The Quarterback: E.J. Manuel returns for his senior season. A former five-star recruit out of Virginia, Manuel has been up-and-down throughout his career in Tallahassee. He earned a few starts early in his career before taking over for Christian Ponder last season. In 19 career starts against Division 1 opponents, Manuel has thrown for 3,503 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions. Especially when you're playing at a school like Florida State, those numbers don't exactly blow you away. He did show improvement, however, as the Noles finished last season with five straight wins, while Manuel threw for five (and ran for one) touchdowns without throwing a pick. He's also a solid running threat, even though Miami held him to his worst rushing performance of last season (nine carries for -9 yards). He has the size, the arm, the athleticism, and the weapons at receiver to have a big senior season but he needs to prove that he can stay consistent throughout the season before calling him one of the elite quarterbacks in the ACC.
Best Offensive Player: Rashad Greene. At 6-feet and 175 pounds, Greene is another player from South Florida. He played his prep football at St. Thomas Aquinas High and was recruited by the Canes before choosing the Noles. It didn't take Greene long to make a big impact. He caught 38 passes for 598 yards and seven touchdowns as a true freshman. He was Florida State's top offensive playmaker last season and should be that player again in 2012. The Noles don't have a great running game so they'll likely air it out a lot this season and Greene should be Manuel's favorite target again.
Top Defensive Player: Brandon Jenkins. At 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, Jenkins is one of the most feared pass rushers in all of college football. He has 21.5 sacks over the last two seasons and now that Bjoern Werner has emerged as a major pass rusher on the other side of the line, Jenkins figures to do even more damage to opposing offenses this season. He's likely going to be the best pass rusher Miami will face this season and if he has the type of year most people expect then he should be drafted in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. He is an outstanding player. He'll give Malcolm Bunche (Miami's expected starting left tackle) all he can handle.
2012 Outlook: After a sloppy start to last season, despite high preseason expectations, the Noles finished strong in 2011 -- winning seven of their last eight games. All the offensive playmakers are back. The defensive line is as talented as any in the conference. The loss of Greg Reid, who was thrown off the team this summer, will have some type of impact. How big remains to be seen. He was a solid cornerback but also the best return specialist in the conference. They have what many call the nation's best kicker and a quarterback with 19 career starts under his belt. This team has a chance to make a serious run in 2012 but a lot will depend on how consistent Manuel can be and how much of a loss Reid turns out to be on defense and on special teams. The Canes outplayed the Noles last season, despite losing, and the 2012 game should be a real good one.