Posts Tagged 'bobby bowden'

FSU Football: Reason for Excitement in 2010

Despite the departure of legendary head coach Bobby Bowden, Florida State football has a lot to look forward to this fall.  Much of this optimism starts with new head coach Jimbo Fisher and the talent he has on offense.  College FootBlog takes an in-depth look at the Seminole offense, and when analyzing the 2010 FSU offense, it is quite evident that Fisher may be putting a winning formula together that helped LSU win a national championship in 2003.

In this edition of College FootBlog, we take a closer look at four specific areas that Fisher and the FSU staff have focused on, and we compare those areas to the successful season he had in Baton Rouge a few years ago.

For the first time since arriving at Tallahassee, Jimbo Fisher has two things that made his dominant offenses at LSU go, and he has two things he didn’t have in his time as Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator for the Tigers.  Let’s start with the things he didn’t have while at LSU.

If Senior QB Christian Ponder stays healthy, he should make a serious run at the Heisman this fall (google images)

A Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterback

Fisher had a solid QB in 2003 for the National Champions, but Matt Mauck was far from a Heisman hopeful.  Fisher is known for his ability to develop quarterbacks, and he has done a fine job so far with Ponder.  If Ponder can put up over 300 yards/game with a 4:1 TD/Int ratio (which is what he was doing last season until his injury in week 9), sportswriters will have to take notice.  And more importantly, for Fisher and FSU fans, that will likely translate to a solid season.

Christian Ponder enters his third full year as the starting signal-caller for the ‘Noles.  If one of two variables worked out in his favor last season, he would be mentioned by all major sports writers as a logical choice for a preseason candidate for the coveted award.  Those variables that were out of Ponder’s control were:  1)  Ponder separated his shoulder at Clemson last season, ending his season after eight games, missing the final three regular season games and  2)  FSU’s defense was downright atrocious last season and was the key contributor to another .500 season.  This season, as long as the defense improves, that should translate to more wins, which should keep Ponder on the national radar screen.

FSU should have the best offensive line in the ACC and one of the best in the nation

At LSU, Fisher had a solid O-line, but he did not have Rick Trickett, who is arguably the best offensive line coach in the country, and he did not have a combined 142 starts from their OL.  What was supposed to be a weakness for FSU three years ago, when Trickett was forced to start three true freshmen and two sophomores, not only ended up being a strength of the team, but it also established the base for a deep and battle-tested O-line going into this season.  FSU will send two seniors who are on the Outland Trophy watch list and three talented juniors.  One of those juniors, left tackle Andrew Datko, is up to 300 lbs now, after starting as a true freshman at a hair under 270. 

This kind of talent and experience in the trenches will give Fisher and Trickett a lot to work with and bodes well with a difficult game against Oklahoma in Norman in their second game of the season. 

Now let’s take a look at what Fisher finally has this year that he had at LSU, but has not had the luxury of in his short time in Tallahassee:

Diversity at wide receiver

From the moment he and receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey stepped foot on campus, they have attempted to overhaul the WR corps.  Primarily through recruiting, Fisher and Dawsey finally have a similar variety of wide outs that fit Fisher’s scheme.  On the 2003 National Championship team, Fisher had a nice blend of size (Michael Clayton, 6’4,” 215lbs., Dwayne Bowe, 6’2′” 221 lbs.) and speed and illusiveness (Devery Henderson, Skyler Green, etc.).

It is no coincidence that FSU’s wide outs are looking very similar these days.  Junior receiver Jarmon Fortson checks in at 6’3,” 221 lbs., and sophomores Willie Haulstead and Rodney Smith are 6’3,” 215 lbs. and 6”6,” 220 lbs., respectively.  At the other end of the spectrum are 5’11” junior Bert Reed, who is the fastest player on the roster and newcomer De’Joshua Johnson who is known for his quickness in the open field.

