Every day this summer, Florida State defensive end Brandon Jenkins and his teammates watched film of their Week 3 opponent, the Oklahoma Sooners.
Make no mistake: The players on the 2011 Florida State roster know that if they win at home on Sept. 17, they will instantly be considered a national title contender -- exactly what the ACC needs.
“It can be a control factor sometimes,” Jenkins said. “It’s in our heads a lot, but at the same time, we just have to go out and take it one game at a time.”
With opening games against unheralded Louisiana-Monroe and FCS opponent Charleston Southern, college football fans won’t know just how good this season’s Florida State team is until it lines up against the Sooners. On paper, Florida State is loaded, which is a big reason why expectations are soaring in Jimbo Fisher’s second season, and the Noles were picked by the media to beat Virginia Tech for this season’s ACC championship.
Can the Seminoles bridge the gap between good and great in only two seasons under Fisher?
“I hope so,” Fisher said. “We were a couple drives away from that last year. I think we’re very capable. I think it’s our goal. We want to have a winning season, we want to be a state champion, we want to be a winning division champion, we want to be the ACC champion, and a BCS bowl and hopefully a national championship. … I think we’re very capable. I’m anxious to see how our team takes that challenge.”
Seventeen starters return, including one of the top kicking tandems in the country, the top three rushers, 10 of the top 11 receivers and all four starters in the secondary from a year ago. And 2010 was good. The Seminoles won the Atlantic Division title, beat rival Florida and won their bowl game against SEC East champ South Carolina for a 10-4 record.
While ACC fans have grown weary of the preseason hype that has failed to translate into statement wins on the national stage, those within Florida State’s program are convinced they have all of the talent and intangibles needed to win the ACC title and contend for a national title -- this year, not next.
“We have so many athletes on our team,” first-year starting quarterback EJ Manuel said. “This is probably the best team I’ve ever been on in anything I’ve ever done -- basketball, baseball, football, all that. And then we have great coaches, too. And I think the fact we have good people on our team carries a lot of weight. We have good character guys on our team. We weeded out all of the cancers on our team. We have a good nucleus of guys.”
And Manuel is at the head of the class.
He’s 4-2 as a starter, so he’s not exactly a true rookie, and he enters his first season as a full-time starter having completed 67.3 percent of his passes for 1,678 yards, six touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 17 games.
His play, he said, isn’t the only factor that will determine whether Florida State is a championship-caliber team.
“I think it’s the small things,” Manuel said. “It comes down to the fine details of preparing for a game and then when you’re out there in a game, things like guys making sure they’re taking the correct steps. It sounds basic, but it’s very important. If we had had people making smaller decisions last year, we would have had a different record. We could have had 13 wins instead of being 10-4.”
The 10-win mark, though, only raised the expectations for 2011.
“It does signify that people are taking notice of your program,” Fisher said of his team being the favorite to win the ACC title. “If you’re going to be good, you have to expect to be good, you have to understand to be good, and you have to embrace it. That’s why you come to Florida State. And that’s why I want to be there.”