They are picked to win their division in the ACC. Again. They are predicted to reach a BCS bowl. Again. They are forecast to contend for the national championship. Again.
Another season, another preseason full of acclaim for the Florida State Seminoles, who have yet to match lofty expectations on the field under third-year coach Jimbo Fisher.
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During the ACC Football Kickoff in late July, the Seminoles received 72 of 95 first-place votes cast by media members to win the Atlantic Division and were the overwhelming favorite to continue by winning the ACC title game. That has only happened once, the first year the format was in place in 2005. That was also the last year FSU went to a BCS bowl game, ironically facing Penn State and Joe Paterno in the Orange Bowl.
The focus at practice has ramped up again for this program to finally regain its national elite status. The schedule is certainly conducive. The Seminoles have seven home games, a cupcake start to the season, and will get the Florida Gators at home in the season finale.
Their toughest games appear to be on the road against N.C. State and a Thursday night game on Nov. 8 against Virginia Tech. But aside from that, it's a tailored schedule with a strong core of returning players, led by senior quarterback E.J. Manuel.
Fisher said he embraces the expectations and likes the look of his team.
"It's not superficial," he said. "I've seen the guys behind the scenes. I feel more comfortable in our leadership. We've got more of them [leaders]. And more of them that understand what we want as a staff. I have confidence in these guys, I really do."
But as recent history has shown, FSU has to avoid getting ravaged by injuries, must develop more toughness and physical play among its offensive line, plus avoid a couple games of hiccups by the defense.
Anything short of reaching the ACC Championship Game, or possibly advancing into a BCS bowl is going to be considered a disappointment for this program, especially with this kind of easy schedule.
HEAD COACH: Jimbo Fisher, third year at Florida State, 19-8 record at FSU and as head coach.
MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: EJ Manuel. This is a quarterback driven offense and the Seminoles are hoping this will be an injury-free, consistent season for Manuel as a senior. He was the nation's No. 2-rated quarterback by some recruiting analysts when signed in 2008, but injuries, the anemic offensive line and the team's struggles during his career have curtailed his effectiveness. Still, he passed for nearly 2,700 yards last season despite missing parts of three games and his overall career numbers could put him in the top-five categories among the school's top quarterbacks. His biggest issue is not forcing plays and making ill-advised throws that have led to interceptions.
BREAKOUT STAR: FS Terrence Brooks -- He will begin preseason practice as the starting free safety, although he is also adaptable to playing cornerback. A rising junior, Brooks made 17 tackles, broke up five passes and had one interception last season. In the spring game, he intercepted E.J. Manuel and returned the play 51 yards for a defensive score. The Seminoles love his speed, range and physical style. Though not heralded out of high school in Jacksonville, he has been a rapid developing player in college.
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NEWCOMER TO WATCH: WR Kelvin Benjamin -- Redshirted last year, Benjamin wowed during spring drills. He is 6-foot-6, 242-pounds and showed his potential during spring practices. Afterward, the coaching staff raved about the prospect of having a guy this big, who can run so fast, being able to get downfield and create mismatches. He could also be a real threat in short goal-line pass situations on lob throws, fades and quick slants. Benjamin hails from talent-rich Belle Glade, Fla., where so many great football players have been developed.
KEYS TO SUCCESS: It's all about the offensive line and consistency at quarterback. The Seminoles figure to have a strong defense. They figure to be able to rush the passer, make plays in the secondary. Their kicking game and kick return game is solid. They have playmakers at receiver and running back. The quarterback, E.J. Manuel, is a senior. But the Seminoles' offensive line has been one of this program's biggest challenges in the past decade. If this group can run block and pass block with equal proficiency, then it's up to Manuel to avoid rushing throws into coverage or making one of those head-scratching decisions to throw a ball downfield when a better play was open nearby. If this offense clicks, the season will go accordingly.
AREAS OF CONCERN: Running game, pass protection. The Seminoles reverted back to their past woeful form in 2011 when running the football. They had the second-worst rushing offense, No. 104 nationally. They were unable to settle on a dependable tailback and the offensive line injuries and performance issues made it that much worse. In pass protection, the Seminoles allowed 41 sacks, the most in school history. It equated into 3.15 sacks allowed per game. QB E.J. Manuel was sacked 33 times for a loss of 230 yards. He was sacked 14 times in the final three games, including the bowl win against Notre Dame. All of this must change if this team is going to seriously contend for an ACC title and national title.
-- An on-again, off again Twitter policy with FSU players is back on the "banned wagon". This time, FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said it will run through the season and possibly through 2013. The matter came into an ugly priority for Fisher when learning sophomore cornerback Tyler Hunter, upset at being stopped for a traffic offense, sent out a Twitter message quoting lyrics from rapper Lil Boosie, who references killing police officers. That was picked up by many sports blogs and immediately Fisher reacted and banned his entire team from using Twitter or having a Twitter account. "I'm not against it," Fisher said. "But it's a power that you must understand the implications of when you use it. And we'll continue to educate. It's not indicative of who [players] are, and they're not understanding the true ramifications of it." FSU players were on Twitter last season until coaches learned players were sending out tweets in some cases right before games. The policy relaxed in the winter and spring, but it's now going to be off limits.
-- RB James Wilder Jr. spent a week in jail for a probation violation, after being detected with a small amount of alcohol on his breath. After meeting with head coach Jimbo Fisher and showing remorse along with entering a program, Fisher said he will be cleared to start preseason practice.
-- DT Timmy Jernigan has been cleared for practice, after missing most of spring with an injury.