August 23, 2004 The Big Picture
By winning 11 of 12 ACC titles, Florida State set an unmatched standard of excellence in the league's first 51 years, but the addition of Miami figures to put the Seminoles' reign to a test. Having lost four league games over the past three seasons doubling their defeats through the first nine the Noles already had grown to respect the ACC's improving football fortunes. Now, a conference title will be valued more than ever. FSU enters 2004 with its most complete team since 2000, the last time it played for a national championship. While titles always have been the goal, this season's bid is realistic.
Offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden and senior QB Chris Rix have been lightning rods for criticism over the past three seasons, and they will be again if the Seminoles can't get past Miami in the opener. Their relationship has ranged from acrimonious to tolerant, with Bowden forced to pull in the reins on what he would like to do (four wides, spread the field, throw it) in order to minimize Rix's mistakes. That will change, in part because Bowden has gained a little more confidence in Rix, and the Seminoles have too many weapons and seven new defensive starters to play conservatively.
Done For Me Lately
|1994||8-0 (1)||10-1-1||Sugar Bowl (W)|
|1995||7-1 (1)||10-2||Orange Bowl (W)|
|1996||8-0 (1)||11-1||Sugar Bowl (L)|
|1997||8-0 (1)||11-1||Sugar Bowl (W)|
|1998||7-1 (1)||11-2||Fiesta Bowl (L)|
|1999||8-0 (1)||12-0||Sugar Bowl (W)|
|2000||8-0 (1)||11-2||Orange Bowl (L)|
|2001||6-2 (2)||8-4||Gator Bowl (W)|
|2002||7-1 (1)||9-5||Sugar Bowl (L)|
|2003||7-1 (1)||10-3||Orange Bowl (L)|
ACC: 74-6 (.925); No. 1 in ACC
Overall: 103-21-1 (.828); No. 1 in ACC
Once a wasteland for offensive linemen, FSU has developed some of college football's best widebodies over the past seven years. The Seminoles could well have their best unit ever in 2004, led by a pair of tackles All-American Alex Barron and Ray Willis whom NFL scouting services have tabbed as possible first-round picks. Barron, perhaps the most gifted pass blocker in school history, has made great strides as a run blocker. Willis is the team's quiet leader athletically gifted, a solid citizen and a relentless competitor.
Coming On Strong
Linebackers coach Kevin Steele has been a Division I-A head coach (Baylor), an NFL assistant (Carolina) and a college assistant (Oklahoma State, Tennessee, Nebraska) in his 24 seasons. While replacing three starters including two of the school's top 10 all-time tacklers normally would be cause for concern, Steele said his current crop is the most talented group he's ever worked with at any level. A.J. Nicholson is the most seasoned, but Sam McGrew, Buster Davis and Ernie Sims are even more dynamic. Steele has interchangeable parts that should allow FSU to blitz, cover and plug holes against the run.
Cause For Concern?
Through the years, FSU's special teams have provided great highs and dismal lows. Where 2004 fits in remains to be seen. Kicker Xavier Beitia is poised to become the school's all-time scoring leader, providing he can hold off freshman Gary Cismesia. Beitia, however, has to clear the mental hurdle of missing two potential game-winners against Miami, plus one against N.C. State. In the process, he'll be dealing with a new long snapper (Myles Hodish) for the first time in his career, as well as a new holder (Chris Hall). Hall is new and unproven as a punter, a dangerous combination with a new snapper and a re-tooled defense.
The Whole Truth
"(FSU's It's Time' motto for 2004) is self-explanatory. It is time for us to do something. It is time for us to get back up there with the big boys. We haven't been with them the last two or three years, and it's time for us to get back."
Florida State coach Bobby Bowden
CHART BY: THE FSU INSIDER
(10-3, 7-1 ACC)
|37||at North Carolina||0|
|37||at Notre Dame||0|
|50||N.C. State (2 OT)||44|
|Sept. 6||at Miami (11-2)|
|Sept. 18||Alabama-Birmingham (5-7)|
|Sept. 25||Clemson (9-4)|
|Oct. 2||North Carolina (2-10)|
|Oct. 9||at Syracuse (6-6)|
|Oct. 16||Virginia (8-5)|
|Oct. 23||at Wake Forest (5-7)|
|Oct. 30||at Maryland (10-3)|
|Nov. 6||Duke (4-8)|
|Nov. 11||at N.C. State (8-5)|
|Nov. 20||Florida (8-5)|
Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech