Florida State Seminoles (2000: 11-2)
The following team preview is provided by Blue Ribbon. For the nation's most comprehensive look at this and all Division I-A teams, be sure to order the 2001 Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook, on sale now at 1-800-775-2518.
Coach and programThe year 2001 has not been kind to Bobby Bowden and his Florida State football program, beginning with a startling 13-2 Orange Bowl loss to Oklahoma and continuing six weeks later by the tragic death of freshman linebacker Devaughn Darling during the team's off-season conditioning program.
Mix in the loss of 25 seniors who left as the winningest class in program history -- after playing for three national championships -- and long-time offensive coordinator Mark Richt's departure to become Georgia's head coach and the Seminoles' immediate future becomes a topic of conversation. Is the dynasty that Bowden built -- 14 consecutive 10-win seasons and top four (or five, depending on the poll of preference) finishes -- beginning to show cracks within its infrastructure?
Under any other coach, those indicators would be undeniable, but Bowden hardly falls into the "any other" category. Nine wins removed from Paul "Bear" Bryant's mark as the winningest coach in Division I-A history with 323 career victories -- though he still trails Penn State's Joe Paterno by seven -- Bowden forges ahead in a manner that belies his 71-plus years.
"We've been in this situation before," Bowden said. "I'd say we were no better off in 1990 than we are now, and we were no better off in 1994 than we are now."
And though FSU emerged from the spring unsettled on a quarterback and desperately needing several members of its top-rated recruiting class to emerge as instant contributors in the fall, Bowden said it will be "business as usual" when the 'Noles take the field to face Duke in the season opener.
OffenseThe first snap of the 2001 season will go to a player that has never been under center in a college football game before. Redshirt freshman Chris Rix (6-4, 215) and junior Anquan Boldin (6-2, 205), FSU's second leading wide receiver last season, represent life AW (after Weinke). Unlike the last AW era (after Ward), there is no Danny Kanell waiting in the wings.
While the experience factor will be sorely missed, that might not be an altogether bad thing. For the first time since Ward's departure, the Seminoles will have a bonafide running threat at quarterback; a nice fit given the current national trend.
Boldin got the better of the battle early on in the spring, but Rix -- who worked almost exclusively with the first-team offense -- appeared to pull ahead coming out of the spring game. They head into August two-a-day drills with Rix running ahead of Boldin.
While the Seminoles' rushing attack improved measurably in 2000 -- from 83rd to 34th nationally -- FSU must replace its No. 3 all-time rusher in tailback Travis Minor (3,218 yards). By most accounts the duties will be handled in a by-committee fashion among at least a trio of returning players.
It's hard to imagine how senior flanker Atrews Bell (5-11, 201) can possibly improve his impeccable production over the last two seasons. Bell, a one-time walk-on, has clearly been FSU's most efficient pass catcher in terms of touchdown production, with a reception to touchdown ratio of 1:3.8.
Senior split ends Robert Morgan (6-0, 180) and Javon Walker (6-3, 190) have flashed play-making signs, but have been limited by injury. Initially, depth is a serious concern along the offensive front, where only six returning scholarship players have seen any measurable playing time. Junior split tackle Brett Williams (6-6, 315), a third-year starter and an All-ACC performer for a second consecutive season, is the lone returnee guaranteed a spot in the starting lineup.
Defense and special teamsSophomores Darnell Dockett (6-4, 260), Jeff Womble (6-3, 295) and Kevin Emanuel (6-4, 260) more than made amends in their first season, combining for 158 stops, including 37 for loss to go with 10 sacks.
The most imposing player in terms of pressuring the quarterback this past spring was junior O.J. Jackson (6-2, 235).
Linebacker is one of the positions hit hardest by graduation, and the Seminoles must find replacements for drafted outside linebacker Tommy Polley and Brian Allen, who combined for nearly 600 career tackles as multi-year starters.
Linebackers coach Joe Kines, however, has a great anchor in senior middle linebacker Bradley Jennings (6-3, 230), who has waited three seasons for the opportunity to emerge from the long shadow cast by his running mates.
Graduation gutted the Seminoles' secondary, leaving defensive coordinator/secondary coach Mickey Andrews with the tall task of quickly preparing a group of largely untested defensive backs for battle.
The Seminoles appear sturdiest at the two safety positions, where senior free safety Chris Hope (6-0, 205) is set to emerge as a bonafide All-America candidate. Joining Hope on the last line of defense is senior rover Abdual Howard (6-0, 200), a career backup who has played virtually everywhere in the secondary.
Sophomore kicker Brett Cimorelli (6-4, 220), signed a year ago as the heir to Janikowski, battled through a myriad of minor injuries that kept him on the bench early in the season to win the job down the stretch.
Cimorelli's job status in tenuous at best. Unsatisfied with his performance, the 'Noles signed freshman Xavier Beitia (5-10, 180) in the spring.
Bottom lineIn summation, the loss of personnel and the shuffling of assistant coaches mark the most dramatic change in the program since the 1993 national championship season. How the Seminoles will respond to the changes is anyone's guess.
While there is no denying Florida State's dominance of the Atlantic Coast Conference over the last nine seasons -- to the tune of a 70-2 record -- Georgia Tech and Clemson appear to be making inroads in their attempts to close the gap on the 'Noles. FSU plays host to the Yellow Jackets in week three, but must travel to face Tommy Bowden's Tigers in early November.
With a nation watching to see if the dynasty crumbles, Bowden may be facing one of the toughest challenges of his FSU tenure.