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Five Minute Guide to '99

2 Florida State

The painful memories of a title that got away will be a powerful motivator for Chris Weinke and the Seminoles

Sports Illustrated
  Travis Minor
With Minor back for a return engagement, Florida State should finish in the top 4 for the 13th year in a row.  Bob Rosato
Don't think of 1999 as a new season for Florida State, think of it as the resumption of an old one. Before quarterback Chris Weinke was dumped on his head and suffered a season-ending ruptured disk in his neck in a 45-14 win over Virginia last Nov. 7, no team in the country was playing better than the Seminoles, who had bounced back from an early-season defeat at North Carolina State. So how cruel was this? Upset losses suffered by Ohio State, UCLA and Kansas State sent 11-1 Florida State to the national title game in the Fiesta Bowl, but without its best quarterback. The Seminoles and backup signal-caller Marcus Outzen struggled on offense and lost to Tennessee.

The plan this year is to pick up where they left off before Weinke went down and to fulfill their title obligation. "It's not a learning thing anymore," says junior tailback Travis Minor. "We'd put that slogan on a T-shirt if it was a little more catchy." It is never difficult to find cause for preseason optimism in Tallahassee: Florida State has finished no worse than No. 4 in the nation for a mind-boggling 12 consecutive seasons and continues to accumulate talent. But this season brings even more promise than usual. Of the 22 players who started the Fiesta Bowl, 14 are expected to start in the Seminoles' opener against Louisiana Tech. At two of the remaining eight positions, Florida State is stronger this season.

The first is defensive end, where 6'4", 240-pound junior Jamal Reynolds replaces the solid Tony Bryant. Reynolds generated major buzz by dominating spring practices, and he looks very much like the heir to the Seminoles' defensive end legacy established by Peter Boulware, Andre Wadsworth and Reinard Wilson. Reynolds joins three front-four veterans -- Jerry Johnson, Roland Seymour and All-America Corey Simon -- to form the best front wall in the nation and the backbone of a defense that was the best in the country a year ago.

The second positional improvement is at quarterback. The 27-year-old Weinke has come through a long and painful rehabilitation to reclaim his position and resume the strange journey that he undertook when he came to Florida State in the winter of 1997, following a six-year minor league baseball career. After leading the Seminoles to a 23-14 win over Texas A&M in last year's Kickoff Classic, Weinke threw six interceptions in the 24-7 loss to N.C. State. "When I got home, I had 161 E-mails telling me I was horses---," says Weinke. He threw his next 218 passes without a pick, a streak that was put on ice by the injury. He underwent surgery, beginning two months of agony.

"The period of time after the [Nov. 10] surgery was hell for me," says Weinke. Spinal fluid leaking from the area of the injury caused crushing headaches and left Weinke so weak that his roommates had to carry him from his apartment bed to the bathroom. His rehabilitation didn't begin in earnest until the headaches subsided in February, when he began soft-tossing a tennis ball and lifting weights to restore some of the 25 pounds he had lost. Yet once he started on the road back, he became voracious.

"We were hoping he'd make it out during the spring and just lob a few passes," says offensive coordinator Mark Richt. Instead, Weinke did everything but participate in contact drills. Since then, the 6'5" Weinke has pushed his weight up to 245 pounds and has made every throw that he was making a year ago.

He'll have help in getting to the Sugar Bowl, site of the season finale between the No. 1 and No. 2 teams. Senior wideout Peter Warrick, who caught 61 passes for an average of 20.2 yards per catch and is also a threat throwing, running and returning punts, stunned everyone from draft experts to teammates to coach Bobby Bowden by coming back for his senior year. "I followed my heart and followed God," Warrick says. Apparently, he also followed Liberace, given the haul of gold-and-diamond jewelry he was wearing one midsummer afternoon, but that's just in keeping with his future take. For now, he's the most dangerous offensive threat in the country.

Minor has rushed for 1,480 yards over two seasons and could be joined in the backfield by former quarterback Dan Kendra, the hard-luck fifth-year senior who is making one last bid to salvage something from a once-heralded college career undone by injuries. "If his knee is sound, he's going to be a heck of a catch for some NFL team," Richt says of Kendra, who heads into preseason drills as the No. 2 fullback behind junior William McCray. "He can do everything that [Tampa Bay's] Mike Alstott can do." To confound opponents, Bowden and Richt have filled their playbook with sets that use both Warrick and Kendra as passers. They have one other offensive weapon as well: Junior kicker Sebastian Janikowski is among the best in the nation.

