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Insider

The Big Board: Standard of Greatness

8/30/2012

Has the offensive line gotten better? Will the running game improve? Can EJ Manuel stay upright in the pocket? Is this really the year?

There are myriad questions looming as Florida State gets set to open one of the most anticipated seasons in recent memory, but while the 2012 Seminoles' debut against Murray State will give fans a chance to see the team in action, it's unlikely we'll know a whole lot more about FSU when its over than we did when it began.

In fact, given Florida State's Week 2 opponent, Savannah State, odds are it's going to be a while before those burning questions have anything resembling a satisfactory answer.

So that begs the question: What should fans expect from Florida State during the first two weeks of the season?

The abridged response is simple: Domination.

If Florida State plans to play at an elite level this season, that needs to start with dominant performances against two dramatically inferior teams.

But how should FSU define domination?

Let's start with the Seminoles' Week 2 performance a year ago against Charleston Southern, their lone game against an FCS opponent.

Florida State led 34-0 at the half, cruised to a 62-10 win, and Manuel threw for a career-high 329 yards and four touchdowns.

Dominant, right? Well, sure. But maybe not as dominant as the score indicates.

In that game, Florida State allowed two sacks in 44 passing plays, or once every 22 times its QB dropped back to throw. If the Seminoles had kept that pace all year, life may have been a lot different in 2012, but of course not every opponent is quite as easy a matchup in the trenches as Charleston Southern.

In comparison, FSU's sack rate of once per 22 passing attempts ranked the Noles 53rd among the 93 teams that played games against FCS opponents last year, just a tick better than the national average of 21.

Similarly, Florida State's running game turned in a decent enough performance moving on the ground, too, averaging 5.17 yards per attempt, once we factor out yardage lost to sacks.

Again, if FSU had kept that pace for the year, it might have been celebrating an ACC title in December rather than lamenting an 8-4 regular season.

But how good is 5.17 yards per carry against an FCS opponent really?

That number ranked Florida State as the 61st most effective running game against FCS teams last year, just behind Minnesota, a team that lost its FCS game against North Dakota State.

Here's the overall breakdown of FSU's performance vs. the average for an FBS team against an FCS opponent last year:

What's worse, of the 181 yards FSU tallied on the ground against Charleston Southern, 35 came on an end around by receiver Bert Reed, while another 41 came on a long run by James Wilder Jr. with just a few seconds left on the clock. It was the final play of the game.

So, take those two runs away, and FSU's running game mustered just 105 yards in the game -- a lowly 3.18 yards per attempt, which would have been the fourth-worst performance against an FCS opponent by any team last year.

And making matters just a tad worse: For the year in 2011, Charleston Southern allowed opponents to rush for 5.1 yards per attempt. Nine of those 10 other opponents were fellow FCS members. Yikes.

(Oh, and for what it's worth, CSU had just 14 sacks in the 10 games it played against teams not named Florida State.)

Murray State won't be quite as much of a pushover. The Racers certainly won't mimic the defenses FSU will see against Virginia Tech or Florida, but it has a solid linebacking corps that includes two transfers from SEC schools (South Carolina and Kentucky), and they held opponents to just 4.4 yards per rush a year ago.

This won't be the test that defines whether the rushing game is ready to contribute or whether the offensive line can take a big step forward or whether Manuel will spend more time in the pocket and less time on his back. But it is a test, and even another 62-10 victory doesn't mean the Seminoles passed with flying colors.

A better result: At least 6.5 yards per rush, about 10 fewer passing attempts (particularly from Manuel), and a game in which Manuel leaves the pocket only by design.

That may actually be asking a lot for a revamped offense in Week 1, but when a national title contender plays a mediocre FCS team, that's the minimum bar that should be set.