Florida State looks to return to national prominence in 2012.
The media and others may have jumped the gun by anointing Florida State as the class of the ACC’s Atlantic Division in 2011, but the rest of the division will be hard-pressed to keep the Seminoles out of the conference title game again this fall. FSU brings back nine starters from a defense that ranked among the top five in the country in several categories.
The ACC was the first BCS conference to expand to 14 teams.
Some might say it’s a darn good thing Pittsburgh and Syracuse cast their lots with the ACC last September, because if the conference had seen how the 2011 football season turned out for the schools, it might have had secon
EJ Manuel looks to lead FSU to an ACC title this season.
The Florida State Seminoles check in at No. 9 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.
Is Florida State ready to contend for a National Title?
Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 9 Florida State. The Seminoles were expected to challenge for the ACC title last season, but came up short. Florida State is loaded on defense, but the offense has question marks.
Is Florida State Back as an Annual National Title Contender?
With Nigel Bradham departing, the Seminoles are searching for a new leader to emerge in the linebacking corps. Defensive coordinator Mark Stoops won’t have to look far, as Jones is ready for a breakout year after recording 56 tackles, three sacks and forced two fumbles last season. At 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, Jones has the size and speed to be an All-ACC linebacker in 2012.
It’s not too often a kicker makes a team’s top-10 player list, but Hopkins is one of the best in college football. He has been a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award in each of the last two seasons and was a first-team All-ACC selection in 2011. Hopkins has connected on 63 of 82 career field goal attempts, including a 55-yard bomb in 2010.
The Seminoles are stocked with talent, experience and depth on the interior, but Jernigan – just a sophomore – should be the top defensive tackle for Florida State in 2012. As a true freshman last year, he recorded 30 tackles, 2.5 sacks and six tackles for a loss. At 6-foot-3, 301 pounds, Jernigan has the strength to hold his own against the run, but also possesses the speed to be a factor when attacking opposing quarterbacks. After a standout freshman season, Jernigan can only get better in 2012.
An ankle injury in early October derailed Greene from capitalizing off a promising start. Despite being a true freshman last year, Greene became the go-to receiver for quarterbacks EJ Manuel and Clint Trickett, catching 26 passes through the first five games of the season. After missing four contests, he finished the year by recording just 12 grabs over the last four games. Greene should be at full strength this year and will play a key role in the improvement of Florida State’s offense.
After playing cornerback as a freshman in 2010, Joyner was shifted to safety for 2011. The move was largely due to Florida State’s depth at cornerback, but was an instant success. Joyner recorded 54 stops and one sack, while picking off four passes. He earned second-team All-ACC honors last season and should be one of the best at his position in the conference in 2012. With Joyner back at safety, and Xavier Rhodes and Greg Reid returning at cornerback, the Seminoles should have one of college football’s top defensive backfields.
Reid forms one half of one of college football’s top cornerback duos. He has been a major contributor to the defense in each of his three years on campus, picking off seven passes and recording 120 tackles. Reid also ranks among college football’s most dangerous returners, averaging 12.6 yards per punt return and taking three back for a score. Although Reid doesn’t have elite size, he is a defensive playmaker and should be an All-ACC performer this season.
Werner came to Florida State via Germany and has quickly become a defensive force for the Seminoles. As a freshman in 2010, he recorded 20 tackles and 3.5 sacks. Last season, Werner benefited some from opposing teams aiming to stop fellow end Brandon Jenkins and finished the year with 37 tackles, seven sacks and 11 tackles for a loss. The junior will team with Jenkins to form a dangerous pass-rush combination and should be in the mix for first-team All-ACC honors.
