If there's one word to describe the 2011 Florida State football season, it would be disappointment. The 'Noles were ranked fifth in nearly every preseason poll and failed to not only make it to a BCS game, but also failed to make it to the ACC Championship game.
Florida State finished the year with a 9-4 record, but it's their losses that leave fans wondering how or why the season slipped out of reach. Injuries plagued the Florida State offense: Losing running back Chris Thompson due to a broken back and not having wide receiver Willie Haulstead for a single game hurts, but the injuries to Andrew Datko, David Spurlock and Jacob Fahrenkrug across the offensive line seemed to hurt the most. The 'Noles started four freshman on the offensive line against Notre Dame, showing just how thin they were across the line.
Defensively, the Seminoles were every bit as advertised, but even that side of the ball had its share of headaches. Cornerbacks Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes battled injuries, and defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel was hurt for the majority of the season. In addition, mishaps by young players hurt the unit as a whole.
Perhaps the biggest setback of all was quarterback E.J. Manuel suffering a shoulder injury against Oklahoma, costing him to miss the Clemson game and part of the Wake Forest game.
Given all of that, it's safe to say that injuries prevented Florida State from taking the next step, but when will the excuses stop?
With everything that happened this season, the players returning could and should excel to the next level and bring Florida State back to a BCS game.
What will Florida State's recruiting class rank?
Defensive end Brandon Jenkins along with Reid and Rhodes all elected to bypass the NFL draft and return to school for another year. Linebacker Nigel Bradham and safety Terrance Parks along with cornerback Mike Harris all graduated, but freshman phenomenon Karlos Williams will step in at safety with plenty of depth at the corner position to compensate for the loss of Harris. Their defense should be one of the top units in the country again next year.
Offensively, the 'Noles are bringing back nearly everyone. Wide receiver Bert Reed and tight end Beau Reliford graduated, but there are playmakers ready to take their place. Sophomore running backs-to-be Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. should be capable of carrying the load next season. A young but experienced offensive line should be one of the better units in the ACC.
The key is for Manuel to stay healthy. The team isn't the same when he's hurt, and even though back-up quarterback Clint Trickitt plays admirably, he's not the kind of playmaker Manuel is.
As for recruiting, Florida State is putting together another huge class full of premier talent. The top- ranked prospect, defensive end Mario Edwards, highlights the class, but is his commitment solid? Jameis Winston, the top-ranked quarterback, has a solid commitment to Florida State, but will he choose baseball over football if the MLB comes calling?
Defensive ends Chris Casher and Dante Fowler Jr. are also strong commits but both have expressed wanting to make more visits.Wide Receiver Marvin Bracy played great in the Under Armour All-Star game and is firm in his commitment, and Ukeme Eliqwe is the top-ranked middle linebacker in the class who is also a firm commitment to Florida State.
The class is littered with talent, but there are still players that Florida State needs to solidify. Defensive tackle Eddie Goldman is a must-have as well as cornerback Tracy Howard. Athletes Stefon Diggs and Nelson Agholar would help fill needs as well. Offensive tackle Andrus Peat, a five-star prospect, would help out immediately on the offensive line.
More than anything, Florida State needs Edwards to stay firm with his commitment. He's the nation's top prospect and will be a force at the next level. If Edwards stays committed and Florida State lands Goldman, then the defensive line at Florida State is going to be something special for the next three or four years.
The most important thing for Jimbo Fisher this offseason is to capitalize on the talent he has. If he lands the top class or even another top-five class, there won't be any excuse for another disappointing season. Fisher needs to excel right now or he will start feeling the heat. He's been very successful in his first two seasons (19 wins is nothing to sneeze at), but the expectations are too high for Florida State to miss out on another ACC Championship or a BCS game.