In a season where some of the best teams in the country lost the majority of their starters on offense or defense, the national media and coaches alike are preparing to place some of last year's best, right back in the top five again this year.
Why? Because the pollsters think that the best teams reload.
That is, until week four or five, when said teams prove that all they did was field new players and personnel, and the only thing that resembled last year's squad was the color of the uniforms.
While this is no surprise to most experts and fans alike, there are plenty of areas worth debating why each of these two teams may not be worthy of such a handsome reward as the Florida Gators and the Alabama Crimson Tide have received.
Take for example: The Gators lost a large constituency of their starters on both the defensive line and in the secondary. As did Alabama, who lost nine starters. This year, the Tide will split carries between it's Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, which may or may not produce the results that Nick Saban is hoping for. A running back by committee could perhaps rest, or rust the talented back come mid-season.
Only time will tell.
The Gators from Gainesville also lost key personnel including coaches, who moved on to Louisville (Charlie Strong—DC) and LSU, (Billy Gonzales—WRs) - not to mention Urban Meyer for a spell (pulled a quick 180 and nearly called it a career just after the Sugar Bowl in January). Add to the mix the fact that UF's impenetrable and charismatic leader, Tim Tebow, has departed for the NFL, leaving redshirt junior Jon Brantley with some huge shoes to fill. And Florida seemingly has a lot of replacements that nobody is taking notice of; or if they are, they don't seem to create any obstacles at this point.
So what does any of this have to do with Florida State?
Coaching changes, player changes, personnel changes, and assignment changes are all pivotal to taking a team's successes and polishing them. Likewise, these changes can also help to develop the shortcomings and pitfalls that have developed within a program.
While the parallels may seem farfetched to the majority, it is this writer's opinion that anything is possible for the Seminoles in 2010, and if they can polish and improve like the Alabamas or the Floridas, there's no reason to discount them in a single contest this season.
So, here are the top five insane (but perhaps genius) predictions for the 'Noles this year.
Strap on your homer goggles, this is going to get bumpy.
"Are you kidding me?"
It's as if Bob Stoops can already imagine the insanity behind such a "DOH!" comment.
Well, this moment is anything but unsubstantiated. Sure, Oklahoma has a long running tradition for excellence that has not been broken often during Stoops' 11+ year tenure as the main guy in Norman.
What has changed is his little brother Mark opposing him on the sidelines, now the guy entrenched in revamping Mickey Andrews once intimidating Defense.
Why should this matter?
Well most of the guys on FSU's defense responsible for beating the AP seventh ranked BYU Cougars early on last season were simply asked to "go out and make a big play." You can bet that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree when it comes to football in the Stoops family, and Mark Stoops, the new defensive coordinator of the Seminoles, will have his guys a bit more prepared than that. Coach Stoops (FSU) formerly led his Arizona Wildcats to improvements in total defense nearly every season during his tenure there— finishing his 2009 season with the 25th best defense in the land.
Slippery slope or not, Oklahoma lost to the team that lost to FSU early on last season, and by most accounts, the flashes of speed and brilliance in the secondary, and at the line were only one play caller away from being a trained group capable of exacting that type of defensive impression, or better, over the Sooners this early fall.
Still not convinced?
Well, consider the following facts before passing final judgment on whether FSU is in the same class as the home team from Norman.
Oklahoma, while stout on defense, loses five starters to graduation and the NFL. Among them is early first rounder DT Gerald McCoy — not a player that would be easily replaced, as well as Dominique Franks in the secondary at Cornerback. FSU returns all of it's offense, save one receiver (Rod Owens), and one of the premier offensive lines, four talented running backs, and a slough of capable receivers for the Heisman hopeful, Christian Ponder.
On offense for Oklahoma, Sam Bradford will be missed, some, but Landry Jones has had three quarters of a season to get acclimated to the role of lead signal caller. What will be missed by Jones is his key go-to guys in the flats with TE Jermaine Gresham and WR Adron Tennell graduating, and his backfield guys RB Chris Brown and FB Brody Eldridge leaving as well. Meanwhile, FSU's defense will be shifting to multiple zone packages which will limit the long and mid-range pass and almost force plays into the middle of the field where speedy and physical secondary youngsters like Nigel Bradham and Jeff Luc will be waiting.
It may be a long shot by most estimates, but FSU has shown that defense or no defense, their offense is fully capable of a Big 12 shootout. If the defense does show up...
It could be a long day in the Wild Wild West.
How do you solve a problem like Miami?
Well as much as it might sound crazy to some, this may very well be the toughest game for FSU in 2010.
Billed by some as a top 10 team, and as a top 20 team by others — Miami has some of the fastest players under second year offensive coordinator, Mark Whipple.
The guy know's his Xs and Os better than most give him credit for, and he already has Jacory Harris looking less like a Robert Marve-backup and more like a Sunday-ready passer.
Miami will have two extremely talented products in the backfield with Graig Cooper back to 100 percent. In addition to the talented Damien Berry, who played quite well in relief of the injured Cooper this year.
Aldarius Johnson and LaRon Byrd are two lethal weapons at receiver, and Matt Bosher is easily a Groza finalist.
So how does FSU beat Miami?
Miami has not one, not two, but three big road games against possible BCS front-runners for each of their respective conferences. Miami travels to Columbus to take on BCS and Big Ten favorites Ohio State, before a week off to travel to Pittsburgh to play the Panthers, and then one last stop a week later, where Miami will the play at ACC Atlantic frontrunner, the Clemson Tigers.