Sophomore RB Lonnie Pryor will line up at fullback and tailback this fall (google images)

Depth at Running Back

 In LSU’s championship season, Fisher showed had the luxury of a deep and diverse stable of running backs.  It was very common to see four or more different backs carry the ball in a game that year.  Justin Vincent and Joseph Addai were the main two backs, but there were two other running backs who had 78 or more carries that year.

Last year because of depth issues and a nagging injury to starting RB Jermaine Thomas, Fisher had to rely heavily on a pair of true freshmen–the smaller, quicker Chris Thompson and the versatile RB Lonnie Pryor.  Along with the other three backs, FSU has Ty Jones, who has shown some flashes, but more importantly, the ‘Noles have the big, physical back that has been lacking in their offense since the departure of Greg Jones.  Juco transfer Debrale Smiley checks in at 5’11” and 237 lbs, giving Fisher a legitimate power back.  The combination and diversity of running backs, in addition to the experienced offensive line should produce a solid running game for FSU this fall.

These additions and improvements should result in an explosive offense in 2010 and ultimately put FSU back in the ACC Championship hunt.  Big non-conference games against Oklahoma, BYU and Florida give the Seminoles a legitimate shot at getting back into the national picture, after several years of underachieving.  Only time will tell, but it appears that Fisher has successfully replicated a winning formula, at least on offense.

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College Football Preseason Top 25 (#8-#15)

College FootBlog continues our countdown of our Preseason Top 25.  In this edition, we break down teams #8-#15.  In case you missed teams #16-#25, check it out here (#16-#25).  Later in the week, we will unveil the top seven, but until then, check out our analysis and breakdown of the teams that are on the cusp of the Super 7.

8.  Arkansas:  The return of quarterback Ryan Mallett instead of entering the 2010 NFL Draft should pay huge dividends to Bobby Petrino, but it another year under Petrino’s tutelage should only improve Mallett’s draft position next spring.  At 6’7″ and 238 lbs., Mallett has the size that NFL scouts like, but he can also make all the throws.  Mallett has several experienced and proven wide receivers, and several versatile running backs, headlined by Ronnie Wingo and Dennis Johnson.  Offense will not be an issue for the Razorbacks in 2010, but their 89th ranked defense will have to improve if they want to stay in the Top 10 and survive an SEC season.

Wisconsin RB John Clay rushed for 1,500+ yards and 18 TD's last season (google images)

9. Wisconsin: Big Ten foes will get a healthy dose of John Clay in 2010.  The reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year checks in at 6’1″ and tips the scales at just under 250 lbs.   Clay will run behind an experienced offensive line, which will likely consist of three seniors, two of which were All-Big Ten selections in 2009.  Quarterback Scott Tolzien will be a senior and stepped up big in the Champs Sports Bowl.  The Badgers will have to replace quite a few upperclassmen from last year’s dominant defense, but they still have playmakers like defensive back Jay Valai who should be solid enough to slow down the many not-so-creative offenses in the Big Ten.

10.  Oklahoma:  The Sooners have a tough test early when Florida State comes to town on September 11th.  If they can survive that game, they have the Red River Rivalry minus Colt McCoy, and the rest of the Big 12 schedule could be smooth sailing.  Rival Oklahoma State will be without QB Zack Robinson and WR Dez Bryant (although Bryant was suspended for virtually all of last year).  The Sooners will have to fill the void of likely top-five pick DT Gerald McCoy, but the defense should hold their own in 2010.  Sam Bradford’s injury hurt the Sooners, but it gave Landry Jones some great experience.  As a freshman, Jones was a bit inconsistent, but he showed flashes of brilliance last year.  If he can continue to improve, he could be the next great quarterback produced by QB coach Josh Heupel.

