2011 record: 9-4 overall, 5-3 in ACC (2nd-tie in Atlantic)
2011 postseason: Champs Sports Bowl (18-14 win over Notre Dame)
2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 23/No. 23
Head coach: Jimbo Fisher (19-8 in two seasons at Florida State)
Offensive coordinator: James Coley (fifth season at FSU, third as OC)
2011 offensive rankings: 104th rushing offense (112.1 ypg); 33rd passing offense (257 ypg); 77th total offense (369.1 ypg); 39th scoring offense (30.6 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: six
Defensive coordinator: Mark Stoops (third season at FSU, third as DC)
2011 defensive rankings: 2nd rushing defense (82.7 ypg); 20th passing defense (192.3 ypg); 4th scoring defense (15.1 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: eight
Location: Tallahassee, Fla.
Stadium: Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium (82,300; grass)
Last league title: 2005
2011 statistics: [view]
That defense the Seminoles possessed in 2011 was really good; with eight starters returning this season, and with the talent available to plug-in for the lost starters, it could be even better in 2012. The loss of three-time tackles leader Nigel Bradham would be a significant blow for most teams, but it’s merely a blip for FSU; that’s how loaded this unit, at least on paper, will be. Another good comes from the other side of the ball, with starting quarterback E.J. Manuel and most of Manuel’s top receiving targets returning. Consistency hasn’t been a Manuel trademark, although he showed signs in the spring that he’s growing more comfortable in the Seminoles’ scheme.
Chicken or the egg: were FSU’s struggles in the running game the result of a below-average line, or was the line made to look worse than what it actually was due to the backfield components? The number of sacks given up by the line in 2011 would lead one to lean toward the former. If the Seminoles have any hope of living up to yet another preseason of high expectations, head coach Jimbo Fisher and his staff must somehow, some way find a way to shore up the line. A stifling defense can only do so much in today’s era of offensive fireworks.
Special teams were already a question mark, an unanswerable made even more pronounced by the dismissal of premier punt returner Greg Reid. Reid was also a starting corner, meaning his departure leaves a hole in two units, although with the talent in the secondary the Seminoles’ possess, his loss will be felt more on special teams than on defense.
Make-or-break game: vs. Clemson, Sept 22
“If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best,” the old chestnut goes. In FSU’s and the ACC’s case, the best in 2011 was Clemson. And, as both are in the Atlantic Division, the Seminoles will be forced to leapfrog the Tigers if it entertains any shot at claiming its first ACC title since 2005.
Heisman hopeful: quarterback E.J. Manuel
With just over 2,800 yards of total offense and a combined 22 touchdowns in his first year as FSU’s season-opening starter, Manuel is considered by some analysts to be on the verge of greatness at this level. Inconsistency, however, was an issue last season. With another offseason under his belt, however, Manuel and his coaches are confident the senior is ready to take his game to the next level, a jump that would most certainly place him squarely in the Heisman discussion.