Florida State vs. Colorado - Redemption vs. Revitalization

Stuart WhitehairAnalyst ISeptember 24, 2008

Florida State/Colorado - preview

The Buffs are looking to go 4-0 as they travel to Jacksonville to take on the Florida State Seminoles in the "River City Showdown". Both teams have something to play for, and plenty to prove, this Saturday. For Florida State, it is redemption and a demonstration that the 12-3 loss to Wake Forest last weekend was an aberration. For Colorado, a win would result in a national ranking and would demonstrate to the college football world that the 17-14 overtime win over West Virginia last weekend was anything but an aberration.

This week’s "T.I.P.S." for the game:

T - Talent

Despite this being the fourth game of the season for both teams, this category remains an unknown. For the past two decades, the Seminoles have consistently played with more talent on their sideline, regardless of the opposition. In claiming the title as "The Team of the 90's" (sorry, Nebraska), Florida State finished in the top five in the nation for an amazing 13 consecutive seasons (1988-2000).

The bloom, though, has fallen off the rose. The Seminoles have gone 8-5, 7-6, and 7-6 the past three seasons. In the 12-3 loss to Wake Forest last weekend, the Florida State offense was non-existent (220 total yards, seven turnovers). Some of the poor play in FSU’s conference opener can be attributed to youth. Overall, the Seminoles have played an NCAA-high 22 true freshmen in 2008 (by contrast, CU to date has played seven true freshmen). Many of these freshmen have played due to NCAA-imposed suspensions of 18 players due to a cheating scandal. The suspensions have now been served, but they cannot help but to have an impact on team chemistry and execution.

One position not affected by suspensions, yet still fluid, is that of quarterback. Florida State has played three quarterbacks in 2008, with senior Drew Weatherford, who ran the show in FSU’s 16-6 win over CU in Boulder last season, relegated to third string. Two sophomores, Christian Ponder and D’Vontrey Richardson, have shared playing time in two blowout wins over Western Carolina and Chattanooga, as well as during the disastrous loss to Wake Forest. Against the Demon Deacons, each sophomore completed only six of 18 passes, both for under 70 yards. Ponder, who threw three interceptions last Saturday, will get the nod as starter against Colorado over D’Vontrey, who threw two picks against Wake Forest.

This doesn’t mean that the Seminoles are without weapons. Game breaker Preston Parker, who was suspended for the first two games of the season, is back in the lineup. The defense, even without a number of suspended players, has been dominant thus far in 2008. Despite the seven turnovers surrendered by the Seminole offense against Wake Forest, the defense did not give up a touchdown, yielding only four field goals. Considering Colorado only mustered one score against the Seminoles in 2007, it appears that points may be hard to come by for the Buffs in Jacksonville.

I - Intangibles

The loss to Wake Forest was costly to Florida State. It was the third loss in a row to the Demon Deacons, a team the Seminoles used to toy with. The loss also represents the first time since Florida State joined the Atlantic Coast Conference in 1992 that the Seminoles have opened conference play with a loss.

The situation in Tallahassee, though, is even more dire. Just like with West Virginia, which was saddled with a disquieting loss (to East Carolina) before playing the Buffs, Florida State has once again become the Land of Doubt. The whispers that Bobby Bowden’s time has come and gone have become full-throated shouts. Easy wins against ridiculously over-matched opponents in the first two games have quickly been forgotten. The domination of the Florida State offense by the Wake Forest (Wake Forest!) defense is a painful reminder of how mediocre the Seminoles - at least on offense - have become. Couple this will three back-to-back-to-back mediocre seasons, and you can see why the Seminole players may not be up for their game against the Buffs.

On the other side of the field, optimism abounds. Colorado started quickly against West Virginia, then held it together when the Mountaineers counter-punched. The Buffs overcame their own mistakes (three potential CU scores in the second quarter against WVU, any one of which could have blown the game wide open, resulted in zero no points), and held it together long enough to pull out a win over a highly regarded opponent. Colorado is on the verge of a national ranking for the first time since November, 2005, getting close enough after last weekend (29th in the Associated Press poll; 33rd in the coaches’ poll) that a win over the Seminoles would all but guarantee a return to the Top 25 on Sunday.

There is also the revenge factor. The Buffs and Seminoles have only played twice before, so this is hardly a rivalry game. However, almost every CU player asked about the Seminoles has pointed to the 16-6 loss last season as "one that got away". Colorado out-gained Florida State, 279-221, held an eight minute lead in time of possession, and held the Seminoles to 1-13 on third down conversions.

The Buffs not only believe they can play with the Seminoles. Right now, they believe they can beat the Seminoles.

P - Preparation /Schedule

This is another factor which favors the Buffs. Colorado played West Virginia last Thursday night. The players had two extra days to soak in the emotional victory before moving on to their preparation against Florida State. The Seminoles, meanwhile, fell to the Demon Deacons on Saturday night, with no extra time to salve the wounds before setting their sights on Colorado.

