2012 perception of FSU hinges on offense

There has been talk of Florida State using the Champs Sports Bowl as a springboard into 2012, a way for the Seminoles to brush off the disappointment of unachieved goals this year and reset the bar for next season.

None of that will happen, though, unless coach Jimbo Fisher can find a way to squeeze more offense out of what appears to be a nearly empty tube.

Just one season after winning the Atlantic Division title, Fisher’s play calling has been called out by fans. The offensive line has taken its fair share of criticism, too, and it’s easy to see why: FSU enters Thursday’s game against Notre Dame with the nation’s No. 99 rushing offense, ranked No. 111 in sacks allowed and No. 73 in total offense. The Seminoles beat Florida in the regular-season finale with only 95 yards of total offense. They had four offensive touchdowns in the final three games, including just one against Miami and one against Virginia.

While defense is the hallmark of a championship team -- and there’s no doubting the Noles’ defense -- it’s only part of the equation. And if Florida State fans are going to expect more, the Noles will have to produce more against the Irish.

It’s been a perplexing end to what was supposed to be a productive season for first-year starting quarterback EJ Manuel and his supporting cast. FSU entered the season with depth at running back, experience on the offensive line, and Manuel had big-game experience as a backup. Part of the problem can be attributed to injuries.

The extended losses of senior linemen Andrew Datko and David Spurlock have led FSU to start six different offensive line combinations. No single group has been together in the same position for more than three consecutive games. It’s now possible that as many as four freshmen will play against Notre Dame. Manuel was also injured earlier this season, and a total of 13 starters or key reserves have missed a combined 64 games. Six FSU offensive linemen have missed games this season, and running Chris Thompson, the team’s leading rusher in 2010, suffered a season-ending back injury in the middle of the season.

“I’ve never been through injuries like we’ve been through this year,” Fisher said. “In the end it gave a lot of young guys time to develop and play. Hopefully we’ll play well in the game and I think going into the spring and hopefully next year, it makes it look very promising.”

It will only look that way, though, if Florida State wins -- and manages more than 95 yards in the process.