Schedule Preview: Florida State

When North Carolina travels to Tallahassee to clash with Atlantic Division favorite Florida State on Nov. 6, Bobby Bowden will not be on the Seminoles' sidelines for the first time in 34 years. Jimbo Fisher takes over the FSU program with lofty goals of returning to a BCS bowl for the first time since '05.

Overview: It's never easy to replace a legend. But after two seasons as Florida State's head-coach-in-waiting, Jimbo Fisher walks into the unenviable task of assuming Bobby Bowden's CEO headset in Tallahassee. Making things even more difficult for the former LSU offensive coordinator is that when fans think back on Bowden's career, they likely envision the 14 straight seasons of top-4 finishes, not the 7-6 campaigns that have plagued the program in three of the past four years.

Prior to Fisher's arrival as offensive coordinator in '07, the Seminoles (7-6, 4-4 ACC) had struggled to find a quarterback good enough to return them to the nation's elite, but Florida State has that type of talent under center now in Heisman candidate Christian Ponder (227-of-330 passing, 2,717 yards, 14 TD, 7 INT). The Colleyville, Tex. native's decision to return to school for his senior season is why ACC media members selected Florida State as the preseason favorite for the Atlantic Division.

It also helps to have eight other returning starters from a offense that ranked 28th nationally in total offense (421.4 ypg) and 32nd in scoring offense (30.1 ppg), led by running back Jermaine Thomas (832 yards, 9 TD, 5.1 ypc) and wide receivers Bert Reed (60 catches, 710 yards) and Jarmon Fortson (45 catches, 610 yards, 4 TD). The offensive line allowed 1.54 sacks per outing in '09, good for T-39th, and that statistic will likely improve this fall as all five starters return. All-American left guard Rodney Hudson leads a veteran group that boasts 146 career starts, good for second-most in the FBS.

So how did an explosive offense like this manage to lose six games last fall? That answer's easy – by fielding one of the worst defenses in the country. All but two of the Seminoles' opponents scored 26 points or more, resulting in a scoring defense that ranked 94th nationally (30.0 ppg). That ranking actually benefited from a plus-0.08 turnover margin (57th), as the total defense numbers were even worse (434.6 ypg, 108th). New defensive coordinator Mark Stoops also must replace a legend in 26-year veteran Mickey Andrews after spending the last six years in the same role at Arizona. Stoops welcomes back six starters, led by linebackers Nigel Bradham (93 tkl, 3.5 TFL) and Kendall Smith (85 tkl, 5 TFL). The Seminoles are also expecting big things out of freshmen All-Americas Greg Reid (CB, 23 tkl, 6 pbu) and Jacobbi McDaniel (25 tkl, 3 TFL), as well as incoming linebacker Jeff Luc.

Despite a brutal nonconference schedule that includes Oklahoma, Florida and BYU, the season will unfold nicely for the Seminoles. A home opener against Samford leads into contests against the Sooners and Cougars before Florida State enters ACC play with winnable games against Wake Forest and Virginia. That five-week tuneup should pay dividends for a Week 6 showdown with rival Miami in South Florida.

Quotable: "Sometimes people say I'm like Coach Bowden. Sometimes people say I'm different. I'm just me. I don't try to look at it that way. People always talk about Coach Bowden and Nick (Saban) to me... Two different styles can be successful, and the thing about both of them, they're their own person. They don't try to be anybody (else) - Nick tries to be Nick, and Bobby always tried to be Bobby. And so the greatest lesson I can learn from both of them - Jimbo has to be Jimbo." – Fisher

Matchup to Watch: It will be years before Tar Heel fans forget the Thursday night primetime collapse against Ponder and the Seminoles in Chapel Hill last October. With UNC leading 24-6 in the third quarter, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound quarterback directed his team on four straight scoring drives (3 TD, FG) totaling 290 yards with a 9.7-yards-per-play average to overcome the deficit and give Florida State an improbable victory. The Seminoles' offense and North Carolina's defense will once again be their program's strengths in '09, returning a combined 18 starters. But will the Tar Heels be able to replicate their early-game success against FSU last fall – holding the Seminoles to 77 yards through seven possessions – or will Ponder dial up another offensive blitzkrieg for Homecoming?

Remember Me? Jimbo Fisher, who signed a five-year contract worth $1.8 million annually last December, is a name that plenty of Triangle sports fans may remember from late '06. North Carolina and N.C. State had fired John Bunting and Chuck Amato, respectively, and the LSU offensive coordinator made news by politicking for the open coaching positions on local sports talk radio. Both schools went in different directions, however, leaving Fisher to accept the offensive coordinator position at Florida State for the '07 season. You have to give him credit, though. Before the '07 season was complete, Fisher's contract was amended to include the specification that FSU's booster organization would owe him $5 million if he wasn't named the Seminoles' coach by January 2011.

2010 Schedule

Sept. 4  Samford
Sept. 11 @ Oklahoma
Sept. 18 BYU
Sept. 25 Wake Forest
Oct. 2   @ Virginia
Oct. 9   @ Miami, Fla. 
Oct. 16  Boston College
Oct. 23  OPEN DATE
Oct. 28  @ N.C. State (Thurs.)
Nov. 6   North Carolina
Nov. 13  Clemson
Nov. 20  @ Maryland
Nov. 27  Florida

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