Front and center … and guard and tackle
QB Christian Ponder's return from a shoulder injury is a big reason why pundits expect big things from the offense this year. But look just beyond his shadow for another big reason. "I think the best thing that Florida State has going outside of Christian Ponder is the fact that they have all five of their offensive line starters back," ESPN analyst Todd Blackledge said. "You can talk all you want about skill people, but when you are solid inside and you have that line intact, that gives you a real chance." FSU's Fab Five up front — senior G Rodney Hudson, the ACC's top blocker last year and a candidate for the Lombardi Award and the Outland Trophy, senior C Ryan McMahon, junior Ts Andrew Datko and Zebrie Sanders and junior G David Spurlock — were mainstays in 2009 and were together as the regular starters in 2008. "Having to start three freshmen is what made it strange," OL coach Rick Trickett said. "Either they were going to play or I had to go out there, and I was not going to go out there. We basically had to start over. What we had at the time, either you can't do it or you won't, and either way you're going to get replaced, and that's kind of what happened."
Continuity on the offensive line
During the past two seasons (26 games):
Player Pos. Starts
Andrew Datko LT25 straight
Rodney HudsonLG 24, missed two in '09 due to injury
Ryan McMahonC 26
David Spurlock RG 21, 20 straight
Zebrie Sanders RT 22 (23 overall)
Jimbo Fisher, the ninth head coach in FSU football history, looks to join an even smaller Seminole fraternity in Saturday's season opener against Division I-AA Samford (his alma mater, by the way). Only three coaches — Don Veller, Bill Peterson and Larry Jones — won their FSU debuts. Fisher has said the transition from assistant coach to head coach hasn't felt strange at all, but "I'm sure it'll be different the first time I run out the tunnel; some butterflies and all those good things."
FSU coach Debut Opponent Result
Ed Williamson Oct. 18, 1947 Stetson L, 14-6
Don Veller Oct. 9, 1948 Cumberland W, 30-0
Tom Nugent Sept. 25, 1953 at Miami L, 27-0
Perry Moss Sept. 19, 1959 Wake Forest L, 22-20
Bill Peterson Sept. 17, 1960 Richmond W, 28-0
Larry Jones Sept. 11, 1971 Southern Miss W, 24-9
Darrell Mudra Sept. 14, 1974 Pittsburgh L, 9-6
Bobby Bowden Sept. 11, 1976 at Memphis StateL, 21-12
He said it
"Coach Fisher is not just the rock of this team, he's the rock of this offense. Somebody said, 'He's now giving you the keys to the car.' Listen. I have the keys to the car during the week. I'm going to make sure the car's clean so he can drive it on Saturdays."
James Coley, new FSU offensive coordinator, on first-year head coach Jimbo Fisher
So much has changed around the program since the end of the 2009 season, but there remains a constant — former Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Billy Smith.
As he has every year since 1964, Smith will still be in the background, safely escorting the Seminoles' coach to and from the stadium for each game. Jimbo Fisher makes No. 5 after Bill Peterson, Larry Jones, Darrell Mudra and, for the past 34 years, Bobby Bowden.
"We're going to do it again. I'm really looking forward to it," Smith, 78, said beaming.
By the numbers
1 Associated Press first-team All-Americans in the past six seasons; OT Alex Barron (2004).
14 Years since FSU had a 1,000-yard rusher; Warrick Dunn went for 1,180 in 1996, his third straight year to surpass 1,000.
321.8 Average total yards per game by QB Christian Ponder last year, the sixth-highest season in ACC history.
434.6 Average total yards per game allowed by FSU last year, highest since 1973 (445.1).
Brian Landman, Times staff writer