SCOUTING REPORT With his inaugural season as head coach under his belt, Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher can stop worrying about the pressures of being Bobby Bowden's successor. After successfully coaching the Seminoles to their first 10-win season since 2003 and a victory in the Chick-fil-A bowl over South Carolina, Fisher will ride that confidence into the start of his second season.The 'Noles return eight starters on offense, but one player is noticeably missing: quarterback Christian Ponder, who was drafted 12th overall by the Minnesota Vikings. While replacing a starting quarterback is never easy, Fisher has the rare luxury of inserting an experienced backup into the starting role. When Fisher left LSU in 2007 to become FSU's offensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting, he told Bobby Bowden he'd be recruiting quarterback E.J. Manuel from Virginia Beach. With Fisher and Manuel, now a redshirt junior, both at the helm, four years of work will culminate in 2011. "There's no doubt that Manuel has proven himself already," Fisher said. "He has high character and high quality, and he is extremely competitive; our players have great respect for him."With junior running back Chris Thompson leading a strong pack of backs, the offense will depend on the running game to keep the ball moving. Bringing up the rear of the pack will be top recruits James Wilder and Devonta Freeman, who are not likely to redshirt. On the other side of the ball, Florida State returns Brandon Jenkins, one of the top defensive ends in the nation; the junior had the most sacks in the ACC in 2010. Joining Jenkins on the defensive line is junior college transfer Tank Carradine, who Fisher thinks will make an impact. The secondary defense was a weak point for the 'Noles last season, surrendering an average of 225 passing yards and a 58.3 completion percentage per game. All four starters return, including rising star Greg Reid, and will be looking to turn last year's weakness into a strength.If Florida State can take down its nonconference opponents and win its division, it will be a legitimate BCS title contender. But Fisher is working to keep the team grounded. "I'd like to see the team reach their potential, play together as a unit and become as good as they can possibly be," Fisher said. "If we do that, we'll reach some high goals."
THE BIG IF Can Florida State survive two crucial nonconference matchups against Oklahoma and Florida to potentially contend for the BCS title? TELLING NUMBER 2 -- The number of bowl games Manuel has started for Florida State while serving as Ponder's backup. KEY RETURNEES Chris Thompson, RB, Jr. -- The junior ran for 845 yards in 2010 and is the only back in Florida State history with three touchdown runs of over 70 yards in one season. At just 5-8, 190 pounds, Thompson's speed and power outweigh his size, recalling former Seminole star Warrick Dunn.
Greg Reid, CB, Jr. -- Reid capped a breakout sophomore season by earning defensive MVP honors in the Chick-fil-A bowl. The speedster anchors an improving secondary and is also a key contributor on special teams.
Brandon Jenkins, DE, Jr. -- The 6-3, 265-pound junior is a difference-maker, according to Fisher. Jenkins finished last season with 63 tackles and led the ACC with 13.5 sacks, gaining multiple sacks in five games. He has improved on his pass rushing, and the team will depend on him to play the run.
Dustin Hopkins, K, Jr. -- Fisher credits much of the team's success to kicker Hopkins. A leading candidate for the Lou Grouza Award, he hit a career-long 55-yarder against Clemson last year and hit 100 percent of his PATs. BREAKOUT PLAYER Jaccobi McDaniel, DT, Jr. -- Fisher sees a lot of ability in the 6-1, 297-pound true junior, who returns to the defensive tackle position this season. He made 31 tackles last year, 5.5 for loss. After taking weights and conditioning more seriously this offseason, he looks to improve upon those numbers. TOP RECRUIT James Wilder, Jr., RB, Fr. -- The son of former Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back James Wilder, Sr. has the size of an outside linebacker and the speed of a tailback, coming in at 6-2, 220-pounds. Fisher considers Wilder the "complete package" due to his ability to run and block.
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