March 5, 2010

Mailbag: Can Florida State relive its glory days?

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Even the most prominent programs have accomplishments and eras that aren't likely to be duplicated.

Oklahoma isn't going to equal the NCAA-record 47-game winning streak it established in the '50s. Michigan may never have another 33-year run of consecutive postseason appearances. Army won't match the three consecutive national titles it posted in the '40s. In fact, the Black Knights probably won't win another national title.

But just because the most glorious days are past doesn't mean more glory days aren't ahead.

Florida State posted an NCAA-record 14 consecutive top-five finishes from 1987 to 2000. The Seminoles aren't likely to do that again. Eventually, though, they will win another national championship to go with the crowns they won in 1993 and '99. But when?

That's a topic of discussion in this week's mailbag.

On the rise?

The coaching issue has been settled with Florida State, and Jimbo Fisher had a respectable recruiting class. How long before we see Florida State returning to some semblance of the team that dominated so much of the '90s?
Jacksonville, Fla.

It wasn't too long ago that the Seminoles were among the most powerful football programs in the nation. But the Seminoles haven't finished in the top 20 since 2004.

Obviously, times have changed. The question now is when will they change back?

Some may blame Florida State's recent problems on legendary coach Bobby Bowden, who was replaced by Fisher after the conclusion of the '09 season. No doubt, Bowden's advanced age frequently was brought up to prospects by rival recruiters. Then to complicate matters, recruiter extraordinaire Urban Meyer was hired to replace Ron Zook as Florida's coach, and Florida State's problems got worse.

Maybe the decline wasn't all Bowden's fault; maybe it was just Florida State's turn. Each of the country's most successful programs go through down cycles.

Alabama managed seven wins or less six times in eight seasons from 2000-07. Oklahoma won more than seven games just once in eight seasons from 1992-99. Penn State had just one winning season from 2000 to '04. Michigan is in a slump now.

FSU has too many resources to stay out of the top 10 much longer. It has a solid following, a lot of tradition and one of the best recruiting bases in the nation. But projecting when the Seminoles can resurface as a national championship contender is just guesswork.

Florida State's offense was inconsistent last season, but at least showed enough to indicate it may be approaching championship level. The defense is another matter entirely. Florida State ranked 94th in the nation in scoring defense last season. That kind of performance won't win any championships. No champion from a "Big Six" conference ranked lower than 56th.

Help is on the way, though. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops moved over from Arizona, and the surname alone indicates he knows how to put together a strong defense. In addition, the Seminoles' past two recruiting classes have included 12 defensive players who were four- or five-star prospects.

Of course, those guys have to grow up, develop and reach their potential. Some will. Some may not. Until they do, Florida State isn't likely to break into the top 10.

This season, the Seminoles should be good enough to win the ACC Atlantic Division race. I can see Florida State challenging for the ACC championship in 2011.

The right hire?

Lane Kiffin has had a bull's-eye on his back ever since being hired by USC. He has been beaten up on blogs as being in over his head, and an angry Tennessee fan base is claiming they are glad to be rid of an incompetent coach. What is your analysis of the Kiffin hire and his chances? And since it appears most USC fans assumed Steve Sarkisian was Pete Carroll's heir apparent, why didn't Mike Garrett make an overture to Sarkisian?
Salem, Ore.

Any anger Tennessee fans have toward Kiffin is understandable to me, not because he left - that happens all the time in college football - but because assistant coach Ed Orgeron tried to convince players recruited to Tennessee to go to USC instead.

Maybe Orgeron did that without Kiffin's knowledge, but I doubt it. USC fans would argue that's being an aggressive recruiter and that those players (many already on the Tennessee campus) hadn't actually enrolled, so they were fair game. Call it what you want, but that's dirty.

That said, if Tennessee fans are saying Kiffin is in over his head, that sounds like sour grapes. Those same fans were celebrating his top-10 recruiting class a year ago. And under Kiffin, quarterback Jonathan Crompton - who seemed hopelessly inept in '08 - actually had a respectable season in '09.