11.  Florida:  Although Orlando Sentinel reporter Jeremy Fowler was berated by Urban Meyer, his interview with wide receiver Deonte Thompson was spot on.  As great as Tim Tebow was, John Brantley will prove to be a much better quarterback, in the traditional sense of the position.  While Brantley will not bring the running ability of Tebow, he is a much more polished passer and should stretch the field vertically much better than his predecessor.  The losses of key contributors on defense, including linebacker Brandon Spikes and cornerback Joe Haden will hurt, but what could hurt the Gators the most in 2010 is the goal line opportunities.  With the departure of Tebow, there is no significant threat for short-yardage threats in the Florida backfield.

12.  Pitt:  Fresh off a contract extension, Dave Wannstedt is really settling in as the Panthers’ head coach.  The loss of Bill Stull hurts a bit, but Pitt has a couple of capable back ups at QB, in sophomore Tino Sunseri and junior Pat Bostick.  Whoever wins the starting QB job has the luxury of having Dion Lewis in the backfield.  Lewis was one of the best running backs in the nation last year, and he was only a freshman.  As good as the offense should be for the Panthers, however, the strength of the 2010 team will likely be the defense.  Going into the spring, the defense looks to have seven juniors and two seniors in the starting line up.

FSU's Christian Ponder will try to throw his hat in the ring of this year's Heisman race (google images)

13. Florida State: The Seminoles were an average defense from being a 10-win team last season.  Unfortunately for Bobby Bowden and legendary defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews, the FSU defense was shredded all season in ’09, ranking 108th nationally overall.  Three of the ‘Noles’ six losses were by touchdown or less.  The bright side for FSU was the offense, led by quarterback Christian Ponder, who will likely be in the Heisman discussion this season.  Ponder has all five starters on the offensive line returning this fall, led by All-American guard Rodney Hudson.  If the newly revamped defensive coaching staff can improve last season’s dismal defensive unit, first year coach Jimbo Fisher could easily have his team playing for the ACC Championship in December.

14.  USC:  The dominance of the Trojans was bound to come to an end at some point, and 2009 proved that regardless of depth and top-tier recruiting, when you ship eleven players to the NFL in one season, it is going to have an impact.  Despite the off-the-field distractions and the departure of Pete Carroll, Lane and Monte Kiffin should have Southern Cal back in a familiar place next season–challenging for a Pac 10 Championship.  Linebacker Chris Galippo should reap the benefits of playing under one of the best defensive minds in the NFL or college, Monte Kiffin.  The Trojan offense should see much improvement from last season as well, now that Matt Barkley has a year of experience under his belt.

15.  Iowa:  The Hawkeyes surprised a lot of people last season when they made a serious run at the Big Ten title, and they dominated Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl with great defense and a solid performance from quarterback Ricky Stanzi.  Stanzi will have to be much more consistent in 2010 if the ‘Hawks are going to challenge Ohio State for the title this fall.  Stanzi loses three All-Big Ten offensive lineman, which was anchored by future first-round selection Bryan Bulaga, but they return their top two running backs and stud DE Adrian Clayborn, who surprised many when he announced that despite dominating the Orange Bowl, he would return for his senior season at Iowa City.

Gator Bowl Prediction: West Virginia vs. Florida State

As the new year begins, an era in college football will conclude.  On January 1st, the Florida State Seminoles will take on the West Virginia Mountaineers in the Gator Bowl in Bobby Bowden’s final football game at FSU.  In this match up, West Virginia will look to gain even more respect for the Big East, but the ‘Noles will be playing for something bigger than themselves, as they will look to send their legendary coach off with a victory in his final game. 

College FootBlog will break down this New Year’s Day match up, analyze the strengths and key concerns of each team, and ultimately, make a prediction of this game. 

Noel Devine is one of the most electric RB's in all of college football (google images)

 

West Virginia 

 
Strengths:  The Mounaineers have a solid running game, led by junior running back, Noel Devine.  Despite being hampered by nagging injuries in the middle of the season, Devine has still managed to rack up 1,297 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. 
Quarterback, Jarrett Brown compliments Devine in the running game as well and has rushed for 423 yards himself.  They will look to have a big day against FSU’s struggling defense.
 
