Florida State Football: Poor ACC Play Means FSU Must Meet High Expectations

Stephen SheehanCorrespondent IAugust 1, 2012

If FSU plans on meeting expectations in 2012, it'll have to improve its conference play.
If FSU plans on meeting expectations in 2012, it'll have to improve its conference play.Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Jimbo Fisher's squad entered 2011 as a dark-horse national championship contender, but after going just 5-3 against the ACC—including an ugly 30-35 loss to unranked Wake Forest—Florida State will have to meet high expectations in 2012. 

Before the Seminoles had played a single snap last season, they were already considered one of the best teams in the nation. 

Ranked No. 6 on the Associated Press Top 25 Poll and No. 5 on the USA Today Coaches' Poll, it was clear that FSU should have been a team to be reckoned with in Fisher's second year at the helm. 

Unfortunately for Seminoles fans, injuries along the offensive line and at quarterback prevented the offense from realizing its potential.

As a result, FSU continually slipped in the national rankings, dropping from No. 5 to No. 11 by Week 4 and No. 23 the following week (via ESPN). 

By Week 7, the Seminoles fell completely out of both polls after suffering three consecutive losses against then-No.1 Oklahoma, then-No. 21 Clemson and unranked Wake Forest. 

Although Fisher's squad kept it close against the Sooners, his defense completely failed him in the next two weeks.

In its first prime conference matchup, the Seminoles faced a Clemson squad that was ranked 10 spots lower. 

Unfortunately for FSU, the trip to Death Valley proved to be an unpleasant one. 

With starting quarterback E.J. Manuel sidelined with a shoulder injury, redshirt freshman Clint Trickett drew the start and mostly impressed. 

The lanky 6'2", 180-pounder completed 24 passes for 336 yards and three touchdowns, although he did throw a pick. 

While the offense certainly held up its end of the bargain, FSU had absolutely no answer for Dabo Swinney's high-octane offense as the Tigers piled up 35 points courtesy of the dynamic duo of Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. 

Clemson's quarterback posted an eerily similar line to Trickett—22 completions for 344 yards and three touchdowns—but it was Watkins who proved to be a thorn in the Seminoles' side. 

The freshman sensation exploded for 141 yards on just seven catches, scoring twice. 

Just a week later, FSU once again had trouble stopping another ACC offense as Wake Forest—who finished the season 6-7—became the second team in two weeks to drop 35 points on the Seminoles defense. 

Chris Givens, the Demon Deacons' top receiver, gave FSU fits, racking up 101 yards on just six catches, but it was the Seminoles' porous run defense that stood out. 

Junior Josh Harris racked up 136 yards on just 13 carries, including a 57-yard run. 

Although FSU mostly breezed through its next five ACC opponents—save for a 23-19 nail-biter against Miami—the team again came up short against another unranked conference foe. 

Facing the always dangerous Virginia, then-No. 23 FSU got stymied at home despite having Manuel back in the lineup. 

Though the Cavaliers offense wasn't much better, it was a disappointing performance for Fisher's squad, as his offense managed to convert just three third downs and committed 11 penalties for 94 yards.

Two wins to close the season made the season a little more palatable for some fans, but for a team that began the season ranked as high as No. 5, 2011 was a huge letdown. 

Luckily for fans, coaches and players alike, an excellent recruiting class and the expected improvement of Manuel and the offense should allow the Seminoles to be better in 2012. 

Fisher's offense boasts a wealth of receiving talent in superstar-in-the-making Christian Green, super sophomore Rashad Greene and complementary receivers Kenny Shaw and Rodney Smith. 

As is the case with any college or pro team, FSU's ability to meet expectations falls on the arm of its quarterback. 

E.J. Manuel has shown flashes of dynamic ability, but he's been injured too often to be a consistent impact player. 

If he's able to stay upright and avoid the trainer's room, the senior signal-caller should emerge as one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. 

Along with a talented defense that features a true leader in safety LaMarcus Joyner, a talented linebacker in Christian Jones, a tenacious defensive end duo of Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner and a pair of 5-star freshmen defensive linemen in Mario Edwards, Jr. and Eddie Goldman, the Seminoles have the makings of a very good squad. 

The team looks stacked on paper, but as FSU fans know all too well, preseason hype doesn't mean results. 

If the Seminoles plan on avoiding last year's meltdown, it all begins with stomping the ACC.