The Florida State Seminoles finished the 2011 season on a high note, beating their storied rival Notre Dame 18-14 in the Champs Sports Bowl. This, however, was a far cry from the ACC Championship that FSU fans wanted at the beginning of the season. Expectations had been high, but after a few heartbreakers, the 'Noles were out of the BCS conversation.
2012 will not disappoint, though. Years before this one, FSU hadn't achieved the correct balance of skill and experience needed to become an ACC Championship-caliber team. 2012, however, will be the year the Seminoles achieve their goal of winning the ACC. Let's break down why the 'Noles will be returning to the top tier of college football teams.
First, the offense. E.J. Manuel is returning for his senior season and will continue to provide the leadership on that side of the ball. He had a very productive season, throwing for 18 touchdowns to only eight interceptions. He finished the season with a good 65 percent completion rate and another four touchdowns on the ground. Manuel has done a great job taking the reins of this offense and performing at a consistently high level.
Manuel didn't do it all himself, though. His wide receiver cast showed up big this season, including true freshman Rashad Greene. Greene had 38 receptions with 596 yards and seven touchdowns. Not bad at all for a true freshman. Rodney Smith, Christian Green and Kenny Shaw also had good seasons and are all returning for next season. Add in 4-star recruit Marvin Bracy, and you have a very talented wide receiver corps.
Devonta Freeman had his ups and downs this season as FSU's starting running back after Chris Thompson suffered a season-ending injury. Freeman was a true freshman and will surely find more consistency after a year of experience. With Mario Pender joining the 'Noles in 2012, the depth at the RB position will be deeper than abstract art.
The offensive unit that needed the most improvement would have to be the O-line. Four freshmen started against Notre Dame, and it showed in the first half. After halftime, they showed tons of improvement and looked like a legitimate starting O-line for next year. The 'Noles will have an experienced group returning on offense, which should alleviate any of the growing pains of last year.
But perhaps the thing to get most excited for in 2012 is the defense. The Seminoles were ranked No. 4 in points allowed, allowing only 15 points on average. Their recruiting class was also focused on getting the best defensive players in the country, and boy did they do that.
On the line the 'Noles will have Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner as defensive ends, two very talented and experienced players who certainly have an NFL future. Everett Dawkins is returning as the nose tackle, as is Timmy Jernigan for the defensive tackle. But one doesn't truly understand the dominance of this D-line without looking at the recruits FSU has brought in. Just think about Chris Casher, Dante Fowler, Mario Edwards and Justin Shanks all on the same D-line. Even the most explosive offenses fear that.
The linebackers all performed adequately for FSU and were a great complement to the D-line. However, the linebackers to look at the most are Vince Williams and Telvin Smith, both middle linebackers who competed with each other for the starting position. Both are extremely talented and made their mark on this FSU defense. I expect them to split time this season without any drop off in production or flow.
The cornerbacks and safeties were the FSU units that had breakout seasons. Xavier Rhodes shut down people all year, even Michael Floyd in the Champs Sports Bowl. Rhodes will be returning, along with playmaker Greg Reid. Reid is a hard-hitter who can not only make plays as a cornerback, but also as a kick and punt returner. Lamarcus Joyner and Nick Moody are excellent safeties, both having tons of experience to boot.
The Seminoles are a BCS-bound team. If not that, they will at least get to the ACC Championship Game. There is too much skill to think this team may disappoint again. The 'Noles are returning, and I will happily jump on the bandwagon for 2012.