Key Concerns:  Despite having a stout defense against the run, WV’s pass defense has been exposed somewhat this season, ranking 52nd nationally in the FBS. 
The secondary will have to step up in this game because Florida State spreads the ball around to multiple receivers and backs.  Their ability to cover the intermediate routes and screens will have a direct impact on who wins this game.
 
Strengths:  FSU’s offense has taken another huge step forward this season, averaging just under 422 yards from scrimmage per game.  One key component of that has been the leadership and solid play from quarterback Christian Ponder.  Unfortunately, for the ‘Noles, Ponder’s season was cut short with a separated shoulder.

Freshman QB EJ Manuel will need a solid day if the 'Noles want a win (google images)

 
Freshman QB EJ Manuel has assumed that role, and has filled in fairly well in his three starts.  The wideouts at FSU are very versatile and any of them can make the big play, but the most consistent of the group has been sophomore, Bert Reed, who has racked up 710 receiving yards this season.
 
Key Concerns:  FSU’s defense has been brutal this season, ranking 110th nationally.  Legendary defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews will need to get his unit to play inspired football, or West Virginia could make it a long day for the ‘Noles.
 
FSU has had particular trouble with the spread this season, and Devine and company will provide one of the toughest challenges they have had all year.
 
Florida State Offense vs. West Virginia Defense
  
Even though Manuel is a young quarterback, he has a lot of weapons around him, and more importantly, in front of him.  FSU’s offensive line is the best OL in the ACC, and the weeks of preparation have given time for All-American guard Rodney Hudson to get back to full strength.
 
West Virginia has a unique defensive scheme with their 3-5-3, but FSU’s OL coach, Rick Trickett, who coached there before coming to Tallahassee, will have his line ready to play against them.  Also, look for EJ Manuel to hit a lot of screens and short passes early to soften the defense and get him into a rhythm.  EDGE:  FSU
  
West Virginia Offense vs. Florida State Defense
  
West Virginia’s spread attack and the speed of Noel Devine will be tough to overcome.  FSU has been vulnerable to the big play all season, and this game should be no different.  The ‘Noles have a particularly tough time with misdirection, and the Mountaineers will likely use this to their advantage.
 
The Mountaineers are not known for their ability to throw the ball, but pretty much every opponent FSU has faced, regardless of talent at QB, has scorched the ‘Noles’ struggling secondary.  With that in mind, WV will likely take a few shots down the field.  EDGE:  WV
  
Special Teams
  
We have mentioned how explosive Noel Devine is as a running back, but he is equally as dangerous as a kick returner.  The Seminoles, however, have had a lot of success this season against some of the best returners in the country, including Clemson’s CJ Spiller.  That is because of the leg of freshman kicker Dustin Hopkins, who has boomed a whopping 23 kickoffs for touchbacks, which is fifth best in the country.
 
Couple that with the nation’s top punt returner in freshman Greg Reid, and Florida State’s special teams have truly been special this season.  EDGE:  FSU
  
Prediction
  
As bad as FSU’s defense has been all season, look for them to play inspired football.  It is, afterall, the final game for head coach Bobby Bowden and longtime defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews.  Also, take into account FSU’s success at the Gator Bowl (5-0-1 all-time), and the ‘Noles will be tough to beat.
 
Expect a high-scoring game, but ultimately, we think FSU’s offense will have a solid game with all the preparation time, and the defense will do just enough to send Bowden off with yet another bowl win.  Score Prediction:  FSU wins 33-27

Is Tebow Deserving of All of the Heisman Hype?

If you check the latest rankings for the favorites for this year’s Heisman Trophy, the name at the top of the list is Florida’s Tim Tebow.  While that does not pose as much of a surprise to anyone who has paid attention to college football the last four years, the statistics for Tebow and many others who are not on the watch list may be a bit of a surprise.

