By Kelley Bydlon
10 wins in 2010, one of the top recruiting classes in the nation in 2011, and a preseason top 10 ranking all added up to big expectations for the Florida State football team a season ago. Many people were even talking National Championship in Tallahassee before the season. Three losses in their first five games though brought a harsh dose of reality to the Seminoles and their fans. They quickly learned that conference and national championships wouldn't just be handed over, they would have to earn them.
FSU, with a healthy E.J. Manuel back under center, was able to finish out the year strong. They won seven of their eight remaining games, including victories over both Florida and Miami. They ended the season on a high note with a thrilling come-from-behind win against Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl. Only a few key players left the field that day knowing that their quest for a national championship was over. The vast majority knew they'd have another, better crack at it the following season.
The mighty FSU defense from 2011 will lose only three starters to graduation. DE Brandon Jenkins, CB Greg Reid, and CB Xavier Rhodes all chose to forego the NFL draft and return for their senior seasons. Combine that with QB E.J. Manuel's return, an electrifying group of young receivers, and an improving running game, and 2012 is looking very promising for the 'Noles… and that was before National Signing Day.
Jimbo Fisher and his coaching staff absolutely killed it in the recruiting season once again this year. They had 19 recruits sign, including the nation's top recruit, DE Mario Edwards. They also added one of the top QBs in the nation in Jameis Winston. FSU finished top five In three of the four top recruiting services' (ESPN, 247, Scout, and Rivals) final rankings.
Spring ball will be very important for FSU this year as they will need to get their talented underclassmen to mesh with an extremely experienced senior class. If they can do that, and find some players to fill the holes created by graduating starters, FSU should return a preseason top 10 team for 2012 and have a legitimate shot at a national championship. If FSU fans learned anything in 2011 though, health of the 'Noles key starters will be major factor in how far they go.
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