We are finally here. Tomorrow, we'll catch game one of the Jimbo Fisher Era as head coach. As Matt Hinton says, "There's no need to recount Bowden's rise and fall as the legendary, back-slapping overseer of one of the most dominant runs of his or any era. But as much as he was the common link between the golden years and the slowly fading 'Noles of the last decade, by the end he had become an ossified, out-of-touch, nepotistic liability, a doddering figurehead overseeing a geriatric coaching staff." No, this is about the new Florida State Seminoles.
You've enjoyed our position previews:
Now it is time for the predictions!
Whether FSU fans want to admit it or not, the 'Noles are in rebuilding mode. FSU doesn't even have a winning record in the ACC over the last 4 seasons (16-16). FSU has lost 20 games in the last 4 years. And they had the 7th worst major-conference defense. There is much rebuilding to be done.
But rebuilding at Florida State is different from rebuilding at other schools. People expect results and fast. Fisher, however, is focused on something else. He's focused on the process that leads to results. It started with hiring young, hungry coaches. FSU's lackadaisical strength program has been scrapped in favor of a new, intense program like those seen at Alabama and Nebraska. The mental conditioning program has been brought in to help players deal with both successes and failures. A new, modern defensive scheme should help turn around FSU's awful defense from a year ago. Fisher doesn't want to have good quarters or halves, he wants great plays on every play. The attention to detail in this program is night and day compared to the lost decade. The important thing to remember is that these changes have only been in place for a few months. The elite teams around the country have starters stepping in for the first time, but those starters have been in the developmental programs for considerably more than FSU's have.
One of the reasons FSU fans have hope of avoiding another 6-6 season is that they've already seen Fisher turn the offense from one of the worst in major conference football to one of the best. We expect FSU to again have one of the best ten offenses in the country, and with great health it could contend for the top unit in the country. Christian Ponder is a legitimate Heisman talent, though his team's record likely won't let him have a legitimate shot at being a candidate. FSU looks great at the quarterback position. The offensive line should take a step forward and play like the best in the conference and one of the best in the country. Rodney Hudson should continue to dominate there. There are undoubtedly questions at receiver, but FSU has a quality group of four receivers. It's likely this group will be more explosive than last year. If the 'Noles can get consistent play out of its tight ends, this offense will go into another stratosphere. Florida State also has a nice crop of backs with different talents who should help to make the ground game even more of a weapon under the tutelage of new coach Eddie Gran. Schematically, we think FSU will use more motion. That could be a product of new offensive coordinator James Coley's influence. Though Fisher will continue to call the plays, Coley will be more involved in the game preparation.
It's the new defense that FSU fans are most anxious to see. Last year's defense was simply awful. The 88th best in the country. Of the 66 major conference teams, FSU was only better than NC State, Louisville, Indiana, Duke, Stanford, Kansas State, Iowa State, and of course, Washington State. The last ACC defenses to be this bad in league play were some of the mid-decade Duke teams. If you want more comparisons and perspective, check out Closing The Book On The 2009 FSU Defense. This season the group should be a lot better. We've done a lot of research (some of which we haven't had the time to write about) to figure out just how much a defense can improve in a single season. The answer is that it can improve a lot. It won't go from awful to elite, but it can improve significantly. We'll get into why in a second, but we feel confident in this chart
|BCS Conference Teams FSU's Defense Was Better Than|
|NC State||NC State|
|Kansas State||Kansas State|
|Iowa State||Iowa State|
|Washington State||Washington State|
There were only 8 BCS conference teams that were worse than Florida State on defense last season. This year, we would be shocked if FSU isn't at least better than 24 major conference teams (we listed the ones who should be the worst 24). But can FSU be better than that? Yes. Though it would be a huge increase to go from 58th of 66th to 42nd of 66, it can be done. Let's work backwards here. FSU is not going to have a better defense than the elite BCS conference defenses like (ACC teams in bold) Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Iowa, Miami, Nebraska, North Carolina (if they don't lose all their players for the season), Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, and Texas. We also don't feel FSU will be in the next tier of BCS conference defenses consisting of LSU, Auburn, Boston College, Georgia, Mississippi, Oregon, Pittsburgh, South Carolina, Texas Tech, USC, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. So better than 43nd of 66, but worse than 25th of 66. That group of 25-43 consists of Arizona, Arizona State, Arkansas, Cal, Georgia Tech, Michigan, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Missouri, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, Purdue, South Florida, Tennessee, UCLA, and Virginia.
