Jimbo Fisher confident in Seminoles' potential
There are college football coaches who will quickly dismiss the July questions about expectations surrounding their team. They don’t like inquiries about “pressure to win.”
And then there is the confidence of Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher. The Seminoles won 10 games in his first season and then won nine games in 2011.
On Sunday, quarterback EJ Manuel and defensive end Brandon Jenkins didn’t waste any time with their response to a reporter’s question about the Seminoles being a national title contender in 2012.
Both felt FSU has the talent to win the school’s first title since 1999. Fisher didn’t pull any punches either.
“I think we’re there,” Fisher said on Monday afternoon at the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Media Days. “Part of being there is believing that you belong there. That’s a huge part of it. I don’t think there’s any doubt. The confidence level of our guys, the experience of our guys. … I’m extremely anxious to get to practice.”
July is a good time for talk and preseason predictions. And every year there is a group of about 15 teams that is a realistic national championship contender (although the last six years you could bank on a Southeastern Conference team winning the trophy).
Fisher and FSU’s players are confident in what they have, and they believe the pieces are there for a title run.
Manuel is an experienced, accurate passer – his 66.1 percent completion percentage is better than FSU’s all-time top four: Brad Johnson (64.7), Charlie Ward (62.3), Danny Kanell (62.2) and Christian Ponder (61.8).
And FSU’s often-injured offense of 2011 has had an offseason to heal. FSU returns three receivers that caught 34 or more passes a year ago as well as top tailbacks like Devonta Freeman (579 rushing yards, eight TDs) and James Wilder Jr. (160 rushing yards, one touchdown).
The offensive line is lacking experience but is deeper and should be able to provide more time for Manuel.
But the defense could be one of the best in the nation, and it’s the reason why Fisher is able to argue that FSU will live up to the high expectations.
A few players who attended the ACC’s media days noted that FSU has about five first-round NFL draft picks, and most of them are on defense.
Defensive ends Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner could feast against an ACC schedule that features teams with inexperienced offensive tackles. Fisher and FSU players think linebacker Christian Jones (56 tackles, three sacks) is set for a breakout year. And the secondary is among the best in the nation with cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes and Greg Reid and safety Lamarcus Joyner.
FSU was second in the nation last year in rush defense (82.6 yards per game), fourth in total defense (267.69 yards) and fourth in scoring defense (15.08 points per game).
With nine starters back in 2012 there’s a sense that the defense, now in coordinator Mark Stoops’ third year, could be even better.
“I think we have a great defensive staff,” Fisher said. “I think we prioritize defense. Defense is the one constant that I believe in. I don’t think you’re ever a great team until you’re great on defense. And you’re never great on defense until you’re great up front with the defensive linemen.
“When you are great on defense, you’re always in the game.”
And the media feel that way, too, voting FSU as its preseason pick to win the ACC’s Atlantic Division and then claiming the conference championship (over Virginia Tech).
The schedule sets up fairly well for FSU, which plays key Atlantic Division games at home in September against Wake Forest and Clemson. FSU’s biggest road hurdle is a Nov. 8 game against Virginia Tech.
Fisher believes in the leadership of this team. He likes that the Seminoles are loaded with seniors and thinks that “pressure brings urgency.” And while there were high expectations of FSU a year ago, Fisher argued that the Seminoles had too many injuries and not nearly enough depth to fill the gaps.
He feels that the depth, improved by three straight top-10 signing classes, makes FSU a program that can fight for a national title.
“I feel very good about us going into the season,” Fisher said. “I think we have a chance to be successful against anybody we play. I really do. I think we have the ability to do that. I think we have the leadership to do that. And I think we have the program to do that.”