CFT preseason No. 2: Florida State

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2010 record: 10-4, 6-2 (1st ACC Atlantic)

2010 bowl: 26-17 win over South Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Bowl

2010 final AP/coaches’ ranking: 17th/16th

Coach: Jimbo Fisher, second year; 10-4 overall, 6-2 conference

Offensive coordinator: James Coley, second year

2010 offensive rankings: 33rd, scoring offense (31.4 ppg); 60th, total offense (381.3 ypg); 39th, rushing offense (171.4 ypg); 68th, passing offense (209.9 ypg)

Defensive coordinator: Mark Stoops, second year

2010 defensive rankings: 20th, scoring defense (19.6 ppg); 42nd, total defense (353.7 ypg); 29th, rushing defense (128.7 ypg); 71st, passing defense (225 ypg)

Returning offensive starters: 8

Returning defensive starters: 8

Location: Tallahassee, Fla.

Stadium: Doak S. Campbell Stadium (grass; 82,300)

Last league title: 2005

2011 schedule: [view]

2011 roster: [view]

2010 statistics: [view]

Snapshot: Surprise!!! The Seminoles didn’t even sniff the Top 10 in the two major polls at the end of last year. They lost their starting quarterback and two long-time starters along the offensive line. They will face a stiff non-conference test in the third week of the season against a team (Oklahoma) that will likely be ranked ahead of them to start the year.

Yet, here they sit at No. 2.

Of course, the question is, why? First and foremost, it should be acknowledged that the loss of Christian Ponder could potentially be a significant blow to FSU’s chances of getting back onto the national stage — were it not for the presence of EJ Manuel. The redshirt junior brings a different dynamic to the table than did Ponder, namely the ability to make yards with his legs if a play breaks down. And it’s not like he’s a totally raw unknown, either; he’s started six games the past two seasons in place of an injured Ponder, winning four of those contests. While there’s no guarantee a seemless transition from Ponder to Manuel will take place, the new starter has shown enough flashes during his limited appearances to give the ‘Noles confidence that the offense will be in more-than-capable hands. Also, it’s not as if the transition will be made with a bare offensive cupboard. FSU returns four of their top five receivers from a year ago — the lone exception being Tawain Easterling, who left the program earlier this offseason for a career in pro baseball — as well as their top three rushers from the running back position. The defense was above average during the 2010 season, and, with eight starters returning from that unit as well, nothing but improvement is expected from that group.

Add it all up, and taking into account the “softish” nature of the ACC as a whole, the talent is there for the Seminoles to make a return to prominence sooner rather than later. There will be one game, though, that will determine whether their return is of the ACC variety once again or, for the first time in a decade, a national one.

Make-or-break game: Sept. 17 vs. Oklahoma

If the Seminoles are to be the national contenders I, as well as a few others, expect them to be, this is a must-win game for them. And, making it all the more intriguing, it’s the same for the Sooners as well. The advantage for the ‘Noles, obviously, is that they will be playing the game at Doak Campbell Stadium. The advantage for the Sooners may be they will be coming off a bye week, although the Seminoles might as well be coming off a bye as well as they will face Div. 1-AA (FCS) Charleston Southern the week before this showdown. And then there’s the been-there, done-that angle; the Sooners overwhelmed the ‘Noles 47-17 in Norman last season. Regardless of what went down last season, the winner of this year’s game will likely set themselves up for a season-long run that could end with a January date in New Orleans.

Heisman hopeful: Manuel

This might be a significant stretch given it’s his first year as a full-time starter at this level, but if Manuel can play to the level his coaches think he can … if his team can win — especially in high-profile games — the way some think they can … if those two things come to fruition, and experience be damned, Manuel will be in the discussion throughout 2011. In 12 games in which he’s played and thrown a pass, Manuel has amassed nearly 1,700 yards and six touchdowns. One area of concern is turnovers; Manuel has thrown 10 interceptions in just 199 attempts.

Postseason projection: BcS championship game

Return to CFT’s preseason Top 25

ACC preview, vote

Cincinnati, Western Michigan ink home-and-home series

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Cincinnati and Western Michigan have agreed to a 2-game home-and-home series, it was announced Monday.

The Bearcats will host WMU on Sept. 12, 2020, and Western Michigan will host Cincinnati on Sept. 10, 2022.

The programs have met three times prior. Cincinnati and Western Michigan also played a home-and-home in 1949-50; the Bearcats won both games by scores of 27-6. Cincinnati also won their meeting in the 2007 International Bowl in Toronto,  a 27-24 triumph.

