@ Florida State (2008: 9-4)
Player to Watch: Junior QB Christian Ponder.
Ponder is not the best player Florida State has to offer. That nomination would go to junior offensive guard Rodney Hudson, who is closing in on becoming one of Florida State's most decorated offensive linemen in recent history as a two time All-ACC lineman. However, in 2008, Ponder was a one man wrecking crew versus the Hurricanes…and it wasn't with his arm. The 6-foot-2, 215 pound passer took the Hurricanes run defense to task to the tune of 144 yards on 19 carries leading the Seminoles to a 41-39 victory.
Despite the turmoil that is going on in Tallahassee in regards to recent sanctions by the NCAA for rule violations, it is the ACC or bust for Bobby Bowden's boys. The offense loses projected starting wide receivers Preston Parker (conduct) and Corey Surrency (NCAA amateur violation) and will rely on a bevy of youngsters including sophomores Taiwan Easterling, Jamon Forston, and Bert Reed. The success of the offense will rely on a young, but tested offensive line that features three true sophomore and two juniors and a stout running game led by sophomore Jermaine Thomas. Don't look for much improvement from a passing game that ranked 82nd in the country in 2008.
The defense will need to replace collegiate studs Everette Brown and Neely Moffett as primary pass rushers on the defensive line. They will do it with 6-foot-4, 261 pound senior Markus White, a JUCO transfer from 2008, and Kevin McNeil. The stars of the defense are the back seven with linebacker Dekoda Watson, the jewel of the 2008 recruiting class Nigel Bradham, and pre-season All-ACC cornerback Patrick Robinson. The pieces are there to at least match last years 15th rated defense if a pass rush can be generated.
What to Expect:
Fireworks. If recent history tells us anything at all, it is that when UM and FSU go head-to-head, anything goes, regardless of the quality of team each brings to the table.