Bobby Bowden enters his 34th season as Florida State's head coach looking for a rise back to the top of the ACC standings. FSU has the talent returning on offense to make a run, but questions abound on defense where coordinator Mickey Andrews has announced this season will be his last.
To get a better look at the Seminoles, I talked with Chris Whitmore a Featured Columnist for FSU on Bleacher Report.
Is this Bobby's last year in Tallahassee?
Recently, Coach Bowden said he wants to win another national championship. He has two seasons to do that or FSU will have to pay Jimbo Fisher $5 million if he is not named the head coach after the 2010 season. Bobby wants to end his career on a good note. I believe this will not be his last season.
Is Christian Ponder ready to become an All-ACC QB this year?
Ponder just came off of a scrimmage where he went 15-20 for 287 yards and four touchdowns. The offensive line will be even better than last year where Ponder had to use his legs to make plays. This year, look for Ponder to stay in the pocket and make more plays through the air. Jimbo Fisher said in an interview earlier this summer that he is seeing a confidence in Ponder he did not see last year.
The passing game has no place to go but up since Ponder went for an 8-13 touchdown to interception ratio against FBS teams in 2008.
Who steps up as the go to receiver with Greg Carr and Preston Parker gone?
Taiwan Easterling, Bert Reed and Jarmon Fortson look to be the go-to receivers for 2009. Fortson had a big game in the Aug. 15 scrimmage with three catches for 106 yards. Easterling is coming off an Achilles's heel surgery during the spring and reports from summer and preseason practices show he has fully recovered.
With the offensive line being more structured, Jimbo Fisher wants to open up the passing game to include tight end Caz Piurowski. Piurowski had a touchdown catch in FSU's 42-13 win over Wisconsin in the 2008 Champs Sports Bowl. He has dropped some weight during the offseason and should factor into the passing game Fisher wants to focus on during this season.
With 89 career starts back on the offensive line and three straight years of improved rush numbers, how close is this line to being like the dominant FSU o-lines of the past?
2009 seems have optimism for the running game that looks to translate well to the field. Although no starters return for running backs, Jermaine Thomas averaged seven yards per carry last year as a freshman and only lost 10 yards total during the entire season. With backups Ty Jones and Tavares Pressley, FSU looks to have a balanced rushing game this season.
Jimbo Fisher made a comment during the summer where he wouldn't mind having three running backs who have 800 yards this season, he looks to use the trio during the season. The rushing game of FSU's offense seems to be the aspect with the most optimism.
Will the defensive line improve on their 133 ypg allowed on the ground, FSU's worst total since 1995?
This is hard to tell. New starters on both defensive ends, Markus White and Kevin McNeil, have yet to show what they are capable of yet. White showed flashes last year but never lived up to his JUCO Player of the Year title. Highly touted recruit Jaccobi McDaniel looks to gain experience this year at defensive tackle.
Defensive tackle Budd Thacker has underwhelmed during most of his time but optimism is there for him to have a big senior year with him and Mose McCray lining up in the tackle spots. This also will be defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews final season and he will want to go out on a top-notch defense.
Will we see a drop off in pass defense with the loss of sack master Everette Brown and two starters in the secondary?
If Jamie Robinson plays this upcoming season at safety like he is playing in this preseason where he has seven interceptions, the secondary should be better. Cornerback Patrick Robinson hopes to shine like he did in 2007 when he had seven interceptions. Markus White hopes to take over what Everette Brown started last year on the defensive end.
White had six total tackles, four unassisted, one tackle for loss, and a sack in the scrimmage on Saturday.
Linebacker Nigel Bradham wants to live up to his five-star rating coming out of high school and played sporadically in 2007 but never had the time to show his potential. Now that he has a starting linebacker position and is being cross-trained at other linebacker positions, this season could show if he is worth a five-star rating.
Who are the freshman who could make a significant impact this year?
Dustin Hopkins looks to take over kicking duties after 2008 Lou Groza winner Graham Gano. Hopkins was rated the number one kicker coming out of high school in 2008. Greg Reid has been practicing at returning kickoffs and could see playing time as a defensive back.
As mentioned earlier, Jaccobi McDaniel should make an impact at the defensive tackle position.
The Seminoles open the season with Miami. Is this a make or break game for a good season in the eyes of FSU fans?
The last two years the Miami/FSU games have been completely unpredictable. I believe many fans know rivalry games can always go either way and the optimism for this season will not stop with whether the Noles win or lose against Miami.
I think the real test for FSU will be the Sept. 19 game at BYU followed by the Sept. 26 game in Tallahassee against USF. Those two games could set the tone for the entire season.
FSU had the upper hand on Florida for most of the '90s but has lost five straight. What will it take for the Seminoles to get back on top of this rivalry?
Confidence. The last two years, the UF game has always been written off as a loss. Many FSU fans are already writing off the 2009 game in Gainesville as a loss with it being Tim Tebow’s final game at The Swamp so they know the Gators will be playing with higher energy for this game.
If Mickey Andrews does retire after the 2009 season, many FSU fans will hope the new defensive coordinator can find a way to stop the speed of UF.
What is your prediction for FSU this year?
I predict a 9-3 regular season with a trip to the ACC Championship Game. The ACC looks to be even more competitive this season after 10 ACC teams went bowling last season. I think FSU is going to have competition from Clemson and Wake Forest for the Atlantic Division title.
My Thoughts on Florida State...
Mickey Andrews announcing this is his last year make me very skeptical that Bobby is seriously considering it, too. This is his best chance in a few years to win the ACC, but he must get passed a rugged Atlantic Division. Christian Ponder started to develop under Jimbo Fisher and I look for improvement this year.
The offensive line finally has some continuity after years of injuries and attrition. Also, FSU has one of the best line coaches in the nation in Rick Trickett. I would not be worried about receivers as the 'Noles always have athletes waiting in the wings.
Defensively, the Seminoles have some big holes to fill with the departure of sack master Everette Brown and three starters in the secondary. It is time for some of the top recruits to step for Andrews.
The dreaded position in Tallahassee, kicker, has a freshman possibly. I think Florida State battles all year with Clemson and NC State for the Atlantic Division. They catch a break with some of their tougher ACC games at home (Ga Tech, Miami, NC State). FSU steps out of conference for three really tough games at BYU, at Florida, and home against South Florida.
8-4, 5-3, Atlantic Division Title
Best Case Scenario: 9-3
Worst Case Scenario: 7-5
BCS Championship 35/1
ACC Championship 4/1 (tied second)
Win Total 7.5
Thanks again to Chris for his insight into FSU. You can check out his work on Bleacher Report.
What are you thoughts on Florida State? Is this Bobby's last year? Can they win another ACC Championship?