Discussion: FSU's Five Most Important Games of 2011

Let’s have some fun this afternoon. As the 2010 version of this discussion piece was successful in generating some interesting debate, I thought that a re-visitation of the topic of FSU’s five most important football games of the regular season might help to pass the seemingly endless time before the arrival of September 3rd. This year’s entry features some changes, though. With the goal of consistency in mind, as well as that of emphasizing realistic expectations as fans, I will speak of my EXPECTATIONS for this year’s team, referring to FrankD’s entries on the goals/expectations dichotomy.

Part One

Part Two

"14-0 should be our GOAL not only for 2011, but for every football season.

 

OK 'nuff said, but what are our EXPECTATIONS for the 2011 FSU Seminoles?

Everyone of us has a different idea about what will constitute a successful 2011

FSU football season. Many times our expectations are determined by blind homerism, where we perceive where we should be, or where we feel we, as Noles, deserve to be.

 

All too often expectations are confused with goals and this can cause disillusionment with our team at the end of the season when unrealistic expectations are not met."

As such, this will be the lens through which I will examine FSU’s most important games of the season. What are the expectations we have? What will the team need to do to go about meeting them?

We’ll start with expectations. Last year, the Seminoles posted the 7th ranked offense, alongside the 41st ranked defense by Football Outsiders' F/+ rankings.  With the loss of a first round QB and two offensive line starters, along with a wide receiver corps that lacks a standout, I think it’s reasonable to expect a slight step backwards for a unit that has been nothing short of tremendous over the past two years. The revamped 2010 FSU defense saw a massive improvement in terms of F/+ ranking, taking it from one of the worse units in the country at 107th in 2009 to 41st.  Although statistics from 2007-2009 tell us that about half of the teams that experienced a greater than 10% defensive improvement in the prior year will actually regress the following year, there is good reason to think that Florida State’s unit will not find itself in this unfortunate half. With the loss of only three starters, an influx of quality depth, and another year in the strength and conditioning program and the system of coordinator Mark Stoops, all signs point to yet another defensive improvement for the Seminoles in 2011. I personally expect a top 25-unit on the defensive side of the ball, with the potential for an elite group that exceeds my expectation. A top 15 offense and a top 25 defense, along with what should be an outstanding special teams group, could have the 2011 FSU ball club among the nation’s best. 

With my unit expectations in mind, I now proceed to consider the hand the 2011 ‘Noles were dealt in their schedule. Let’s have a look. 

               Date

 Opponent

3-Sep

Louisiana-Monroe

10-Sep

Charleston Southern

17-Sep

Oklahoma

24-Sep

at Clemson

1-Oct

BYE

8-Oct

at Wake Forest

15-Oct

at Duke

22-Oct

Maryland

29-Oct

North Carolina State

 Thursday 3-Nov

at Boston College

12-Nov

Miami

19-Nov

Virginia

26-Nov

at Florida

My current win shares projections are at 8.93 total and 6.00 in conference. However, this 6.00 sits at almost a full game higher than the team I project as having the second highest in-conference win share in the Atlantic Division (Clemson at 5.10). When I consider my projections of NC State at 4.65 and Maryland at 4.45 conference wins, I can say that I expect Florida State to win the Atlantic Division. As I would currently favor FSU in a neutral-site setting over any of the Coastal Division teams, I can make the jump to claiming the ‘Noles as the ACC favorite. This would not be important here (as the conference title game isn’t a regular season game and therefore falls outside of the scope of this piece) except to forge the connection that allows me to state that I expect to find FSU in a BCS game this season. My current projections also favor the Seminoles against the in-state rivals, a fact that I know not to be lost on my compatriot fans. All of this is to be able to list my expectations that are true expectations, as opposed to goals, which would be a 14-0 national title run.

A.) Win the Atlantic Coast Conference

2.) Play in a BCS Game

D.) Beat Miami and Florida

So, what are the five games that will decide whether the ‘Noles will be able to meet these expectations?

5. @ Florida

After ending the nearly unbearable drought against the lizards last season, the ‘Noles will travel to Gainesville to face new coach Will Muschamp in late November. The UF cupboard is by no means bare. This Gator team has comparable talent to that of FSU; the question will be what the new coaching staff – particularly new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis – can get out of the players they have inherited. If Weis can coax a solid season out of much-maligned quarterback John Brantley in a pro-style offense, Florida could be quite a dangerous group by the time the Seminoles roll into town. I rank this game fifth in importance because it has no bearing on expectation A, but could be important in reaching expectation 2 and obviously in and of itself.

