ACC Week: One Big Question for Florida State, Is 2012 Finally The Year?


As synonymous with the 1990s as grunge rock, “The Simpsons,” and No Fear t-shirts was Florida State football. The Seminoles won a pair of national championships and produced two Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks.

FSU made three title game appearances in the first three seasons of the Bowl Championship Series. In the 11 years since? Zero.

Oklahoma completely snuffed out an offense led by Heisman winner Chris Weinke, holding it scoreless in the 2001 Orange Bowl. The 13-2 loss was a fitting, symbolic end of an era, and the road back has been covered in pot holes.

“FSU is back” has become football’s version of Chicken Little’s “the sky is falling” declaration. A freshman Drew Weatherford opened his career with a defeat of rival Miami, and helped the ‘Noles to an Orange Bowl (albeit under less than desirable circumstances). The youngster was briefly annoited the chosen one, but it never came to pass. He lost the job to Christian Ponder, who excelled individually more than Weatherford. However, injuries kept the Ponder era from ever truly peaking.

Is EJ Manuel the quarterback to return FSU to its 1990s greatness, playing for national championships and competing for Heismans?

Manuel was an intriguing player heading into last season, with Cam Newton mania still lingering over the landscape. Manuel has similar characteristics to Newton, notably size (6-foot-5, nearly 250 pounds) and an ability to rush (over 4 yards per carry on 134 attempts his first two seasons). The common theme of injury that held back other FSU quarterbacks reared its head against Manuel to some extent,

His health and production will set the tone for the Seminole offense. He’s capable of doing special things, including establishing himself as the best quarterback in the ACC. That’s a worthwhile accomplishment considering the talent the conference boasts at the position this season: Manuel, Clemon’s Tajh Boyd, NC State’s Mike Glennon and Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas, all from the Commonwealth of Quarterbacks, Virginia.

Surrounding him is a deep, experienced offense that includes Rashad Greene (596 yards receiving, 7 touchdowns in nine games) and Devonta Freeman (593 yards rushing, 8 touchdowns). The skill positions will excel, predicated on the line improving. It lost Zebrie Sanders from a unit that allowed 41 sacks a season ago (No. 110 in FBS), and had concerns with his presence. Assuming the playing time youngsters gained last season translates to improvement, the sky is the limit for an offense that averaged more than 30 points per game last season.

It’s been said before and said repeatedly, but something about 2012 feels different. FSU made some important moves in the off-season — none of which had anything to do with the Big 12 Conference.

Securing Mark Stoops as defensive coordinator after wooing from Auburn was key. In the two years since Stoops joined the ‘Nole staff, FSU has yielded just 19.6 (2010) and 15.1 (2011) points per game. German-born Bjoern Werner has adapted well converting from one form of football to another.

Like the offense, the defense is loaded with experience. Greg Reid (also an honorable mention All-ACC selection on special teams) and Lamarcus Joyner combined for six interceptions. Linebacker Christian Jones is back at outside linebacker. Brandon Jenkins will join Werner in making opposing quarterbacks feel very uneasy.

Jimbo Fisher’s presence as coach-in-waiting proved a rare instance of the concept working. Fisher recruited well immediately, and the stockpile of talent he’s built should pay dividends.

Talent isn’t the issue holding FSU back, though. Playing with the same motivation weekly is critical. FSU has dropped games it shouldn’t routinely over recent years. Last season were road contests at Clemson and Wake Forest.

A Thursday night contest in November against Virginia Tech looms large, but keep your eyes on a trip to NC State on Oct. 6.