In this roundtable contributors to NoleDigest talk about Florida State's season thus far as we discuss who's stood out thus far, what needs to happen for the team to turn it around, and our opinion of what'll happen with Bobby Bowden after the season.
What have been the high and low points of the season?
NG: The high point is the BYU game. They went into that game with their backs against the wall and with everyone picking them to get blown out by a team some thought was BCS worthy. FSU dominated that game from start to finish. I almost picked the first half against Georgia Tech. That was an amazing half for FSU's offense as they put up 400 yards of total offense and 35 points.
The low point for me was the GT game. FSU's offense put 44 points, but the defense was comical in not coming close to getting stops to help the team win. Whenever the Jackets had to make a play they were able to. It was deflating, and it left FSU somewhere they've never been: winless in the ACC after 3 games.
RB: High point has to be the BYU game. Watching every expert pick BYU by 3+ touchdowns and then running them out of their own stadium and destroying Max Hall's Heisman hopes seemed like wishful thinking heading into that game but it turned out to be reality.
I can only pick one low point? Watching Christian Ponder set career highs in passing yards (359) and touchdowns (5) against Georgia Tech as he led the offense to over 500 total yards and 44 points all for nothing. The Seminoles couldn't stop the Jackets for the life of them and the team dropped to 0-3 in conference play (another first in the Bowden era).
JS: There haven't been many high points, that's for sure. I think the BYU game has to be considered the high point, though I felt at the time that the game wasn't the best example of that simply because BYU was so athletically inferior. Just the same, it is FSU's only win against an FBS (D-1A) school, so it gets the nod by default. Close behind would be how the offense looked in the first half of the Georgia Tech game. That was one of the most efficient performances I've ever seen from a college offense. Unfortunately, so was Tech's offensive performance.
There's a lot of competition for the low point, but I'd have to say watching the defense look so helpless against Georgia Tech. That's certainly nothing to be ashamed of (happened to Georgia and Miami last year and in the second half of the Virginia Tech game a week ago), but that didn't make it any less frustrating or painful. Runners up: losing to Miami with a second left to play and watching the defense give up that late TD drive against Boston College, including a dropped INT that would likely have won the game.
SP: The High point of the season was certainly the thrashing of BYU. I can't really think of many other points that are even remotely high. The play of our offense against Georgia Tech and Miami was nice, but our play was better against BYU and we won. So certainly our performance against BYU was a big time high, probably the biggest moment we have had in a few years. Sure would have been nice to carry that momentum into the next week against USF...
The Low point of the season was watching Montrell Harris (BC RB) run for 42 yards and the game winning touchdown after we had fought back from being down 21-3. Watching that gaping hole opened up by our front 7 and the terrible attempt at a tackle by Mangum was just pathetic. Really deflated this team. If we get that stop and win the BC game, we are looking at a totally different season. We are looking at at least 3-3 right now, probably 4-2 as we would have found a way to win against Georgia Tech.
Which player has been impressive? Which one has been the least?
NG: Everyone here is going to talk about Christian Ponder, and rightfully so. I am going to go another route and talk about Rodney Hudson. Hudson has played great, and he has been the most consistent force for FSU along the offensive line. Against Georgia Tech he graded out at an amazing 97%.........97%!!! Seeing how an 80 gets praise from Coach Trickett this should tell you something.
As far as the least impressive? I hate to pile on the kid because he has a ton of heart, but Korey Mangum just is not suited to play major college football. He looks slower than last year, and he has routinely gotten beaten this year. His missed tackle on Montrell Harris allowed Boston College to get that go ahead score that won them the game. There isn't anything anyone can say or show me that would make me believe this kid is the best option at rover for FSU this year.
RB: I'll take the obvious one in Christian Ponder. I thought he would be improved from last season, but never thought he would lead the ACC in passing yards (296 ypg) and total offense (317 ypg) midway through the season. With the running game missing in action for most of the first six games, Ponder has been a blessing for this offense.
As far as who hasn't, I have to go with Korey Mangum. It is becoming a weekly event watching opposing team's wide receivers run past Mangum for an easy six. He has also missed several key tackles on the season. We're halfway through the season and he has actually regressed as a player. It's time to stick with the two freshmen (Moody and Harley) and let them get experience that will prove to be valuable for next season.
JS: I don't think there's any question that the most impressive player has been Christian Ponder, who, quite frankly, has played better than any other quarterback I've seen this year (and yes, I'm one of the few who did see this coming). The FSU receivers haven't gotten many yards after the catch, but Ponder is putting up eye-popping numbers anyway, with the only number keeping him from having the national lead in passing efficiency being his lower number of TD throws (directly related to WRs not making big plays). I said it after the Miami game, and I'll say it now: Ponder has looked an awful lot like Weinke so far this year, with two differences: Ponder runs a whole lot better, and Weinke threw a bit better deep ball. Either way, if FSU was 5–1 or 4–2, Ponder would be getting a lot of Heisman consideration, and deservedly so—and in two of the 'Noles' losses, he led the team down the field and made every play needed to win late in the game, only to be let down by his teammates. I can't say enough good things about Ponder so far this year.
