College Football Countdown: No. 7 Florida State

The Orlando Sentinel ranked all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 120 to our projected No. 1 team. We will not be including the four teams the NCAA lists as still reclassifying to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.

Today at No. 7: Florida State

Coach: Jimbo Fisher (19-8, entering third season at FSU)

2011 record: 9-4 (5-3 in Atlantic Coast Conference, fourth in ACC)

Look back: Much of the same chatter the Seminoles have heard this summer followed them all of the last. Like now, expectations then were high. But five games into the 2011 regular season, FSU freefalled to a three-game losing streak that completely hushed those offseason hopes. By the end of the year, a 9-4 record was enough to make some Seminoles fans consider the year a failure. That was supposed to be the year the Seminoles finally captured their first ACC Championship since 2005. It didn’t happen. Injuries to the offensive line, a pivotal, early-season injury to starting quarterback EJ Manuel, and a late-season offensive swoon were among the contributing factors to the losses. By contrast, FSU’s defense played a starring role in each of the wins. Finishing the season among the best in the country, FSU ranked No. 4 in total defense.

Offensive starters lost/returning: 3/8

Defensive starters lost/returning: 3/8

Key losses: WR Bert Reed, OT Zebrie Sanders, OT Andrew Datko, LB Nigel Bradham, S Terrence Parks, CB Mike Harris, CB/PR Greg Reid

Top returnees: QB EJ Manuel, RB Devonta Freeman, CB Chris Thompson, FB Lonnie Pryor, WR Rashad Greene, WR Rodney Smith, WR Willie Haulstead, TE Nick O’Leary, DT Everett Dawkins, DT Timmy Jernigan, DE Brandon Jenkins, DE Bjoern Werner, LB Christian Jones, S Lamarcus Joyner, CB Xavier Rhodes

Strengths: FSU’s defense is expected to pick up this fall right where it left off last season. The unit will be down four starters following the departures of Nigel Bradham, Terrence Parks, Mike Harris and Greg Reid. Bradham, Parks and Harris concluded their eligibility following the bowl game and entered the NFL Draft process. Reid was dismissed last week for a violation of team rules, stemming from a host of off-field issues that included an arrest in July.

Despite the losses, the Seminoles still should have one of the nation’s top defenses. They didn’t lose a player on the defensive line, where ends Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner return. The pair has been considered by some college football experts to be one of the best tandems in the sport. The addition of former safety Nick Moody to the linebacker corps should add size and coverage ability to the unit. In the secondary, the Seminoles have several defensive backs auditioning this preseason to replace Reid and Parks and Harris. Bottom line, the depth is their for FSU’s defense to still be special.

Weaknesses: If there is one area that appears weak this preseason, it is FSU’s offensive line. The Seminoles lost three of their best linemen in Zebrie Sanders, Andrew Datko and David Spurlock off last year’s team. Only Sanders really played during the year, after injuries shelved Datko and Spurlock much of 2011.

While currently an apparent weakness, the offensive line may soon become a strength for the Seminoles. Each of the four true freshmen who started on the line during the Champs Sports Bowl are expected to compete for starting time this season. Guards Tre Jackson and Josue Matias are expected to start with center Austin Barron. Tackle Bobby Hart may be the only member of the quartet who will be in a position battle, as he tries to take over the first-string right tackle spot from junior Bryan Stork. With third-year left tackle Cameron Erving impressing coaches in the spring after his switch from the defensive line, the Seminoles have one more reason to believe their biggest weakness can become a strength in time.

Outlook: FSU is favored once again to win the ACC and to appear in a BCS bowl. The Seminoles have been favored to have such accomplishments each of the last eight years, too. But this time, most fans and college football reporters believe they are for real. Certainly from a personnel standpoint, they appear to be. Not only have the Seminoles begun establishing true depth at several key positions, but they also have been once again landing some of nation’s best recruiting classes. Now that some of those former five-star and highly-touted four-star recruits are beginning to play, the Seminoles are optimistic their fortunes are beginning to turn, too. With a more favorable schedule than the one they had last year, a run to a championship and a top-10 end-of-year finish should be expected … for real this time.

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 Murray State

Sept. 8 Savannah State

Sept. 15 Wake Forest

Sept. 22 Clemson

Sept. 29 at South Florida

Oct. 6 at North Carolina State

Oct. 13 Boston College

Oct. 20 at Miami

Oct. 27 Duke

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