The 2012 Florida State Seminoles are already heavily favored to win the ACC Atlantic, the Atlantic Coast Conference, and are considered by some to be contenders for the BCS National Title. To do so, they will have to make it past twelve teams during the regular season. No disrespect to Murray State and Savannah State, but only ten of those teams are worth discussing. And this post will discuss a few particular aspects of the teams Florida State will face: Their returning starters, 2011 Football Outsiders F/+ statistics, and highlights of their most important games up to the point at which they will play Florida State. Links to ACC team previews by Football Outsiders and SBN writer Bill Connelly are also provided.
On September 15th, FSU will play its first FBS and ACC football game, hosting Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons open their season at home against the Liberty Flames but follow with a September 8th ACC match at home against the North Carolina Tar Heels. The 2011 Deacs were 6-7, 47th in Offensive (Off) F/+, and 86th in Defensive (Def) F/+. The offense was clearly the more successful unit but it returns only three starters. The less successful defense returns seven. Will they show improvement? UNC, who returns eight starters from its 33rd Off F/+ unit and five on defense (56th F/+) will be a solid test. Being that both schools are within 100 miles of each other, home field benefit is negligible. A few positive signs to watch for would be that UNC scores a margin greater than ten points, and keeps Wake below 14. Also watch to see if Wake's brand new offensive line gets handled by UNC. If Carolina gives it to them bad at home, its gonna get ugly in Tallahassee against our deep and experienced DL.
Florida State follows that game with its fourth consecutive home game against the Clemson Tigers. Clemson finished 2011 at 10-4 with a Off F/+ of 20th and returns six starters from that unit. Many of us will choose to recall West Virginia in the Orange Bowl when we learn that the Tigers finished 76th in Def F/+, and they have seven starters returning. (How much of that game was considered "garbage time" is beyond me.) The first and only test prior to facing Florida State will be their opening game. On September 1st Clemson and Auburn will meet in the Georgia Dome. Auburn finished 2011 with a 8-5 record and Off/Def F/+ of 57 and 66. 2011 Auburn was a very young team, however, and returns seven on offense and nine on defense. It could be entirely possible for Auburn to catch Clemson in a post-2011 WVU hangover and pin up 35 or more by halftime. We'll have to see if new DC Brent Venables (Oklahoma) has his unit geared up for a real game. According to Dabo, both the OL and DL units should be considered the team's weakness (paraphrasing), so A few positive signs to watch for would be how badly Clemson's DL struggles under its new DC, and the effectiveness of Auburn's DL vs Clemson's OL and how Clemson responds. We also should hope Clemson shows a few weaknesses since we won't get a chance to look for any against Ball State or Furman the following two weeks. If it weren't for the fact that this game is played in week one, fans might expect it to be a high scoring contest. If the game is lopsided in Clemson's favor (I'd say by a two-score margin or higher on a neutral site), we should worry.
Next, Florida State will play its first road game (albeit in Tampa) against the South Florida Bulls on September 29th. The Bulls 2011 record of 5-7 doesn't do the team's defense too much justice, as they finished the season with the 25th best Def F/+ and return eight starters from that unit. The offense, on the other hand, finished 49th Off F/+ and also returns eight starters. I'm not sure if it was youth, bad luck, or some combination of both, but this team played in five games decided by exactly three points in margin, and lost FOUR of them. Three were conference games. You get a sense that, if the defense can maintain and the offense could improve marginally, 2012 South Florida would be a 9-3 team on the 2011 schedule. We'll know more when USF hosts Rutgers on September 13th. Rutgers returns six starters from an average offense (50th Off F/+) but eight starters from a pretty decent defense (30th Def F/+). A few positive signs to watch for would be that this game remains close if USF wins (within a seven point margin), and to watch for a low scoring game. Both teams return a high number of defensive starters from top 30 defenses, so it would be promising if USF struggles to score against veteran skilled units. Also watch the special teams game. USF finished 2011 ranked 86th in special teams F/+ rankings and both the punter and kicker return this year. It could be an aspect we take advantage of.
USF travels to Ball State the week before they host FSU.
