The 2010 football season is now officially in the books. Auburn beat Oregon in the championship game giving them an undefeated season and national title bragging rights. For Florida State, the goals weren’t nearly as lofty as they were for the two title contenders. However, after 2009’s misery, Florida State fans were hoping for improvement under first year head coach Jimbo Fisher. A short list of pre-season goals/accomplishments that would signal an end to the lost decade included an 8-4 regular season, an Atlantic Division title, and a vastly improved defense. In this piece, we’ll reflect on the 2010 season, a collection of thoughts about what happened, and what it all means going forward.
Let’s briefly get started where the year ended for FSU. The date is December 31, 2010. College football fans across America are tuned in to watch Florida State take on Steve Spurrier and the South Carolina Gamecocks. Star freshman RB Marcus Lattimore proves his talent early with a beautiful catch and run in the Gamecocks first drive. On 3rd and 4 of the same drive with the Gamecocks threatening to score, Lattimore floats to the right from his running back position, catches a pass, and starts running for the first down. Cornerback Greg Reid, standing on his own 10 yard line in a shallow cover 2, diagnoses the play, runs toward Lattimore, and his legs explode like coiled springs hurling his torso and right shoulder into the oncoming player's chest. Lattimore’s body is immediately sent in the opposite direction as the ball is fiercely separated from the star running back. The SEC’s second leading rusher has fumbled for the first time in his career and has been knocked out of the game. Tone--set. Reid credits new defensive coordinator Mark Stoops and his scheme for putting him in the right spot to make the play. The Florida State defense is playing Stoop’s system with confidence resulting in a very fast, very physical defensive effort. This is what FSU fans have been waiting to see. The defensive players trust the new coaches and what they are being taught. However, there were lessons, sometimes very painful lessons to be learned by FSU’s young defense.
After the jump, a ridiculously long look at the season past (go ahead, kill your morning).
The last ACC game of the year came against Maryland. A hyped up crowd and a talented freshman QB for the Terps would give FSU all they could handle. FSU's defense had returned to the bend-but-don't-break game plan, giving up yards but making points difficult to come by. Again this was a must win conference game to keep hopes of winning the division alive. Christian Ponder was back in action for the 'Noles. The 'Nole offense struggled to move the ball this game and Maryland had a chance to tie the contest late in the 4th quarter. However, driving deep into FSU territory, freshman Terp QB Danny O'Brien would throw a costly interception into the hands of Nick Moody. Moody would return the interception 96 yards to seal the game 30-16.
Six long years of frustration. Six straight years of watching the despised reptiles from the swamp beat the 'Noles. The 2008 and 2009 contests can hardly be considered contests. FSU would lose those two game by a combined score of 82-25. The 2008 game was especially difficult for fans. For this fan, the 2008 game was possibly the worst game witnessed in person...soaked to the bone from hard rain, barely watching by the end of the 2nd quarter. More of a gaze. A thousand yard stare. Watching #15 from the swamp bathed in bloody crimson from sludgy wet endzone paint. He looked like a predator that had just got finished dining on an unrecognizable, wrecked piece of prey. All hope was gone and gone early. The Seminoles would fair no better in 2009 in the Swamp. Urban Meyer would take his foot off the throat of a program in desperate need of change by halftime.
Back to 2010 and FSU has a chance to put a stop to UF's domination. Christian Ponder is healthy enough to play an entire game against UF for the first time. But how would FSU's young defensive line, showing signs of fatigue late in season, handle the UF attack? How would a banged up Christian Ponder do against a stout UF defense? The answers came and came early for the 'Nole faithful. With the unorganized UF offense struggling to create a spark, Urban Meyer called for a fake punt only to have it stopped a yard and half short. On the very next play, Christian Ponder made the team from down south pay with a long TD strike to Rodney Smith giving the 'Noles a 17-7 lead. There would be many more highlights throughout the night. FSU would win the game 31-7 snapping UF's 6 game winning streak and earning the 'Noles their first state title since 1999.
This game against UF will be the game that I remember Christian Ponder for the most. The play mentioned above happened right in front of this Nole fan. Seeing Ponder's reaction, running down the field after the TD to congratulate his receiver and teammates, will be forever cemented in the part of my brain reserved for great Seminole memories. It will stay there, right beside 'Nole greats like Weinke, Ward, Warrick and Dunn. Ponder helped to send out the senior class with a win in front of an electric crowd that couldn't have been more appreciative. The 'Noles had killed the gators for themselves just as much as they had for the fans.
After the emotional win, Florida State players gathered around TVs in the locker room. They watched NC State's luck run out against the Maryland Terps. The Terp upset made the 'Noles the division winner and gave them a chance to play for an ACC crown and BCS game for the first time since 2005. How much would the 'Noles have left in the tank for a very good Virginia Tech team? As it turns out, not very much. Christian Ponder would again miss a game with the elbow injury. And again fatigue hampered the Seminole's defensive effort. EJ Manuel played well in relief, showing off his potential and talent but it wasn't enough to stop the hemorrhaging of a tired 'Nole defense. Tyrod Taylor had a phenomenal night under center and made all the clutch throws and scampers to lead the Hokies to a 44-33 victory in the ACC Championship game.
And we're back to December 31, 2010. Senior linebacker Kendall Smith picks up the fumble caused by Greg Reid and races down field into South Carolina territory helping to set up a field goal for the 'Noles. Unfortunately Lattimore would not be the only casualty of the game. In the first quarter Christian Ponder took some vicious shots himself resulting in him being pulled from the game with a concussion. Again the 'Noles turned to EJ Manuel and again he performed well. He ran the offense effectively while running back Chris Thompson earned offensive MVP honors rushing for 147 yards against an excellent South Carolina front. The rest the Seminoles got between the ACC championship game and the Chick-fil-A bowl was exactly what the Seminole defensive front needed to return to form. On the night the 'Nole defense would recover 5 turnovers, 2 of them caused by bowl defensive MVP Greg Reid. It was a special game for Reid, playing in front of his father for the first time since he was a freshman in high school. A promising new start for a family and a once proud program.
It is safe to say that the preseason goals were met and in some cases surpassed. An 8-4 regular season? Check. Atlantic Division title? Check. An improved defense? Check. The 'Noles notched a 10 win season for the first time since 2003 after going 7-6 in 2009. A 10 win season that has 'Nole fans and the media wondering, is FSU 'back?' I don't think it is for the media to arbitrarily label the Florida State football team 'back.' It isn't for the fans to scream from the rooftops, "WE'RE BACK!!!!" It is up to the players, the coaches, and the program to continue what was started in 2010. To continue a renewed dedication to putting well coached, talented players on the field. If FSU is successful in doing so, then it will certainly serve notice to the college football world that FSU has the leadership, structure, and commitment to win that is indicative of elite college football teams...again.
Thanks for taking a trip through 2010 with me. Feel free to share your favorite memories of the year and what the season meant to you. Thanks Tomahawk Nation for an amazing 2010.