Jimbo Fisher and the 'Noles are better equipped to handle their hype heading into the 2012 season.
With news that reputable magazine publisher Phil Steele picked Florida State as his preseason No. 1 team for 2012, a collective sigh and an under-their-breath mumble of “not this again” could be heard from fans and prognosticators around the country.
The Seminoles have seemingly been mythical preseason media darlings for more than a decade, only to crash and burn for a multitude of reasons.
After losing a 23-13 slugfest early last season to then-No. 1 Oklahoma, injuries ravaged Jimbo Fisher’s lineup and sent FSU’s promising season into a tailspin.
So, what makes this the year that FSU finally breaks through and wins the ACC for the first time since 2005?
Here are five reasons why the ‘Noles will live up to the hype in 2012.
Manuel enters his senior season at FSU primed to lead the 'Noles to their first ACC title since 2005.
The simplest reason that makes FSU a clear favorite in the ACC is that they have the most talent and the most returning starters on a team that went 9-4 last year. They lost their four games by a combined margin of 21 points.
Fisher’s squad brings back a fifth-year senior starting at quarterback in E.J. Manuel, plus his leading rusher and receiver from last season. Also, the defense has the potential to be the nation’s best.
Add in a Groza-finalist at kicker (Dustin Hopkins) and another top-flight recruiting class arriving this summer to supplement an already loaded roster, and the picture becomes clearer as to why this is a make-or-break year for Fisher.
Reid put off the NFL for a chance to help erase the failures that doomed the 'Noles in 2011.
For all of the talent stockpiled in Tallahassee, the Seminoles have several talented upperclassmen that have yet to win a championship.
Guys like Manuel and senior leaders on defense, such as defensive end Brandon Jenkins and corner Greg Reid, have made a major contribution in helping get the FSU program back on solid ground—but each held off their NFL dreams in part because their college legacies are incomplete without a conference (or even national) title.
Last year’s failures, plus the fact that a large senior class will be getting its final chance to achieve their most elusive goal, will be the driving force behind the Seminoles’ quest to leave Charlotte on the first weekend in December with a trophy in tow.
Greene leads a loaded group of skill players that is deep, talented and experienced.
The silver lining for last season’s injury plague was that it forced several young players to step up and learn how to play at a high level—especially on the offense.
Underclassmen such as quarterback Clint Trickett, running back Devonta Freeman, receiver Rashad Greene and host of youngsters in the trenches were able to gain valuable experience as freshmen last season due to the rash of injured starters who missed time in 2011.
Should the injury bug strike FSU again this season, the Seminoles will be better prepared to handle personnel losses at nearly every position on the roster.
FSU begins their 2012 season with their first four games at home.
Another part of the Seminoles misfortune last season was that they had to face their toughest Atlantic Division opponent (Clemson) on the road one week after their draining loss to Oklahoma.
Thanks to West Virginia bailing on its previously scheduled Sept. 8 trip to Tallahassee, the Seminoles won’t face the pressure of having a preseason Top 10 opponent to face early in the season.
Instead, they can concentrate on getting a leg up on its side of the ACC with home tilts against division foes Wake Forest and Clemson in the middle of September
Aside from (manageable) road trips to in-state rivals Miami and South Florida, and a Thursday night trip to conference power Virginia Tech in early November, the schedule sets up nicely for the Seminoles to make a run towards the ACC title game.
With a more confident OL blocking for him, FSU RB Devonta Freeman should find more running room in 2012.
The Seminoles biggest weakness last season was the play of its much-maligned offensive line unit.
Considering FSU’s front wall allowed 40 sacks and could only muster 112 rushing yards per game, it’s apparent where the Seminoles must improve if they hope to win bigger in 2012.
After starting four true freshmen in their bowl victory over Notre Dame, the Seminoles head into 2012 buoyed by a mixture of youth and talent that is now more mature and better equipped to handle the rigors of the long season.
If Rick Trickett’s unit can raise their level of play, the Seminoles have everything in place around them to be one the top offensive attacks in the ACC this fall.