If FSU is in that 26th-42nd range among BCS conference teams what does that mean?
- The Range: It means that FSU will definitely have one of the best 50 defenses in the country. We'd be shocked if FSU doesn't have one of the 50 best. Note that we said best, meaning quality. That doesn't mean top 50 in total yards. We use advanced statistical efficiency measures to gauge performance because this blow is smart enough to understand their value and wise enough to not be misled by the flaws in raw counting stats. FSU's defense could be as good as 25th in the country. We do not expect that, but it is conceivable that if everything breaks right for the 'Noles defense, including perfect health, it could happen.
- In conference, It means FSU will have the 6th, 7th, or 8th best defense in the ACC. We see it ranking behind Boston College, Clemson, Miami, North Carolina, and Virginia Tech, but ahead of NC State, Wake Forest, Maryland and Duke. FSU will battle Virginia and Georgia Tech for those 6-8 spots.
- Our official Tomahawk Nation prediction for the defense is that it will be in the 26th-42nd range, and specifically the 37th best defense in the country, as measured by FootballOutsiders' F/+ Defensive Efficiency Measure. That would be a tremendous jump, from 88th to 37th, but we think that jump can be made.
Come inside for more!
There are several reasons why we think FSU can be one of the best 40 defenses in the country.
First, is the tremendous strength and size gains made by the defensive line. With only one upperclassman on the two-deep, this group won't be excellent, very good, or even good. But these young pups can be above average, an improvement on last season. Better coaching for the defensive ends (they had none last year) and actual communication between the tackles and ends should help. Just playing fundamental football and having a plan on each snap will make a big difference. Expecting great or even very good things from this group this season is silly. These guys are in their first year of competent coaching at end and are not physically mature like they will be in 2011 and 2012. But it's not silly to think the defensive line will play much better than last year's abomination. And it's not silly to see this group lay the foundation for a dominant unit in 2011. It's not silly to think they will be more disciplined and play with better technique. With the lack of quality depth here, health will be key. Losing Moses McCray for the year already hurt. Another injury like that could mean the difference between another 6-6 record and potentially going 9-3. FSU must avoid injury if it is to have above average play here.
We expect improvement from the linebackers this year. The difference in coaching will be night and day. Having a better defensive line in front of them will make a big difference. This isn't one of the best groups in the ACC (BC and Carolina have the two best by far), but the starters aren't awful. Actually having assignments will make a big difference. Staying healthy here is key as the dropoff from the starters to the 6th, 7th, or 8th guy is quite large.
And the secondary. The ACC is absolutely loaded at defensive back, but FSU's corners stack up well against the league. We would only take the corners from Miami, North Carolina (provided they aren't kicked off the team), Virginia, and perhaps Clemson over this group. FSU could have the top corner group in the league next season, however, as these young talents have a second year in the scheme and continue to progress. Safety is a different story. We are really hoping that FSU's safeties can be average this season. It is our guess that FSU will trade some play-making chances for safety, keeping the deep guy deeper in order to avoid the big play. We are not particularly confident in this group and would trade them for every other ACC safety tandem with the exception of NC State, Wake, Duke, Virginia, and Georgia Tech. This group is very much wait and see. Patience will be required as FSU changes over to its new scheme.
Expect excellence. Shawn Powell has improved his punting a phenomenal amount per all reports. FSU has perhaps the most dangerous return combo in the country in Greg Reid and LaMarcus Joyner. And kicker Dustin Hopkins showed at the end of last season why he was the #1 kicker recruit in the country. This is one of the better special teams units in the country and the attention to detail from coach Gran should make a big difference.
