TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher heads to the annual Atlantic Coast Conference’s football kickoff festivities embracing preseason predictions that have the Seminoles favored to win their first ACC title since 2005 and possibly contend for a national championship.
“That’s why you want to be at Florida State,” Fisher said before traveling to Pinehurst, N.C. with two of his top players for the ACC meetings that started Sunday. “You want the expectations that you can win.”
The second-year head coach can’t escape expectations at a school that put together one of the great runs in college football history between 1987 and 2000. The Seminoles won 10 games or more for 14 consecutive seasons and finished no lower than fifth in The Associated Press’ year-end rankings.
Fisher is reminded every morning when he arrives at work of those dynasty years during predecessor Bobby Bowden’s heyday.
The lobby leading into the football offices overlooking Florida State’s 83,000-seat stadium is adorned with memorabilia encased in glassed-in mahogany cabinets. They house trophies for the 1993 and 1999 national championships, a dozen ACC titles and the Heisman statutes won by Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke.
Fisher believes he’s accumulated the talent, experience and now size to get back among the big boys.
“We like our players,” Fisher said. “They’re players we wanted here. They’re pretty dang-gummed good.”
He won’t have to wait long this fall to find out.
Oklahoma visits Tallahassee on Sept. 17, a date long etched into the calendars of Florida State fans hungry to get even for last season’s embarrassing 47-17 loss on the Sooners’ home turf—the only real whipping Fisher suffered in his inaugural season.
“It’s a measuring stick,” Fisher said about the highly anticipated showdown. “It’s why you play those great nonconference games.”
The ebullient Fisher claims he’s not looking past the Seminoles’ first two games against outmanned Louisiana-Monroe and Charleston Southern. He knows that the games that get a team into the postseason and a possible BCS bowl don’t start until the following week when Florida State travels to Clemson to open ACC play in its first road test of the season.
But he also realizes that some will see the Oklahoma game as the most serious test in his brief career as Bowden’s successor.
“We’ll put our heart and soul into it, but win or lose it’s not the season,” Fisher said. “That’s where you can destroy teams by putting all your eggs in one basket, in one football game.”
After a decade of mediocrity, Florida State rekindled enthusiasm and raised those expectations with a 10-4 record in Fisher’s inaugural season. The Seminoles finished impressively with a pair of wins against Southeastern Conference powers Florida and South Carolina sandwiched around a disappointing loss to Virginia Tech in the ACC title game.
Florida State returns all but a half dozen starters from last year. The key losses were quarterback Christian Ponder, the 12th player picked in the NFL draft by Minnesota, and guard Rodney Hudson, a second-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs.
The keys to the offense are being turned over to redshirt junior EJ Manuel, who was Fisher’s marquee recruit in his first season as Bowden’s offensive coordinator. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound Manuel effectively gives Fisher a veteran quarterback, having already accounted for more than 2,000 yards of offense and 11 touchdowns.
Manuel, who is 4-2 as a starter pinch-hitting for the oft-injured Ponder, completed seven consecutive passes during the game-clinching drive in the Seminoles’ 26-17 Chick-Fil-A Bowl victory against South Carolina last season.
Manuel will be joined at the ACC meetings by fellow junior Brandon Jenkins, a first-team all-conference pick a year ago after collecting 13 1/2 sacks in his first season as a starting defensive end. Like Manuel, who has added nearly 20 pounds during the offseason, Jenkins has put on a similar amount and tips the scales at 265 pounds.
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