Florida State starts fast, finishes strong

Former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden was known as a closer on the recruiting trail.

His successor, Jimbo Fisher, has taken the opposite approach and developed a reputation for his fast starts.

On the heels of an Atlantic Division title and Chick-fil-A Bowl win over South Carolina, Florida State has lured what is expected to be the top recruiting class in the country -- all this just one season into Fisher's tenure as a head coach. The staff inked more players from the ESPNU 150 list (12) than defending national champion Auburn (seven). It's a sign of change and rapid progress under the new staff, and increases the possibility of a speedy return among college football's elite.

"People ask if it matters if you get the No. 1 class, and to me it really doesn't," Fisher said. "I don't mean that in a negative way, because it's the guys we wanted. We started taking guys before they had stars out. I don't care. We can identify and we recruit our own guys. We can evaluate that. But at the same time, it does signify to a lot of people that Florida State is starting to be a significant player again in the college football world and we can get back to the top very quickly in my opinion if the ball bounces right. We've got to develop those players and coach those players."

This class features some of the most elite talent the program has recruited since … How long has it been?

"They had some in the '90s, probably early 2000s," Fisher said. "Since we've been here, I think it's the best class."

Hands down.

Just look at five-star safety Karlos Williams, the No. 5 player in the ESPNU 150 and the No. 1 safety in the country.

No, really, look at him.

"Lord almighty," Fisher said. "He's one of those guys I think comes around every 10 or 15 years. A true 6-foot-2, 220-pound safety that is a true safety. He can fly. He has tremendous ball skills, tremendous instincts. And when he hits you, he don't hit you, he rocks you. He's very special."

The entire class could be.

It was around this time a year ago Fisher began working on his 2011 class, and while there were some signing-day bonuses -- like four-star defensive tackle Tim Jernigan -- this group was assembled before the 2010 season had ended, and some had committed before it even began.

"We're just doing it earlier," Fisher said. "Florida State was always famous for closing. Times have changed. Because the ability to communicate is at such a different level now, kids know more about where they're wanting to go and what they want to do. It's much more important to do things early."

The Noles had about 28 scholarships available because they didn't get all the players they wanted in the 2010 class.

"I would rather not fill up the class and hold a scholarship than take a guy we didn't think was quite at the level we wanted," Fisher said.
This year, they're all at that level."

Fisher said almost every position was a priority, starting with the offensive line, a quarterback, tailback, defensive linemen, a tight end, receivers and a linebacker. Of the incoming recruits, he said the skill-position players are most likely to see the field first simply because of a shorter learning curve.

One player who could make an immediate impact is four-star tight end Nick O'Leary, the No. 2 tight end in the country.

"I think Nick is one of the best pure football players of anybody -- play anywhere, do anything," Fisher said. "He just knows the game. Then your tight end becomes a weapon. He can change the game. I think that's very important."

Florida State also signed a few junior college players who, because of their heightened maturity, could also see playing time early. Defensive end Cornellius Carradine "has a chance to be really special," Fisher said.

"I think he can change the game, I really do," Fisher said. "He's got some unbelievable athletic ability and size. He's got a 7-foot wing span and runs 4.5 at 270 pounds. He's special."

If it's possible for a four-star recruit to be "underrated," Fisher said that's the case with defensive tackle Derrick Mitchell. Fisher said Mitchell has "big-time NFL potential," size and speed. Three-star quarterback Jacob Coker, Fisher said, is "under the radar big-time."

"This is a very talented class, it really is, and the uniqueness about this class, which I'm excited about, these guys are very confident in their abilities but they're not arrogant. It's an amazing group as far as how they fit in with people, how they react, how they go recruit other great players even at their position that they want on the team. They don't care -- another D-end, another D-tackle. They don't care, they say 'Let's go get the best players.'"

The question is if and when this 2011 class can win Florida State a national title.

"I don't think one class can get you there," Fisher said. "That's the thing with football that's different. In basketball, I think one class can get you there, because you're talking about one or two players. In football, there's a significant amount of people there. I think this one can go a long way, in my opinion, and the class before it I thought was a good one. Now we have to make sure we get a good one in the one after it."

Expect another fast start for Fisher in 2012.

Heather Dinich is the ACC college football blogger for ESPN.com.