When Chris Weinke began his press conference last January, six
days after leading the Seminoles to the national championship,
offensive coordinator Mark Richt was convinced the 27-year-old
junior quarterback was turning pro. As Weinke thanked his coaches
and teammates and asked Richt to stand up, Richt recalls
thinking, Just say you're leaving and get this over with. Much to
Richt's surprise, Weinke said, "Coach, would it be all right if I
came back and tried to win another national championship?"
"The moment he said he was coming back," says senior linebacker
Brian Allen, "all I could think of was, Let's make reservations
for Miami because there's no doubt in my mind we'll be there
playing for the national championship."
That kind of confidence in Weinke would have been preposterous
two years ago, when he threw an ACC-record six interceptions in
his second start, a loss to North Carolina State. Eight games
later he suffered a ruptured disk in his neck that nearly ended
his career and caused him several months of painful
rehabilitation. He showed no ill effects from the injury last
fall, throwing for 3,103 yards and 25 touchdowns, and since that
debacle against North Carolina State he has won 20 straight games
as the Seminoles' starter.
Having seen the business end of sports during his six-year stint
as a first baseman in the Toronto Blue Jays' organization, Weinke
based his decision to return to Florida State on his love for
college football. "The NFL people I talked to said I'd probably
be anywhere from a third- to fifth-round pick," says Weinke. "Why
should I be a fifth-round pick when I can come back and start for
the best team in the country?"
Weinke, 6'5", 240 pounds, has shed 20 pounds since last season
and says he feels quicker and more agile than ever. The backfield
is fully stocked, led by senior tailback Travis Minor (815 yards
in '99). The offensive line has three of five starters back and
senior fullback William McCray returns after missing all of last
season with a fractured lower right leg. Florida State has a
wealth of young receivers to step in for Peter Warrick, but the
Seminoles are still looking for a go-to guy.
As usual the Seminoles will field one of the nation's scariest
defenses. Seven starters are back from a unit that ranked 17th
nationally in total defense (304.6 yards per game), 10th in
scoring (15.8 points), 12th in rushing (98.8 yards) and 14th in
passing efficiency (105.3 rating). A big concern is replacing
tackles Corey Simon and Jerry Johnson, but with the return of
ends Jamal Reynolds and Roland Seymour and linebackers Tommy
Polley, Brian Allen and Bradley Jennings--who finished 1-2-3,
respectively, in tackles last season--nobody on the Seminoles
staff is losing any sleep.
The player who's toughest to replace isn't Warrick, but two-time
All-America kicker Sebastian Janikowski, who was virtually
automatic (47 of 47 PATs, 23 of 30 field goals in '99), and who
forced touchbacks on 69% of his kickoffs. Bowden will turn to
true freshman Brett Cimorelli, a 6'4", 220-pounder who kicked a
55-yard field goal in high school.
Last season Florida State capped a remarkable decade, winning
Bowden his second national title and finishing in the Top 4 for
the 13th consecutive year. Expectations never change in
Tallahassee and, with Weinke in tow, Bowden expects this group to
be playing in the Orange Bowl. "We may have lost our best player
in Warrick, but Weinke is our most valuable," says Bowden.
"Weinke coming back gave us a chance."
COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER The 28-year-old Weinke postponed his shot at the NFL to take a shot at a repeat national title--and a long shot it's not.
1999 record: 12-0 (8-0, 1st in ACC)
Final ranking: No. 1 AP, No. 1 coaches' poll
Victories for Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden from 1990 through '99,
the most among Division I-A coaches.
5 Key Returnees
QB Chris Weinke Sr. No interceptions in last 237 passes
RB Travis Minor Sr. Averages 4.8 yards per carry
LB Tommy Polley Sr. 109 tackles led team last year
DE Jamal Reynolds Sr. Had three sacks in Sugar Bowl
OT Tarlos Thomas Jr. Named to All-ACC first team in '99
An opposing team's coach sizes up The Seminoles
"I've been around Bobby long enough to know when he's smirking,
knowing he's got a good team. His chest is a little further out
than it normally is....Their offense is simple. They'll line up
in the I. If you put more people up there than they can block,
they'll throw it....I know Minor is good. I know the line is
good. This is the first time I can remember Bobby having that
many starters returning on the offensive line....Anquan Boldin
is supposed to be the next Warrick. He's supposed to be a great
talent. But he hasn't done it yet. [Flanker] Marvin Minnis
doesn't do much for me. If the receivers don't live up to their
big-play potential, you can gang up on their runners. Then you've
got a chance against them....The ends make their defense, and
they haven't been the same there since Peter Boulware and Andre
Wadsworth left a few years back. We've had no trouble blocking
their ends in recent years. We've been successful running right
at them....If you can get off the pass against them, you can be
successful. You're not going to move down the field three yards
at a time. You've got to have big-chunk plays."
Strength: 12th of 115
Aug. 26 BYU*
Sept. 9 at Georgia Tech
16 NORTH CAROLINA
28 at Maryland
Oct. 7 at Miami (Fla.)
28 at North Carolina St.
Nov. 4 CLEMSON
11 at Wake Forest
["TELLING NUMBER" COMPILED BY DAVID SABINO]