When Florida State was down 16-14 with 5:30 to play in last year’s Orange Bowl, kicker Xavier Beitia missed a 39-yard field goal wide right against then out-of-conference rival Miami—the fifth time in the rivalry’s long history that a botched kick cost the Seminoles the game.
When the two teams meet again in their season opener Sept. 10, not only will the Seminoles be looking to stop a five game skid against the Hurricanes, but the winner may eventually go on to be crowned ACC champion in the newly expanded conference.
Florida State—ranked fifth nationally and the preseason favorite in the ACC—is chasing its 12th league title in 13 years and has high hopes for a national title run.
“People ask why do I think that this is our year to win it all. It’s simple. In years past when we lose, we haven’t played as a team,” senior Craphonso Thorpe said. “Everybody was trying to do their own thing. This year, we’re close-knit, like a family, like brothers, a hundred of us.”
A large reason for the feeling of unity is that head coach Bobby Bowden, the nation’s all-time leader in wins, has nine starters returning on the offensive side of the ball, including four-year starter Chris Rix at quarterback. Rix, whose 60 touchdown passes currently rank fourth all-time in the ACC record books, has the potential to end his career as one of the school’s best.
Rix’s primary target at wide receiver will be Thorpe, an All-American candidate who has fully recovered from the broken leg he suffered at the end of last season. P.K. Sam’s departure for the pros has opened up opportunities at the wideout position for Dominic Robinson, Chauncey Stovall, Willie Reid and even Sam’s younger brother Lorne.
Without Greg Jones, who left after three years for the NFL, Leon Washington is expected to carry much of the running load—he averaged better than 5 yards a carry on 74 attempts last season—in addition to his role on special teams.
“Leon’s a game-breaker,” Thorpe said. “Everybody knows that. On special teams, running the ball out of the backfield, catching it. When the ball gets in his hands, everybody stands up with excitement to see what he’s about to do.”
While the offense is expected to turn some heads, Florida State’s weakness will be its defense. It lost seven of last year’s starters and only return one of their front seven.
Senior Eric Moore, who led the team with 7.5 sacks last season, will provide leadership on the defensive line. There are no returning linebackers, but the secondary consists of three starting lettermen from last year’s 10-3 squad, including All-American hopeful Jerome Carter.
The Seminoles have the talent and depth to fill the gaps in their defense and march their way to the Orange Bowl, but standing in their path are fellow preseason top-25 teams Miami, Florida, Clemson, Virginia and Maryland.
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