Florida State Football: 10 Reasons the Seminoles Are a Mainstay in the Top 10

Christopher HowlandCorrespondent IIIFebruary 15, 2011

Florida State Football: 10 Reasons the Seminoles Are a Mainstay In The Top 10

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    Florida State is officially becoming a national powerhouse again as they break into the 2011 college football season pre-season ranked within the top 10.

    Many doubters out there don't believe the Seminoles will live up to the hype surrounding the football team as spring practice begins.

    After tough losses last season to Oklahoma, N.C. State, North Carolina and an ACC Championship Game loss to Virginia Tech, the 'Noles will be looking to shoulder the load of the rigors a college football season brings to prove those particular doubters wrong.

    With rather convincing wins against rivals Florida and Miami and a Chick-fil-A Bowl victory against the South Carolina Gamecocks, the Florida State Seminole football program is pre-season ranked in the top 10 and will only be looking to climb higher.

    Here are 10 reason why Florida State will be a mainstay in the 2011 college football top 10.

E.J. Manuel

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    Redshirt junior QB E.J. Manuel should give all Seminole football fans something to be hopeful about.

    In 2010, Manuel played well as an emergency quarterback when Christian Ponder went down to injury, but now E.J. is gearing up for his first chance to be the ‘Noles full-time starter.

    Coach Jimbo Fisher’s expansion of the FSU football program back to national relevance begins and ends with how well Manuel is under center.

    With over 1,600 passing yards and two bowl wins already under his belt, Manuel will look to build on his solid spot-start success and translate those experiences into a winning situation as a starter.

    As a starter, Manuel is 4-2 including an impressive performance in the 2011 Chick-fil-A Bowl when he completed 11 of 15 passes and defeated the South Carolina Gamecocks 26-17

    The QB position is Manuel’s to take over for good and as he gets his game going, so to will the rest of the Seminoles offense.

Solid Running Attack

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    The odds that FSU will have a 1,000-yard rusher are slim to none in 2011, especially when three legitimate backs will be sharing a majority of the snaps.

    Senior tailback Jermaine Thomas will be slated to be the starter in the ‘Noles backfield, but Coach Fisher will use a revolving door-type strategy when addressing his running attack.

    Senior Ty Jones and junior Chris Thompson will make up the rest of FSU’s backfield and all three will get an equal share of snaps.

    Coach Fisher used his backs effectively in 2010 creating one of the better backfields in the nation and with the help of returning every running back to the 2011 squad, the Seminoles look to build on their success and become a mainstay in the top ten. 

Offensive Playmakers

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    FSU returns eight starters to the offensive side of the ball that includes every wide receiver from the 2010 team.

    Senior’s Bert Reed and Taiwan Easterling along with junior’s Rodney Smith and Willie Haulstead will look to create a vicious receiving game for the Seminoles as they build on their success from 2010.

    Each of these receivers has the ability to make the big, game-changing play that the Seminoles have lacked in recent years from their wide-outs.

    Additionally, look for 6’3” 215 lbs. junior Willie Haulstead to use his explosiveness off the line and exceptional hands to become a huge playmaker on the offensive side of the ball. 

Defensive Playmakers

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    FSU also returns eight starters to the defensive side of the ball including all defensive backs that made it their goal this offseason to become one of the best in the nation.

    “We are going to go into the offseason and work hard,” DB Greg Reid said. “We still had four losses [last] season, so we are going to keep trying to get better.”

    Odds are that the 5’8” 174 lbs. Reid will be correct after the Seminoles boasted a top 25 defense in 2010 after a 2009 defensive game that was one of the worst in the country.

    The secondary has the opportunity to become the best in the ACC with playmakers like Reid, sophomore Xavier Roades and the speedy Nick Moody all returning to wreak havoc on the opposing receiving game.

    Don’t sleep on sophomore LaMarcus Joyner either, as he comes back from a nagging ankle injury and hopes to be apart of the ‘Noles starting defensive backfield. 

Coach Mark Stoops: Year 2

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    In Coach Stoops first year as FSU’s defensive coordinator he inherited a defense in shambles, but managed to resurrect the D to carry its own weight.

    There are still minor issues with players not understanding Stoops' complex defensive plan, but by using a 4-3 alignment on almost every snap, the defense sets itself up for more complex packages and blitz as the game goes on.

    A defense that carried many sophomores and juniors in 2010, Coach Stoops now reins control of a group of athletes that won’t let inexperience and inconsistencies haunt them.

    In Stoops’ second time around, expect improvements from his defensive front and from a secondary that will look radically different to the FSU defenses of the past. 

Recruits Ready to Make an Impact

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    The ‘Noles showed off their ability to create a number one recruiting class in 2011, but don’t let this year’s group overshadow the recruiting job Coach Fisher did last year as well.

    As spring practice is well underway, many sophomores and red-shirt freshmen are vying for the chance to be in the FSU starting rotation.

    Players like CB Xavier Rhodes and OT Henry Orelus, who saw some starting action in 2010, will look to cement their starting status at their respective positions while many more for the 2010 recruiting class fight to make the coaches notice their hard work.

    Linebackers Jeff Luc and Telvin Smith’s name have been thrown into the mix to start at MLB, but more on that later.

    Sophomore Kenny Shaw will bolster the ‘Noles already solid receiving corps and defensive end Bjoern Werner looks to make a name for himself as he takes over FSU’s open DE position.

    The depth FSU has created under Jimbo Fisher’s short tenure is already noticeable and if many of these backups live up to their potential, there is no telling the possibilities FSU has created for themselves in 2011. 

Linebacker Position Battle

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    The Seminoles defense took a major hit when linebackers Kendall Smith and Mister Alexander graduated this past spring.

    The team did, however, receive a boost of confidence when LB Nigel Bradham told his teammates he wasn’t ready to turn pro and still has plenty to accomplish in an FSU uniform.

    With two linebacker positions vacant, Coach Fisher and defensive coordinator Mark Stoops have the tough job of appointing two new starters to team up with Bradham’s 97 tackles in 2010.

    Sophomore stand-out Christian Jones and junior Vince Williams are, at this point, slated to be the Seminoles opening day linebackers, but they face plenty of stiff competition from sophomores Jeff Luc and Telvin Smith.

    Luc and Smith will come out strong as they know what is on the line for their college careers, but I expect Coach Fisher to keep his players on their toes and not make a decision as to who will start until opening day draws closer. 

Gearing for a Breakout Season

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    It’s hard to predict who will have a break out season because there is no exact stat to prove a certain athlete has exceeded expectations, but the Seminoles offense and defense is littered with players who can perform better then expected.

    CB LaMarcus Joyner showed us last season as a freshman that he’s the real deal and can match up against even the biggest opposing receiver.

    DE Bjoern Werner will look to top last year’s 3.5 sacks as he settles into his new starting gig.

    CB Greg Reid will once again exceed the expectations of his under-sized frame to be a potential returning/defending/rushing/receiving threat for the ‘Noles.

    Kicker Dustin Hopkins will look to make right of his pressure-filled blunders last season as he makes Seminole fans believe we’re watching the 2011 version of Graham Gano or Sebastian Janikowski.

    Junior nose guard Jacobbi McDaniel has stated he will forgo his baseball dream to concentrate on football full-time. This means the ‘Noles will be returning a 6’0” 290 pound lineman who has his sights set on nothing short of a victorious football season.

Strength of Schedule: Non-Conference

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    The Seminoles open up the 2011 season with snoozers Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 3 and then Charleston Southern a week later on Sept. 10.

    Then the real challenge comes on Sept. 17 against the Oklahoma Sooners.

    This is the game where the season should officially begin and just like 2010, the game against the Sooners will show how good FSU really is.

    Last year’s 47-17 rout of the ‘Noles began Oklahoma’s bid for a BCS bowl game, but this year it's revenge the Seminoles seek.

    The Sooners will enter the season as favorites to play in the National Championship game and it will be up to the ‘Noles to dash those hopes from the get-go.

    Oklahoma returns playmakers QB Landry Jones and WR/PR Ryan Broyles but their defense is well behind their offense and that’s the part of Oklahoma’s game FSU should expose.

    If E.J. is on top of his game after two unproblematic games against weak FBS schools, then this game should shape up to be a must-watch. 

    And we can’t forget the regular season-ending game against in-state rival Florida.

    FSU’s convincing 31-7 victory last season points toward a changing tide of Florida powerhouse football programs, but we can’t count UF out, especially as they continue to come down from their two recent national championship highs.

Strength of Schedule: ACC Matchups

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    FSU will play some pretty tough ACC games at home this season.

    Oct. 22 against Maryland will showcase a much better Terps team, but should be nothing but a speed bump for the ‘Noles.

    Oct. 29 FSU plays host to N.C. State and will be the favorites as they look for some revenge after losing in Raleigh, NC last season.

    Nov. 12 the FSU vs. Miami rivalry will be renewed as the Hurricanes new coach, Al Golden, makes his first trip to Tallahassee as the U’s head coach.

    Miami will likely be a better team than the squad that got beat down 45-17 against the ‘Noles in Miami last season, but the Seminoles will have some extra time to get ready for this one and should be the odds-on favorite.

    Away games at Clemson, Wake Forest, Duke and Boston College round out the Seminoles ACC play.

    With this schedule, the 'Noles are shaping up to be undefeated in the ACC while grinding through non-conference games to receive a BCS Bowl bid.