Sure. Miami will have FSU at home, but this game has never been a matter of where. Since 2002, this game has featured a final score of 10 points or less nearly every season. Wide Rights peppered in with soaked contests.
Last season's Labor Day contest was no different, and neither should this year's October matchup.
In contrast, FSU will have some daunting early season matchups, with Oklahoma aforementioned, as well as a home game against BYU, but Wake and Virginia in succession should provide for a well rested and confident FSU squad heading into the Miami contest.
Look for FSU to pull an "upset," (if it can even be called such a thing,) when the Seminoles match up with Randy Shannon's high-octane bunch, and start Jimbo Fisher out 1-0 against the Hurricanes.
For the last six seasons, it would seem that there have become two certainties in life: death and losing to the Gators.
Well, not anymore.
The rollercoaster offseason for the Gators has included a brief retirement by its head coach, Urban Meyer; the vacation of two defensive coordinators, Charlie Strong to Louisville and for a brief period George Edwards, who left after afour week honeymoon with UF for the Buffalo Bills; as well as the departure of wide receivers coach, Billy Gonzales to LSU.
Having Dan Mullen a year removed seemed to hurt Tim Tebow's shot at a Heisman Trophy in 2009, and now that Steve Addazio is firmly entrenched in the offensive coordinator spot, and Scott Loeffler is the guy taking care of the quarterback play, it would appear that the Crocs have all of their ducks in a row, not to mention the superb quarterback replacing the living legend in Gainesville — Jon Brantley.
One small problem: Urban Meyer is an option-minded head coach, and Brantley is easily a pro-style quarterback.
No problem, right? I mean, the 2006 Gators were a pro-style offense too, right?
All very true points.
However, one overwhelming omission to this puzzle is the fact that the wide receivers, in addition to the running backs, and the head signal caller are all being molded by a brand new staff. When Meyer took over for the Gators in 2005, they faced similarr roadblocks and they finished a less than typical 8-3 regular season. The Seminoles at that time, while a good squad at 8-4, were on the decline following a two-game losing skid to NC State and Clemson.
This year, FSU will face Florida in Tallahassee. There will be no Tebow or Brandon Spikes; no Joe Haden, no Carlos Dunlap. There will be a completely different team, playing a completely different Seminoles squad.
The most important change in 2010 is that for once FSU will be playing for more than just pride. Come November of 2010, FSU will not be playing to keep from going below .500, they will be playing for national attention and a chance at a BCS bid, regardless of the outcome the following week.
Which brings me to my #2 prediction...
That's right. Florida State will win the ACC.
The 'Noles won't need to worry about winning or losing to UF in 2010 because they're going to win the ACC this season.
Not next year, not the year after, but right now.
FSU has the coaching — Jimbo Fisher has steadily improved his offense in each of his three years as the offensive coordinator. Mark Stoops has proven to be an effective defensive mind, using slightly less talented athletes out west. Greg Hudson was a DC at another school with tier-two talent, and he will be in charge of a linebacker corps in need of a facelift. The special teams boasts the nation's best return man from a season ago, and our kicker was the highest rated kicking recruit in 2009.
From a position of where FSU is today, and where FSU needs to be, the gap has closed and it has closed fast. But much like his mentor, Fisher is not one to brag or give any team a heads up in advance; in true Saban-like fashion, FSU is playing possum heading into this fall.
With the lion's share of talent residing in the ACC Coastal, FSU should make it to the ACC Championship with a few speed bumps to speak of. Whom they match up with will likely be either Virginia Tech or Miami, and judging by the history of these two foes it would behoove FSU to pray for a Virginia Tech matchup, especially considering my prior bold prediction.
Rematches can get ugly.
Granted, the homerism is at absolute extremes now given FSU's squad; the new additions, the new feel of practices, and the character of the core in Tallahassee — the key components to success are all present for FSU to make a run at a BCS game this season.
A gentle reminder to those who may have forgotten: FSU was 10 points or less from victory in four of their six losses in 2009. That would have been good enough for the best in the ACC last season at 11-2.
Knocking off the #7 and #16 teams showed that if FSU gains some consistency on defense, and can maintain their proven abilities on offense they could be one of the elite teams in the country right now.
Win lose or draw, there is no escaping Christian Ponder's name this season.
He may not become the putty to fill Tim Tebow's hole on every broadcast this season, especially with the talk in Gainesville surrounding the new slinger behind center there.
But Ponder will be a more polished, prototypical, well-groomed, and vocal character than the guy who choked the media's attention the last 3.5 years.
Sure, Ponder needs a site to launch him into pre-season Heisman talks. A jump start that may prove to be a distraction to most players. But Christian is anything but your typical athlete. A graduate of FSU's MBA program in three short years, alongside a staggering 32 on the Wonderlic test, this kid has a brain chiseled out of marble. His worst critic? Himself.
Ponder proved last season he isn't afraid to take a shot for his team, even if it is at the cost of his season. Value is something that may need reminding when the trustees of the Heisman Trophy meet this fall. Especially with all of the whirlwind surrounding the recent decision by Southern California to return it's trophy due in part to the indiscretions of one of it's former athletes.
Ponder not only has all of the tools to play on Sunday, but he exudes the finer characteristics that the Heisman Trophy has become distant from in recent years.
Best player? He has the talent to prove it.
Best person? Probably.
Best teammate? Absolutely.
Heisman Trophy winner?
It's not a matter of "if," but "when..."