Florida State travels to Raleigh for its first true road game against the NC State Wolfpack on October 6th. The Wolfpack return seven starters from 2011 on both offense and defense. The 8-5 2011 squad was not as good as their record indicates, finishing an average 56th in Off F/+ and an uncomfortable 73rd in Def F/+. Special teams was another glaring weakness (92nd F/+). NC State's record during the second half of the season is improved over the first half, but still presents a bit of an enigma. A team that won four games by at least thirteen points (over UVA, Clemson, Maryland, and a road shutout of UNC) also lost to Boston College and couldn't score a single point against Florida State. Its important to remember that NC State may have been the only team in the ACC hit harder than Florida State by the injury bug, so improvement can and should be expected in 2012. The first two weeks of NC State's schedule will tell us if that improvement is coming. The Wolfpack open their season in Atlanta for a neutral site game against the Tennessee Volunteers. The Vols return 18 starters from both sides of the ball (10 off, 8 def) and could be much improved from their 2011 5-7 season where they beat the snot out of Cincy 45-23, yet needed overtime to defeat Vandy at home in their only other BCS win. Tennessee was 60th in Off F/+ and 46th in Def F/+. Following that game, NC State will travel to UConn. The Huskies also finished 2011 at 5-7 and a slightly better than average 37th Def F/+ carried a team with a horrible 83rd Off F/+ rating. This team lost at home to Western Michigan. They return a solid amount of starters (7 offense, 9 defense) and host a scrub in week one to prepare for the game. A few positive signs to watch for would be that NC State plays these games like we know most ACC teams can when they play BCS OOC games: Low scoring, plenty of turnovers and confusion, so on and so forth. If NC State is anywhere near a team Florida State needs to concern itself with, Tennessee and UConn should be easy wins for the Wolfpack. One or two losses here, and NC State could contend for fourth place in the ACC Atlantic.
NC State travels to Miami the week before they host FSU.
The next week, FSU returns home to host the Boston College Eagles on October 13th. The Eagles return more starters than any other ACC team (9 on offense and defense) but do so while returning the 89th F/+ offense and losing 22.2 percent of 2011's recorded tackles from the 48th F/+ defense when Luke Kuechly left for the NFL. BC will really need someone (or a few guys) to step up and pick up Kuechly's production. BC opens 2012 with a home game against Miami and a win here would say a lot about the Eagles (and the Canes). But another test game comes in week three when BC travels to Northwestern. The Wildcats only return five starters on offense and defense, and that does not include QB Dan Persa. The offense was good (28th F/+) but the defense was outright horrible (94th F/+) and if the Eagles can score anywhere, it should be against this unit. (Note: NW defeated BC at home 24-17 to open 2011.) What should we watch for here? Anything. Anything at all. If NC State loses the games I mentioned above, BC should be stiff competition for them. But unless the Eagles blow out Miami, NW, and Clemson in week five, they shouldn't be much of a match for Florida State.
Boston College travels to West Point to play Army the week before they travel to Tallahassee.
Florida State hits the road again on October 20th for its second in-state road game against the Miami Hurricanes. After playing seven games, Miami will have played four ACC teams and two BCS OOC games. Only one of those teams, Boston College, had a losing record in 2011. The expected struggles of the expected struggles of the 2012 Miami Hurricanes are well known here on Tomahawk Nation, so I won't get into much more detail there. Miami finished 2011 with a F/+ ranking of 15th on offense and 87th on defense, and return four starters on offense and five on defense. (I almost said six on D, then remembered Ray-Ray Armstrong got dismissed.) The games I am interested in watching are September 8th at Kansas State and October 10th against Notre Dame in Chicago. The Wildcats won ten games in the Big 12 last year and return nine starters from the 31st F/+ offense and seven from the 50th F/+ defense. Week one is a road game at Boston College, so this will be Miami's first real test. Notre Dame will also be interesting for a few reasons. First, Miami will already have played five games and should have their personnel established by now. Second, we are all familiar with the struggles of 2011 Notre Dame from when we defeated them 18-14 in the Champs Sports Bowl. But Notre Dame was a lot better than their 8-5 record, and finished with the 22nd Off F/+ and 14th Def F/+. Eight offensive and six defensive starters return for this team. This is not a scrub team. It will probably be the most difficult team Miami will play up to Florida State. (No disrespect to Kansas State or Georgia Tech intended.) To make the game more difficult, Notre Dame has a bye week before playing Miami. Lastly, this game is being played sandwiched in between two ACC home games and will tell a lot about the mental focus and maturity of the guys playing for "Da U." Florida State fans should watch for any signs of life against these two teams. Failure to compete with Kansas State and Notre Dame would indicate that Miami simply does not have the personnel to hang with the elite teams of college football.
Miami hosts North Carolina the week before they host Florida State.
On October 27th, Florida State hosts the Duke Blue Devils. No offense to Duke, but I am going to mention that they return eight starters on each side of the ball and play North Carolina the week before they travel to Tallahassee, and that is about it. The following week of November 3rd is Florida State's bye week.
