He's just a sophomore and set to be a starter for the first time, but TB Jermaine Thomas has been asked more times than he can count if he's going to be the one to do something no FSU back has done since 1996 — gain 1,000 yards. Warrick Dunn went for 1,180 yards as a senior that year. Since then, the closest anyone has come was 951 yards (Leon Washington in 2004; he had just 138 carries since he split time with Lorenzo Booker). "I want to accomplish that," Thomas said. "That would mean a lot to me." He's also taking aim at another Dunn stat — 3,959 career yards. "I wrote it down and put it on my wall," he said. Thomas had 482 yards on 69 attempts as Antone Smith's backup. His 7.0 yards per carry was the third best by a freshman in school history behind only Sean Jackson (7.9) and, you guessed it, Dunn (7.5).
Ready to impress
Senior DE Markus White came to FSU last season after an All-American season in junior college but didn't exactly dominate. He had one sack. He had 24.5 the year before.
"I'm 10 times more comfortable," he said. "When I step out on that field, I don't feel questions at all. When I'm in my stance, I'm not thinking; I already know what to do. … Last year, I believed I lined up thinking like, 'Oh, no. Am I going to this gap or this gap, I'm not sure. I'm not sure. Where do I line up?' That's all in the past."
A swift kick
Freshman Dustin Hopkins comes to Florida State as the consensus top placekicker in the nation last season. He missed only three field goals as a senior for Clear Lake (Texas), and two of those were from 58 and 64 yards. Now he's competing with sophomore James Esco for the opportunity to replace Graham Gano, the Groza Award winner and the player coach Bobby Bowden unabashedly calls last year's MVP.
So, can Hopkins do that?
In recent years, the Seminoles have turned to true freshmen four other times — Sports Illustrated cover guy Scott Bentley in 1993 (he did hit the big field goals in the Orange Bowl win for the national title), Sebastian Janikowski (who unseated Bill Gramatica early in the season), former Jesuit High star Xavier Beitia and Gary Cismesia (who took over as the starter for the final three regular season games in 2004). Here's a look at how they fared as freshmen:
Player Season PATs FGs
Scott Bentley 1993 56 of 64 13 of 20
Sebastian Janikowski 1997 37 of 39 16 of 21
Xavier Beitia 2001 44 of 48 13 of 14
Gary Cismesia 2004 4 of 4 7 of 9
He said it
"He's still going to be a legend. That statue ain't going nowhere." — Senior LB Dekoda Watson, on what the school's appeal of an NCAA sanction (the vacating of wins) means to the legacy of coach Bobby Bowden
By the numbers
1 Times the Seminoles have won the Atlantic Division of the ACC (in 2005) to reach the league championship game, which this year is Dec. 5 at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium.
18 The Seminoles' ranking in the AP preseason poll, their highest starting spot since they were No. 11 in 2006. They were unranked to start last year, something that hadn't happened since 1982.
382 Bobby Bowden's career coaching wins, one behind Penn State's Joe Paterno for the most in Division I-A history, though the pending NCAA sanction could change the race markedly.
Brian Landman, Times staff writer