Manuel ranked as the No. 3 quarterback in the 2008 signing class, but Florida State is still waiting on him to fully realize his potential. He played well in limited work in 2009 and 2010, which included a start in the Gator Bowl win over West Virginia and playing a majority of the snaps in the Chick-fil-A Bowl victory against South Carolina. Manuel was limited by a shoulder injury last season, but finished with 2,666 yards and 18 touchdowns. Although he carries some of the blame for Florida State’s struggles on offense last year, he didn’t have much help from the offensive line and rushing attack. The Seminoles return a deep group of receivers, and as long as Manuel stays healthy, Florida State will be in the mix to win the ACC title.
After starting all 14 games as a redshirt freshman in 2010 and earning ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, big things were expected from Rhodes last year. Although he wasn’t bad, Rhodes did not match preseason expectations and decided to turn down the NFL Draft for another season in Tallahassee. At 6-foot-2, the junior has the size to matchup with big receivers, while possessing the ball skills necessary to create turnovers. Although Rhodes had a down 2011 season, look for him to bounce back into All-ACC status in 2012.
Jenkins didn’t match his numbers from 2010, but remained one of college football’s top defensive ends. After recording 63 tackles, 13.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for a loss in 2010, the Tallahassee native’s numbers dipped to 41 tackles and eight sacks last season. He earned All-ACC honors for the second year in a row and is an Athlon third-team All-American for 2012. With Bjoern Werner coming off a solid season at the other end spot, opposing offenses can’t focus too much on Jenkins, which should allow the senior to approach 10 sacks this year.
Athlon ranks the top 10 Florida State players since 1967. Buckley started for only two seasons in Tallahassee, but got his name securely into the record books. He claims the school’s all-time interception record with 21 and INT return yards with 501 – which also happens to be an NCAA mark as well. In 1991, Buckley led the nation – and set an FSU single-season record – with 12 interceptions (returned for 238 yards and two TDs). He was named an All-American and claimed the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back. Buckley also played two years of varsity baseball and lettered on the Outdoor Track and Field team once. He was selected with the fifth overall pick in the first round on the 1992 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers.
As a three-time All-ACC performer, Dunn is the only Seminole to top the 1,000-yard mark in three consecutive seasons. His 3,959 career yards and 1,418 yards in 1995 represent the career and single-season records for Florida State. Dunn was a part of the 1993 National Championship team and has scored more TDs (49) than any other Florida State player. His 21 100-yard rushing efforts are also a school record. The Noles were 31-1 in ACC play during Dunn’s four-year career. He was also an All-American on the Track and Field team in Tallahassee. He was drafted in the first round of the 1997 NFL Draft by the Bucs and went on to rush for 10,967 yards in his illustrious pro career.
The frst three-year starter at QB for the Seminoles under Bobby Bowden, Weinke became the second FSU player to win the Heisman Trophy when he was named the nation's best player in 2000. He led the nation in passing with 4,167 yards. Weinke led the Noles to an undefeated season in 1999 and the National Championship. He was a remarkable 32-3 as the starter. He set both ACC and school records for career passing yards with 9,839 and would set 26 Florida State records. His 536 yards against Duke in 2000 and his 79 career TD passes highlight the long list of FSU benchmarks. Weinke also won the Davey O'Brien and Johnny Unitas trophies in 2000. The stellar QB was drafted in the fourth round of the 2001 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers.
Jones became the first Seminole to capture two major national awards in the same season when he earned the 1992 Butkus and Lombardi Awards. He was only FSU's third two-time consensus All-American, and his 111 tackles helped lead the Noles to an 11-1 mark that year, when Jones finished fourth in the Heisman voting. He finished his career with 369 tackles (seventh all-time at FSU) and 28 tackles for a loss (third all-time at FSU). The New York Jets selected Jones with the fourth overall pick in the 1993 NFL Draft.
Sellers remains the prolific receiver in FSU history. He held most of the NCAA receiving records from the end of his final season in 1968 until 1987. A flanker for FSU, he accumulated 3,979 yards on 240 career receptions. He caught a pass in 30 consecutive games, averaging 119.9 yards per game. He led the Noles to three straight bowl games in his time in Tallahassee. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1988 and was drafted by the Boston Patriots with the sixth overall pick in the Common Draft of 1969.
