This football season, as in many seasons in the past, the Seminoles will play their first game on Labor Day versus their in-state rivals, the Miami Hurricanes.
Last year's match-up took place in Miami, during what seemed to be a torrential monsoon. The Seminoles won the game, but not without a tough challenge from the 'Canes. The final score was 41-39.
Look for this year's game to be another close one. Although Florida State is seen as a better overall team, Miami will not make the game easy for the 'Noles.
Miami's Randy Shannon is on the hot seat once again this season. With major coaching changes (offensive and defensive coordinator), he looks to boost the 'Canes back into a dominating program.
The Hurricane's offense will be led by sophomore quarterback Jacory Harris. He put up respectable numbers for a freshman last year (1,195 yds passing, 12 TDs) and he definitely has the ability to become a dangerous offensive weapon. FSU has struggled with quarterbacks of Harris's type in the past.
Graig Cooper will be returning at running back. He had a solid 841 yards rushing last year. He will be running behind three returning starters on the offensive line. However, depth is an area of concern for the OL.
At receiver, Miami has talent, but with no real game-changer. Travis Benjamin, who did run all over FSU last year, is returning at wide receiver, but his biggest contribution will most likely be on special teams.
Florida State, on the other hand, has gone under no coaching changes; although, Bobby Bowden will likely retire after this season. As with with Miami, Florida State is also trying to boost their team back into a dominating program.
The 'Noles offense will be led by junior quarterback Christian Ponder. Although his stats were not outstanding last season (2,006 yds passing, 14 TDs, 13 INTs), Ponder has received much praise from coach-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher. Fisher said that Ponder has become "much more confident" and that he has a "grasp of everything that is going on."
In last year's game, Ponder was able to beat the 'Canes on many plays with his legs. The same thing may happen this year, but Miami will most likely be ready and will not be surprised if Ponder takes off and runs.
Sophomore Jermaine Thomas will most likely be the starting running back on Labor Day. As a freshmen, he put up surprising stats (482 yds rushing, 7.0 yds avg a carry). This year should be even better. He will be running behind an experienced offensive line led by junior guard Rodney Hudson.
At receiver, Florida State is in a similar situation as Miami. They have plenty of talent, but no proven game-changer. Greg Carr punished Miami's defensive backs last year, but now that he is graduated, FSU is without a go-to receiver. Look for guys like Taiwan Easterling and Jarmon Fortson to fill that role.
Offense should be FSU's area of strength this year, unlike recent years.
So, will Miami have an answer for Jimbo Fisher's offense? Yes and no.
New defensive coordinator John Lovett has a fully able defense, but not many of his defenders have real experience. Miami has the speed to keep up with FSU, but has Lovett been able to control that speed?
The defensive line for Miami returns only one starter, but Shannon rotated linemen very well last year. So, the D-line will have some experience. They will need to create pressure on Christian Ponder and Jermaine Thomas if they want any chance of stopping the 'Noles offensive attack.
The linebacker corps is the real strong-point of the 'Canes defense. They are led by a young sophomore, Sean Spence, who was named ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year last year. He did damage to Florida State last year.
The secondary is really the big question mark of the Hurricanes' defense. The defense as a whole only recorded four picks last season, only were made by the secondary. This lack of turnovers is from a lack of play-makers. In Miami's case, a lack of play-makers in the secondary turned into the inability to pass rush or put any real pressure Christian Ponder last year.
Florida State's defense finds themselves in a similar bind as Miami's. There is big talent, but lack of experience in certain areas.
The defensive line for Florida State seemed to struggle at times last year. The struggle was mainly due to the interior linemen. The interior guys were said to have "underachieved" by many. The heavily scrutinized interior, will have to clog up the middle and stop Craig Cooper.
This season, the defensive line returns some important contributors. The biggest loss was defensive end, Everette Brown. However, senior Markus White, a former JUCO defensive player of the year, has the ability to fill that void and force Jacory Harris to make mistakes.
The linebackers for FSU are arguably the most athletic guys on the team. Led by senior Dekoda Watson and sophomore Nigel Bradham, look for the Seminole linebackers to be the play-makers in this game.
The secondary for Florida State is a little troubling for 'Nole fans to think about. There are some highly talented freshmen, but they have no experience. Cornerback Patrick Robinson will have to step up and provide constant pressure on Jacory Harris.
However, Robinson cannot do it all by himself; The inexperienced safeties will have to play solidly and consistently if FSU wants to beat the 'Canes.
Florida State's offense should hammer Miami's defense on almost every drive. Inversely, Miami's offense may do the same to Florida State's defense. That will all depend on if newly hired Mark Whipple has his guys into the right form.
Overall, it seems like the Seminoles are a stronger team. But again, no matter how uneven the match-up may seem, the game is usually a close one. All FSU fans are praying that it does not come down to a field goal, as Miami has the edge over Florida State in that department.
However, the game will probably be full of touchdowns, not field goals. Scoring wise, look for the game to be similar to last year's.
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