After their best season in four years the Florida State Seminoles are looking to reach the ACC Championship game for the first time since 2005. Inconsistency killed the Noles last year, mostly on the offensive side of the ball.
The defense kept FSU in some games when the offense just could not produce any. If you need a reminder, take a look back at the Wake Forest game.
Some blamed QB Christian Ponder and others blamed the inexperienced offensive line. Even Jimbo Fisher found himself in the crosshairs of some FSU fans.
But this is a new season, and it appears that the circumstances from last year have been flipped. The offense comes in after a strong spring while the defense is looking to rebuild heading into the 2009 Season.
Here are the 5 questions concerning the Nole Offense that have been circulating within my head since the Champs Sports Bowl.
1. Which Christian Ponder Will We See This Year?
Last year was Christian's first as the full-time starter. After beating out Drew Weatherford in the pre-season, Ponder came into the year with pretty high expectations.
He gave FSU the first dual-threat QB that they had since Adrian McPherson arguably, and many of the coaches/fans were excited about this. He had a pretty impressive showing in 2007 when he filled in for an injured Drew Weatherford against a very tough Virginia Tech defense in Blacksburg.
After two warmup games against 1-AA opponents, he was set to lead the Noles into their ACC Opener against Wake Forest. In the game, he made bad decision after bad decision as he threw 3 INT while going 6 for 18 with 52 yards passing. Did I mention that his QB Rating was 24.27?
In all it was just a horrible performance by the offense, as Ponder couldn't complete a pass to anyone in Garnett and Gold. To his credit though the O-Line didn't do so swell either, but you can't blame all three of his interceptions on them.
Ponder can be the dual-threat weapon that the FSU coaches preached of out of pre-season camp. The Miami game was arguably Ponder's best. You could also say it was the best for the offense as a whole, but Ponder was definitely a big reason why FSU won that game.
He passed for 159 yards with 1 TD and 2 INT while running for 144 yards with his longest run being 45 yards. In the game, Ponder figured out that when no one is open it is actually better to tuck it and run then to force it to somebody which most likely would result in an INT.
When Ponder did this against Miami, he opened up the whole playbook as he allowed RB Antone Smith to have a career day with 4 TD.
After this start, he went on a tear with his next 4 starts all resulting in a QB Rating of over 100.00, the team went (3-1) during this stretch and should of really went (4-0) had it not been for a last second fumble on the 1-yard line.
But just as it seemed like Ponder had shaken the inconstantly bug out of his system, he had an absolutely dreadful game against Boston College. He threw 3 INT and no TDs while completing a little under half his passes for 183 yards. His QB Rating was 78.62, and FSU went on to lose in front of their blackout crowd.
He had good performances the rest of the way; except for the blowout to Florida at home, but Florida caused #1 pick Matthew Stafford to have a bad game so you can't really put criticism into that loss.
Basically, when Christian Ponder played well last year, FSU won and when he played horrible they lost. It is as simple as that.
2. Can The Offensive Line Live Up To Spring Expectations?
After learning how to work as a unit on the fly last year, people familiar with FSU Football expect the offensive line to be one of the strong points of the offense.
Led by All-ACC guard Rodney Hudson and highly touted sophomore tackle Andrew Datko, the line looks to build upon a solid spring heading into the '09 season.
Datko was voted by the coaches as the Most Outstanding Player following this season's spring game. Last year as a true freshman, he started every game except the season opener and was one of the more pleasant surprises from the '08 season. He also added 15 pounds to bulk up to 283.
Rodney Hudson will enter his junior year as one of the top junior O-line prospects as well as a Pre-Season All-American. After being named 1st team All-ACC last year, it wouldn't at all be surprising to see Hudson as an All-American alongside the nation’s best.
O-line coach Rick Trickett, who signed an extension in the winter, believes this year's line could be an anchor for the offense. For the first time in a couple years, the Noles may be able to run at will with speedy sophomore Jermaine Thomas which in turn would relieve some of the pressure off Ponder.
