After three straight trips to the national championship game and 14 consecutive top 5 finishes, what does Florida State have to fear? So what if the Seminoles lost 15 starters, including four All-Americas? Who cares if this squad doesn't have any Warricks or Weinkes? The holdovers insist there will be no drop-off. "People can doubt us all they want, but we have as much talent as ever," says senior All-America tackle Brett Williams. "The only difference between this year and the past few seasons is that we have less experience, but we still expect to win the ACC and play for the national title."
So does coach Bobby Bowden, although he acknowledges that this team is far from ready-made. "The last couple of years the puzzle was pretty much complete before the season started," says Bowden, 71, who with 315 major-college wins trails only Joe Paterno (322), Bear Bryant (323) and Pop Warner (319). "Coming into this season we don't have but three or four pieces [in place]. I know the other pieces are out there. We just have to find them and put them in the right places."
The most important piece is the replacement for Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Chris Weinke. The battle for the job between redshirt freshman Chris Rix and converted junior receiver Anquan Boldin (664 receiving yards, six touchdowns in 2000) was so close in spring practice that Bowden says he may play both. Rix has the stronger arm; Boldin is the bigger threat to scramble. Both have 4.4 speed, which will allow Bowden to mix in the option with his usual pro set. A trio of inexperienced backs—senior Davy Ford, sophomore Greg Jones and junior Nick Maddox—shares the bulk of the running load.
On defense Florida State packs plenty of firepower in sophomore tackle Darnell Dockett, senior free safety Chris Hope and senior linebacker Bradley Jennings. The 6'4", 260-pound Dockett, the national freshman of the year after leading the team in tackles for loss (18), has the strength (a 405-pound bench press) to bull-rush inside and the speed (4.6) to disrupt plays in the backfield.
"There's a whole lot of talent here that people don't know about yet," says Hope. "Guys are hungry and waiting to show we're not going to be down."