It has been like a lifetime since Florida State throttled West Virginia in the Gator Bowl and sent Bobby Bowden out a winner. Finally, the 2010 season, and our first in 34 years without Bobby, is just a little more than a month away.
What type of expectations should we have? I believe our expectations should not be lowered and I'll explain why.
We have had three 7-6 seasons in the last four years. The three 7-6 seasons all began with a Monday Night Game. Coincidence? Not hardly.
Three times we've had to open seasons by playing three games in 12 days. Granted the second game was against a lightweight but valuable practice time was lost. There was hardly time to put in a game plan, let alone correct mistakes and make any needed changes from the Monday night ballgame.
It was the fourth or fifth week before we could develop a routine and/or consistency to our weekly schedule. This year we have no barrier. This season we open with a lightweight on a Saturday, just as we did in 2008 when we compiled a 9-4 record.
Additionally, the schedule itself is laid out for success.
We play five road games and three of the teams we'll face on the road, Virginia, Maryland and NC State, all had losing records in 2009. Our two road games against teams with winning records last year are verses Oklahoma, who at 8-5 has its own problems and at Miami where we haven't lost a football game since 2004.
We'll have ten days to prepare for NC State later in the year, and then nine days before we face North Carolina.
We will also have the edge in experience in eleven of our twelve games this fall. Only North Carolina has more returning starters than the 18 that return for us. The Heels have 19 first-teamers returning.
Boston College returns 14. Clemson, Wake Forest, Miami and Oklahoma bring back 13 starters, while BYU, Virginia, NC State and Maryland each have 12 starters returning.
Florida, with only 11 returning starters, will be the least experienced team that we will face.
There's no reason not to expect big things from this ball club. Our own experience, matched against our lesser experienced opponents and favorable location of the games are plenty of reason for high expectations.
Another reason for high expectations is the normal transition period, usually experienced with a coaching change, won't be as pronounced at Florida State.
Jimbo Fisher has overseen recruiting since he first came to FSU and his first duty in 2007 was to hire James Coley as our Tight End Coach and recruiting coordinator.
Thus, the majority of Florida State players have been recruited by Fisher and Coley.
A perfect example is found on offense where 9 of our 11 starters have been recruited by Fisher and Coley. The only two not recruited by them are Christain Ponder, who will be a 3-year starter under Fisher and Center Ryan McMahon, who will be starting for a 4th consecutive year.
This experience should aid us with curing the inconsistencies that have plagued our offense for the past three seasons, and improve us in the red zone where we finished in a tie for 11th place in the ACC, last season.
A new defensive staff, will have a transitional period, but that won't be that great.
While our 2009 defense was atrocious, we should remember that our 2008 defense finished 15th in the country. Our problem last year was inexperienced and under-sized defensive linemen. Our defensive backs weren't All-Americans, but they were made to look even worst because we never could generate a pass rush. Any quarterback that can sit for four or five seconds in the pocket will riddle the best of secondaries.
We'll be fine on defense, and more reason for high expectations.
SENSE OF URGENCY
I firmly believe that along with high expectations, Florida State fans need to have a sense of urgency for those expectations to be achieved.
FSU needs to know that they have the right coaching staff running the program and the sooner that is known, the better for Florida State.
Florida State has been at the medicore to good level the last few seasons and it is having an affect.
There has been ample talk about improved recruiting but the facts haven't supported that.
The hiring of Fisher and a new offensive staff in 2007, did bring an immediate hype into the program and added spark to our recruiting. However the hype has faded and it shows in our recruiting.
In 2008, 15 of our recruits were either 4 or 5-star players (elite). That number dropped to 12 in 2009 and to 10 in 2010. I'll further illustrate my contentions by comparing our recruiting to Florida's.
2008: FSU 15 elite players...Florida 16 elite players
2009: FSU 12 elite players...Florida 12 elite players
2010 FSU 10 elite players...Florida 22 elite players
The gap isn't being closed...it is getting worst.
The 2011 class is currently on-going but as of this writing, there is no improvement in the gap with UF. Florida State has received 14 commitments and only 4 of those players are of elite status (4 or 5-star). Florida, has received 13 commitments and 8 of them are elite players.
That 2-1 ratio still exists.
Once the hype of the newness wore off, the on-field production wasn't enough to stabilize recruiting.
Yes, we have signed some excellent players, but we haven't signed enough of them. We are recruiting the same players that Florida is and they are doubling us up.
The remainder of our 2011 recruiting is going to be crucial for our future success. We must PROVE to recruits, on the field of play, that Florida State is the place to be. It is obvious that the majority of them are not buying the talk.
We all know and understand that the best recruiting tool is winning football games, and this is the year for us to make our move.
Florida is vulnerable this year. A win over Florida would do wonders for recruiting. It would prove to recruits, that not only can we talk the talk, but we can walk the walk. We can't afford to lose any more ground to UF, and beating Florida is the only way to make up ground on them.
The goal of the program is the same...BE ELITE. We'll never be elite if we have reduced expectations.
Fisher and Coley have been running our recruiting for four years. They have their players on the field. The future MUST be now.
I understand that expectations are left to each individual Florida State fan to decide. I can only write that there is no need to make excuses for lack of production by our team anymore. Instead of making excuses for the coaches, we need to be asking hard questions of the coaches.
There is an adage that all coaches, company executives and anyone involved with management subscribes to and it has a great deal of merit to it..."You can only expect what you demand."
It's time for the FSU fan base to demand that their expectations be met. If our expectations are not met this year, it may very well be another four or five years, and another coaching change, before we beat Florida again, and return to being elite.
Defeating Wake Forest and North Carolina State shouldn't be an expectation, it should be an after-thought.
Returning to elite status is the expectation at Florida State, and we'll never be elite again until we beat Florida.
...and they are vulnerable this year.