After their impressive spring practices and game, the only question concerning the offensive line is simply can the keep it up when the games actually count.
3. Will Jermaine Thomas Shoulder The Load At Running Back?
After a stellar '08 season at RB, true freshman Jermaine Thomas enters this year slated to be the starter after the graduation of Antone Smith. The 6'1 180 pound Thomas rushed for close to 500 yards on 69 attempts while supplying an elusive running style to the Noles offense. Thomas also ran for 3 TD while maintaining an impressive 7.0 YPC.
Quite frankly, he was the closest thing FSU had last year to the game-breaking speedsters down in Gainesville, and in the coming season expect Thomas to unleash that explosiveness on the ACC. If I were to compare Jermaine Thomas to anyone, it would be Clemson RB C.J Spiller because both running styles are very similar.
Thomas did have a nagging turf toe injury last season, so durability may be an issue. He also had problems in the spring with a hip pointer, but he shook the injury off and put together a solid spring.
The question regarding the FSU Backs isn't really who will start, but who will back up Jermaine Thomas and contribute like the before mentioned Thomas did last year.
Listed at 5'10, 215 lbs, Carlton 'Ty' Jones had a solid spring but couldn't really make it an outstanding one, as he was limited with bruised ribs. Jones is another speedy RB like Thomas who has the ability to score anytime he is in the open field. He showed flashes of this last year in the Champs Sports bowl against Wisconsin.
Another RB who could have a pretty big impact along with Thomas and Jones is former (JUCO) stud Tavares Pressley. After committing to FSU last year, he suffered an ACL injury to his left knee in camp, ending his season before it really even started. Thankfully the NCAA granted Pressely with a medical red shirt and he is now a RS-JR entering the season.
Pressley was highly touted coming out of El Camino College in California; he was rated as a 4-star by all major recruiting services. Pressley is listed as 6-foot-1, 216 pounds and posses’ excellent speed while being very elusive in the open field. After watching his JC tapes, he shows a knack for exploding through holes into the open field while making defenders miss with electric jukes and spin moves.
It seems likely that Pressley will become the number the certified back up behind Thomas, with Jones getting some time in between. All three are excellent runners, and it will be fun to watch them break off big gains behind improved offensive line.
4. Who Will Step Up At Wide Receiver?
After a rough off-season, that saw the arrests of Richard Goodman and Rod Owens along with the dismissal of Preston Parker, the FSU WR Corp is up in air.
Redshirt Sophmores Bert Reed and Taiwan Easterling both need to step up after breakout freshmen seasons. The void left by Preston Parker will be filled by both Sophomores, but there will need to be more consistent production from other wide receivers like Cameron Wade and Jarmon Fortson for the passing game to be successful. It also doesn't help that Christian Ponder is coming off a shaky season.
True freshman Rodney Smith could play an immediate role in this year’s offense if he doesn't get red-shirted. Two other wide receivers that could play a factor in the Nole passing game are Sophomore Avis Commack and speedy Senior Louis Givens.
Hopefully, this position group can get sorted out by the end of camp because this is definitely the weakest part of the Florida State offense.
5. How Will The Florida State Offense Fair In 2009?
How will the team do offensively with all the questions regarding Ponder, the Wide Recievers, and the O-Line? Ponder could give them an exceptional chance to win or he can dig a hole for the FSU defense to climb out of. The questions remains though whether his offensive-line can continue their progression from the spring, which they most likely will, or if they suffer injuries, will it further display the inconstancies of Ponder.
But for me, the biggest question entering the 2009 season regards the FSU Wide Receiver Corp. Besides Reed and Easterling there isn't really any guys who standout as playmakers. Most have shone flashes of greatness, like Fortson and Wade, but none have been able to do it consistantly.
The offense needs to answer these questions before the season starts, and take the pressure off of the already exposed defense, which needs to focus more on rebuilding than carrying the team like last year.
If Ponder can stay constant and a play-making receiver emerge from the current mess then I believe the Noles are in line for a pretty good season and possibly an ACC Championship.