ORLANDO Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher understands all of the preseason expectations. But he doesnt want FSU fans to forget this: despite losing a dozen players to injuries, the Seminoles still beat their biggest rivals and won nine games in 2011.
If the Seminoles dont lose any juniors early to the NFL, they could return 18 of their 22 starters on offense and defense in 2012. The forecast albeit a long way off appears sunny.
Just because you win this game, does it give you momentum? Yes, it does, Fisher said. But it doesn't mean you are going to win next year. We have to put the work in now. The new team's life starts.
Fisher, defensive coordinator Mark Stoops and the rest of FSUs coaches have brought life back to a struggling program. FSU followed up a 10-win season in 2010 with nine victories in 2011.
This season will be remembered for the injuries and unrealized expectations but also as one where FSU defeated Miami, Florida and Notre Dame. Fisher thinks the Seminoles will learn from adversity and take the next step in 2012.
What they have to do is go back from the experiences they got this year and learn from them and grow from them and constantly improve, Fisher said. We have to be so detail oriented to understand the little things that make a difference in championship-caliber football teams. We were close, but there were details we left out.
Hopefully the details will be the difference and take us over the top next year.
What will bolster FSUs chances of winning its first ACC title since 2005 is the return of top juniors like quarterback EJ Manuel, defensive end Brandon Jenkins and defensive back Greg Reid. Redshirt sophomore Xavier Rhodes has also sent in his paperwork for evaluation by the NFL.
If most, or all, of the group chooses to return, FSU could be a preseason top-10 team in the polls.
And the 2012 team has already been shaped by the experience gained with so many true freshmen forced to play right away, including offensive linemen Bobby Hart, Tre Jackson, Austin Barron and Josue Matias.
The more experience they get the better they are going to be, said senior left tackle Zebrie Sanders, who once started as a freshman and departs FSU having started 50 games. Even the last couple drives of this game, I felt like we were a better line. They are going to be good and they are going to continue to be a veteran, good line in the next couple years. Its going to be a nice thing to watch.
Two true freshmen were among the playmakers on offense: Devonta Freeman (579 yards, eight touchdowns) was the teams leading rusher, and Rashad Greene (596 yards, seven TDs) was the leading receiver.
Sanders is the only significant loss on offense. FSU loses two key players on defense: linebacker Nigel Bradham, who had 86 tackles in 2011 and led the team in tackles for three years, as well as corner Mike Harris (58 tackles).
The schedule in 2012 is daunting, however. FSU will host ACC champion Clemson, Big East champion West Virginia, Wake Forest and Florida. And the Seminoles will travel to Virginia Tech, Miami and South Florida.
But the coaching staff has replenished the roster with depth at nearly every position. And while there is a sense of achievement among FSUs players and coaches, there is a feeling that this years team has built a foundation for tackling bigger goals next season.
We had some ups and downs obviously, we didnt accomplish all of our goals but we did accomplish a great deal, defensive back Terrence Brooks said. Were definitely reloading. We have great players on this team.