Florida State will get their first chance at showing off their 2011 squad this Saturday at their annual spring game. While the "scrimmage" doesn't exactly showcase what a real game would be like, it still gives fans an idea as to who to look out for or who has stepped up the most.
This year will bring a newly added agenda and that is simply backing up the hype. Ever since head coach Jimbo Fisher landed the top recruiting class in the country in only his second year; there's been talk about how good this team can be.
Add that with the 10-4 record from a year ago and you have a nice combination of returning veterans to go along with the abundance of great youth added to the program.
There will be some new faces in new positions; for starters, Christian Ponder is gone and E.J. Manuel is taking over the reigns of starting quarterback.
The line has been revamped and there are players on defense ready to step up and live up to their billing. This Saturday should be above all things entertaining because it will give fans something to look forward to, and that is another successful season under Fisher.
It's hard to forget about just how good Ryan McMahon was for four straight years at the center position, but it's hard to imagine that Junior college transfer Jacob Fahrenkrug won't be as good if not better.
Fahrenkrug is a monster on the line and he comes in highly touted. With David Spurlock still getting over headaches spurning from concussions last season, Fahrenkrug will now get the chance to showcase his versatility on the line.
Fahrenkrug is 6'4" and 307 pounds, which makes him one of the biggest lineman on Florida State's roster. Whether or not he plays left guard or center, he will already be a key factor in the offensive attack this season.
Expect Fahrenkrug to showcase his ability to play the guard and center positions and to hold an injury-depleted line together for the spring game.
LaMarcus Joyner is simply too good not to be a starter. He saw some playing time last year as a true freshman in nickel and dime packages, but now he will step up into the free safety spot as the starter.
Joyner isn't exactly the biggest at 5'8", 191 lbs., but he makes up for it in speed and agility. He's a very smart player and plays a lot bigger than what his frame would give.
It will be interesting to see how the move pays off for defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. Last season, Nick Moody started at free safety and while he wasn't great, he wasn't bad either. Now Joyner has the opportunity to show why he should be the starter.
Expect Joyner to make the easy transition and to showcase his coverage skills in the spring game.
There has been some major skeptics who have said that Nigel Bradham hasn't exactly lived up to his 5-star rating as a high school recruit. I completely disagree. In Chuck Amato's final years as a coach at Florida State, he didn't exactly coach up to his reputation.
Bradham suffered mostly from that and he didn't get a chance to shine in this defense. Now in Mark Stoops defensive scheme, Bradham has more freedom to "roam" and to make plays.
Bradham is also benefiting from having Greg Hudson as his linebacker coach who add his experience as a defensive coordinator into his position coaching.
Now it's hard to say that just one spring game will vault someone onto a Butkus watch list, but Bradham had a very good year in his first season under Stoops last year.
Expect Bradham to have an impressive spring game and for his name to be mentioned amongst the other great linebackers in the country afterwards.
Another true sophomore on the list, Bjoern Werner saw significant playing time last season at defensive end; now he's playing for a starting role.
The biggest task for Werner this season will be to make offensive coordinators respect him on the line. Brandon Jenkins is already a bona-fide playmaker opposite Werner, so it will be up to him to take pressure off of Jenkins and to get into opposing backfields.
Werner has the size and athleticism to be a dominant defensive end and he will get to show 'Noles fans just who he is and why there has been much talk about him this offseason.
Expect Werner to play up to the billing and have a great spring game.
Chris Thompson will not be playing in the spring game due to a back injury, so that will give true freshman Devonta Freeman time to shine. Freeman enrolled in January and has been impressing the coaches ever since.
Freeman will be able to show whether or not he will be a contribution to this already stacked backfield. Keep in mind that James Wilder Jr. arrives in the summer and he will be bringing in a lot of hype with him, but by that time Freeman will already have an entire semester worth of practice under his belt.
With Thompson out, expect to see Freeman get in the rotation with the first team for at least a couple of series. My prediction is that he will open a lot of eyes come Saturday.
Let's look at the facts from last season. Against Oklahoma, the secondary gave up 380 yards to Landry Jones through the air. 439 yards by North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates and 263 yards to Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor.
Coincidentally, those were all games that the 'Noles lost. Now the secondary will be revamped. I already said that Joyner will be moving to free safety, Greg Reid will be in his Junior season and will be one of the top cornerbacks in the country. Xavier Rhodes had a very impressive season last year as a freshman and Mike Harris played well when he got in. Honestly, the one weak spot in the secondary right now is Terrance Parks, who played very inconsistent a year ago.