On the evening of Thursday, November 8th, Florida State and the Virginia Tech Hokies will stand alone on the national stage. Continuing the ACC's fine and outstanding tradition (*cough*) of Thursday night football games, these two teams will meet in what many predict will be a rematch in the ACC Championship Game. VT returns nine defenders from 2011's 20th ranked F/+ defense, so there are very few question marks here. What is in question is that QB Logan Thomas returns from the Off F/+ 26th unit, but he brings only two additional starters with him. The VT offensive line is basically brand new. Andrew Miller returns as a JR center, and brings 14 starts. The rest of the projected starters? None. Zero starts. Now keep in mind that VT has nine games and a bye week to help figure things out. But they open against Georgia Tech at home, and GT returns seven from its Def 62nd F/+ team. GT wasn't known for manhandling opponents in 2011 and they might do just that against a very, very green VT OL. The Hokies have two big chances to get exposed when they play at Pitt on September 15th and host Cincinnati on September 29th. Both were Def F/+ top 40 (Pitt was 27th) and return five and six starters, respectively. These defensive units may have to make some adjustments with their own new starters, but not with as many new starters as Virginia Tech. Low scoring games (or losses) here will be huge tells. VT also travels to UNC after playing Cincy.
Now here is where Florida State has a huge advantage. Virginia Tech travels to Coral Gables the week before playing Florida State on a Thursday night. Contrary to prior years, the ACC appears to have (mostly) gotten this concept right, and neither team has a short week with which to prepare. The VT/Miami game is also on a Thursday. However, FSU has the advantage here since the Noles play Duke on 10/27 followed by a Saturday off. So after playing Miami on October 20th, FSU basically has eighteen days to prepare for Virginia Tech. (No offense, Duke.)
On a related note, I took a moment to evaluate the ACC's use of Thursday nights in the overall ACC schedule. Miami also has the week off before they host VT. But Clemson hosts VT on Oct 20th then travels to Wake Forest on a short week. Wake also plays Clemson on a short week after traveling to Virginia. And UNC and UVA play on Thursday, November 15th. Both play on short weeks, with UNC hosting GT before traveling to UVA, who hosts Miami the week prior. The ACC has four Thursday night games scheduled for 2012, and two of them feature both teams getting shafted with short weeks. The other two feature two teams with rest. Hey... At least there is balance.
Florida State plays its last road game on November 17th, when the Seminoles travel to College Park to take on the Maryland Terrapins. Maryland returns seven on offense and eight on defense, but 2011 UMD was a train wreck. This team was ranked Off F/+ 88th, Def F/+ 82nd, and F/+ 102nd on special teams. They haven't won a game since Towson on October 1st. (Maryland finished 2-10. The other win was Miami. Ouch.) The Terps hosted Temple in 2011 and lost 38-7, so a very quick test of the Terps will come when they travel to Temple in week two. Temple returns almost nobody in 2012, with two starters on offense and five on defense coming back. If Maryland struggles here, watch out.
Maryland travels to Clemson the week before hosting Florida State.
The Seminoles conclude their 2012 regular season against the Florida Gators at Doak Campbell Stadium on November 24th. This game will feature a Gators team that returns seven starters on offense (Off F/+ 65th) and TEN on defense (Def F/+ 22nd). The Gators have plenty of opportunities to feature and test their athletes when they play their SEC East schedule (with the addition of Missouri) and two cross-division games against the Texas A&M Aggies and LSU Tigers. The point of note to Florida State fans that is unique to 2012 is this: Florida plays eight consecutive conference games but starts conference play in week two. They open against Bowling Green and conclude SEC play on November 3rd against Missouri. What follows is not just the standard one, but TWO cream puff home games to prep for FSU. The Gators will host the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns on November 10th and the Jacksonville State Gamecocks on November 17th. That means that the Gators will have roughly 21 days to prepare for Florida State! (Florida State will have played Virginia Tech and Maryland in the same time period.) Now there is always the chance that the Gators will have the best record in the SEC East and will have the look-ahead factor to the SEC Championship Game in play, but lets be serious.
This is not just a rivalry game for UF, this is THE rivalry game for UF. The Gators haven't lost three in a row to FSU since 98-2000, with a 7-4 overall record since 2001. Compare that to UGa, where the Gators haven't lost three in a row since 1987-89, they hold an impressive 18-4 record since 1990, and never lost two in a row during that span. Even during the Lost Decade, FSU competed more effectively (UGa is 3-8 vs UF since 2001). Expect Florida's "A Game." What FSU fans will be watching for is any potential struggles that UF may have in conference play, particularly on offense. If the Gators are in no way assured a berth in the SEC title game by the conclusion of the "Worlds Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" against Georgia on October 27th, attendance will continue to flounder at Ben Hill Griffin and the Gators might lose some focus. This doesn't mean that the Gators shouldn't be taken seriously. But we would certainly know by then if UF was able to resolve the offensive issues left behind by the departed Charlie Weis. Unless we have the same turnover luck we enjoyed in 2011's 21-7 match at the swamp, we should probably expect this to be Florida State's most difficult game of the year.