Inside Carolina's Vote – 1st in the Atlantic Division
2006 record (7-6, 3-5 ACC)
There's never been a question that Bobby Bowden can recruit in Tallahassee, but the math hasn't added up over the last two seasons. During the 2002-06 campaigns, FSU signed five recruiting classes ranked 12th or better nationally, and responded with mediocrity, posting a combined 15-11 (9-8 ACC) record in 2005-06. If it's not recruiting, then it's coaching, and Bowden seemed to take those words to heart by replacing his son Jeff at OC with former LSU OC Jimbo Fisher, whose name was mentioned for a multitude of head coaching jobs this offseason. Former NCSU head coach Chuck Amato returns to man his old position as LB coach, replacing Alabama-bound Kevin Steele, and the Seminole faithful are hoping former West Virginia OL coach Rick Trickett can restore the offensive front.
Offense: Jeff Bowden took plenty of heat in Tallahassee for relying too heavily on the passing game, while sacrificing the ground game. The 2006 stats confirm that opinion as FSU attempted the second-most passes in the ACC (439) with an underwhelming 54 completion percentage, while the rushing attack finished dead last in the league, managing only 363 attempts for a 96.5 per game average. That imbalance directly contributed to an offensive output of 330.3 yards per game, good for only 70th nationally. Look for Fisher to correct that imbalance quickly, using junior QBs Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee more effectively to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. There's plenty of talent at the skill positions with junior Greg Carr (34 rec, 619 yds, 12 tds) and senior De'Cody Fagg (37 rec, 439 yds, 1 td) manning the receiver spots, and junior Antone Smith [pictured, right] (88 car, 456 yds, 5 tds) entrenched at tailback.
Defense: Mickey Andrews looks to have another stellar defensive unit this season, with last season's injuries allowing younger players to gain experience in live game situations. The Seminoles must find suitable replacements for Lawrence Timmons (79 tkl, 5 sacks, 13 tfl) and Buster Davis (109 tkl, 5 sacks, 3 tfl) in the linebacker corps, but Geno Hayes (59 tkl, 3 sacks, 9 tfl) is a man-child at the weakside spot. The pass defense was prone to giving up some big plays last year, but super sophomores Myron Rolle (77 tkl, 5 pbu) and Jamie Robinson (26 tkl, 4 pbu) should be much improved over their freshman seasons. Seniors Alex Boston (8 tkl, 6 tfl), Andre Fluellen (28 tkl, 7.5 tfl) and Paul Griffen (1 tkl, injury) anchor a veteran line that should help cement the FSU defense as one of the best in the ACC.
Special Teams: Junior Graham Gano must improve on last year's 35.2 net punting average, good for only eighth-best in the league, if the Seminoles are going to win more field position battles. Senior Gary Cismesia finally broke the "wide right" curse against Miami, but needs to improve on his 14 of 20 makes from a year ago to solidify FSU's kicking game. While the punt return unit was adequate with a 9.0 yards per return average, the kickoff return unit was pathetic, holding down the ACC cellar spot with an 18.7 average.
Schedule: No way of sugar-coating this slate – it's simply brutal. The home schedule is manageable, with sure wins against UAB and Duke, but Miami arrives for the yearly in-state battle in late October and Maryland and NCSU both handed FSU losses last season. How's this for an away schedule – Clemson, Colorado, Wake Forest, Boston College, Virginia Tech and Florida. Throw in a game versus Alabama in Jacksonville, and the Seminoles will be tested each and every weekend.
Top Newcomer: No recruit was bigger for Papa Bowden than luring Fisher to Tallahassee. Drastic improvement is expected from the start of training camp, so there will be no free passes for the new coordinator in 2007 – get the job done or else.
Key Game: Vs. Clemson in Death Valley on Sept. 3. The Tigers replace the Canes as FSU's Labor Day Weekend opponent this year, with the winner securing an early-season victory in the hotly-contested Atlantic Division. A loss in this one would mean the Seminoles are waging an uphill battle for a spot in the ACC Championship Game, especially with road games looming at divisional opponents Wake Forest and Boston College.
Bowden on retirement: "I just as soon die on the football field as die on the beach. If I retired, what else have I got to look forward to other than dying? I can't imagine me being retired."
Antone Smith on OC Fisher: "He is talking about getting me the ball as many times as he can. He's not going to beat me up as far as running the ball up the middle a lot, but at the same time, he's going to give me the ball and let me do what I do best to help the team win. I'm doing a lot of catching out of the backfield; motion out to the outside; the quarterback is checking down to the running back and things like that just to get me the ball as much as possible."
Word from the Beat: "Fans have really been energized this offseason over the hiring of a bunch of new assistants. I think that Jimbo Fisher is probably going to make some huge improvements with Xavier Lee and Drew Weatherford, two quarterbacks who have struggled to reach their full potential. And I think the running game will definitely come back -- it's been a huge problem for Florida State the past two years. But fans shouldn't get too excited, because Florida State's got probably one of the toughest schedules Bobby Bowden has ever had here. So while they may make some drastic improvements, they are not necessarily headed back to the BCS quite yet." -- Emily Badger, Orlando Sentinel
S. 3 at Clemson
S. 8 UAB
S. 15 at Colorado
S. 22 bye
S. 29 Alabama (Jacksonville)
O. 6 NCSU
O. 11 at Wake Forest
O. 20 Miami, Fla.
O. 27 Duke (HC)
N. 3 at Boston College
N. 10 at Virginia Tech
N. 17 Maryland
N. 24 at Florida
(Photos courtesy Getty Images)