Florida State concluded the season with 10 wins and a Chick Fil A bowl victory over South Carolina. The game showcased just how far the 'Noles have come from the mediocre 7-6 campaign a year ago. The defense caused five turnovers and the torch was officially passed over from Christian Ponder to E.J. Manuel, which it is now safe to say that the E.J. era has officially begun.
Manuel went 7 for 7 on the game winning drive and showed poise and swagger in the final moments of the game. Manuel will enter next season as a redshirt Junior and will have two more years in this offense that he clearly has a grasp on. Manuel will have almost everyone returning to use at his disposal starting with all three running backs Jermaine Thomas, Chris Thompson and Ty Jones. They will be matched with newcomer James Wilder Jr., the highly touted recruit out of Plant, Florida. Wilder is 6'2, 220 pounds, a very large back that Florida State hasn't seen since Greg Jones.
Manuel will also have Willie Haulstead, Taiwan Easterling, Bert Reed, Rodney Smith and Beau Reliford for receivers as well as do-it-all fullback Lonnie Pryor. The offensive line will need to replace All-American guard Rodney Hudson and All-Conference center Ryan McMahon, but besides that this offense will have all of their fire-power back.
Defensively, Florida State is set up for another devastating unit. Brandon Jenkins, the teams leading sack artist, will be back as well as Jacobbi McDaniel and Everett Dawkins at nose guard and tackle. Markus White will need to be replaced, but Bjoern Werner, Dan Hicks and Toshmon Stevens all played valuable minutes and should be ready for full-time duty next season.
How will Florida State finish in 2011?
If Nigel Bradham stays, which there hasn't been any word yet on whether or not he is debating leaving or staying, then Florida State will have a massive asset and a playmaker back to lead this defense. Jeff Luc and Christian Jones saw extensive time as true freshman and will challenge to be starters next year with the graduations of Kendall Smith and Mister Alexander. Vince Williams and Telvin Smith will also be back to provide depth at the linebacker positions. If Florida State lands highly touted linebacker recruit Tony Steward, this unit could be one of the best in the country next year.
Chick Fil A Bowl defensive MVP Greg Ried will be back for his Junior season next year and will be one of the top corners in the country. ACC freshman of the year Xavier Rhodes will be back opposite Reid and LaMarcus Joyner will provide depth as a true Sophomore next season after playing as the starting nickel this season.
Terrance Parks and Nick Moody will be back at the safety positions, but in-coming freshman Karlos Williams, a five star, will look to challenge for a starting spot right away.
Florida State is poised to have a very successful 2011 year and could surprise a lot of critics. Jimbo Fisher finished his first season with ten wins and a bowl victory, something that Florida State hasn't done since 2003. The sky is the limit for this team, but Fisher has a full cupboard of talent to make a National Championship run.