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A Seminole slide?

Turmoil-plagued FSU could be in for humbling season

Posted: Tuesday July 12, 2005 10:24AM; Updated: Tuesday July 12, 2005 5:54PM
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Ernie Sims
Will Ernie Sims and the 'Noles be subjected to more moments like this in 2005?
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It's no secret this offseason has not been a particularly pleasant one for Florida State. Projected starting quarterback Wyatt Sexton is out for the season after being diagnosed with Lyme Disease, a serious-but-curable illness that, in its advanced stages, can cause psychiatric symptoms like the hallucinations Sexton apparently experienced during his bizarre street incident last month (sorry conspiracy theorists -- and Miami fans -- I'm not going down that other road).

Star linebackers A.J. Nicholson (a DUI in February and a misdemeanor resisting-arrest charge in June) and Ernie Sims (misdemeanor domestic battery and resisting-arrest charges last week) both ran afoul of the law. Clifton Dickson, the heir apparent to departed All-America nose tackle Travis Johnson, was deemed academically ineligible. And two highly touted defensive line recruits who might have played right away, Callahan Bright and Justin Mincey, failed to qualify for admission.

While such summer roster turmoil is hardly unique around the country -- Ohio State, South Carolina and Tennessee have all had multiple player arrests, Georgia has lost five of its expected incoming freshmen, etc. -- the Seminoles' troubles come on the heels of a particularly rocky season on the field and just a couple of months from the start of what will likely be one of their most telling autumns in recent history.

All of which leads Adam Smith of Orlando, Fla., to write:

With the recent turmoil at Florida State, will the Seminoles even compete for the ACC crown?

Adam, you're not going to like this, but I have this sneaking suspicion the 'Noles are on the verge of a Penn State-like crisis. No, nothing like the 3-9 or 4-7 type debacles the Nittany Lions have experienced -- we all know there's too much talent in Tallahassee for that -- but the kind of humbling season that will leave FSU with the same, ultra-touchy conundrum the folks in Happy Valley have been dealing with the past couple of years: How do you tell a living legend like Bobby Bowden that his ship has sailed?

Such doomsday talk may seem presumptuous, considering Bowden's team is only two years removed from its 11th ACC title in 12 seasons and finished second last year, going 9-3 overall. But as anyone who actually watched the 'Noles in 2004 can attest, they were as mediocre as 9-3 can be. The Sexton/Chris Rix-led offense averaged its fewest points (25.5) in 23 years, including just 13.3 in its three losses -- one of which came at the hands of a 5-6 Maryland team. They were only slightly more fortunate to survive 4-7 Wake Forest (winning 20-17), 6-6 Syracuse (17-13) and 5-6 N.C. State (17-10).

Much to the chagrin of many FSU faithful, Bowden retained his son, Jeff, as offensive coordinator. And the 'Noles' offense will enter the season with almost no experience at quarterback or receiver and only slightly more along the offensive line. The redshirt freshman QB who winds up getting the job -- either Xavier Lee or Drew Weatherford -- will need time to develop and will require the coaches to significantly simplify the offense. Considering how the Bowdens' last experience starting a freshman QB (Rix) went -- not well -- it's hard to imagine Lee or Weatherford shining right off the bat, particularly without a go-to wideout (the 'Noles' leading returning receiver is running back Lorenzo Booker, with 24 catches) or reliable protection.

Defensively, the "back seven," led by Nicholson (who may have to sit out the opener against Miami), Sims (who probably won't) and cornerback Antonio Cromartie, should still be strong, but the line -- arguably the most important aspect of a defense -- is suddenly extremely thin and inexperienced.

With an opener against Miami -- whom the 'Noles have lost to six straight times -- and a trip to deceivingly tough Boston College two weeks later, it's not unrealistic to picture FSU starting (gasp!) 0-2 in the ACC. And with potentially tough road games against Virginia, Clemson and Florida later in the season, the 'Noles could very easily finish 7-4, or even 6-5 overall. Such a season would be a far cry from some of the sub-.500 debacles Penn State fans have experienced, but it's safe to say most FSU faithful would be all the more distraught. And while it's entirely possible that a 5-3 conference record might still be good enough to win the ACC's Atlantic Division, chances are someone -- be it N.C. State, Maryland, BC or Clemson -- is due to have a breakout season.

S-Man, when do we get your EA Sports NCAA Football 2006 review? I reserved my copy, but I'm sure you've been playing the game on a sneak-preview.
--David, Oklahoma City

I have, indeed, been playing NCAA 2006 already, but I must say ... I was disappointed. I realize I'm probably slightly older than the game's target audience, but still, what were the programmers thinking by replacing the game's traditional soundtrack of college fight songs from around the country with an obnoxious mix tape of various punk, ska and rap acts? I know this is going to make me sound extremely unhip, but the only song I even recognized was De La Soul's classic Me, Myself and I (though I could do without hearing it every time I hit the main menu). This isn't Grand Theft Auto. I could be wrong, but I highly doubt there is an abundance of Pixies and Pietasters fans among the college football video-game buying public.

Besides that, the game's one big, new wrinkle -- the "Race for the Heisman" -- is cute, but not a huge draw. Basically, you get to create yourself and, after completing a scouting "drill" (in the case of quarterbacks, 10 passing plays), are offered scholarships by three schools. After picking your team, you enter the program and, theoretically, play your way to the Heisman, but in the meantime you miss out playing with one of today's real-life stars. (My colleague Luke Winn made himself a quarterback at Louisville, rendering Brian Brohm the most talented field-goal holder in the country.) I'd much rather go the traditional dynasty route where I can recruit, customize schedules, discipline players, etc.

As usual, though, the game play is crisper than ever. It moves fast, and the computer seems to be a little smarter on defense. I tried a few different teams, and I can tell you Chris Leak is an unbelievable passer, Vince Young is ridiculously fast, Matt Leinart is a "99" quarterback and Ted Ginn Jr. has "99" speed (though it's hard to gauge because Ohio State's playbook is filled with primarily short passing).

Unfortunately, I had not yet had a chance to run my much-anticipated season simulation -- which, loyal readers may recall -- correctly projected USC and Auburn as the top two teams last summer -- when an unfortunate event happened. I was in the middle of doing some important "product testing" the other night when my girlfriend, Karen, who had been sitting on the couch reading a book, got up to get something and tripped over the controller wire, knocking the console three feet to the ground. I resumed playing and didn't think much of it until, suddenly, I noticed the announcers had stopped talking. Strange. Then the game froze altogether. After restarting, it froze again. And again. Yep -- it was broken. So, the free perk was nice while it lasted, but when the game comes out this week, I'll be buying it like the rest of you. Correction: Karen -- who swears her misstep was not an intentional sabotage effort to regain my undivided attention -- will be buying it for me.

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