Where To Begin?
Wow, a lot has happened in the last two weeks. I mean a LOT! Obviously the biggest news is the hiring of Chuck Amato, completing the overhaul of the coaching staff, but that whole situation deserves it's own post so we'll have a Coaching Review up later. For now let's look the rest of the big stories in 'Nole Nation...
- Big shout-out to the basketball team for rebounding nicely from an 0-3 start in ACC play with wins over red-hot Virginia Tech and a blow-out of Miami. I attended the FSU/Georgia Tech game a couple weeks ago and noticed that Al Thornton looked like he was getting more and more frustrated as the 'Noles flailed around on offense. Well he took those frustrations out on the Hokies with 13 rebounds and 27 points -- IN THE SECOND HALF! What I saw in the GaTech game - and what was confirmed against VaTech - was that when Thornton decides to be selfish and own the game that he can be as dominant as any player in the country. It's a credit to him that he's bought into Coach Hamilton's philosophy of team-oriented play, but with an unbalanced team like FSU (too many swingmen, no true point or center) Thornton needs to put the team on his back against tougher competition.
Against the 'Canes Big Al was more than happy to share the load as Isaiah Swann, Uche Echefu, and Ralph Mims all made big contributions to the 'Noles 86-67 win. It was a beautiful win, but to be fair Miami was undermanned for the game and FSU was absolutely unconscious from three-point range. For the game FSU actually shot better from beyond the arc (a blistering 56.5%) than they did from two-point range. Still, it was a much-needed conference win and hopefully a huge morale boost for a team getting into the meat of its conference schedule.
Now comes a big test: tonight's game at Boston College is huge for the future of this team. With the dismissal of Sean Williams B.C. is a much better match-up for FSU and this becomes a "should win" game for the 'Noles. With FSU's recent struggles against top competition they can't afford to lose any games they "should" win, and they still need to pick up a few more quality wins to go with Florida and Virginia Tech. Plus FSU has been abysmal on the road this year and a win at Chestnut Hill would do wonders for the team's confidence. IF the 'Noles can get out of Boston with a 'W' they'll get to .500 in ACC play, and with Wake Forest and Maryland coming up FSU could have a chance to build up some momentum and establish themselves in the top half of the best conference in college basketball. I think this is the year we break the NCAA Tournament drought, but we've got to beat solid teams like BC if we're going to get there.
- HUGE news on the football front as it was recently announced that Clemson will replace Miami as FSU's Labor Day opponent. Personally I love the match-up: both teams are in serious need of a bounce-back year and a loss in Game One could have huge implications for the Atlantic Division race. I don't like opening on the road for the second straight year, but since early-season contests favor defense over offense and Clemson is losing Gaines Adams and CJ Gaddis I feel pretty good about the 'Noles' chances. And talk about sub-plots! Forget the tired "Bowden Bowl" angle, this game will mark the beginning of the Jimbo Fisher era at FSU and everyone in the Southeast will be interested to see if he can turn around FSU's offense. Tommy Bowden's hold on the Clemson Head Coaching position is tenuous at best and with a home loss the natives will get restless (okay, they're already pretty restless. Is "restlesser" a word?). The CJ Spiller soap opera has been pretty exciting already and there could be a few more plot turn between now and September, plus this game could feature new starting QBs for both teams. As if it wasn't hard enough waiting for football season, now 'Noles and Tigers fans will have added anticipation for the '07 kickoff. I'm giddy just thinking about it, and it's only January!
- Speaking of January, we're smack-dab in the middle of recruiting season and while I can't say I'm thrilled with FSU's recruiting class so far, it's not as bad as I feared. Granted, people on Warchant are doing back-flips because we signed a two-star offensive guard while Florida is racking up the five-star prospects, but I like the quality of the individuals we're bringing in. Anthony Grosso's 3.9 GPA doesn't look so hot next to Myron Rolle's 4.0, but it fits in nicely with Christian Ponder's 3.8. I know we don't bring these guys in just for their brains but it seems that in the wake of the Fred Rouse fiasco the coaches have made a concerted effort to bring in players of higher character, and I don't see how that can be a bad thing. But is the talent there? Outside of Kendall Smith, Dionte Allen, and Bernard Brinson there's not a lot to get too excited about yet, but there are still some big fish out there. Marvin Austin is apparently a very good possibility at DT and Joe McKnight is still out there. If only we could get some big-time OL to commit...oh wait, we did that with Chris Little and then new OL Coach Rick Trickett turned him away! Now, I've never coached an offensive line in my life and Coach Trickett has proven that he knows what he's doing, but the Little situation is extraordinary and bears watching over the next few year.
Look, there's not much I can share about recruiting - most of my info comes from Warchant and if you want the inside dirt pay the $9.95/month and sign up, just don't get too excited for this year. Five years from now we may look back on this as a stellar class, but from a recruiting RANKINGS standpoint it's going to be an off-year for FSU.
- After football season and recruiting season comes one of my favorite times of the year: NFL DRAFT SEASON! (Quick note: apparently Lorenzo Booker is tearing it up at Senior Bowl practices. I wish LoBo the best, but if he blows up ala Leon Washington in New york it will just make the last six years so much harder to bear). Unlike last year's first-round extravaganza it looks like the 'Noles will have a single first-round pick this year in Lawrence Timmons, but Buster Davis and Booker should both be first-day picks as well. But beyond FSU's prospects it's turning out to be a fascinating draft at the top with Oakland, Detroit, and Cleveland all in dire need of QBs and only two top-notch passers to go around. Personally, the NFL Draft is one of my favorite days of the year; it's this beautiful sparkling oasis of football in the desert wasteland of April sports. Look for the first of many mock drafts to go up shortly.
- As much as I hated to see Manning make it to the Super Bowl (not that I hate the guy, it's just fun to rag on him) at least we won't have to see fifty Rex Grossman/Reche Caldwell "did you know they were teammates at UF!?!" stories on SportsCenter. Ironically, we have Caldwell to thank for it...had he caught even one of the two wide-open passes he dropped against Indy the Pats would have scored and the Colts never could have come back. Gotta love those UF receivers in the pros! By the way, am I the only one who really enjoyed watching Bill Belichick squirm at the post-game press conference? He looked like a man who suddenly realized he was standing in a room full of people in a dirty sweatshirt with the sleeves cut off, looking like some guy who hangs out in front of a Gas-n-Go. To me that sweatshirt came to symbolize the arrogance that had seeped into the Patriots organization and eventually led to their loss in the AFC Championship. It was arrogance to let all their veteran free agents go, it was arrogance to go cheap on the wide receiver corps, and it was arrogance to sit on all their cap space at the trading deadline. That they made it as far as they did is a testament to Belichick's brilliance and Brady's clutchness (oh, and a metric fuck-ton of luck against San Diego), but Belichick was in dire need of some humble pie and I'm glad the Colts served it to him cold.
Hopefully FSU will take Indy's lead and whup some Boston ass tonight! GO NOLES!!!