In addition, don't forget Kiffin and his staff devised solid game plans that kept the Volunteers close in games against Florida and Alabama. Tennessee's overall talent level was questionable last season, yet three of their six losses were by four or fewer points.

As far as Sarkisian goes, Mike Garrett may have approached Sarkisian. Who knows? There reportedly is some language in Sarkisian's contract that would have made it difficult for him to leave Washington.

Kiffin figures to be successful at USC. Why wouldn't he be? He attracted a top-10 recruiting class in a short amount of time at Tennessee, a program that relies heavily on attracting out-of-state prospects. He took over a struggling program coming off a losing season and led it a bowl game.

His job should be easier when recruiting for USC, which isn't struggling and doesn't have to look outside its state's borders for top prospects. That doesn't imply he'll have as much success as Carroll did, but I wouldn't expect USC to falter much with Kiffin in charge.

Lots of holes

It seems to me that Georgia Tech is losing most of its offensive and defensive playmakers to the NFL draft. Coach Paul Johnson has proved himself, but what can we expect from the Yellow Jackets this season?

Probably no program was hit harder by early defections to the NFL draft than Georgia Tech. Four players entered the draft and all played key roles in the Yellow Jackets' 11-3 showing and No. 13 final ranking last season.

Running back Jonathan Dwyer led Georgia Tech with 1,395 rushing yards. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas led Tech with 46 receptions (no one else had more than eight). Defensive end Derrick Morgan led the ACC with 12.5 sacks. Strong safety Morgan Burnett was an All-ACC selection. Morgan and Thomas are viewed as possible first-round selections.

That's a lot of talent to lose early. Yet, some preseason polls project the Yellow Jackets as a top-15 team this season. That seems high to me.

Don't get me wrong, the Yellow Jackets again will be formidable. Coach Paul Johnson's teams at Navy and Georgia Tech have posted at least eight victories for seven consecutive seasons, and that's not likely to change. Quarterback Josh Nesbitt still is around to lead the triple-option offense, and junior Roddy Jones and/or senior Anthony Allen will replace a lot of Dwyer's production.

But the Yellow Jackets' schedule includes road games at North Carolina, Wake Forest, Clemson, Virginia Tech and Georgia, as well as a home game against Miami.

Without the four juniors who left early, matching last season's win total won't be easy.

Bigger problems

How do you see Texas A&M's 2010 season playing out? If a few younger players develop the way I think they will, I can see us having a chance to make some noise in the Big 12.

Look for the Aggies to improve on last season's six wins, but it will be a surprise if they manage more than eight victories.

Few teams can match the Aggies for returning talent at the skill positions. Last season, quarterback Jerrod Johnson passed for more than 3,500 yards. Running backs Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray both rushed for more than 750 yards. Receivers Jeff Fuller, Ryan Tannehill and Uzoma Nwachukwu each had at least 40 catches and four touchdowns. Three starters must be replaced on the offensive line, which was mediocre in '09.

But that's not the major issue facing the Aggies. It's the defense.

And though this is like rubbing salt into wounds ... gaping wounds ... let's review: A&M allowed nine opponents to score at least 30 points last season. Now, there was no shame in getting torched by Texas (49 points), Texas Tech (30), Arkansas (47) or Oklahoma (65). Those teams all ranked among the nation's top 30 in scoring offenses last season.

But A&M also gave up 44 to Georgia, 30 to Utah State, 36 to Oklahoma State and 35 to Colorado, which all ranked between 47 and 92nd in scoring offense.

The Aggies just looked slow, especially in the secondary. Their pass defense allowed an average of 254.7 yards per game even though Von Miller led the nation with 17 sacks.

The good news is a bunch of starters - most notably Miller - return. Maybe the defense will make serious improvement under new coordinator Tim DeRuyter, who last season directed an Air Force defense that allowed 30 points just once.

Expecting DeRuyter to immediately transform the Aggies defense back into anything resembling the old "Wrecking Crew" units is unrealistic. It's also unrealistic to expect to contend for a Big 12 championship with a questionable defense.

The Aggies will have the ability to score a lot of points. But they will give up a lot, too.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for He can be reached at
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