As for least impressive, there are a few options here. At the same time, I really don't like dragging players through the mud and singling them out when I think they're playing hard and simply aren't being put in positions to succeed. I'll abstain here, knowing that the other roundtable members will more than cover for it.
SP: I think the most impressive player thus far has got to be Christian Ponder. There were a few that thought he could be this good (very few). I wasn't one of them. I certainly thought he would be a good QB and would improve this year. But never in a million years did I think he would be one of the top QB's in the nation at this point. His poise is astounding. He doesn't get scared or happy feet. He has thrown maybe 3-4 balls all season that could have been intercepted, he just makes VERY good decisions, he doesn't force anything, knows when to take off, knows when to throw it away. We are 0-6 right now if he wasn't playing so well. And we would have only been in 3 of those games.
The one that has been the least impressive to me? Has to be Markus White. Many hoped he would be a dominating Defensive End, a true Pass Rusher. He is completely opposite of that. He shows very little pass rush ability, his first step isn't all that quick, and he doesn't have great strength to hold up consistently against the run. His best play so far this year and it's really only out of like 3 nice plays was an INT when he was in pass coverage when Reid hit the QB's arm and the ball just floated into White's hands. TD. He has made precious few plays at all (not big plays...just plays).
What needs to happen for FSU to turn it around?
NG: For the defense to do something. They made attempts to make adjustments against GT, but this unit is banged up in a major way. If I were FSU I'd play all of the young guns, run some zone and put these guys in a position to make plays. It really is easier said than done, but put the best guys out there and let them use their natural ability. Heck, the scheme ain't working!
RB: The defense has to step up. Florida State's defense ranks in or near triple digits in most categories in the NCAA this season. The Seminoles need to find some sort of pass rush and secondary play HAS to improve. The offense currently leads the ACC in total offense at 426 yards per game but the defense is dead last in conference giving up and identical 426 yards of offense themselves.
JS: One thing already has happened: aside from Clemson and UF, the second half of the schedule is much more manageable than the front half. Whoever was responsible for scheduling didn't do the team any favors this year by front-loading it with bad matchups. So much about football is about momentum, and once there's a little bad momentum, things can get out of control quickly. Miami also front-loaded, but they were smart in how they did it, using a bye week and a Thursday night game to get extra preparation for two of the three games following the Labor Day game.
As I pointed out in my last article, Mincey's return has the potential to make a big impact as well. I also think going to some younger players, especially at defensive end and safety, might pay some dividends as I think we've gotten simply abysmal play at the safety position and less than stellar performance from the ends. I'd like to see some scheme changes (which Steve and I will highlight in the next installment of the "What's Wrong with the Defense" article), but that is easier said than done (it's not like you can just tell the players "we're changing our whole scheme today" and expect it to run smoothly).
SP: Defensive changes. It could be personnel changes; it could be scheme changes or just mentality changes. But something has to change. Put the 11 biggest playmakers out there that will make a big play every now and then that will be good enough to win a few games. We aren't going to be able to stop anyone consistently (ANY ONE). So let's just go for some big plays and get some turnovers for our offense. We are going to have to out score opponents to win, let's get our defense thinking like that, go for broke on interceptions, and just rush the passer, blitz constantly from everywhere. GO FOR BROKE. Either get a big play or give up a big play. Even more than we are now. Currently we are playing to just stop the opponent and are still giving up big plays more than anyone else in the nation. If we are going to give up the big play anyways, why not just sell out for big plays of our own?
Predictions for the rest of the year?
NG: I think North Carolina is winnable because their offense is flat terrible. They have struggled against BCS programs on offense, but in come an FSU defense that hasn't been able to stop anyone at all this year. This game has a little bit of a USF-like feel in that the Tarheels have a front 4 that has NFL caliber players. I am predicting wins against N.C. State, Wake Forest and Maryland, and I am saying the Seminoles lose to Carolina, Clemson and Florida. The 5-7 finish is something I thought I would NEVER see, and it puts a cap on the full circle cycle that is the Bowden era at FSU.
RB: Playing in the ACC, it is inevitable that Florida State will win some more games. NC State, Wake Forest and Maryland are all VERY winnable. I think FSU takes two of those games. They shows signs of life against either UNC or Clemson and win one of those but in the end they are 5-6 heading into the Swamp needing a win to keep their bowl streak alive. They won't. I see FSU at 5-7 come season's end.
