Schedule Preview: Florida State

In the most anticipated contest of the 2009 season for the North Carolina fan base, Florida State arrives in Chapel Hill for UNC's first-ever Thursday night showdown on Oct. 22 (ESPN).

Overview: There is little doubt that Bobby Bowden and his Seminoles are anxious to exit this exasperating offseason and get the '09 campaign started against Miami (Fla.) on Labor Day evening. Florida State self-reported violations of an academic cheating scandal to the NCAA in 2007, and the powers that be responded this summer with the decision to place the Seminoles on four years' probation, while forcing the program to vacate 14 wins and lose 19 athletic scholarships.

The school has appealed the decision to dock Bowden his past victories, citing the non-profit institution also determined that the Seminoles head coach of 34 years had no knowledge of the cheating. Bowden has been entangled with Penn State head coach Joe Paterno in a century-long battle for the most wins in NCAA Division history (Paterno leads 383-382), and the removal of 14 wins would all but end the race.

Regardless, Florida State enters the '09 season with high hopes of returning to the ACC Championship for the first time since '05. Junior quarterback Christian Ponder (177-of-318 passing, 2,006 yards, 14 TD, 13 INT) headlines a group of eight returning offensive starters that also includes all five offensive linemen. Gone are wideout weapons Greg Carr and Preston Parker, but Taiwan Easterling and Bert Reed proved their worth last fall and aim to improve the Seminoles' 192.8 passing yards per game from '08 (82nd nationally).

Running back Antone Smith has also moved on, but sophomore Jermaine Thomas (482 yards, 3 TD, 7.0 ypc) has the tools to keep FSU's 33rd-ranked rushing offense (179.1 ypg) trucking along. But despite OC Jimbo Fisher's unit gaining just 371.9 yards per outing (51st nationally) and coughing up 26 turnovers (8th ACC), the offense managed 33.4 points per contest – good for 22nd nationally and tops in the ACC.

The defense was stout as usual in '08, ranking 15th nationally in total defense (294.9 ypg) dominating their opponents' line of scrimmage to the tune of 3.0 sacks (4th nationally) and 8.6 tackles for loss (1st) per contest. But only five starters return to Mickey Andrews' unit this fall, with defensive end Everett Brown (36 tackles, 13.5 sacks, 8 tackles for loss) bolting for the NFL and the team's top-three tacklers – LB Derek Nicholson, LB Toddrick Verdell and S Myron Rolle – also moving on to greener pastures.

What's left is plenty of inexperienced talent mixed in with veteran starters such as senior defensive tackle Justin Mincey and senior linebacker Dekoda Watson (46 tkl, 8 tfl). With two holes to be filled on each line of defense, fall practice will be critical in seeing which of last season's role players can step up and continue FSU's long standing history of tenacious D.

Laughs Aplenty: During his July 15th roast at FSU's University City Club, Bowden took aim at longtime friend and former Nebraska head coach Tom Osborne. Referring to an old Fiesta Bowl battle between the two programs, Bowden told the story of an official informing him that Osborne had been ranting and raving all game that the Seminoles were cheating. Bowden's reply? "Tom, it's just called the forward pass."

Tough Schedule: The only gimme on the slate is Jacksonville St. in Week 2, but even then the Seminoles will be working on a short week following the season-opening Monday night affair against rival Miami. The inexperienced defense will be tested severely in late September against Mountain West frontrunner BYU and Big East contender South Florida. FSU draws Georgia Tech and North Carolina along with the Hurricanes out of the Coastal Division, and the regular season finale occurs in Gainesville against the heavy favorite for the national championship in Florida.

Key Game: At Clemson on Nov. 7. While it would be easy to select the Wake Forest game on Nov. 14 in this slot, considering the Demon Deacons have won three straight in this series by a combined 66-24, the early November showdown in Death Valley will likely determine the Atlantic Division's representative in the ACC Championship Game. The Seminoles have lost four of the last six against the Tigers, including the last three at Clemson.

2009 Schedule
Sept. 7    Miami (Fla.) 
Sept. 12   Jacksonville St.
Sept. 19   @ BYU
Sept. 26   South Florida
Oct. 3     @ Boston College
Oct. 10    Georgia Tech
Oct. 22    @ North Carolina
Oct. 31    N.C. State
Nov. 7     @ Clemson
Nov. 14    @ Wake Forest
Nov. 21    Maryland
 Nov. 28   @ Florida

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