After a subpar 2006, coach Bobby Bowden has Florida State back in the rankings.
The 19th-ranked Seminoles strive for a positive start Monday night when they open the season against ACC rival Clemson, coached by Bobby Bowden’s son Tommy Bowden.
Florida State entered 2006 at No. 11 and climbed as high as ninth before losses to Clemson and North Carolina State dropped it out of the Top 25. The Seminoles never returned to the nation’s elite, finishing with a 7-6 record and a 3-5 conference mark - fifth in the ACC’s Atlantic Division.
Despite a 44-27 win over UCLA in the Emerald Bowl, Florida State finished the season unranked for the first time in 20 years.
Bobby Bowden promptly hired a new offensive coaching staff, removing his son Jeff as coordinator and hiring Jimbo Fisher from LSU.
“It ain’t fair for me to stay here and put out mediocre football teams,” said the 77-year-old Bowden, whose 366 wins are three more than Penn State’s Joe Paterno for the most in major college football history. “I’m determined to get back to the top.”
He could accomplish that quickly in the wide open ACC, which Florida State has won 12 times in the last 15 years. FSU’s main rival in the conference could be No. 9 Virginia Tech, the only other ranked ACC school.
The Seminoles could use some consistent play from quarterback Drew Weatherford, who was named the team’s starter after a preseason competition with strong-armed Xavier Lee.
Weatherford has started 23 of FSU’s last 26 games, but was inconsistent throughout 2006. The junior signal caller passed for 1,244 yards and eight touchdowns with three interceptions in seven victories, while accumulating only 910 yards with four scores and eight picks in five defeats.
Lee, who finished 2006 with 885 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions, briefly supplanted Weatherford as starter last season before throwing a pair of early interceptions in a 30-0 loss to Wake Forest on Nov. 11.
“The main thing we were looking for is consistency,” Fisher said. “Making more of the every down plays. I thought he made the routine plays more consistently than Xavier did, for the most part, during camp and I think that set him apart.”
Sophomore running back Antone Smith replaces the departed Lorenzo Booker in the backfield. Smith averaged 5.2 yards per carry as a freshman, and found the end zone five times. He was also active in the passing game, with 21 receptions for 174 yards.
Greg Carr is back to serve as Weatherford’s primary receiver. The junior wideout caught 34 passes for 619 yards last season, along with 12 TDs - second in the ACC behind Georgia Tech star Calvin Johnson (15).
Bobby Bowden and Florida State have dropped the last two games to son Terry Bowden and Clemson, including a 27-20 loss at Tallahassee last Sept. 16 at Tallahassee, despite two Seminoles special teams touchdowns. The father still holds a 5-3 all-time advantage on his son.
Tommy Bowden and Clemson, though, have taken the last two home meetings with Florida State.
The Tigers are trying rebound from an 8-5 record last season, which included only one win in the last five games and a 28-20 loss to Kentucky in the Music City Bowl.
Clemson climbed as high as No. 10 in the country - the program’s best ranking in six years - and had its sights set on an ACC title before faltering down the stretch and finishing unranked.
“I think we lost focus,” said running back C.J. Spiller, a sophomore who rushed for 938 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. “If there was one word, it would be more focused on both sides of the ball.”
Junior tailback James Davis, who led the team with 1,187 yards and 17 TDs, also returns to give Clemson two Walter Camp candidates in the backfield.
The coaching staff plans to use both backs on the field at the same time.
“It gives me chill bumps to think about” what the two can do at the same time, Spiller said.
A question mark for the Tigers will be under center, where Cullen Harper is expected to start at quarterback after spending two seasons as a backup.
Harper has seen limited action over the past two years, completing 14-of-20 passes for 170 yards and two TDs in five games.
Defensively, the Tigers must replace All-America defensive end Gaines Adams, who departed for the NFL. Sophomores Kevin Alexander and Ricky Sapp are vying to claim the position.
The defensive unit stumbled in the last five games of 2006, allowing 22.0 points per game after yielding only 12.5 points during the first eight contests.