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Another Conference Crown

Scott Haynes, College Editor

On Campus Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Since the early '90s, the ACC has been owned by Bobby Bowden and the Florida State Seminoles. However, that all came to a crashing halt in 2001, as the league title that FSU held onto for so long, left Tallahassee, for a more seasonable climate in College Park, Maryland.

Yes, the Terrapins did the unthinkable last season, as they won their first conference crown since the mid-80s, but more importantly, they struck a blow for the rest of the league, as the ACC has been Florida State's playground since joining in 1992.

No team has dominated league play like the Seminoles have for the past decade. Florida State has posted a 76-4 record in ACC action since joining the league, with half of those losses coming last season.

Bobby Bowden
Bobby Bowden's Seminoles look like a team without a real weakness at this time.
In 2001, a letdown was expected, as Bobby Bowden had just five senior starters returning and had to put his offense in the hands of a freshman quarterback for the first time. While the team's fall from its lofty conference perch was not quarterback Chris Rix's fault, an inexperienced team did have a rather average 2001 season.

Florida State fans saw many lengthy streaks come to an end. The team's 14-year streak of at least 10 wins ended with an 8-4 season. Also, FSU's 54-game home winning streak was halted against eventual national champion Miami, not to mention the flawless home record against league foes, with a loss to NC State. In addition, the Seminoles also experienced their worst defeat to an unranked opponent (41-9 loss to North Carolina) since Bobby Bowden's first season in 1976.

Still, there was reason for optimism, as Chris Rix did have a solid season. The 6-4, 215-pounder was named the ACC Freshman of the Year, after completing over 57 percent of his passes, for 2,734 yards and 24 TDs. Rix was responsible for more yards of total offense (3,123) than any freshman in league history and picked ups some All-American honors in the process.

When Anquan Boldin and Robert Morgan both went down with injuries, it looked as if the receiving corps would struggle, especially with a raw talent under center. That of course, didn't happen, as wideouts Javon Walker (49 receptions, for 1,139 yards and nine TDs) and Talman Gardner (35 receptions, for 670 yards and 11 TDs) made the most of their opportunity. Walker has moved on to the NFL, but Gardner returns in 2002 and should be Rix's top target this season. Boldin and Morgan are back in the mix, as is sophomore Craphonso Thorpe, who showed glimpses of brilliant play as a true freshman last year. All in all, the passing game has a chance to flourish in 2002.

Chris Rix
Chris Rix was responsible for more yards of total offense (3,123) in 2001 than any freshman in league history.
A seasoned offensive line will undoubtedly play a big part in the team's success. The Miami Hurricanes relied heavily on their massive offensive front to win a national championship in 2001. The same might be said of FSU's line in 2002. All five starters return from a year ago, including All-American Brett Williams (6-6, 320) at tackle. The other bookend is senior Todd Williams (6-6, 315). The interior of the line is big and strong with seniors Milford Brown (6-4, 320) and Montrae Holland (6-3, 325) at the guard positions and savvy Antoine Mirambeau (6-4, 290) at center.

The ground game should see significant improvement as well, as the cupboard is full in the backfield. Both Greg Jones and Nick Maddox are back after combining for 1,277 yards and nine TDs last season. Jones averaged 5.3 yards per carry, while Maddox added 4.4. Not satisfied with those numbers, Bowden landed the nation's top offensive recruit in Lorenzo Booker, who will be hard to keep off the field this season.

The defense returns eight starters from last year, so this unit should be much improved as well. The defense was uncharacteristically soft in 2001, allowing 26.1 ppg (43rd nationally) and 356.4 yards of total offense (32nd nationally).

Boasting perhaps the nation's top defensive line in 2002, this defense has a chance to put up incredible numbers. Rush ends Kevin Emanuel and Alonzo Jackson will get after opposing QBs from the outside, while tackles Darnell Dockett and Jeff Womble will blow things up in the middle. The linebacking corps is solid as well, with the emergence of juniors Kendyll Pope and Michael Boulware. Pope is coming off a 2001 campaign in which he amassed 113 tackles (two sacks and two interceptions), while Boulware finished with 86 stops (one sack and three interceptions).

The secondary must replace veteran safeties Abdual Howard and Chris Hope, but returns starting cornerbacks Stanford Samuels and Rufus Brown, With a dominant front seven, the new safeties should be able to ease into their roles as the season goes on.

Even the kicking game should be one of the best in the ACC. Sophomore placekicker Xavier Beitia had a remarkable freshman season, earning Second- Team All-ACC honors, after leading the team in scoring (83 points) and converting 16-of-17 field-goal attempts.

At first glance, the Seminoles look like a team without a real weakness at this time. Solid at all the skilled positions, while being led by one of college football's legendary coaches, could very well add up to a date in the Fiesta Bowl this season.

The Seminoles will take it one game at a time however, as getting back their ACC title is first and foremost on their minds. Since 1992, the road to the ACC crown has ended in Talahassee. Last year, that road took a detour through College Park.

Bobby Bowden and the Seminoles are out to prove that is exactly what it was -- a brief detour.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Scott Haynes at shaynes@sportsnetwork.com.


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