Note: This is a special guest post from former Seminole and Florida State alum, Rob McCannell. Rob was generous enough to share his thoughts on the upcoming Florida State - Oklahoma clash this weekend from the Florida State perspective. You can read Rob's work and get up to date on the Seminoles at plantthespear.com. Thanks to Rob for taking the time to give his take on the best game on this year's Big 12 non-conference schedule. You can also get a take on the game from the Big 12 side of things here. Take it away, Rob.
The Seminole Point-of-View
The last time these two teams met, Oklahoma’s defense throttled Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke and the Seminoles 13-2 and won a crystal football. Since then, Oklahoma has been a perennial National Championship contender, last year notwithstanding. FSU, on the other hand, has been wandering in the wilderness. That muggy night in January 2000 was the last the world saw of the dominant FSU teams of the 80’s and 90’s, and the long, slow slide into mediocrity has taken its toll. Iconic coach Bobby Bowden is gone, replaced by Jimbo Fisher, and to the Seminole fan base the glory of National Championships and title game appearances is a fading memory.
When the Seminoles roll into Norman on Saturday, they won’t be thinking about any of that. Saturday’s game is about finding out who they are as a team, about silencing the naysayers brought out by three six-loss seasons in the past four years, and about a young team attempting to reestablish Florida State as a relevant college football power.
FSU is definitely a study in contrasts, with the 2009 team featuring one of the best units in the country on one side of the ball and one of the worst units on the other. When you talk about the 2010 Seminoles, you’re talking about the offense. Given the young, developing defense, this team will live and die by its ability to light up the scoreboard.
The leader of the offense is fifth-year senior and third-year starting quarterback Christian Ponder. Ponder, who is already working on his second Masters degree, led the ACC in pass efficiency last year at 68.8% and threw for 2700 yards despite missing the last four-and-a-half games with a separated shoulder. He picked up where he left off Saturday, shaking off a tipped-ball interception early to throw four touchdown passes in the second quarter alone.
Ponder’s talents are more about accuracy and mobility than a big arm. He can make all the throws, but is most effective rolling out and in play action. He has plenty of targets, including tight end Bo Reliford, and receivers Bert Reed, Taiwan Easterling and Rodney Smith.
FSU also runs the ball effectively, and Fisher’s offense features a lot of designed rollouts that involve the running backs, particularly Jermaine Thomas, in the passing game. The offensive line is stout, and is widely regarded as one of the best in the country. If FSU can achieve a decent run/pass balance and Ponder can stretch the field – something that they usually have little problem doing – FSU’s offense should move the ball well on Saturday.
The question is, can they put up enough points?
On defense, the Seminoles replaced the stagnant Mickey Andrews/Chuck Amato regime with Mark Stoops (younger brother of Sooner coach Bob Stoops) in an effort to improve on what was one of the country’s worst defenses, ranked 108th. Seminole defenders were continually out-of-position, particularly against the run, and FSU allowed an astounding 31 points a game.
This year, though, the Seminoles should field a much-improved defense. At cornerback, the electrifying Greg Reid has finally been elevated into the starting lineup and along with Xavier Rhodes will comprise one of the better corner tandems Oklahoma will face. Leading tackler Nigel Bradham returns, along with defensive linemen Jacobbi McDaniel and Markus White. FSU also features a slew of newcomers who are expected to contribute. Christian Jones and Jeff Luc will see time at linebacker, as well as defensive end Bjoern Werner and JUCO transfer defensive back Mike Harris.
FSU’s defense should certainly show more discipline and position knowledge than they did last year. The question is whether or not they can tackle consistently, and whether or not the new offseason strength and conditioning program will have been able to mitigate what was a size disadvantage up front in ’09.
FSU’s front seven needs to put pressure on Landry Jones and keep the Sooners out of 2nd-and-short situations. The Seminoles have the athleticism to match up with the Sooners, but if DeMarco Murray gets rolling and they can’t generate any kind of a pass rush it will be a long day on that side of the ball.
On special teams, it’s all about Reid, nicknamed “Cheat Mode” (due not to his Music History grade but rather to his unreal ability as a return man). Reid led the country in punt returns as a true freshman last year and, last week, picked up where he left off by taking the one punt he fielded to the house. The kicking game is strong with sophomore Dustin Hopkins.
Despite FSU’s dominant performance over Samford and Oklahoma’s closer-than-one-would’ve-thought win over Utah State, Seminole fans aren’t reading too much into last week and are taking the Sooners very seriously. To put this game in context, one has to realize that this is the game FSU fans have circled on their calendars not just because it’s a huge road game against a tradition-rich team, but because this game is the first true measuring stick of the post-Bowden Florida State program. In the last nine months, Jimbo Fisher has changed nearly everything about the way FSU does business, from a radical overhaul of the strength-and-conditioning program all the way down to reshuffling the locker room.
Many football fans – and a lot of them are Seminoles – believe that last year’s Bowden team would not be able to stay competitive against a team like Oklahoma. Whether or not it’s fair, this game is almost seen as a referendum on whether or not the FSU administration did the right thing in bidding Bowden farewell and installing Fisher in his place.
FSU has a proud fan base that has had its feathers ruffled a lot more than they’re used to lately. Optimism abounds, and it truly is a new day in Tallahassee, but this game will go a long way in determining how far the program has come since the debacle that was 2009. More important, it will go a long way in determining how the new Fisher-led edition of FSU is perceived nationally. Either way, it’s a pivotal game for a fractured and beleaguered fan base. A win would be at least the biggest win since upsetting Virginia Tech in the 2005 ACC Championship, and probably since beating the Hokies ten years ago in the BCS Title Game. FSU can still go on to have a great season with a close loss, but staying competitive and avoiding the blowout is imperative.
PREDICTION: FSU has come a long way since last year, but a brutal schedule means that they could magnitudinally raise their level of play and still lose four games. This is one of those games. The ‘Noles will stay competitive throughout, and may even take the lead at one point, but in the end Oklahoma will do enough to slow down the Seminole ground game, frustrate Ponder, and win an uncharacteristically low-scoring game. Oklahoma 24, FSU 20.
(Slideshow photo: Brian Schneider/US Presswire)