Seminoles hope maturity will key return to BCS
By BRENT KALLESTAD
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida State appears to have it all this season - at least on paper.
And while coach Jimbo Fisher doesn't want his players distracted with the preseason expectations, he said during Sunday's media day activities that this year's team is deeper and, perhaps more importantly, a year older.
"We're going to be talented," Fisher said. "We know what we can do."
Ranked high nationally and a runaway preseason pick to win the Atlantic Coast Conference title for the first time since 2005, the Seminoles also headed into last year with similar lofty expectations. But the 2011 season fizzled quickly after three successive early-season losses.
"We pressed too hard," Fisher said. "I hope we learned from our mistakes. You have to deal with it and move on."
Fisher is 19-8 at Florida State in two seasons since replacing the iconic Bobby Bowden, whose 377 wins are recognized by the NCAA as the most among major-college coaches in the wake of the Penn State scandal that resulted in late coach Joe Paterno being stripped of 111 victories.
Florida State finished 9-4 a year ago in Fisher's second year as head coach and has now gone seven years since winning the ACC and playing in a BCS game.
"We've got to do some things," Fisher said. "I think we can right now."
And it starts with defense at Florida State, where a veteran, talented group returns nearly intact.
"They can be dominant," Fisher said. "I don't think there's any doubt about that. And we've got good depth."
Defensive coordinator Mark Stoops' unit is again expected to be as good or better than the one that was among the country's best a year ago.
"That was last year," cautioned Stoops. "What we did last year is not going to win us any games. If we stay hungry, we have a chance. We'll work extremely hard to improve on last year."
"The game starts up front. You'd better be strong up front," Stoops said. "You go out and try to dominate. That's what we try to do."
The affable Stoops, given a six-figure raise in the offseason for his role developing the Seminole defense, has to find a replacement for cornerback Greg Reid, who was kicked off the team last week for a violation of team rules.
"It's hard to flat-out replace him," Stoops said. "We have to find that guy now."
Stoops said several defensive backs are in the mix to pick up playing time at Reid's former spot.
Sophomore wide receiver Rashad Greene is hoping to assume Reid's punt return duties.
"I want to be the guy that does it," Greene said. "It's fun returning punts."
In addition to starting off with a proven defense, Florida State returns senior place-kicker Dustin Hopkins, who is on the brink of becoming the most prolific kick scorer in Florida State and ACC history. He is 68 points shy of the record of 393 in each case.
And to top it off, fifth-year senior quarterback EJ Manuel is back for his final season and a chance at joining a list of celebrated Florida State quarterbacks that includes former Heisman Trophy winners Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke. Both led teams to national championships.
"That's my goal," Manuel said. "To win every single game."
The expectations can't get much higher than that.
Updated August 12, 2012