NCAA Football Preview - Florida State Seminoles
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From The Sports Network By Scott Haynes, College Football Senior Editor 2003 SEASON IN REVIEW: After two straight years of winning less than 10 games (2001 and 2002), the Seminoles got back on track with a 10-win campaign in 2003. Along the way, Bobby Bowden surpassed Joe Paterno as the winningest coach in IA football history, while the team captured its 11th ACC crown in 12 seasons and found itself in the Orange Bowl. The result was a 16-14 loss to the Hurricanes in a defensive struggle. The team got off to a fast conference start with a couple of routs to open the season (37-0 over North Carolina and 35-10 over Maryland). A tough one-point win over Georgia Tech came next (14-13), followed by another pair of lopsided wins (47-7 against Colorado and 56-7 at Duke). The Seminoles continued their struggles against Miami (22-14 loss) and also suffered a pair of conference losses to Clemson (26-10) and NC State (50-44 in 2OT), but key non-conference wins at Notre Dame (37-0) and at Florida (38-34) in the season-finale gave the team a 10-win season. The team's strong regular season-campaign and conference championship put it in the BCS picture, facing nemesis Miami in the Orange Bowl. The result was a less-than- stellar 16-14 loss. 2004 ANALYSIS: OFFENSE: The Seminoles averaged a steady 32.2 points per game last season on just over 400 yards of total offense. There is no reason to think those numbers will drop this year. If anything, with a seasoned QB and the entire starting line returning, the numbers could actually improve. Chris Rix has carved out a nice career in Tallahassee and looks to finish strong. Last year, he passed for 3,107 yards and 23 TDs. Five of the team's top six pass catchers from 2003 return, including senior Craphonso Thorpe, who was having a monster year before going down with an injury late. He finished the year with 51 receptions, for 994 yards and 11 TDs, averaging almost 20 yards per catch (19.5). The running game suffered through numerous injuries last year, but with the departure of monster tailback Greg Jones, the rushing duties will be left up to Lorenzo Booker and Leon Washington this time around. Booker averaged a team-high 5.4 yards per carry last season, while churning out 334 yards on limited carries (62). Washington fought through injuries to average 5.2 yards per carry. The pair will provide a potent one-two punch, allowing the 'Noles to chew up valuable yardage and clock should the team need to do so in any close affairs. The offensive front is a veteran group of 300-pounders, led by second-team All-ACC center David Castillo. DEFENSE: Florida State limited opponents to just 16.7 ppg last year, holding them in check both on the ground (119.4 ypg) and through the air (212.9 ypg). While the offense has the luxury of a solid nucleus back in the fold, the defense will have a tough time keeping pace. The unit returns just four players and will need to first and foremost find a way to replace the production of one of the nation's best linebacking trios (Michael Boulware, Allen Augustin and Kendyll Pope). Sophomore Ernie Sims (42 tackles) and junior AJ Nicholson (55 tackles) will try to fill the void in the middle of the defense. The defensive line loses All-American Darnell Dockett, but there is plenty of experience, including rush end Eric Moore (7.5 sacks in 2003 and 2nd-Team All-ACC) and tackles Travis Johnson and Charles Howard. The secondary is the strength of the defense with three starters returning, in safeties Jerome Carter (78 tackles) and B.J. Ward (80 tackles) and cornerback Bryant McFadden (nine starts and 28 tackles in 2003). SPECIAL TEAMS: Florida State will certainly benefit from the steady placekicking of veteran Xavier Beitia, who converted 50-of-51 PATs and 19- of-25 FG attempts last year, including a long of 48 yards. He was a Groza Award finalist and should be right up there again in 2004. Jesse Stein is no longer handling the punting duties, but the team may be better off, allowing junior Chris Hall to take over there. He almost won the starting job last season and has a stronger leg than Stein, showcased in his three punts last season (49.3 ypp). OUTLOOK: Bobby Bowden (342 wins) passed by Joe Pa last year and should continue to put some distance between him and everyone else this season. The Seminoles will no longer be the bully in the ACC with new members Miami- Florida and Virginia Tech now in the family. However, the Hurricanes and Hokies may play second and third fiddle to a veteran group of 'Noles this season. Things will get started right away with the season-opener taking place in the Orange Bowl against Miami. The non-league slate includes home games against UAB and Florida and a road trip to the Empire State against Syracuse. The team gets ACC-foes Clemson, North Carolina, Virginia and Duke at Doak Campbell Stadium, with hazardous road trips to Wake Forest, Maryland, NC State and the aforementioned trek to Miami. If the team can find a way to exorcise its demons in Coral Gables this year, it could be just the thing to propel this team to a national title run. The defense won't be nearly as formidable as the offense, but these Seminoles sure will be fun to watch.