depressing winter cold I live in here in Chicago, even the smallest bit of news
can get me excited about football season. I was looking forward to the release
of this schedule since I heard rumors of its announcement earlier last week.
Now that it has been released and my inevitable and unwavering excitement for
FSU Football has had time to settle, I feel like I can now truly analyze the
We start off exactly as we should with a couple home games to get into a groove, and that's what our first two games, Louisiana-Monroe and Charleston Southern, are going to do for us. It will help the players get into the weekly routine so when week 3 rolls around a Monday feels like a Monday and a Thursday feels like a Thursday.
Week 3 is where the boys become men. Jimbo can call it "just another game", but Seminole fans are smart enough to realize that it isn't. Last year's game at Oklahoma wasn't pretty to say the least. But, Tallahassee is already abuzz with the news that the Sooners are coming to town. Both teams are returning most of their starters. Last year, FSU was tied for the lead in sacks and OU was tied for #9 in sacks with Miami. In ESPN's way-too-early 2011 preseason rankings, they have OU at #1 and FSU at #3. As the great Keith Jackson says, "Whoa Nelly!" Let's just say that by the end of the week, I will probably have my plane ticket booked and reserved the couch in my brother's apartment for a 2 night stay.
As fun as I'm hoping the OU weekend will be, the 'Noles have to get up and go the next week at Clemson. From all I hear, Death Valley is the hardest place to play in the ACC. It's loud and intimidating. Clemson does have some QB questions this off-season with the loss of Kyle Parker, but they always play us well. Plus, Clemson just brought in a bunch of talented kids. If we are really beat up after OU, going to Clemson could be tough. I think we have the edge though. First, Clemson is going to have a very hard time replacing the NCAA FBS sack leader Da'Quan Bowers. Second, we aren't the only team that week that has to play another juggernaut the week before. Clemson has to battle Auburn at home the week before the 'Noles roll in to town. I see the Noles having the edge in this one, but it sounds like a perfect primetime night game on ESPN to me.
Next up is a bye week. I don't like it. It's too early. Granted, we are getting a bye after what are arguably the hardest back-to-back games on the schedule, but I think there is a better place for a bye. It should go closer to the middle of the season when you are dealing with injuries and some very tired players. I'll go into where I think it should be later.
After the bye we have two away games- Wake and Duke. We only have five away games this year and with two of them at Wake and Duke. Neither of these will be labeled conference title contenders by the media but Duke has improved under David Cutcliffe and Wake Forest isn't far removed from ACC Championship contender status. I fear that Duke could be a trap game though. We have a tough ACC game the next week and if the players aren't focused on the game at hand and are doing the look-ahead, we could forget that Duke is capable of beating any opponent in the conference..
Following those 2 away games, the 'Noles finally have another home game. It will have been over a month since the last home duel (Oklahoma). 'Nole fans will be ready to come back to Doak and see the Noles battle the Terps. Maryland did us a huge favor by beating NC State and sending us to the ACC Championship game last year, but Jimbo doesn't need to be polite. No need to return favors. Danny O'Brien, the young QB we faced last year, will be returning with experience under his belt. He's extremely smart and makes plays. With the coaching changes going on in College Park, there is a huge question mark hovering over the Terps program. If the players respond well to the new coaches, this could be the toughest and most important ACC game on the slate.
Another home game is next- NC State. NC State also has a big question to be answered: Will Russell Wilson return for one more season or will he play baseball? NC State is another team that has been a pain recently for the 'Noles. Last year's loss was heartbreaking. I can't even read the recap of the game without cringing. Wilson was the MVP of that game though and without him, I think that NC State will be a serious contender with him next year. Whether or not he comes back, this game should be starred on each and every Seminole's calendar as a must-win after last year's game.
