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DE MCNEIL FINALLY DELIVERING

Throughout a career plagued by injuries and academic issues, Florida State senior DE Kevin McNeil has been long on promise and short on production.

But he showed signs Saturday night that he could be crafting a twist in his final college chapter.

Against Jacksonville State, he not only had two tackles, a sack and a pass broken up, he also blocked a field goal and picked up a fumble and returned it 33 yards for the clinching touchdown.

"He's got that kind of talent if he'll give it," said coach Bobby Bowden, who has publicly criticized McNeil's work ethic of late. "I think he's beginning to do it. I sensed last week that he got more urgent. I saw him fighting out there."

"For a while, it's been a lot of talking, but I'm tired of talking and I'm going to let my play speak for itself and go out and make plays and show everybody I can be a reliable defensive end," McNeil said.

If he can, he could vitalize the pass rush. He has the speed to run by people and some freakish athleticism, as he showed on the field goal block by leap-frogging a blocker.

If the FSU front four can pressure quarterbacks, that would reduce the need for the Seminoles to blitz as often as they have in the first two games. That would allow the linebackers and other defensive backs to concentrate on pass coverage.

The secondary has been prone to giving up big plays, which is a huge concern this Saturday as the Seminoles (1-1) must try to stymie QB Max Hall and No. 7 BYU (2-0).

"He's gone through a lot, a lot of injures, and there was a time when he was going through some things off the field and for him to come back and make a lot of plays, especially the touchdown, that's saying a lot about him and his character," senior LB Dekoda Watson said of his teammate. "I honestly believe he's going to be a great player and he's going to be something special on our team this year."

That is the promise. But it remains up to McNeil, who said he wants to prove he has the desire to produce. His weight soared to 278 in the offseason, a time when he focused on academics and barely became eligible. He's now at 265.

"I was pretty big and not really hustling to the ball but it's picking it up," he said. "You can get better each week, that's the good thing about it."

"McNeil probably could be as good a player as we've got on defense," longtime defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said. "We'd like to see him push himself a little harder and play like a champion instead of a part-time, sometime (player). ... This team needs him to step forward."

Scheduling 101: The Seminoles don't seem to be heading for another Labor Day game for at least a couple of years. Of course ESPN and the ACC wield some influence so that could change, but if they play on that date again, Bowden promised one difference: He would not play five days later, electing instead to use the bye, as Miami did this year, "unless we go down to a Division III" team.

Bowden has seen how a lack of preparation affects the execution in that Saturday game, even against a Division I-AA team.

FSU's next coach, Jimbo Fisher, also isn't a fan of the quick turnaround that TV and economics have helped spawn and would like to see the NCAA ban them, not that he expects the power brokers to heed his advice.

"It's something you can handle by the NCAA or a conference; it's just smart in my opinion," he said. "You can complain, but it doesn't always mean they'll listen."

The last word: "I still feel very good about this team; I think it's a heck of a team. We've got some great challenges ahead of us ... and it starts this Saturday." - Fisher.

Brian Landman can be reached at landman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3347. Read his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/seminoles.

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