Offensive: The Seminoles are loaded. Senior quarterback Christian Ponder, a three-year starter, had a 68-percent completion mark until suffering a separated shoulder nine games into the season. But now he’s back and he will be protected by five returning starters on the offensive line, including senior guard Rodney Hudson, a prime NFL prospect. Junior running back Jermaine Thomas (832 yards, nine touchdowns) looks to be the backfield favorite, and he could become the program’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Warrick Dunn in 1999. The receivers, including juniors Bert Reed (60 receptions) and Jarmon Fortson (45) are solid.
Defensive: Long-time coordinator Mickey Andrews resigned, and Mark Stoops has taken his place. Once, strong defensive play was a given with the Seminoles, but no longer (108th in total defense last season). Job security is at an all-time low, but Stoops plans to build around sophomore defensive tackle Everett Dawkins, junior linebacker Nigel Bradham and sophomore cornerback Greg Reid.
Specialists: Sophomore place-kicker Dustin Hopkins looks like a keeper. He made 11 of 13 field-goal attempts, including a 52-yarder in the Gator Bowl victory against West Virginia. Junior Shawn Powell is an excellent directional punter. Meanwhile, the Seminoles have a standout return man in Reid, who led the nation in punt returns (18.4-yard average).
Coaching: Jimbo Fisher is replacing a legend, following the 34-year reign of Bobby Bowden, who accounted for unprecedented success in Tallahassee. Fisher was the offensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting for three seasons. It’s his show now, but there are many questions. What kind of head coach will he become? The many theories will finally give way to reality.
Heisman hopefuls: Florida State is aggressively promoting Ponder for the award. Sure enough, Ponder could go down as one of the best quarterbacks in the school’s history, joining the likes of Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke, the Seminoles’ only two Heisman winners.
Overview: With improved defensive play, the Seminoles should win the ACC Atlantic Division and have a shot at a BCS bowl bid. For nearly a decade, the Seminoles have labored under a good-but-not-great backdrop, unfamiliar territory for a fan base accustomed to challenging for national championships. Fisher already has made some recruiting headway in a state where there is vicious competition. Florida State has the potential to return as a powerhouse, but it might require baby steps. Being in the hunt for an ACC title will be the first step.
Next up: No. 18 USC
CFT: The Detroit Lions are expected to own and operate their own bowl game at Ford Field, starting play in 2014, according to a report by ESPN.
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