As college football season approaches, I noted how difficult it was to pick someone to win the ACC’s Atlantic Division. On the flip side, I could easily argue the case against every team. The “slow season” for Wolfpack news is an ideal time to explore this in more detail. Earlier in the week, we talked about Clemson. Today, by popular demand, we look at another group of recent underachievers – the Florida State Seminoles.
College football is unique for its unforgiving nature. Just one slip in focus can torpedo an entire season, with no guaranteed shot at redemption. And nothing makes such a slip more likely than distractions and drama. And do the Noles ever have more than their fair share of that. As SFN discussed back in March, an academic cheating scandal resulted in probation for numerous FSU programs. Football escaped major punishments, but the NCAA did propose removing more than a dozen victories from the record of the last Bowden standing.
While this is ostensibly good news for the Noles, it’s highlighted a rift among the university and its boosters. It’s been widely speculated (despite the pending appeal) that Florida State found a silver lining in forfeiting wins rather than scholarships. Papa Bowden and Joe Pa have been essentially daring each other to retire or die for the past decade, as they grind out 8-9 win seasons and seesaw the NCAA record for career victories. Paterno has had more success of late, and forfeiting victories would leave Bowden with much less incentive to keep hanging on. Whether they’ll say it out loud or not, it’s safe to say that a large portion of Seminole fans and decisionmakers would like to get on with the Jimbo Fisher era. You can see evidence of that in FSU internet rumblings against Chuck Amato, who is almost certainly out of a job once Bowden rides off into the sunset. There is a certain shelflife in having a “designated successor” on staff (especially when very big egos like Bowden’s and Fisher’s are involved – without any “loyalty” due to a historically strong working relationship), and Florida State is exceeding that.
Clearly, the players aren’t immune. Further, a divided coaching staff isn’t going to perform optimally. The Noles no longer have an overwhelming talent advantage like they did during the previous decade – so when they have an “off” week in terms of performance, focus, or both – they lose. It’s been enough to keep them out of the ACC championship game the last three years, and I don’t see that changing in 2009. Florida State blog “Scalp ‘Em” agrees with my assessment.
If you want more “hard” analysis, I would point to the schedule. They get a tough draw out of the Coastal, missing both Virginia and Duke. FSU also gets two tricky early games – the always ugly season opening slugfest against Miami (punts and turnovers galore – great TV!) returns in 2009, plus a September 19 trip to Provo to play a tough and, ahem, mature, disciplined BYU team. The contrast will be striking, and the penalty yards will be astronomical. Lose those two games, and the tension in Tallahassee will transition from a rolling boil to an exploding inferno. And even if the early land mines don’t trip up the Noles, there’s a late four game stretch that will be difficult to survive intact – at UNC (Thursday night), vs. NC State, at Clemson, at Wake.
FSU also must replace it’s most valuable (IMHO) offensive player from last season, deadly kicker Graham Gano. The Noles certainly don’t beat Miami last season without Gano’s leg, and maybe not NC State, either. And everyone knows about the Seminoles’ history of placekicking heartbreak.
Last but certainly not least, you have the penalties. CFN’s preview notes that FSU lost 937 yards to penalties in 2008, compared to 593 for its opponents. Penalties have always been part of the Seminole “swagger” (which Chuckles imported to NC State for a few years), but losing 30 yards a game makes a real difference when you’re no longer the league’s 800-pound gorilla smashing weak opponents into submission.