A team with a top-10 offense, a top-40 defense, and good special teams. That sounds like a pretty good team. We do think FSU will be a good team, the best since 2005 in fact. But this is also a murderous schedule, featuring Florida, @ Oklahoma, @ Miami, Clemson, Boston College, BYU, North Carolina, and the always dangerous Thursday night trip to NC State. In short, FSU's final ranking in the polls will be worse than how it has played, because lazy voters pay attention to record and not resume.
We think FSU will be one of the best 20 teams in the country, but will the 'Noles have the record to finish in the top 25? Probably. The goal is to play better football and not to achieve a specific win-loss record. But we do think this team can accomplish some benchmarks.
Forget Oklahoma. Forget Florida. This season is all about trying to win the Atlantic Division for the first time in 5 years. FSU can take the Atlantic Division, but it will have stiff competition from reigning-champion Clemson, and the Boston College Eagles, who get to feast on both Coastal Division patsies, UVA and Duke. It doesn't matter if FSU goes out to Oklahoma and gets drilled, like the odds currently predict. It doesn't matter if FSU has an off game against BYU. The first five games are all about getting ready for the showdown with a loaded Miami team. Here's how we see FSU's chances of winning in each game (average of all our predictions):
31.3% @ Oklahoma
86.8% Wake Forest
83.3% @ Virginia
45.0% @ Miami
63.0% Boston College
71.5% @ NC State
84.0% @ Maryland
That's 8.1 wins overall and 5.62 in conference. What does that mean for a season prediction? An 8-4 overall record, 6-2 in conference, and a real shot at a division championship.
The way we see it, FSU starts 4-1 and hopefully works out some kinks. Then we see the Noles finishing 4-3, likely losing to Miami, UF, and one of the teams not named Maryland. That should have the 'Noles in the hunt for the division title. FSU can only control how it plays on the field. If FSU is 6-2 in conference and beats Boston College, but the Eagles are 7-1 in conference by virtue of being a senior-laden team beating up on a weak schedule, FSU can't really get down on itself. Here's how we would feel based on certain potential outcomes and factors including health and fumble luck (fumble recoveries are random and not a skill, yet they have a huge impact on a season):
- If this team has great health and great fumble luck, it needs to go 9-3 or better
- If this team has great health and average fumble luck or average health and great fumble luck, it needs to go 8-4 or better
- If this team has average health and average fumble luck it needs to go 8-4 or better.
- If this team has great health but awful fumble luck or awful health but great fumble luck, it needs to go 7-5 or better.
- If this team has average health and awful luck or awful health and average fumble luck, it needs to go 6-6 or better and at least go to a bowl. Against this schedule and with its depth, FSU really cannot afford either of those.
- The only way it would be understandable for this team not to improve on last year's 6-6 record (meaning FSU goes 5-7 and misses a bowl) is if it is decimated by injuries at key spots and has really bad bounce luck. You don't want to think about that possibility, but it is of course possible.
- There's also a very good chance that FSU will lose to UF and Miami but still show a lot of improvement. Those teams' starting talent is better than FSU's and it is considerably more developed. The possibility of beating them isn't foreclosed, but judging this team based on those two games, and not on the overall play of the team throughout the season, would be a mistake.
Anything between 7-5 and 9-3 is really pretty predictable. But we think an 8-4 record (6-2 in conference) and a trip to Charlotte for the ACC Championship is the most likely scenario. The real key to the season isn't measured in wins and losses or a division championship, it's in playing better football and showing improvement on a down-to-down basis. That's much more important than wins and losses.
The future for this program is really bright. In a way, I wish I could fast-forward to 2011 when we can really see the fruits of this new staff's labor. But part of enjoying the successes is having been there for the growing pains. This is Christian Ponder's final year. Coach Fisher's first year. For most FSU fans, this will be the first time in their adult lives that FSU has a new coach. Let's enjoy the process. FSU will blow a few teams out this year and will itself get blown out in at least one game. It will win a close game and it will lose a close game. It's all part of the growing process. FSU simply needs to survive 2010. Just survive.
We hope you will join us here every Saturday for our exciting live-threads for gameday and the great community. It's been a tremendous off-season and here's to an even better season.