Tebow's charisma, not his overall performance, may be influencing Heisman voters (google images)

Tebow's charisma, not his overall performance, may be influencing Heisman voters (google images)

Going into the 2009 season, the three favorites to bring home the coveted award were the top three finishers in last year’s voting, Heisman Trophy winner, Sam Bradford from Oklahoma, Texas Longhorn quarterback Colt McCoy and Tebow.

Bradford’s chances at a repeat fell dramatically when he was knocked out of the first game of the year and subsequently missed the next three games with a sprained shoulder.  McCoy has again put up solid numbers, but he has seen a bit of a dip slightly from his stats from a year ago.  McCoy could make a strong impression this weekend in front of a national television audience in the Red River Shootout against the hated Oklahoma Sooners, but as of now, he is second on the Heisman list to Tebow, according to most experts.

A closer look at Tebow’s stats this season, however,  begs the question:  Is the Heisman Trophy supposed to go to the best player or the most popular one?  While the Florida Gators have been the number one team in America since the preseason, Tebow’s stats are a far cry from elite, not only in the country, but in his conference and even in his own state.

Tebow’s 155 passing yards per game rank him 96th in the FBS, and eighth in his own conference.  In fact, the only great statistical game Tebow has managed was against Troy, where he completed four of his seven touchdowns on the year.  If you take out both cupcakes, Troy and lowly Charleston Southern, and focus on the three SEC opponents the Gators have faced (Tennessee, Kentucky and LSU), Tebow is averaging 124 yards passing a game with two touchdowns and two interceptions. 

On the ground, he is averaging 4.1 yards per carry and 79 yards per game.  There are 59 quarterbacks in the FBS that are averaging more than that just in passing yards.  That is an average of 203 yards of total offense. 

Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen has led an Irish team with a very average defense to a 4-1 record this season.  He is averaging 308 yards per game with 12 TDs and two interceptions, and he has kept the Irish in every one of their games, including the last second, heart-breaking loss to Michigan in week two.  

Finally, Tony Pike is getting some serious Heisman consideration (google images)

Finally, Tony Pike is getting some serious Heisman consideration (google images)

Until this week when ESPN’s Robert Smith discussed it, very few experts had mentioned Cincinnati’s Tony Pike as a threat.  Pike has led the Bearcats to a 5-0 start and is averaging  just under 300 yards per game through the air with 13 TD’s and only three interceptions.

What may be the most surprising is that Tebow is statistically a far cry from the being the best QB in the state of Florida.  Miami’s Jacory Harris has quietly led the Hurricanes to a 4-1 start.  Harris has been great in every game except the monsoon in Blacksburg when the Hokies held him to 150 yards.  In that game, not only did Harris face one of the best defensive coordinators in the country in Bud Foster, he also had to deal with Mother Nature.  The entire game was played in monsoon-like conditions with steady rain and gusting winds.  Still, Harris has 25th in the nation in yards per game.

The other QB that may surprise a lot of people due to his team’s record is Florida State’s Christian Ponder.  Through the Bobby Bowden retirement soap opera and the ‘Noles’ travesty of a defense this season, many outside of Tallahassee have not recognized what the junior signal caller has done thus far. 

Ponder currently ranks 11th in passing yards per game with 9 TD’s and only one pick.  He has added another 123 yards on the ground and more importantly, Ponder has kept his team in every game this season, despite an inconsistent running game and one of the nation’s worst defenses.

Finally, ESPN has Jimmy Clausen, Tony Pike and Jacory Harris on their watch list, but they may want to check the stats before the put Tebow on top again.  Unfortunately, the very mediocre stats will be downplayed by ESPN and the rest of the media and Tebow’s leadership and charisma will be brought up. 

What should be considered instead is who is the best college football player in the nation.  Who does more for his team and does more in big games?  The stats don’t lie, but if the season plays out like it has and the Heisman race plays out like it looks like it may, ESPN’s Erin Andrews may want to see if she still has eligibility left.  Her popularity may make her next year’s Heisman front-runner.