Even worse for Florida State is the timing of the Colorado game. The Buffs are sandwiched in between two crucial ACC conference games. Next week, the Seminoles head to Miami to face the resurgent Hurricanes. Already 0-1 in conference play, Florida State cannot afford to lose to rival Miami and retain any hopes of an ACC title. The Colorado game is not a draw (the upper tier of the Gator Bowl will not be open Saturday. Only 40,000 tickets have been sold, with a crowd of 50,000 hoped for in a stadium which seats 76,877). This is the same "River City Showdown" which was a sellout in 2007 when Florida State took on Alabama. The stadium will not be the capacity crowd to which the Seminole players have become accustomed. If the fans don’t care, why should the players?

On the Colorado sideline, the game is all upside. Not only have the Buffs had an extra two days to prepare for the Florida State game, but Colorado enters the game with little at risk. A loss to the Seminoles only puts the Buffs back closer to where they were supposed to be. A victory puts the Buffs in the national rankings. Next week’s game, against Texas, looms large for the Buffs, but the Buffs have wins over Oklahoma and West Virginia to bolster their confidence.

Colorado can afford to play loose. Florida State may be tight.

S - Stats

It is true that Florida State, despite seven turnovers, gave up only four field goals to Wake Forest. The Seminoles enter the game against Colorado ranked fourth in the nation in rushing defense and total defense, and second in the nation in scoring defense. Florida State has given up one touchdown in three games in 2008 - the same defense which held Colorado to six points and minus-27 yards rushing in 2007.

It is also true that the Demon Deacons missed three field goal attempts against the Seminoles last weekend. Wake Forest also had a touchdown called back due to a holding penalty, and fumbled the ball away at the FSU two-yard line. The 12-3 final score could have been much worse if Wake Forest had taken full advantage of their opportunities.

On the offensive side of the ball, Florida State still has decent overall numbers, thanks to 69-0 and 46-7 wins over Western Carolina and Chattanooga, respectively. However, against Division 1-A competition, the Seminoles have scored over 30 points only once since 2006 (and that was in a 34-24 win over Alabama-Birmingham from Conference USA in game two of last season). The offensive coordinator for Florida State, who has yet to lead the FSU offense to dominating numbers? Jumbo Fisher, the designated successor to Bobby Bowden (this lack of offensive production is much discussed on the Florida State internet sites).

Still, the Florida State defense knows how to shut down teams, including Colorado. To add to the concern is the Buffs apparent inability to score in the state of Florida. In 2005, the Buffs posted only a long Mason Crosby field goal in a 23-3 drubbing by Miami, then struggled without a coach in a 19-10 loss to Clemson in the Champs Sports Bowl. In 2003, the Buffs were spanked, 47-7, by Florida State, with Jeremy Bloom’s 81-yard touchdown reception registering CU’s only points. Even in the Buffs’ last win in the Sunshine State, the 1991 Orange Bowl, Colorado only tallied one touchdown in a 10-9 win over Notre Dame (and only six points in the 21-6 Orange Bowl loss to Notre Dame the year before).

I’ll do the math for you: five games, 119-36 (or roughly 24-7). Yuck.

Bottom line? Look for a low-scoring affair. Neither offense has been consistent nor particularly effective, while both defenses have played well. As with most close games, it will come down to a few plays. A missed tackle here, a turnover there. Special teams will certainly be a factor.

I do like the attitude of the Buffs, and a positive attitude can bring about positive results.

I just can’t bring myself to predict a win for Colorado, though. It’s too close to call.

Other Buff tidbits

One Buff in; One Buff out

Colorado lost a player this week, as wide receiver Kendrick Celestine left the program for "personal reasons". Wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau was quoted as saying that the lack of playing time for Celestine was only "a small part" of the sophomore’s decision to leave Colorado.

The loss of Celestine, who had five catches in limited action this fall, leaves the Buffs somewhat short-handed at wide receiver. Celestine’s departure, coupled with the loss of Markques Simas in August (academics) may ultimately lead to freshman Chance Blackmon burning his red-shirt, though Kiesau said that would only take place "if something tragic were to happen."

On the upside, Colorado received its fourth verbal commitment for the 2009 freshman class. Nosa Eguae, a three star defensive tackle from Arlington, Texas, chose the Buffs over a number of other schools, including Big 12 rivals Nebraska, Kansas, and Iowa State.

The Buffs could be in line for a number of new commitments over the next few weeks. No fewer than eight prospects will be making their official visits the weekend of the Texas game (though two of the prospects, quarterback Jordan Wynn and wide receiver Jarrod Darden, have already committed to Colorado).

Before you take off, be sure to check the Archive Game of the Week (it’s the national championship game against Notre Dame!), Trivia (Up to World War II, Florida State was noted for what?), and This Day in History (John Elway, Earl Campbell, and ..... Ben Kelly!).

Go Buffs!

For more on the Buffs, including Seminole trivia, "This Day in History", and archived games featuring John Elway, Earl Campbell, and the 1991 Orange Bowl, log on to http://www.cuatthegame.com


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