In all, the Seminoles are loaded. Yet they have been loaded for more than a decade and have only one national title (1993) to show for it. With that in mind, Florida State has tinkered with its well-oiled machinery. Upperclass offensive linemen -- four of whom were starters last season -- have been told to lose 10 pounds per man, after several years of trying to get bigger. (All four starters from a year ago weighed more than 300 pounds.) "I got bigger every year, and last year I felt slower and more tired," says senior guard Jason Whitaker. Defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews demoted, at least temporarily, cornerbacks Mario Edwards, a probable first-round selection next spring, and junior Tay Cody for poor academic performance. After two losses in the last three bowl games (following 11 straight wins), Bowden has vowed to change his longstanding bowl-preparation schedule to get more work out of his troops during the roughly 40 days they have off between the end of the season and their bowl game.

After all, it's about time the Seminoles won another title. "Five years ago I checked into Burt Reynolds Hall and figured I'd leave with two or three rings," says Edwards. "Well, I don't have any rings. This year I say, 'Don't talk about it, be it.'"

Sounds like a slogan

-- Tim Layden

Fast Facts

1998 record: 11-2 (7-1, tied for 1st in ACC)
Final ranking: No. 3 AP, No. 3 coaches' poll

1998 Averages Offense Defense
Scoring 32.1 11.5
Rushing Yards 149.8 79.8
Passing Yards 251.6 135.0
Total Yards 401.3 214.8


Coach: Bobby Bowden
24rd year at Fla. St. (219-53-4); Career Division I-A record: 292-85-4

WR Peter Warrick Sr. Heisman and Biletnikoff candidate
LT Ross Brannon Sr. Missed spring with knee injury
LG Jason Whitaker Sr. FB writers' first team All-America
C Eric Thomas Sr. Holding off push by Jarad Moon
RG Donald Heaven Jr. Replacing injured Jerry Carmichael
RT Tarlos Thomas Jr. Formerly known as Tarlos Crumitie
TE Nick Franklin Sr. Longest of 3 catches for 31 yards
WR Ron Dugans Sr. 38 catches second to Warrick's 61
QB Chris Weinke Jr. Averaged 17.2 yards per completion
RB Travis Minor Jr. Gained 100 yds. 4 of last 5 games
FB William McCray Jr. 22 carries, 73 yards, 2 TDs
K Sebastian Janikowski Jr. All-America won Lou Groza Award
LE Roland Seymour Jr. Credited with two safeties
NG Corey Simon Sr. Made 16 tackles for losses
DT Jerry Johnson Sr. In Simon's shadow, but just as good
RE Jamal Reynolds Jr. Honored for dominant spring camp
OLB Brian Allen Jr. Ability compared to Derrick Brooks
MLB Bradley Jennings So. 4.6 speed and benches 430 lbs.
OLB Tommy Polley Jr. 37 solo tackles leads LB corps
CB Mario Edwards Sr. Team record 4 int. vs. Wake Forest
SS Derrick Gibson Jr. Big-hit style keeps wideouts wary
FS Sean Key Jr. 52 tackles and 2 forced fumbles
CB Tay Cody Jr. 11 of 35 tackles came on 3rd down
P Keith Cottrell Jr. Averaged 41.3 yards on 62 punts

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are from 1998 season.

Key Games
Schedule strength: 24th of 114

Oct. 9 vs. Miami
The heat is back in the hottest rivalry of the early '90s. Rebuilt Miami will be trying to beat the Seminoles for the first time since 1994.

Nov. 20 at Florida
Florida State hasn't won in Gainesville since 1993, the same year, coincidentally, that the Seminoles won their only national title, with an Orange Bowl victory over Nebraska.

Bottom Line

If the Seminoles can avoid their usual costly slipup and Weinke can stay healthy, the Sugar Bowl should come calling.

Top 25 | The Master List | Lower Divisions
Five Minute Guide to '99

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