Coach Bobby Bowden reflected recently on an off-season during which his Florida State team lost starting quarterback Wyatt Sexton (Lyme disease), All-ACC cornerback Antonio Cromartie (torn ACL) and promising defensive lineman Clifton Dickson (academically ineligible) for the season. Also, two starting linebackers, junior Ernie Sims and senior A.J. Nicholson, had been arrested and charged with misdemeanors in separate incidents. (The cases are pending; Bowden says that neither player will miss a game.) "We had some problems, but so did everyone else," the 75-year-old Bowden says. "The weak can't handle it."
After four straight seasons of finishing outside the Top 10, plus the off-season casualties, this team has as many question marks as any Florida State squad since Deion Sanders high-stepped through Doak Campbell Stadium. The biggest concern is an offense that last year turned in the program's worst averages for scoring (25.2 points) and total yardage (372.5) since 1981. Bowden brought in a new offensive line coach, former Marshall offensive coordinator Mark McHale, and is experimenting with putting backs and receivers in motion more often. But the key will be the new quarterback, either Xavier Lee or Drew Weatherford, both redshirt freshmen. "We have two young quarterbacks who are dedicated to making this offense better," Sims says. "I hope they do, because a defense can only do so much."
Last season Florida State ranked fourth nationally in scoring defense (14.1 points per game) and seventh in total defense (283.8 yards). The strength of the unit will be a set of linebackers led by the speedy Sims, who expects to be 100% following off-season surgery to repair a fractured right fibula. The availability of Sims and Nicholson enables the Seminoles to use more schemes with three down linemen instead of the usual four. "The players believe in this team," says Sims. "We have a new group of guys who are determined to put Florida State where it used to be." --G. M.
2004 RECORD 9-3 (6-2, 2nd in ACC)
FINAL AP RANK 15
RETURNING STARTERS 11
KEY RETURNEES (2004 stats)
LB A.J. Nicholson (Sr.) Topped team with 88 tackles from weak side
RB Leon Washington (Sr.) Rushed for 951 yards in part-time duty
DE Kamerion Wimbley (Sr.) Won Hinesman Award as top spring Seminole
WR Willie Reid (Sr.) Set school record with 522 punt-return yards
Combined rushing yards for Leon Washington and Lorenzo Booker, most by a Seminoles duo since Sammie Smith and Dexter Carter in 1987.
A former Florida high school Mr. Football--he was a two-way player who also returned kicks and punts--5'9", 202-pound senior LeonWashington is now one of the most underrated ballcarriers in the nation. Quick to hit the hole, Washington averaged an ACC-best 95.1 yards per game last year. His 6.89 yards per carry was the second-best average in the country.
Sept. 5 MIAMI
10 THE CITADEL
17 at Boston College
Oct. 1 SYRACUSE
8 WAKE FOREST
15 at Virginia
22 at Duke
Nov. 5 N.C. STATE
12 at Clemson
26 at Florida
A depleted Seminoles defense will rely on Sims (34) to lead the way, often from a four-linebacker set.