For once, Andrea Adelson and I are on the same page. Both of us think this is the year Florida State will live up to the hype. Shocking, I know.
Our opinions differ, though, on exactly how they need to do that.
Will the offensive line and running game be the key? Or will it be quarterback EJ Manuel and the development of his receivers?
Depends, of course, on who you ask ...
Heather Dinich: It’s a good thing Florida State offensive line coach Rick Trickett is a Harley Davidson-driving, cigar-gnawing, old-school, kick-in-the-pants kind of coach -- because Florida State’s offensive line couldn’t afford anything less this summer.
If the No. 7-ranked Seminoles are going to stay in the top 10 -- if they’re going to win the ACC and aim for something even higher -- the offensive line must go from the weak link in 2011 to one of the team’s greatest strengths in 2012. The running game must improve, and it all starts up front with a group that introduced four freshmen in the starting lineup against Notre Dame last year in the Champs Sports Bowl.
Last year, Florida State’s running game finished No. 104 in the country. The Noles tied for No. 110 in sacks allowed. And the linemen didn’t create enough holes for the running backs, who also had too many mental errors.
Does that sound like a top-10 team? Well, that’s why it wasn’t. The Noles sank to No. 23 last year in the final Associated Press Top 25 after starting out No. 6 in the preseason poll.
Florida State can’t possibly expect to change that with only 95 total yards of offense against Florida again. It can’t possibly win its first ACC title since 2005 with only 63 rushing yards against Miami. And it certainly can’t be taken seriously as a national title contender with only 41 rushing yards against Notre Dame.
Florida State’s defense and its super special teams were the difference for the Noles last year. If the offensive line and ground game could match that, Florida State would be seemingly unstoppable.
It’s getting closer.
The experience sophomore guards Josue Matias and Tre’ Jackson got in the bowl game last year was priceless, and they continued that progress this summer. Cameron Erving’s seamless transition from defensive tackle to left tackle was one of the top story lines in Tallahassee, and all three have likely earned starting jobs for the season opener against Murray State. The questions continue at center and right tackle, though, and the competition could, too. During fall camp, Austin Barron and Bryan Stork were the frontrunners at center, and junior-college transfers Menelik Watson and Daniel Glauser were the leaders at right tackle.
Overall, the Noles’ offensive line has gotten bigger and stronger, but it still needs to prove that it has also gotten better.
Andrea Adelson: We have heard plenty already this preseason about the depth Florida State has at wide receiver.
Depth is an excellent commodity to have. But here is my question -- how about playmakers? Do the Seminoles have a game-breaker at receiver who will be able to help Manuel carry this offense from good to championship caliber?
I grew up in South Florida, and have watched every Miami-Florida State game going back to the early 1980s. During the heyday of both programs, you could always count on at least one receiver that made you, well, nervous. Florida State had them in spades, between guys like Lawrence Dawsey, Tamarick Vanover, Peter Warrick, Laveranues Coles, Snoop Minnis, E.G. Green, Anquan Boldin and the like.
To that point -- FSU had one receiver on the ACC first team between 1993 and 2000. Since then, the Noles have had just one -- Craphonso Thorpe in 2003. There are a variety of reasons this program has hit a major dip in recent years. One of them has been a lack of some major talent at the skill positions.
The lack of a 1,000-yard rusher (none since 1996) or 1,000-yard receiver (none since 2002) are proof. So is the fact that Florida State has not had a receiver drafted since Willie Davis in 2007. For a program in talent-rich Florida, it is almost inexcusable for there to be a dearth of game-changers at either running back or receiver. A player like Sammy Watkins? He used to be found at Florida State.
The Noles have an opportunity to change that this season given some of the talent that is returning. What FSU fans will tell you is Manuel has been good at spreading the ball around to his various receivers, and that has been nearly as good as having one go-to guy emerge. Three players had 30 or more catches last season -- Rashad Greene, Rodney Smith and Kenny Shaw.
They all return.
Expectations are high for redshirt freshman Kelvin Benjamin to emerge as a game-changer. Florida State also has true freshman Marvin Bracy, a player with world class speed who may not even see the field this year. That is a testament to the depth at the position, something that is not in dispute.
But what the Noles truly need is a dynamic presence at receiver to put fear into the opposition, the way they used to do. To me, that is going to be a deciding factor in whether the Seminoles live up to all the preseason hype.