When Chris Weinke began his press conference last January, six days after leading the Seminoles to the national championship, offensive coordinator Mark Richt was convinced the 27-year-old junior quarterback was turning pro. As Weinke thanked his coaches and teammates and asked Richt to stand up, Richt recalls thinking, Just say you're leaving and get this over with. Much to Richt's surprise, Weinke said, "Coach, would it be all right if I came back and tried to win another national championship?"
"The moment he said he was coming back," says senior linebacker Brian Allen, "all I could think of was, Let's make reservations for Miami because there's no doubt in my mind we'll be there playing for the national championship."
That kind of confidence in Weinke would have been preposterous two years ago, when he threw an ACC-record six interceptions in his second start, a loss to North Carolina State. Eight games later he suffered a ruptured disk in his neck that nearly ended his career and caused him several months of painful rehabilitation. He showed no ill effects from the injury last fall, throwing for 3,103 yards and 25 touchdowns, and since that debacle against North Carolina State he has won 20 straight games as the Seminoles' starter.
Having seen the business end of sports during his six-year stint as a first baseman in the Toronto Blue Jays' organization, Weinke based his decision to return to Florida State on his love for college football. "The NFL people I talked to said I'd probably be anywhere from a third- to fifth-round pick," says Weinke. "Why should I be a fifth-round pick when I can come back and start for the best team in the country?"
Weinke, 6'5", 240 pounds, has shed 20 pounds since last season and says he feels quicker and more agile than ever. The backfield is fully stocked, led by senior tailback Travis Minor (815 yards in '99). The offensive line has three of five starters back and senior fullback William McCray returns after missing all of last season with a fractured lower right leg. Florida State has a wealth of young receivers to step in for Peter Warrick, but the Seminoles are still looking for a go-to guy.
As usual the Seminoles will field one of the nation's scariest defenses. Seven starters are back from a unit that ranked 17th nationally in total defense (304.6 yards per game), 10th in scoring (15.8 points), 12th in rushing (98.8 yards) and 14th in passing efficiency (105.3 rating). A big concern is replacing tackles Corey Simon and Jerry Johnson, but with the return of ends Jamal Reynolds and Roland Seymour and linebackers Tommy Polley, Brian Allen and Bradley Jennings—who finished 1-2-3, respectively, in tackles last season—nobody on the Seminoles staff is losing any sleep.
The player who's toughest to replace isn't Warrick, but two-time All-America kicker Sebastian Janikowski, who was virtually automatic (47 of 47 PATs, 23 of 30 field goals in '99), and who forced touchbacks on 69% of his kickoffs. Bowden will turn to true freshman Brett Cimorelli, a 6'4", 220-pounder who kicked a 55-yard field goal in high school.
Last season Florida State capped a remarkable decade, winning Bowden his second national tide and finishing in the Top 4 for the 13th consecutive year. Expectations never change in Tallahassee and, with Weinke in tow, Bowden expects this group to be playing in the Orange Bowl. "We may have lost our best player in Warrick, but Weinke is our most valuable," says Bowden. "Weinke coming back gave us a chance."
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