Cincinnati already has road games lined up with Miami (Ohio) and Nebraska in 2020, with a Sept. 5 opener still to fill. Considering the Bearcats already have two MAC opponents and a Big Ten trip lined up, that game will almost certainly be a home game and likely against an FCS opponent. In 2022, Cincinnati will host Indiana and play Miami (Ohio) at the Bengals’ Paul Brown Stadium, with their Sept. 3 opener still unfilled.

Western Michigan also has a road trip to Notre Dame on the schedule for Sept. 19, 2020, and does not have any other games slated for 2022.

USC AD Lynn Swann explains wins still trump strength of schedule

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For a long time, college football programs on the west coast have battled to overcome an east coast bias. USC athletics director Lynn Swann says that is still a hurdle USC faces to this day, which is why the Trojans go about trying to build as competitive football schedule as they can.

“Because of time zones, people on the East Coast aren’t really seeing us,” Swann said in a Q&A with The Orange County Register. “We have to play a tougher schedule. If the voters are going to look at four teams to be in the top four, the Pac-12 playing the Pac-12 won’t get it by itself.”

That comment alone could be received as a veiled (or not-so-veiled) shot at the rest of the Pac-12, but it is a fair comment to say, especially after the postseason the Pac-12 as a whole just had this past bowl season (it was… not very good). Swann’s comment though backs up the overall philosophy power conferences and programs within them have taken to heart since the introduction of the College Football Playoff, where strength of schedule is held in high regard and placed on a pedestal above most other factors to determine a playoff contender and separate them from playoff pretenders.

“We have to schedule teams and we have to have that very competitive schedule to be able to get that look,” Swann said. “And we’ve got to win those games. So it’s important to have Texas on the schedule. It’s important that Notre Dame is playing well and we play them and we beat them along the way.”

Scheduling attractive games is great, and it allows for a slightly wider margin for error, but recent history has shown that the strength of schedule does not act alone in getting a team into the playoff as much as actually winning games. The last two seasons have seen one-loss teams without a division championship invited to the College Football Playoff (Ohio State in 2016, Alabama last year). Last year, USC lost two games but won the Pac-12 championship but was largely left out of the conversation that involved Alabama and Ohio State.

“The committee who’s going to vote on this is going to look at strength of schedule. They’re going to look at how you win games,” Swann explained. “They’re going to look at a lot of factors. They’re going to look at the competition inside your conference, outside your conference, all those kind of things. It won’t ever be just one thing.”

USC has yet to play in a College Football Playoff and the 2018 season could be an uphill climb to get there with so many key losses from last season. Regardless, the Trojans continue to be improving with depth and scoring big wins to return to work their way back to the big championship stage.

Florida is opening spring practices to fans

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What’s one easy way to get fans on board with a new head coach? Invite them to practice.

Florida head coach Dan Mullen wants the doors to be open to fans to come watch the Gators practice during the first two spring practices the Gators will conduct next month. Seats will be limited at the practice field, of course, but Mullen seems optimistic this will help get the energy going for the program from the jump this spring, and that could potentially lead to a good crowd at Florida’s spring game to wrap up the spring practice schedule.

Florida is scheduled to begin their spring football practices on March 16. That practice and the next day will be open to fans to attend practice, which likely will lead to some personal interactions with coaches and players for any fans who take Mullen up on his offer. Florida’s spring game is scheduled for April 14.

Florida fans may be getting a chance to see a hard-working bunch of Gators. Early indications are Florida players are already claiming to be working harder than they have in years in the offseason workout routine.

But it won’t be just the fans that will be given some exclusive first-hand looks at the Gators this spring. Mullen will also look to extend an open invitation to Florida faculty and staff to some spring practices. Those dates are yet to be determined.

Helmet sticker to SEC Country.

Clemson commit wins free Chick-fil-A for a year

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Who doesn’t love a good meal from Chick-fil-A? Hopefully Clemson commit BT Potter does because he just won free Chick-fil-A for an entire year.

Potter was voted the Chandler Catanzaro Kicker of the Year, and to the victor go the waffle fries. In addition to a $1,000 scholarship, Potter will have a one-year supply of Chick-fil-A meals on the house. That could add up to a lot of chicken sandwiches for the second-ranked kicker in the Class of 2018, according to Rivals.

This wasn’t a contest won by asking for retweets on Twitter, but Potter did have Clemson fans come to his support by stuffing an online ballot box. Maybe Potter can use his Chick-fil-A year-long supply to hand out some milkshakes.

The best part about all this? There doesn’t seem to be any way for the NCAA to come in and ruin the fun, as there are no NCAA violations in play here. Score one for the good guys.

Potter, a native of South Carolina, committed to the Tigers back in June 2017.