JS: I'm not sure I want to make any predictions at this point, because FSU has been entirely unpredictable. I do think the 'Noles will beat UNC (a team I've seen twice in person), though Carolina will present some problems for the offense (along with Clemson, they have the best defensive line in the ACC and one of the top 3 or 4 in the nation). NC State is even worse on defense than we are, and despite that game being at home, I think FSU can win it. I also would expect wins against Wake and Maryland.
Clemson is an entirely different animal. Their defense is good enough (I think they're a top 3 or 4 unit in the country) to present some problems for FSU's offense, and their offense has enough playmakers that they could score quite a few on the FSU defense if they're in sync. But the Tigers are just as inconsistent and unpredictable as the 'Noles, so that game is a toss-up. If FSU has some good momentum going into that game (after two good wins against UNC and NCSU), they could win, but they could just as easily go in and get blown out.
Florida is much more vulnerable than most people think; without Louis Murphy and Percy Harvin, they don't present the problems on the outside that they did last year, and it's possible to defend them inside-out. Honestly, that's a winnable game, simply because the FSU offense gives them a puncher's chance. Unfortunately, I don't think FSU wins it because I'm not confident that we'll adequately scheme to stop them from inside-out (the film to study is the Tennessee film, where Monte Kiffin put on a clinic and exposed some of UF's weaknesses), and I'm not sure we have the horses inside to do it even if we do try it (Mincey might change that). So chalk that up as a loss.
So I figure FSU will end up either 5–1 or 4–2 over their next six games, depending on the Clemson outcome. But again, I wouldn't be surprised to see FSU win every one of their remaining games by two touchdowns or more, nor would I be surprised to see them lose any one of their remaining games.
SP: I have a sneaky suspicion that we show up to play against UNC (even though my mind tells me I'm an idiot, that we suck on Thursday's, that we will make Yates look like a Heisman candidate, etc). Something tells me we win that game. I think we beat N.C. State and Maryland. I think Clemson and Wake Forest beat us. Not going to mention Florida...we all know what to expect out of that. So I think 5-7 is what we are looking at. No worse than 4-8. Doubt we see 6-6 but it's an outside possibility. I am going with 5-7.
How do you see the Bowden fiasco ending up?
NG: I think this is going to be a bitter divorce, and it is very sad it'll end up this way. Bowden is really digging in talking about how he is "strongly leaning" towards coming back. Is there a slight chance, yes. But this team is Jimbo Fisher's after this year. In my opinion FSU hopes Bowden sees the writing on the wall and moves on. As we talked about it on the radio show Monday his family isn't going to make him realize what's going on. FSU administration is going to have to do the thing they never wanted as they're going to have to end Bowden's legendary career themselves.
RB: Not good. With FSU most likely looking at their first losing season in over 30 years, changes must be made. Bowden will be given the option to come back, but only if he surrenders full control of the program (hiring and firing, practice schedules, etc) to Jimbo Fisher. Ideally, he would agree to come back so he can have his farewell tour, but I just don't see it going that smoothly. He is going to try and push for Chuck Amato to be named the next defensive coordinator and Fisher will likely want Amato gone from the staff entirely. I just can't see Bowden going quietly, all things considered.
JS: I figure the administration will take the politically advantageous tactic of giving Fisher de facto control of the team, with hiring/firing control and more day-to-day power, with a new contract paying him closer to head coaching money. I also anticipate they'll offer Bowden a smaller contract, with the argument that since he'll be responsible for less, they're going to pay him less. I don' think there's any way they'll "fire" him or tell him he can't come back, but I anticipate the administration will make it less desirable by taking away power and money. They'll probably also put a lot more money on the table as a "lifetime achievement" bonus if he chooses to step down—all with the goal of discouraging his return in the most politically feasible way.
I still wouldn't be surprised to see Coach Bowden on the sidelines next season, however. The real question will be whether he'll be willing to swallow his pride and take the offer they'll make. Either way, I'd expect the staff to look very different next year, with Fisher being the one making the decisions. There's just too much smoke for there to be no fire, and the natives are restless. If FSU did finish, say, 5–1, it might be interesting to see whether the power brokers stick to their guns or not. My guess is that at this point, they would.
SP: I really think after a 5-7 season, in which we lose to USF, lose to WAKE FOREST for a 4th consecutive game, don't make a bowl game, Get taken to the woodshed against Florida for the 3rd straight year, and finish with a losing ACC record (3-5) that Bowden will see the writing on the wall and retire. Although I think pressure from fans, boosters and the administration will be the KEY factors in that. Ann won't like it one bit, and Bobby will cry about not being treated fairly. I think for coaching purposes it will be over come January, we will have an entirely new defensive staff and Jimbo will be the HC. However the Bowden "fiasco" will be far from over in the media. It will be years before we get over that hit...who cares as long as the football team can move on!
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