Boston College is up next, and I'm not happy. This is going to be a short week since it is a Thursday night game. Usually the ACC gives FSU a bye before a Thursday night match-up. Not this time. As I said above, I would mention where I thought the bye should go and this is it. The bye should have gone between NC State and BC. Nevertheless, it is what it is and BC doesn't have a bye before and is going to have a short week too. At least they don't have to travel up the east coast though. The weather in Boston in early November can vary drastically. Let's just home for a game that isn't cold and raining. BC ended its regular season schedule with 5 wins, including Clemson and Syracuse. Their RB, Montel Harris, ran the ball very well against us last season and is returning. BC is returning a very good LB but if we can stop the run we can win this game.
After BC, Miami comes to Tallahassee. The Hurricanes play Duke before us, but Duke has seemed to have Miami figured out recently. If you thought our bye week was too early, check out Miami. They have their bye on week 2, after they play Maryland on Labor Day. After their bye, they have to play Ohio State and Kansas State. Not easy and not fun. Al Golden will get to experience firsthand how loud Doak can be. Let's make him dread playing in Tallahassee for years to come.
Penultimately, (cool big word, huh?) we have our last home game vs. Virginia. Last year and were anchored by our running game in the win over Virginia. Fortunately for us and not for the Cavs, all of our RB's are returning next season. I'm expecting our rushing output to be even higher next season with EJ taking the helm. As long as we are healthy, it could be a pleasant homecoming.
Finally, we go and play the gators (I didn't capitalize "gators" for a reason. You only capitalize proper nouns and there is nothing proper about the gators). Will Muschamp will be breathing new life into the program. QB will still be a question next season for the gators. One thing is certain, with Muschamp coming in, the defense will take on a new, fresh look. They will be much better and will challenge Jimbo, EJ, and the offense. It was a great last (full) game for Ponder versus UF last year and it made every FSU fan happy to take back the state title. This year's game will, as usual, be a big game and a must watch.
It is going to be a great year and I'm ready to watch Jimbo take FSU back to a BCS game. I'm not going to make any predictions because it is way too early, but we have the tool to succeed in a big way. In summary, I'm excited and I'm ready. GO NOLES!!!
By Alex Beslau
The 2011 schedule for the Seminoles is no cakewalk. It could have been worse (if you ask fans of our ACC brethren). Clearly, the games versus Oklahoma at home and at Florida stick out as the two focal points of the season. But not to be fooled, this schedule does not allow for any guarantees on double digit-wins.
The first two games will allow the team to start the season in a familiar setting with home games versus two non-BCS schools, however Louisiana-Monroe is a D-1 football program and fans will want to keep an eye on this game as it will be the first game for quarterback EJ Manuel as 'The Man.'
Oklahoma is nothing short of primetime, upper-echelon football. Landry Jones and Ryan Broyles will bring the heat, and the pressure will be on Mark Stoops to rally his troops to dent Oklahoma enough for our offense to dictate the game rather than be dictated like last year. If we get behind early, we won't be able to rely on our running game as we would like to. So the key is the first few drives of the game so we can put up points and ideally get a head start on the field-position battle. From there, the 'Noles need to be able to not give away anything. Not points, not the ball, not field position. If Oklahoma is going to beat us, they should have to earn it. We need to come out firing the first 10 minutes of the game to instill a pace to the game and then remain steady the next 50 minutes. That being said, this has the makings to be one of, if not, the best matchups all season long. The deciding factor for this game if it proves to be a tight one, though, will be the turnover battle, and more specifically, being able to capitalize on them, if there are even any.
The next game is at Clemson, who recruits so well and so consistently. They have talent and speed at every position so the biggest question is if we will be able to stay focused after the Oklahoma game. If we beat Oklahoma, will we be too cocky going in and get smothered? If we lose versus Oklahoma, will we be too emotional, make too many risky decisions, and lose because of turnovers? I have this game asterisked as a character game. Regardless how we play versus Oklahoma, how we are able to come out versus Clemson right after will be a telltale sign of how our team is built.
