CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 10 Florida State

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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

Schedule: [view]

Roster: [view]

2011 statistics: [view]

The Good
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.

The Bad
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.

The Unknown
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.

Return to CFT’s preseason Top 25

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Florida’s statement on Jim McElwain’s death-threat claim is interesting, to say the least

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Maybe it’s nothing, maybe it’s something.  Regardless, it’s something that bears watching.

Losers of two in a row and off to a 3-3 start to the season,  Florida has underperformed and underwhelmed to say the least.  So much so, in fact, that head coach Jim McElwain indicated Monday that he, his family, his coaching staff and players have been subjected to death threats by unknown individuals.

The head coach went into no detail publicly regarding the nature of the threats.  Apparently, it was the same privately when discussing the situation with his employer.

OK then.

Again, it could be in the same neighborhood as naked shark humping — nothing. Bears watching, though, as one very outspoken member of the Florida media is very much already doing publicly about a situation that was apparently reported to the media before it was reported to the police or even the university.

LOOK: Arizona State to wear Pat Tillman-themed uniforms

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Pat Tillman is essentially the Knute Rockne of Arizona State football, the central figure that will be as important to the program 100 years from now as he is today. And while Notre Dame will wear Rockne-themed uniforms later this season, so, too, will Arizona State.

The program revealed Tillman-centric uniforms on Monday for their Nov. 4 game with Colorado, based on the uniform Tillman wore as a member of the U.S. Army while fighting in Afghanistan.

Tillman played linebacker at Arizona State from 1994-97 (he was named the Pac-10’s Defensive Player of the Year as a senior) and then spent four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals before the events of 9/11 inspired him to join the U.S. Army. He was a member of the Army Rangers before he was killed in action in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004, at age 27.

Arizona State unveiled a Tillman statue at Sun Devil Stadium at its season-opening win over New Mexico State.

“Pat spent his whole life trying to be the best person he could possibly be,” Kevin Tillman, Pat’s brother, said at the unveiling. “He didn’t focus on money, he didn’t focus on fame, he didn’t focus on a pretty statue. It was, ‘How can I make myself a better person in all these different facets of my life?’ And ASU gave him an opportunity to do that.”

Jim McElwain says family, players have received death threats over 3-3 start

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Florida has lost two in a row and is off to a 3-3 start, and that streak will probably reach three on Saturday after the Gators meet No. 3 Georgia. While everyone knows SEC fans are passionate about their football, some have taken Florida’s struggles too far.

How far? By threatening to kill the players and coaches.

“I think it’s a pretty good lesson for the way things are,” head coach Jim McElwain said, via Only Gators. “There’s a lot of hate in this world and a lot of anger. And yet, it’s freedom to show it. The hard part is, obviously, when it’s threats against your own players, death threats to your families, the ill will that’s brought upon out there. And yet, I think it’s really one of those deals that really is a pretty good testament to what’s going on out there nationally. There’s a lot of angry people, and in this business, we’re the ones you take the shots at. And that’s the way it is.”

In my experience, it seems people lodging death threats are far more serious about the threat part than the, uh, other. But that’s easy for me to say, I’ve never received one.

Report: Sam Darnold expected to return to USC in 2018

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Sam Darnold was appointed the No. 1 pick of the 2018 NFL Draft on the second day of 2017. As a redshirt freshman, Darnold torched Penn State to the tune of 33-of-53 passing for 453 yards with five touchdowns and one interception in a 52-49 Rose Bowl win.

One problem, though. Darnold hasn’t played like a No. 1 pick this season.

While he hasn’t been the most disappointing player on what’s turning out to be a disappointing USC team, Darnold has posted pedestrian numbers (for him): hitting 63.5 percent of his passes for an even eight yards per attempt with 17 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. He ranks 38th nationally in passing efficiency. This puts him, coincidentally, one spot ahead of former USC quarterback Max Browne.

On Monday, NFL Draft analyst Benjamin Allbright shared a report that Darnold is expected to return to USC next season.

Considering Ronald Jones could return next season and that Stephen Carr is just a freshman, the prospect of Darnold returning in 2018 has to take the sting out of a lost 2017 for Trojans fans.