A two-time consensus All-American, Brooks was the big-play man on dominating defenses that not only won ACC championships but also the 1993 National Title. That year, Brooks made 77 tackles, seven for a loss, en route to ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors. He finished his career with 274 tackles, five interceptions, 8.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. Brooks is one of eight Noles to have his number retired. The talented tackler was selected in the first round of the 1995 NFL Draft by Tampa Bay, where all he did was go to 11 Pro Bowls, win a Super Bowl and the 2002 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.
Few players from any school have ever had the raw explosiveness and play-making ability that Mr. Warrick possessed. He was virtually impossible to stop in the open field. The two-time consensus All-American caught more touchdown passes (32) than any FSUer in history. His 207 career receptions and 3,517 receiving yards rank second all-time to Ron Sellers. He was also the front-runner for the 1999 Heisman Trophy - scoring from five different positions on the field - before an off-the-field incident slowed his final season. He bounced back as the MVP of the 2000 Sugar Bowl, scoring three times in the National Championship victory over Virginia Tech. Warrick was the fourth overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Very simply put: Simmons was the dominant defensive lineman in Florida State history, which is quite a statement considering the talent to roll through Tallahassee along the D-Line. After recording 81 tackles, six sacks and 17 tackles for a loss in 1979, Simmons finished ninth in the Heisman and earned his first of two consensus All-America awards. His career totals of 25 sacks and 44 tackles for a loss were Seminole records until the 1996 season. Simmons was the first Nole defender to have his jersey retired. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008 and was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the sixth round of the 1981 NFL Draft.
Likely the most exciting college player of his era, Sanders was a two-time consensus All-American and won the Jim Thorpe Award in 1988 as the nation's best defensive back. He intercepted 14 passes in his career (not including bowl games) and was a stellar return man who led the nation in punt returns at 15.2 per return in 1988. He holds seven FSU school records for INTs and/or punt returns. Sanders lettered in three sports - baseball, track and football - and is one of very few players to excel at two professional sports. Despite his lack of desire to tackle, Sanders is widely considered the best cover corner to ever play the game. Sanders was the fifth overall pick in the 1989 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons. The NFL Hall of Famer also was a career .263 hitter in 11 MLB seasons.
Ward might be the most decorated player in NCAA football history. The list of awards and accomplishments for No. 17 is astounding. The two most important took place in 1993. Ward, an experienced leader on both the gridiron and hardcourt, earned the Heisman Trophy as the game's best player as well as the National Championship. He set 19 school and seven ACC records in his two years as the starting QB in Tallahassee. A consensus All-American, Ward claimed upwards of 30 individual awards including the Davey O'Brien Award, the Johnny Unitas Award, the Walter Camp Award and the ACC Player of the Year. His dynamic rush-pass ability netted him 6,636 yards of total offense (second in FSU history), and he posted the highest completion rate in school history with a 62.3% mark. Despite playing baseball and football at Florida State (at an elite level), Ward took his raw ability to the NBA, where he was a first round pick in 1994 by the New York Knicks. He helped lead the Knicks to the NBA Finals in 1999. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006.
Is Florida State considering a move to the Big 12?
Is college football about to undergo another round of realignment? The Big 12's decision to stay at 10 teams after landing TCU and West Virginia to replace Missouri and Texas A&M has left the door open for more expansion rumors. Florida State and Clemson have been mentioned as possible Big 12 expansion candidates, but only time will tell if there is anything to the rumors.
Will the SEC's streak of national championships end in 2012?
Spring practice is wrapping up around the nation, which means the 2012 college football season is just around the corner. Athlon’s top 25 for 2012 kicks off on May 1 and ends in early June with our pick to win the national title. The SEC has won six championships in a row, but will that streak end in 2012? The early odds favor a SEC repeat, but there are some threats looming for a seventh consecutive title.