We get a bye week early in the season, which will allow our players to rest up and heal up from intense work they invested in preparation for the Sooners and Tigers. The bye week is followed by Wake Forest and Duke, both away. It wasn't too long ago that Jim Grobe was the AP Coach of the Year, and he still gets the most out of his players. Duke also has been revived under David Cutcliffe, so neither road trip should be taken lightly.
We return home for a stretch of 4 home games out of the next 5, which is just what the team needs at this point. Maryland comes into the game with reigning ACC Rookie of the Year in Danny O'Brien handling the reins. Our secondary, led by to-be superstar in the making Greg Reid, should be pretty solid and come together as a group by now, so we ought to be able to challenge their budding star. All in all, this should be a good fight.
The next game at NC State has one major wild-card: Russell Wilson. Will he return to college football or go pro in baseball? He is arguably the best QB in the ACC and is more than capable of lifting a team on his shoulders. Without him, this game still should be interesting, but nothing like the 50-44 2OT game several years back when Philip Rivers was at the helm. If Wilson does indeed return, the game will hinge on our defense, specifically our pass rush. With Brandon Jenkins and newcomer Tank Carradine, it is supposed to be a considerable strength like it was last year when we led the nation in sacks. We lost a heartbreaker last year, you can be sure Jimbo will remind the players of last year incessantly. It won't happen again. So for Parents Weekend, let's hope for a win.
Next up is Herzlich-less Boston College. But, more importantly than their lack of Mark Herzlich is their still having maybe the best 'backer in the nation in Luke Kuechly. They possess the ability to get it up for a big game, and this one is a primetime Thursday night game at Boston College, so it is safe to say it is a big stage. Boston College cannot be overlooked because I can guarantee their players will be starring, circling, and highlighting their schedule for November 3rd.
Now for the nasty game...University of Miami. Without fail this game is always intense, fierce, and physical both on the field and in the stands. Just like Clemson was a character game, this will be an attitude game. Whichever team can out-tough the other team, while executing the game plan and not giving the ball away will win 10 out of 10 times. We will have a long week to prepare for the game because of the Thursday game the week before, so we will be prepared. It comes down to following through with it. Versus Miami emotions run high on both sides of the ball, so you will be sure to see crushing hits in this one. But I cannot emphasize enough that playing physical and execution is key here.
Ten games through the season, finally the Homecoming game is here. At home versus Virginia. Before even talking football, this is the homecoming game for the year in which we have the most hype since Chris Weinke's Heisman season 11 years ago. Losing is not an option. We must win. Virginia though is on the rebound with Mike London doing an excellent job turning things around. They will put up a fight.
Now for the other focal game of the year versus Florida at the Swamp. I can guarantee you that their offense will look nothing like last year's squad. Charlie Weis is no name to scoff at, and no offense to take lightly. John Brantley will thrive in this system and be a huge factor in the game. This will be the most talented team we will face. Last time UF had a year below their lofty expectations, they returned the next year to take the title. How the team responds to new leadership, and how quickly, will be something to take into consideration. Like Miami though, these are always intense games, regardless of score. This should be a very close game again this year. UF's new schemes will give Jimbo and Mark Stoops plenty to prepare for, and my condolences go out ahead of time to the families of the coaches because they will be absent all week long. The main factor in this game will be about whose defense can clamp down and force turnovers. If it is a shootout, it is anybody's call on who wins. If it is a low-scoring game, I give Florida State the edge because of the superior running game and ability to rotate running backs to keep them fresh.
In my opinion, we are more than capable of going 12-0 through the regular season, but 10-2 is very possible as well. I predict that we will win our division and play Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship again this year.
Further than that, I am hesitant to make any bold predictions on the season overall since the Spring Game has yet to even take place. I won't say that we will win the National Championship, although it is a possibility and our players better have their goals set nothing short of it. One thing I can predict is this: Think big.
Fans interested in checking out all the 2011 football games in person can purchase FSU football tickets. Season tickets are on sale now.