone wolf'. Someone needs to fill the void that Ryan Barthelemy left in the lineup; my guess is that McQuade will be that player.

The combined efforts of Kevin Richmond and Brandon Manasa at second base need to show a lot more consistency than Bryan Zech has shown there for the past two seasons. Zech's .922 fielding percentage was the lowest on the team and is the sole reason why he's no longer starting in the field.

While no one is expecting Drew-like numbers from secondbase, if Richmond is going to win the job, he's going to need to improve on last season's .267 batting average. His experience combined with Manasa's versatility and ability to play any infield position should give Richmond the nod to start to the season. Whether or not he keeps it will be determined by his consistency in the field and at the plate.

These are just some of the keys that the Seminoles are going to need to go the distance in 03, production from freshman and newcomers is certainly going to be needed, as well as strong relief efforts from veterans like

Omaha's Rosenblatt Stadium.
Kevin Lynch and Daniel Davidson. Eddie Martinez-Esteve, Matt Sauls, and Blake Balkcom will all be making their NCAA debuts this season and have earned starting jobs. Now it's time for them to prove that all the hype was warranted.

The fans are expecting big things from this ballclub this season, due in part to such a disappointing football season and thus far, a mediocre basketball season. Hopes are running extremely high and the spotlight is about to be turned onto the baseball program yet again. Here's hoping they perform up to expectations and deliver Florida State it's first ever College World Series Championship.

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