Florida State Football Needs To Take Next Step In 2012

If the 'Noles loaded roster doesn't run into historically bad injury luck, as it did in 2011, Florida State should be in position to have its best season in more than a decade.

Jimbo Fisher said it himself. It's time for Florida State to win big. 2012. Now.

"The opportunities you have in life... don't let 'em slide through your fingers. The people who don't let it slide through their fingers are the people who truly believe that it's their time. I want you to understand something: this is our time. This is our time, right now. ... This train's rollin', boys, and ain't nothin' getting in its way."

If you listen to Fisher talk, as he did on ESPN Monday, you can tell that he actually believed 2011 could have been the year. You hear it in his voice. He knew 2011 could have been a special year for the program, had the 'Noles not suffered more injuries to their offense than any offensive or defensive unit in all of college football.

But those injuries did happen. And so did the losses. Four of them, to go with the four from 2010. The 'Noles are 19-8 under Jimbo Fisher. Of the eight, FSU was supposed to lose in four ('10 OU, '10 VT, '11 OU, '11 Clemson), and was favored to win in the other four ('10 at N.C. State, '10 UNC, '11 at Wake Forest, '11 Virginia).

The teams Florida State has lost to haven't been bad teams, but not all were good. All have made bowl games. In fact, Florida State is 11-8 against teams with bowl eligibility.

Only 12 BCS conference teams have won more games in the last two seasons. The effect Fisher has had on the program has been undeniable. Florida State asked him to bring the program back to national relevance. And he has.

But with the winning and the recruiting, which has elevated Florida State's roster to one of the best in the country, come greater expectations.

Casual Florida State fans, and college football fans in general, don't see that Florida State improved on the field in 2011. They see one less win than 2010. They don't understand that Florida State's bad luck in 2011 masked the improvement on the field, or that the 2010 team caught a lot of breaks. In many ways, Fisher's 2011 Seminoles were a victim of their own 2010 successes.

But 2012 is the year to make them see. Fisher's Seminoles must take the next step.

It's year three for the new staff. While the program thought it could have a special year in 2011, every single insider pointed to 2012 as the much likelier year for great success on the field.

The importance of a big year in 2012 has gone up.

It's not a function of job security. Winning 19 games in two years and returning Florida State to national relevance keeps Fisher off the hot seat list of all but the lunatic fringe.

Rather, it's timing. It's about what Florida State has on this 2012 roster and the schedule that roster will face. It's about what Florida State could lose off the 2012 roster. It's about the 2013 schedule and what some teams on that schedule bring back.

The 2011 Florida State team was arguably the best in Tallahassee in about a decade. This squad projects to be better, considerably better, and if the breaks aren't heavily against Florida State, the record should reflect that.

But a quick look at the depth chart shows that Florida State will lose 14 scholarship seniors off the 2012 two-deep, including 9 starters. That's a lot, and that's not even counting a senior kicker and senior long snapper.

It also doesn't count all of the underclassmen who could leave early. By my unscientific count, as many as four underclassmen have the physical talent and the potential playing time to warrant an early entry to the draft.

In 2013 Florida State will still be very talented, but it won't be an experienced, veteran team.

The 2013 version also won't have the schedule of the 2012 team, which has games against Clemson and Florida at home, only has to leave the state three times, and caught a break when West Virginia backed out of a September game, replacing the Mountaineers with Savannah State.

The bottom line is that Florida State's 2013 is almost certain not to be as good as the 2012 squad, and the schedule will be much tougher with games at Clemson and at Florida, two of the toughest places to play in the country. Plus, Georgia Tech comes on to the schedule as Duke rotates off.

While Florida State loses a ton to graduation off this team, Clemson does not. The Tigers lose only 10 seniors in the two-deep. Of those, 9 are starters. Plus, Clemson has very few players who could consider jumping early to the NFL. The Tigers should return about 70 of its 85 scholarship players for 2013. Clemson experts are already talking about 2013.

Additionally, Florida loses 11 scholarship seniors from its two-deep, including seven starters, plus its kicker. And unlike Clemson, but like FSU, the Gators have four or five juniors who have definite potential to leave early.

Florida State will not be the favorite for the division or the ACC in 2013. Not with the difference in rosters, the trip to Clemson, the addition of Georgia Tech to the slate, and Clemson not having to play Virginia Tech.

But numbers don't necessarily do the returning rosters justice. Yes, Florida State is losing more of its starters and reserves than its two chief rivals (and Miami if you count the Hurricanes at this point), but they're losing more than numbers. The 'Noles are losing many of their best players and leaders. More than Clemson or Florida project to lose, with the caveat that projecting rosters for 2013 is a bit of a fool's errand this early in the game.

With a potential step back in 2013, banking some goodwill in 2012 would really go a long way.

FSU needs double-digit wins in the regular season for the first time since 2003. It needs a conference title for the first time since 2005 and a BCS game for the first time in seven years.

The term "no excuses" gets thrown around a lot, often lazily. I'm hearing it a lot from the FSU fanbase, however, about this year. Fans do not want to hear excuses. There aren't enough fans who understand that 43 missed starts on offense due to injury, the most in the entire country, is crippling. They don't realize that winning nine games with that limitation is not an underachievement of two or three games, but of zero or one.

Fans watch football, travel to Tallahassee, and spend their dollars for entertainment and pride.The vast majority are incapable or unwilling to consider all the factors necessary to do a true analysis of a team, season or program. They just want results. They say "no excuses."

But I encourage them to try this on for size instead:

"If the stuff Florida State cannot control (injuries and fumble luck) go OK, then the 'Noles need to take the next step."

Editor's Note: This is not a prediction. Those will come Thursday afternoon. I chose to publish this Monday night to inspire some discussion and get people thinking about what they'll predict later in the week.

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