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Fresh infusion of hope

Drew Weatherford, front, is competing with Christian Ponder, left, and D’Vontrey Richardson to start at quarterback.

Associated Press

Drew Weatherford, front, is competing with Christian Ponder, left, and D’Vontrey Richardson to start at quarterback.


For the Florida State Seminoles, the script is dramatically different than it has been.

Remember the days when coach Bobby Bowden's top players were fourth-year juniors and seniors? These aren't those days. Neophytes and newcomers will dominate the depth chart in the wake of an academic misconduct scandal that will see about 10 key Seminoles — including defensive linemen Paul Griffin and Budd Thacker, linebacker Dekoda Watson, cornerback Patrick Robinson, tight end Caz Piurowski and running back Marcus Sims — out for at least the first three games. Most began serving a four-game suspension in the Music City Bowl.

"We're going to have to call on more freshmen this year, more new faces this year, than we have in the past," Bowden said. "I'm anxious to see who can help us."

Doesn't that sound more like the 2008 season has all the makings of a pilot series, you know, iffy prospects for a triumphant run, rather than an established Nielsen's hit?

Well, not necessarily. Bowden and his assistants are high, more so than usual, on their incoming recruiting class, a group that includes these freshmen: linebacker Nigel Bradham, cornerback Terrance Parks, defensive tackle Moses McCray (Hillsborough High), offensive linemen Zebrie Sanders, Andrew Datko, Rhonne Sanderson (Plant High) and David Spurlock, running backs Carlton "Ty" Jones (Middleton High), Jermaine Thomas, freshmen tight ends Bo Reliford and Ja'Baris Little, and quarterback E.J. Manuel.

Also in a departure from the norm, the Seminoles brought in four heralded junior-college transfers in receiver Corey Surrency, defensive end Markus White, running back Tavares Pressley and offensive tackle Joe Tonga.

"We think this class is going to be the start of something good," Bowden said.

But can that group, further bolstered by the promising but raw players who signed in 2007, get it going before Bowden decides to cancel his historic fall series and turn the program over to his designated successor, offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher?

"The lack of experience is one thing, but the talent is the big thing," said redshirt senior quarterback Drew Weatherford, the former Land O'Lakes standout who has been battling third-year sophomores Christian Ponder and D'Vontrey Richardson for the starting job in the biggest unanswered question of the fall. "These kids are extremely talented, and I'll take talent over experience any day of the week. And they've got a ton of it."

Aside from ability, there's a new attitude.

From everyone.

"Youth can help rejuvenate you, it can give a shot in the arm to a team," junior safety Myron Rolle said. "I'm from New Jersey, so I follow Penn State, and when Derrick Williams and Justin King and those guys went there (in 2005), it rejuvenated that program."

Stat alert: Penn State was 4-7 in 2004. The Nittany Lions were 11-1 in 2005, which included a triple overtime win in the Orange Bowl against FSU, and finished No. 3 in the final AP poll.

Consider the impact that quarterback Tim Tebow and receiver Percy Harvin had on Florida as freshmen in 2006. The Gators routed Ohio State to win the Bowl Championship Series title.

"The freshmen we have are very mature," Rolle continued excitedly. "They've all worked hard this summer, and they're ready to make a significant contribution. Early and often."

A key for FSU's record, the ultimate gauge of success or failure, will be if the youngsters can maintain their confidence born from their successes in high school. For the typical newcomer, swagger often becomes a stagger, at least for a while, and the Seminoles can't afford that.

"You've got to remind them why they're here," said Fisher, who was yelling far less often at practices than a year ago. "It's part of our job to help them keep their confidence, keep their swagger, because every year it happens across the country where (new) guys make a great contribution early."

"Folks, football is as simple as this: He who gets the best players is going to win," Bowden added. "It's not tricky coaching. If you get the best players and just coach solid football, sound football, you'll win."

This FAll ...

SERIES PLOT: The Seminoles are looking to rebound from three straight subpar seasons, including back-to-back 7-6 finishes. For the first time, they're not picked to win, or at least play for, the ACC title.

NEW FACES: With about 10 key players facing suspensions to start the season in the wake of an academic misconduct scandal, look for a plethora of freshmen, including last year's redshirts, to take on prominent roles all over the field.

WILL BE A HIT IF … The quarterback, whoever that is, produces more big plays (FSU had 15 TD passes last year), the defense closes out games like it used to and the newcomers are as good as advertised.

WILL BE CANCELED IF … The quarterback, whoever that is, struggles behind an inexperienced line, a thin defensive line sustains injuries and newcomers are overmatched by more experienced opponents.

Fresh infusion of hope 08/27/08 [Last modified: Thursday, August 28, 2008 9:17am]
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