Aug. 31, 2012
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- This college football season is a brand new melody but the question is the same old song: Is this the year that Florida State lives up to the lofty hype and returns to the college-football promised land it once so comfortably inhabited?
If this is indeed the season that FSU starts making beautiful music again -- much like the chart-toppers it produced so consistently over a 14-season span of top-five finishes from 1987 to 2000 -- its "season song" must have the proper theme and structure while also boasting a catchy hook.
With the season set to officially start Saturday at 6 p.m. against visiting Murray State, there's no question that the theme of the 2012 Seminoles is defense.
Florida State returns all but two starters to a unit that finished last year ranked No. 4 in the nation in total defense with just 275 yards surrendered per game. FSU was also ranked No. 2 in the country in rushing yards allowed per game with an average of 82.69.
Despite losing starters Nigel Bradham, Terrance Parks and Greg Reid, the Seminoles aren't expected to miss a beat defensively. With the amount of proven playmakers returning as well as an influxof highly-rated freshmen talent providing quality depth, many expect the `Noles to be even better in defensive coordinator Mark Stoops' third season.
"I think you've got to be careful too about the expectations that you make them so unbelievable that they can never live up to those expectations," Fisher cautioned. "But do I think we can be a heck of a defense? Yes. That's what we've geared it to be."
Bradham became the first Seminole since Marvin Jones to lead the team in tackles in three straight seasons but is being replaced by budding star Christian Jones, who has switched from strong-side linebacker to the weak side for his junior year.
Taking Jones' place on the strong side is redshirt senior Nick Moody, who spent the first four seasons of his FSU career playing as a hard-hitting safety that specialized in stuffing the run. The two veterans are joined by the middle-linebacker rotation of starters Telvin Smith and Vince Williams.
With Moody now at linebacker and Parks no longer on the team, FSU has filled the hole at one of the safety spots alongside star Lamarcus Joyner with junior Terrence Brooks, who flashed big-play potential with his interception return for a touchdown in April's spring game.
Brooks will be in a constant battle with fan-favorite sophomore Karlos Williams at safety and could even see time this season as a nickel corner. Williams will also be doing his best to become a household name as one of the fastest kick-return men in the nation this year.
Brooks isn't the only new face in the secondary as sophomore Nick Waisome beat out talented newcomer Ronald Darby during fall camp for the starting field cornerback position opposite All-America candidate Xavier Rhodes.
"Nick's been around; played very well," Fisher said. "Made a lot of good plays; can run. Very intelligent guy; been in the system and I thought he had a very good solid camp and I look forward to watching him play on Saturday."
For as good as FSU is at linebacker and at defensive back, however, the defensive line is the primary reason why Mark Stoops' "D" is so respected - and so feared.
Brandon Jenkins turned down the opportunity to become a high draft pick as an early entrant to the NFL and he now enters his senior season as one of the nation's best defensive ends. On the other side, Bjoern Werner had a breakout sophomore campaign and along with Jenkins the two are college football's top pass-rushing duo.
Add in talented backups Cornellius Carradine and Giorgio Newberry and freshmen Mario Edwards, Jr. and Chris Casher as well as the loaded defensive-tackle depth chart of Everett Dawkins, Anthony McCloud, Timmy Jernigan, Demonte McAllister, Nile Lawrence-Stample, Eddie Goldman and Justin Shanks and opponents are going to be hard-pressed to generate much offense in 2012.
If there is a driver of FSU's 2012 hype bus, it's certainly the defense behind the wheel.
"We always have that approach," Stoops said about championship expectations. "The day we walk in here you have expectations of going out and playing great defense each and every day. I have never denied that; it's what you do. You go out and you try to dominate. Every yard, every point is personal.
"That's the way it is."
FSU's defense may be its calling card but the team is structured in such a way that its offense can be just as dangerous in Jimbo Fisher's third season as head coach.
Offensively, EJ Manuel got his feet wet as a first-time starter in 2011 and he's back for one last chance at college-football success and superstardom.
Helping him accomplish that feat in 2012 will be a revamped offensive line that has added nearly 30 pounds of average weight among its starters since Manuel joined the program in 2008. With Cameron Erving and Menelik Watson at the tackle spots, Josue Matias and Tre' Jackson at the guards and Bryan Stork snapping the ball at center, Fisher and offensive line coach Rick Tricikett think they've found the five best `Noles to pave the way on FSU's quest for postseason hardware.
Increased depth at the position also helps, meaning Florida State is as susceptible to an offensive meltdown as it was last year when the injury bug ravaged the team's offensive line.
"I watch them every day, I watch them every drill, I watch them ever scrimmage, every team drill, I watch them every blitz drill and I know the guys are blocking," Fisher said. "So I think we have some really strides in that area."
If Manuel can stay healthy, he has all the weapons a quarterback could ever need to succeed.
The Seminoles are loaded at wide receiver with a strong balance of veterans and up-and-comers, highlighted by sophomore star Rashad Greene, who led the team in catches (38), yards (596) and touchdown catches (seven) as a rookie last season despite missing four games with an injury.
As it does entering every new season Florida State has trophy-hoisting hopes and it all gets started Saturday under the lights against a Racers team that averaged 37 points per game last season.
But perhaps more so than any other year in recent memory, the Seminoles can make the argument that they legitimately have the pieces to once again meet those expectations and be in contention for that 1990s glory that has proven to be so elusive in the 2000s.
Its ensemble of a ferocious defense and potentially-potent offense could certainly create a hit - with legendary radio play-by-play man Gene Deckerhoff responsible for that catchy hook.
"Touchdown, Florida State. Touchdown, Florida State. `Noles win. `Noles Win."
Now that's a chorus worth repeating.
And one the Seminoles hope to be singing all season long.