4. North Carolina State

In my second-most-important-ranked Atlantic Division matchup, Florida Sate will host the Wolfpack on the last weekend in October. The ‘Noles will be coming off of an important game with Maryland the previous week and will follow this game with a mere four days off before playing a Thursday night game in Chestnut Hill. My current in-conference win share projection for NCSU sits at 4.65, which is good for third in the Atlantic. I am higher on the ‘Pack than most. Tom O’Brien consistently produces solid offensive lines and units that play a methodic style alongside a similarly competent defense. Mike Glennon is a talented prospect with great size and a quality arm. While replacing a stud like Nate Irving will not be easy, NC State should again be a team that sits at the top half of the division. This is a game that I believe FSU really needs placed smack in the middle of a crucial three game Atlantic Division stretch.

3. Oklahoma

I know, I know. Gameday is in town. It’s a night game. It’s potentially the biggest out-of-conference game of the year. But stay with me here – is anybody really crushed by a loss to Oklahoma? Do you truly expect Florida State to win? If you answered yes, you may need to step to the left to our mobile Kool-Aid detox unit.  While a win over the #1 Sooners would make the Seminoles a darkhorse national title contender and would certainly aid in achieving expectation 2, neither a win nor a loss makes or breaks the season, in my mind. Florida State can’t win a National Championship without winning a conference championship. And, as has been discussed in TN threads on several occasions, the ‘Noles aren’t likely to make a BCS game without the ACC title, either. So while a win over the top team in the country in primetime would be great, I can’t call it the most important for Florida State’s 2011 season.

2. Miami

After dismantling Miami in South Florida last season, FSU will look to defend Doak Campbell on November 12th following a long rest period after a Thursday night tilt with Boston College on November 3rd. This will be a pivotal showdown for the ‘Noles for more reasons than the standard ramifications of a rivalry game. In terms of in-conference regular season games, Miami will field arguably the most or second-most talented team that Florida State will face this season. Much like Clemson, the ‘Canes feature a new coaching staff that makes the outcome of their season difficult to predict. If Al Golden can put together a system that plays to UM’s strengths, however, the Seminoles could find themselves in a serious dogfight in mid-November. The Hurricanes have a deep and talented offensive line and a stable of running backs. The key on offense will be the play of formerly inconsistent QB’s Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris. Miami’s defensive line is quite good, but questions at the cornerback position loom large. If UM’s offense can make life easy for its quarterbacks by playing to its strength in the running game and its defense can leverage obvious passing downs with a strong D-line, I could see the ‘Canes as an 8-9 win team. The question is if Golden can make it happen. A Florida State win would have them sitting pretty for a conference title game berth. I give the ‘Noles a 60% chance to win at home with over a week of rest.

1. @ Clemson

And now we come to it. Despite all attempts to rationalize and look at it in a positive light, this game is unfortunately scheduled for FSU’s part. A week after what will be one of the highest levels of hype imaginable for a regular season game (and before an impeccably scheduled bye week), the Seminoles will travel to Death Valley, a place in which they haven’t won in TEN years. Clemson features a very talented football team, although many of its offensive weapons are quite young, and excellent defensive coaching. However, there are some factors working in the ‘Noles favor. For as mad as we are at the ACC’s scheduling committee, Clemson faithful should be madder. Although the Tigers have an excellent chance to handle a depleted Auburn squad the week before, they will then travel to Virginia Tech after playing FSU. That’s an awful early-season stretch, especially when you consider that CU is in the process of installing a brand new offense with Chad Morris. This attack will be a HUNH (hurry up no huddle) spread look that Morris worked to great success at Tulsa. While our friends at Shakin The Southland have repeatedly explained that this offense is actually significantly less complex than the offense that Clemson has run in years past, it’s hard to believe that the Tigers will be a well-oiled machine by week four. Like Miami, Clemson is a wild card with real potential. Simply put, this game is crucial for Florida State. With a win the ‘Noles would pick up a conference game on the Tigers as well as the tiebreaker, meaning CU would have to be a game better than FSU over the eight game conference schedule. I don’t see that happening, even though it is incredibly difficult to predict Clemson’s season. I currently have the Seminoles at 60% to win and end the Death Valley drought (alliterative pun intended), making a trip to Charlotte in December very likely.

Recap:

As I have considered what I believe to be FSU’s most important games for the season, I have noticed several things that give me cause for optimism. The first of which is simply that I see the Seminoles as being favored in four of these five games and eleven of twelve on the year. Second, my first, second, and fifth ranked games in importance see the ‘Noles matched against teams with a new offense and new head coaches, respectively. Third, the Atlantic Division certainly seems to be FSU’s to lose. With a win share projection almost a full game above anyone else, the ‘Noles could conceivably lose to Clemson and still win the division, although with the potential of the Tigers, owning the tiebreaker will be important. Overall, I like Florida State to win the division and to have an excellent chance at playing in a BCS game.

The point of this exercise is to promote discussion. What are your thoughts, TN readers? What are your expectations for this year and which games are key in meeting them?

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