Florida State Football: 5 Major Keys to the Seminoles Having a Successful Season
When every season is set to begin there are always doubts and question marks regarding some of the key attributes that make a championship-caliber team.
After coming off a 10-4 season with a bowl victory over a highly talented South Carolina team, the hopes are high and so are the stakes this season. Most fans are saying, "Here comes a national championship," while others are just praying they finally live up to the hype.
Opening the season up against cellar-dweller opponents like Louisiana-Monroe and Charleston Southern can be considered a luxury to some extent. It allows the team an opportunity to continue working out their kinks, gaining some rhythm and confidence before the big game against Oklahoma. At the same time it can be somewhat of a letdown because the competition level will be nothing compared to what they will see from the Sooners.
There is no question there are plenty of challenges that lie ahead, but if they handle business the way they are capable of, there is no reason they can't contend for a national championship.
That's if they take care of these key factors throughout the season.
Defensive Improvement, Consistency
From the day Mark Stoops stepped onto campus he vowed to make this defense like the defenses of old. As a fan, I was pleasantly surprised with how well the players adapted to his new system and schemes. Then again, I was also very displeased with how inconsistent they were. One game they would play like a top-tier defense and the next it would seem as if they couldn't cover a man in a wheelchair if their life depended on it.
There were way too many little mistakes and mental lapses over the course of the season. However, they did show improvements towards the tail end in games against the Florida Gators and the Gamecocks of South Carolina. Sandwiched in between those two games was an ugly effort against a Virginia Tech team that looked far superior offensively.
Bottom line with last year's defense, they struggled against mobile quarterbacks. Russell Wilson of NC State (with Wisconsin now) and Tyrod Taylor of Virginia Tech both made it difficult for the defense to contain them.
The word coming out of camp is that the defensive unit is much improved and ready for an even better showing than last year.
They are going to need a top-notch effort every time they hit the field. It doesn't matter whom they play. The Seminoles nation wants to see that hard hitting, smash-mouth, fast and consistent defense. A unit that doesn't give up big plays and limits the little mistakes is what it will take to help win an ACC Championship and a chance at a BCS National Championship berth.
Being able to stay consistent and improve with every snap and game they play will be a huge test for them—a test they need to pass with flying colors. But given the talent, depth and coaching, this team may be the closest we've been to having an old-fashioned Seminoles defense.
Coming into the offseason this position was one of the biggest question marks head coach Jimbo Fisher had. Finding the right players to fill the void of center Ryan McMahon and All-American guard Rodney Hudson isn't easy to do.
So in come redshirt sophomore guard Bryan Stork and JUCO transfer Jacob Fahrenkrug, who will be handling the duties at center. Both have some big shoes to fill, but they are up for the task.
"It is a great opportunity to jump in and contribute to this team right off the bat," Fahrenkrug said after practice. "There is a lot of pressure on me considering I am coming from a junior college, but I am more than up for the challenge."
One can only hope that he lives up to his words and the rest of the line follows suit. It has been nice having such a dominant line these past couple seasons, but with a couple newcomers anything can happen—not to mention the lack of depth and experience after David Spurlock, Zebrie Sanders and Andrew Datko.
Health is going to be a huge concern considering the lack of depth this season. If they are able to remain in tact and become a cohesive unit like the one from the past couple seasons, then I expect the running game and E.J. Manuel to have a very strong season.
No coach, team or fan enjoys a letdown.
I've become used to the letdowns when watching Seminole football. Just when you think they finally have things clicking, they make a mistake and the entire game changes for the worse.
Last year was another prime example. At times they would look like a team that could compete with anyone, then there were times when it almost seemed as if they forgot how to play the game.
Prime example: the North Carolina game. I mean, where in the world did the defense go in that one? Or how about NC State when the defense started giving up big plays to the feet of Russell Wilson and the offense faltered down the stretch? Then how can we forget the stomping of the Gators to only turnaround and play poorly against the Hokies in the ACC Championship game.
It just never ceases to amaze me how a team could look so good at one moment and then look like a hot mess the next.
This year there can be no exceptions, not if they want to reach that level of dominance when they were a powerhouse program. They have to be full-throttle the entire game in all areas.
Oklahoma is going to be the first test, but depending on the outcome of the game, traveling to Clemson could be even more of a challenge. Any letdowns against those two opponents and they could be digging themselves a grave.
So, the moral of the story: no letdowns!
The X-Factor: Dustin Hopkins
Dustin Hopkins had a pretty strong sophomore campaign last season, converting 22-of-28 field goal attempts and making all 53 PAT attempts.
The 55-yard field goal he made as time expired against Clemson to give them a 16-13 victory was not only a career-long, but was also the biggest make of his young career. Unfortunately the week before he missed a 40-yard attempt for a potential game-winner against North Carolina.
That's the life of a kicker, though—one moment you're on cloud nine and the next you're in the gutter. Most of the time kickers receive the most criticism and the most praise. All can switch in the matter of one kick, as it did for Hopkins after the North Carolina and Clemson kicks.
One week he was receiving praise for hitting the game winner, fans chanting his name and being lifted up by his teammates. Then the following week he is being booed as he exits the field, having "you suck" yelled at him. Being a kicker is no easy task, especially at a program that has been notorious for its "wide rights."
This season he will be heavily relied upon. With E.J. Manuel assuming full time duties as starting quarterback and a relatively new line, there may be more field goal attempts than last season, and maybe even a little more pressure attempts also.
Either way, his play will either spell success or doom for the Seminoles.
Now to perhaps the key ingredient to the Seminoles success, E.J. Manuel.
This will be his first full season as the starter, replacing first-round draft pick Christian Ponder. He played in 10 games last season and holds a 4-2 record as a starter. One of those wins was a bowl victory against West Virginia in Bobby Bowden's final game as head coach.
There will be a lot of pressure weighing on his shoulders entering the season. He has already garnered preseason All-ACC honors by several publications and was named to the Maxwell Award watch list, an award given to the nation's best college football player.
All these expectations when he has only started six games in his career.
He has the size and presence in the pocket as well as the speed and elusiveness that reminds of a bigger Charlie Ward. ESPN analyst Desmond Howard even went as far as to predict him the Heisman Trophy winner this year.
Should we believe the hype on Manuel? Only time will tell.
One thing is for certain, though: He has played in some big games, which will definitely benefit him. Knowing how the Seminole nation is, he will be under the spotlight all season long. Whether he is doing well or poorly, he will be the talk of the team.
I don't anticipate him having a Heisman-candidate season, but I do see him having a strong enough season to help them win their first ACC Championship since 2005. If he can play within himself and not try to force the issue, he will have great success.
Hopefully the first two games will get him well and ready for the tough test against Oklahoma in Week 3. Only time will tell how good Manuel really is, but something tells me he has the making of a great quarterback at Florida State.