It's the year of the quarterback in the Atlantic Coast Conference and the FSU coaches feel as good about the upcoming year at the position as they have since the 2000 season. Redshirt junior Chris Rix (6-4, 217, Jr.) has started 22 games over his career and had a productive spring. But Rix spent a great deal of the off-season mending fences with his teammates after he missed the Sugar Bowl. Rix was demoted following the Notre Dame game last year, but responded by playing a tremendous game in the Seminoles' regular-season-ending win over Florida. Should Rix experience an outing as dismal as the last time he was in Kenan Stadium, then first off the bench will be Fabian Walker (6-2, 219, Jr.), who may not be 100 percent following off-season shoulder surgery.
Greg Jones (6-1, 255, Sr.) is a Heisman candidate who Bobby Bowden jokes is "almost good enough to block for himself." Jones' rehabilitation from a season-ending knee injury he suffered against Wake Forest has gone very well, however he has experienced soreness in his surgically repaired knee during preseason practice. Leon Washington (5-9, 199, So.), who was the Seminoles' top punt returner in 2002, should see plenty of action against the Tar Heels. Both Washington and third-string tailback Lorenzo Booker (5-11, 185 Fr.), have struggled to overcome nagging injuries during training camp as well. B.J. Dean (5-11, 253, So.) is an outstanding blocker at fullback, who played well despite several nagging injuries in 2002.
It appeared as though this would be a weak spot for Florida State considering the early departure of Anquan Boldin to the NFL, along with the graduation of Talman Gardner and Robert Morgan. But like Carolina, the Seminoles are equally high on a group of young receivers who could form a special group. Craphonso Thorpe (6-2, 175, Jr.) and Chris Davis (6-0, 173, Fr.) have moved ahead of Dominic Robinson (6-1, 199, Jr.) on the depth chart at flanker, while P.K. Sam (6-3, 195, Jr.) will get the starting nod at split end. Thorpe, who is the reigning ACC track champion in the 100 and 200 meters, turned heads in the Sugar Bowl. Sam has recovered well from a knee injury and will challenge the UNC defensive secondary with his great size.
Perhaps the most questions the Seminoles have to answer are on the offensive front, as they will be without three of four starters from last year's group. However, they do return four players who have started at some point before, and bookend tackles Ray Willis (6-6, 314, Jr.) and Alex Barron (6-6, 316, Jr.), could serve as difficult obstacles for the Tar Heel defensive front to penetrate. Sophomore guard Matt Meinrod (6-4, 294, So.) is a tough up and coming lineman as well.
Paul Irons (6-2, 235, Jr.) will start at tight end, but Matt Henshaw (6-4, 212, So.) and Donnie Carter (6-0, 214, So.) will likely play as well. All three can run and catch, which could open up many offensive options, especially in short yardage situations.
The Seminoles are experienced and deep with three of four starters returning. And an improved secondary could mean the front four will be more assertive in rushing the passer than the last two seasons. Kevin Emanuel (6-4, 257, Sr.) leads the unit at left defensive end. On the other side Eric Moore (6-4, 247, Jr.) has great strength and excellent speed to give FSU the quick rush it lacked last season. Darnell Dockett (6-4, 280, Sr.) and Jeff Womble (6-3, 306, Sr.) will try and stuff up the middle on what has been advertised as a resurgent Tar Heel running attack.
The Seminoles can do a bunch at linebacker this season, the least of which is play a lot of players and keep fresh bodies on the field. Michael Boulware (6-3, 222, Sr.) and Kendyll Pope (6-2, 220, Sr.) are All-America candidates at the strong and weak side positions, respectively. Both run like safeties, but hit like linebackers. Former walk-on Allen Augustin (6-1, 219, Sr.) has been steady, but may be a little undersized at his position.
Like the Tar Heels, FSU has much improved depth and experience at the cornerback positions, which will enable the Seminoles to play more man-to-man coverage than last year. Stanford Samuels (5-10, 186 Sr.) and Bryant McFadden (6-0, 180, Jr.) get the starting nods, but Rufus Brown (5-9, 188, Sr.) and Leroy Smith (5-10, 179, Jr.) will also make an impact this season. Roverback Jerome Carter (6-0, 214, Jr.) and free safety B.J. Ward (6-3, 208, Jr.) round out the starters on defense, but Kyler Hall (6-0, 190, Jr.) will probably spell Ward early and often.
Xavier Beitia (5-10, 217, Jr.) hit 19-of-28 field goals in 2002, and though just a junior, is already a tested veteran at kicker. Although he led the Seminoles in scoring for the second season in a row last year, he was not as consistent as he was during his freshman campaign when he missed just one field goal the entire season. Punter Chris Hall (5-10, 215, So.) will likely take over for Chance Gwaltney, a two-year starter who graduated last spring. Washington, who handles both return spots, ran back a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown last year versus Clemson.