FSU? You have questions, we have answers.
By Todd Helmick
NationalChamps.net Owner & Operator



First off, let me answer a few often-asked questions so you can get these obvious items out of the way…

This is the best FSU team since 2000. Chris Rix will be a better QB. FSU is not the dominant team in the ACC anymore. FSU will not contend for the National Championship. Barring injury (like that's possible), the OL is better than people think. The schedule, though, is too tough. FSU coaching is still questionable. LB Ernie Sims and RB Lorenzo Booker will be that good. A four-to-five loss season is again possible. TB Greg Jones will be back. Taking away all off-the-field troubles will not win more ballgames. DTs Darnell Docket and Travis Johnson will play. The FSU secondary will be better. The ACC championship still goes through Tallahassee.

It is best to approach the 2003 Noles in two different ways when addressing any won/loss outlook(s).

First, this is the best Nole team since the 2001 slide, in terms of experience at the skill positions, and more importantly overall defensive depth. Understand that during the great Nole dynasty run from 1987 to 2000, FSU always operated under the system where the groomed talent taking snaps was at least a junior (minus 26-year old sophomore Chris Weinke) with years spent sitting on the bench watching, waiting and learning. Name them?

1987 - Danny McManus - senior
1988 - Chip Ferguson - senior
1989 - Peter Tom Willis - senior
1990, 1991 - Casey Weldon - junior, senior
1992, 1993 - Charlie Ward - junior, senior
1994, 1995 - Danny Kanell - junior, senior
1996, 1997 - Thad Busby - junior, senior
1998, 1999, 2000 - Chris Weinke - sophomore, junior, senior (26 years old)
2001 - Chris Rix - freshman

Even a player the caliber of Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward had to pay his dues on the pine. You simply cannot plan on taking a freshman QB to then push for championships.

A paradox exists here. Most astute followers of the game can attest to the fact that team success is often measured in terms of the guy calling the signals and his experience level. If Southern Cal's 2003 team had a returning experienced QB, you would see them now as a legit Top 5 team.

What about the QB situation? Bear in mind, Rix won the Spring MVP award recently. You are going to see a much more poised version, finally, in his third year at the helm.

Will we see the same Greg Jones again in 2003? As of now, the big tailback, who led the ACC in rushing before tearing his ACL in early November, is expecting to be 100% by the opener versus North Carolina. His primary goal at this junction is to shed the extra pounds picked up in the rehab process. He weighs 251 pounds (yes, a tailback), but has a goal of 238 when August practice gets underway. Luckily, his running style is not predicated on slicing and slashing, which can add extra stress to a knee, but more of a straight ahead approach…an idea most defensive backfields do not appreciate.

What about the defense? The defense has been a thorn in FSU's side the last two falls. 2003 is, by far, the best defense coordinator Mickey Andrews has been able to cast in terms of experience and depth since the new millennium drought started. Ten returning starters, as well as each man on the first unit, is a junior or senior, a factor that has not existed now for two years running. Some defensive rays of light started shining through as FSU closed out the 2002 campaign.

Is 2002's end surge enough to make this group one of the better defenses in the nation? No, once again, it is the best in Tallahassee since the drop-off started.

What about the secondary Achilles Heel? The DB unit is still a wait-and-see process. The safeties are, with Carter, Ward, and Watkins, finally up to par in terms of speed and athleticism (B.J. Ward is the fastest Seminole of late, recording a 4.42 40). The corners (Samuels, Brown, McFadden) have been through the mill. This is where the test will come. The young DBs have matured enough to grant coaches a chance to mix the defenses and trust the blitz. They won't lock down receivers as FSU has in the past, but they will outshine their previous efforts, which wouldn't take much. In addition, the FSU opponent list likely won't find as many Seneca Wallace, Dave Ragone, Ken Dorsey and Rex Grossman's tossing darts.

How talented are the linebackers? The LBs have excellent depth and are extremely gifted. This is the best unit on the field, other than at tailback. Seniors Michael Boulware and Kendyll Pope are top athletes on any depth chart. Who is the new guy? Yes, five-star recruit Ernie Sims will see playing time at MLB in his first season. He recently recorded a 4.44 40 at the FSU summer workouts. Mark my words - he will be one of the all-time LB greats before his time is through. At DE, there just was not enough room on a two-deep depth chart to list all of the qualified applicants. The inside of the interior is another story in terms of depth. What about suspensions? It appears DT Darnell Dockett, who decided to stick around for his senior year despite his legal troubles, is ready to start. His one game suspension in the Sugar Bowl may be his only missed assignment. The other question is whether his partner (Travis Johnson) will be available due to legal troubles of his own. All indications point to yes, he should play, barring a team-appointed multiple game suspension. The only real player departing from this mess appears to be back-up/starter QB Adrian McPherson.

So will the off-the-field troubles effect this 2003 version? Nothing that winning cannot cure. Unfortunately, the more notches in the loss the column, the more that "perception" noose will tighten.

Why is FSU not getting preseason respect? The second portion of this two-fold outlook means understanding that FSU's schedule is absolutely brutal. Miami, Florida, Notre Dame, Colorado, Maryland, Virginia, NC State...forget it. You are still going to see the loses mount, which should account for their low preseason placement in many of the released polls. When some look at the fact that you have ACC teams such as NC State, Maryland and Virginia ranked ahead in the polls, the deduction is that FSU is headed to a fourth place finish in the league. This assumption is not the proper way of looking at the situation. The non-conference schedule difficulties just won't allow for a higher ranking. Who won the ACC Championship last year? FSU. Final rankings? AP Poll - #12 NC State, #13 Maryland, #21 Florida State, #22 Virginia. Losses and rankings do not (necessarily) consistently translate into similar conference standings. The point is that non-conference losses mean lower rankings. For those analysts that feel FSU will be a fourth place finish in the ACC…ahhhhh…NO!

Will another team win the ACC? Now this definitely could happen sooner than FSU finishes fourth. But the odds are greater now more than ever (since FSU joined the conference in 1992), even though the media has been saying this every year since. Sounds good, except the argument really holds water this time around with the quality of the ACC from top to bottom.

Does losing such great coaches still affect the outlook? The truth is, that with all of these questions, most answers do not reside in the off-season troubles or the player personnel. The most important questions here still remain within the coaching staff. Now that they have been handed a more stacked deck upon which to deal, while living in a pressure cooker, will they make the right decisions in terms of play calling and schemes? Nothing but time can answer this. If history is any indication, the prognosis would be more towards a negative response. The replacement coaches for former Seminole greats Chuck Amato and Mark Richt, as well as others, are in a crucial "show me what you've done for me lately" type spot. Their status in the eyes of the FSU faithful comes down to now (and possibly 2004). With better overall talent and experience, their coaching worth should be answered by then. For those that still do not know, Bobby Bowden does not call the plays.

Anticipating two losses for the upcoming season used to be unheard of during the summer months. In that regards, FSU has lost its mental edge and swagger. The talent in 2003 is just as good as the latter teams of the 90's, creating quite a telltale situation for those leading the troops.

Where will this team end up in January? An 11-2 season for FSU with the current schedule would be quite a success. 10-3 appears more realistic and Coach Bowden would not complain. 9-4 or 8-5 is still quite a possibility, which would leave FSU with yet another year of disappointment.