Rhodes will not be playing this Saturday due to injury, but we will get to see the secondary in the second year under Mark Stoops, which is exciting and should show that they are more experienced and improved.
It's hard to imagine that touted freshman Karlos Williams won't step in during the summer and take over for Parks, but until then this unit will have to show they are able to come together and dominate in the coverage game.
That all starts on Saturday. Expect the secondary to be poised and ready to vault this defense into excellence.
I've been waiting for Willie Haulstead to step up ever since he was a freshman. Last year was the first time that he got some actual playing time; he played well, but not well enough.
Now as a junior, Haulstead is slotted to be a starter and he has unlimited potential. He's a big receiver, but he's not exactly a possession guy. He's more of a deep threat.
If Haulstead can improve on his route-running skills, the sky is the limit for how good he can be. The scary part about it is that he's realistically only in his second year of playing since he saw limited time as a freshman and he didn't start to come on until late in the season last year.
Now is the time for Haulstead to get comfortable with EJ Manuel and to forge a relationship where Manuel will look his way early and often.
Expect Haulstead to show that he is ready to be a star receiver.
Remember these names: Christian Jones, Dan Hicks, Cameron Erving, Nigel Terrell, Nick Waisome, Telvin Smith, Christian Green, Will Tye, Bryan Stork and Jared Haggins.
These guys will either start or play a lot with the second team. Christian Jones has very high expectations set for him this season and by all accounts he has the ability to live up to those expectations.
When looking for someone to compare him to, why not his teammate? Nigel Bradham was an elite linebacker coming out of high school and so far he has performed up to his standards. That being said, Jones will do the same thing.
He has great size and great instincts, and he will show why he will be the next great linebacker at FSU.
Hicks and Erving should see plenty of reps on the injury-depleted defensive line which Terrell and Waisome should see time on both the first team squad and the second team squad.
Green and Haggins should be in the rotation with the receivers as well as Tye and Stork is playing for a starting job on the offensive line.
Another name that deserves some attention is Cronellius Carradine. While he may not be a youngster, he is going to impress all FSU fans with his play at defensive end.
Carradine was the No. 1 JUCO player in the country last year and the defensive staff is expected him to transition nicely into the Division I game.
Expect the youngsters to headline the game with their improved play. These will be the stars of the future.
It's very hard to imagine the offense being better without Christian Ponder. Also note that Rodney Hudson and Ryan McMahon are gone, but other than that the entire offense returns.
Now it's time for E.J. Manuel to shine. So far he has done nothing but impress during spring ball. The line has had some injury issues, but they have one of the best position coaches in the country in Rick Trickitt.
All of the weight hangs on Manuel though. He's the quarterback, which means he takes all the responsibility for how this offense will run.
Last year, Ponder battled injuries which hindered his performance. Manuel adds a new element to the offense, he's a gun slinger. The guy can flat out throw. He has a stronger and possibly better arm than Ponder and he will have more experienced weapons.
Manuel will get to have Chris Thompson, Ty Jones, Jermaine Thomas, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. to hand the ball off to. Fullback Lonnie Pryor is a wild card player who has a knack for making big plays.
Then there's the receivers. Willie Haulstead, Rodney Smith, Bert Reed, Taiwan Easterling, Christian Green, Jared Haggins, Kenny Shaw and Greg Dent all have playmaking ability. Haulstead and Smith will be the headliners, but every other receiver will contribute to this high powered offense.
The line is really going to be the question mark. Hudson and McMahon started since they were freshman and they won't be easily replaced, but the offense will still be able to move the ball on any defense.
Expect this offense led by Manuel to do nothing except impress this Saturday.
Ok so this isn't much for an expectation, but every college football fan and their mother knows that once the spring game is over, all of the questions come out as to whether or not the team lived up to expectations.
So here's what you can expect from Florida State's spring game. Expect them to show great offense matched with great defense. Expect Manuel to fill in with ease for Ponder and expect the receivers to be better than before.
Expect the offensive line to mesh even with the injuries and expect the running backs to build on their very successful season a year ago.
Expect the secondary to be improved headlined by Reid who will most certainly be a preseason All-American.
Expect this linebacker group to be the best in at least a decade.
Bottom line: expect this team to live up to the billing and to back up the hype that has been around them all offseason.
If all of my predictions fall in line then the talk about national championships will increase even more. Jimbo Fisher has put together a great squad coached by a great staff. If this year is going to be special, it will all start on Saturday.