When Florida State forced coach Bobby Bowden to retire in 2009, the reaction from college football nation was utterly predictable. Pundits, writers, fans--they all excoriated Florida State for treating so shabbily the man who built the Seminoles program from the ground up.
Maybe these reactions were justified..
But this much is clear: Bowden's time had passed. And Jimbo Fisher's had arrived.
Almost immediately after taking over for Bowden, Fisher re-energized the slumbering giant that is Florida State football. He hit the recruiting trail with renewed vigor. He updated some out-of-touch schemes. And maybe most importantly, he won some football games. In his first season as the 'Noles leader, Fisher went 10-4, capping a successful season with a 26-17 win over South Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Can Fisher and Florida State improve in 2011?
Find out here, in our 2011 Florida State preview.
OVERVIEW: Of all of the things that stood out during Fisher's first season in Tallahassee, none was more promising for 'Noes fans than the improvement over on defense. The latter-day Bowden defenses seemed slow, vulnerable and entirely too timid; but under the direction of new coordinator Mark Stoops, the 'Noles defense of 2011 played with renewed intensity and physicality. They looked, in other words, like the 'Noles of old. Combine the defensive improvement with Fisher’s relentless recruiting efforts and that always-deep well of talent down in the Sunshine State, and one can't but help feel optimistic for the future of this program. The only question is how soon that future will arrive. This 2011 ‘Noles team will be good—potentially, very good. But I’m not sure they’re ready for greatness.
THE CEILING: Ten wins and another divisional title. Fisher's bunch won the ACC Atlantic with a 6-2 record in 2010, edging out Maryland and North Carolina State for the crown. Given the talent back on this squad, and the lack of talent elsewhere in the Atlantic, it's hard to see the 'Noles not winning the title again in 2011. The defense that allowed just 19.6 points per game in 2010 figures to improve even more this season, and though the offense is sure to miss the leadership of quarterback Christian Ponder, new signalcaller E.J. Manuel will be surrounded by enough returning starters (and enough speed and skill) to ease his transition. On paper, this team is clearly the best in the division. They just have to play like it.
REASON FOR CONCERN: Obviously, Ponder has to be considered a big loss; he was a solid leader and talented kid who did a lot of good for the program. But Manuel is no slouch, so Florida State should be fine behind center. A bigger issue might be found at linebacker, where the super-talented Nigel Bradham will have to make up for the loss of 2010 starters Mister Alexander and Kendall Smith. Fisher has been recruiting well ... but does he have anybody good enough to replace those guys? We shall see.
THE SCHEDULE (key games in bold): 9/3 vs. Louisiana-Monroe; 9/10 vs. Charleston Southern; 9/17 vs. Oklahoma; 9/24 at Clemson; 10/8 at Wake Forest; 10/15 at Duke; 10/22 vs. Maryland; 10/26 vs N.C. State; 11/3 at Boston College; 11/12 vs. Miami; 11/19 vs. Virginia; 11/26 at Florida
THE PREDICTION: This program is back on track. It is undeniable that Bowden let Florida State grow stagnant late in his tenure. It is also undeniable that Fisher has brought the energy and excitement back to one of college football's great programs. Given the way he's recruiting, and given the talent on his staff, Fisher will have this team back in the Top 10 soon. Very soon. The 'Noles are probably one year away from another ACC crown, and it’s probably too much to ask them to, for instance, knock off highly regarded Oklahoma in early September. But another satisfying season appears to be in store. Ten wins. Another ACC title game appearance. Another nice bowl bid. Could be worse. REGULAR SEASON PREDICTION: 10-2