The Florida State depth chart looks dramatically different today.
You can finally add linebacker Dekoda Watson, cornerback Patrick Robinson, defensive tackle Justin Mincey, defensive end Neefy Moffett, tight end Caz Piurowski and center/guard Brandon Davis. All had to sit out the Music City Bowl last year and the first three games of this season for their admitted involvement in an academic misconduct scandal, but they are back for today's game against Colorado in Jacksonville.
Although the defense has done well, allowing just one touchdown in three games, Watson and Robinson are two of the most dynamic playmakers on the team, and Mincey and Moffett have both been starters. Meanwhile, Piurowski, the former Land O'Lakes standout, is a reliable target and powerful, veteran blocker who figures to help a young line that's protecting a young starting quarterback.
"I think it'll be meaningful," coach Bobby Bowden said.
The Seminoles (2-1) and their fans sure need that to be the case. They need something uplifting after last week's 12-3 loss to Wake Forest, and perhaps the penalty box door being flung open will be that something.
"There's an emotional difference just from the guys coming back," Bowden said. "They're happy again."
While they were suspended, the players were relegated to the scout team during the week and to the stands on the weekend.
"You had to keep a positive attitude, but it's kind of hard every day to go out to the scout team," confessed Mincey, who worked there as an offensive tackle. "But I had to help the team get better. It was the only thing I could do."
Piurowski filled in at defensive end, trying to help the younger tight ends learn their blocking assignments.
"That's a big dude, and he comes hard, like a real D-end," freshman tight end Bo Reliford said of Piurowski, adding his elder has stressed how to move his feet, use his hands and read the defense. "That's the part that's gotten me. It seems like he knows what he's doing over there, and it's making me better."
"I tried to give them a few looks and go pretty hard out there," Piurowski added. "You go against the best defensive end in the nation (Everette Brown) practice after practice and you learn a thing or two."
Bowden said he has been amazed how tenaciously and zealously the suspended players have worked, but there are still questions now that they've resumed a more normal preparatory role:
Will there be a disruption in chemistry? Watson, for one, says no. The players "respect" one another too much.
Will the returning players be too eager and commit errors as a result? Robinson said he has no such concerns; he plans to be "calm and collected."
Will their return affect the team's fortunes? Well, defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews pointed out that those players on his side were "starters for a reason; they were better than the guys behind them." If they're rusty at the outset, as defensive tackle Budd Thacker (who returned last week) was, depth is going to be better at the minimum. Don't forget that linebackers Kenny Ingram (a team-high three pass breakups) and Kendall Smith (10 tackles, one sack) have filled in nicely for Watson.
Consider this glaring stat: The Seminoles are yet to come up with an interception. Robinson had a team-high six picks last season.
"It's been kind of disappointing watching the past three games; we got our hands on about seven or eight balls and we haven't come down with them," Robinson said. "I'm planning on trying to bring that interception rate back up."
"As good as we (the defense) are (playing so far), with the suspended players (back), I think it's going to be a tremendous lift," Watson said. "I'm not saying we're the differencemakers or the best, but at the same time, we do have talent."
Brian Landman can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3347.