By Todd Helmick Owner & Operator


The big question mark for the Seminoles to start this season was on the OL. Look, when you lose four of your five starters, one has to wonder just how well the newcomers can gel by the time games get started. And let's face it, even with quality players up front in the past, FSU has never seemingly possessed a dominating bunch. Well, North Carolina found out last week that this OL is pretty darn good (but that's not really saying much considering the defensive concerns the Tar Heels have accumulated). Make no mistake - FSU's front is fairly talent, and coaches will be the first to tell you that tackle Alex Barron is one of the best tackles to play at FSU in quite some time - they will reel off quite a few stellar names in comparison. But they do have depth problems, in particular in the middle. The guard and center reserves are freshmen. As long as the starters stay healthy, the Nole's offensive front can be quite a group.

Moving on to the running backs…FSU has a stable of horses. Greg Jones and his 252 pounds of muscle need no introduction. But keep an eye on the very quick and shifty Lorenzo Booker, who some considered the nation's top prep RB just two seasons ago when the California native opted to attend FSU (over previously anticipated Notre Dame) on ESPN's televised signing day. This kid is Warrick Dunn in a nutshell…he is that good, maybe even quicker.

Maryland will counter with a big, steady group on the DL. First team All-ACC player Randy Starks (304 lbs.) has been a monster at DT throughout the spring and August practices. He is partnered with C.J. Feldheim (297 lbs.), so the Terps do have the size to go toe-to-toe with the mammoth Seminole front. Before August 28th and the Northern Illinois loss, Maryland looked primed to become one of the leagues best defenses. They held their own versus RB Michael "Turner the Burner", but showed lapses down the closing stretch in terms of stamina. Given the heat of Tallahassee, it would be wise to rotate personnel, and the Terrapins are healthy enough to do so. But will they? There are questions concerning E.J. Henderson's replacement at MLB, D'Qwell Jackson (6-1, 217, Seminole High School graduate out of the Sunshine State), in terms of stuffing the power game. Let's say the front lines are a draw, but FSU gets a slight edge due to having the best RB-depth in the country.

The big question has to be the status of RB Bruce Perry for the Terps. It looks like he will play after a high ankle sprain sidelined him so far in 2003. But don't look for Perry to be the every-down back just yet - last week versus NIU, the Terrapin running game looked anemic. Josh Allen and Sam Maldonado (the Ohio State transfer) did most of the work. Neither one appears to have breakaway speed, but both do show some toughness and the ability to run hard.

The big question mark heading into the season for Maryland was on the OL. Their status is an exact duplication of FSU's (see above paragraph). Maryland has a major lack of depth, and it did not help matters when big senior guard Lamar Bryant was lost with a broken foot.

If there is a mismatch on the field, this is it. Florida State has a huge advantage with a veteran group of defensive linemen and linebackers. DT Darnell Dockett (from Paint Branch H.S. in Maryland) will square off for the last time versus his home state's namesake school. Jeff Womble and the return of Travis Johnson from off-season legal troubles join him. We can tell you now…the FSU linebackers are some of the best in all college football, with Michael Boulware and Kendyll Pope on the outside, and the depth at each position goes three deep. Through the last two-year "dry spell" (FSU's comparatively lower overall level for which many other teams would kill), FSU still managed a solid run-defense. Well, they are all back again with numbers overflowing…something you need for the heat of early September. The Noles have a huge advantage here.

Chris Rix is a more poised QB as opposed to what fans witnessed the previous two seasons. He still has issues that need work - how he locks in on one receiver and/or pats the ball before releasing. But the key for Rix will be finding ways "not to lose" in terms of throwing those inopportune INTs and losing costly fumbles (see 2002 Notre Dame game).

The Seminole receivers are good enough to continue the quality wide-out tradition at FSU. Locating skill position recruits in the state of Florida isn't too difficult, which explains the success the Noles have enjoyed throughout the years here. So many names to go around…look at last week versus North Carolina, where 10 different players caught passes. The big cat in that Chapel Hill tussle was Craphonso Thorpe. Keep an eye on this youngster.

When the Maryland secondary takes the field, some of the names may be pretty recognizable. That is because most of them have been in College Park for quite a few seasons. Foxworth, Cox, Williams, and Wilson have been through the Seminole-mill the previous two outings, and now they are all juniors and seniors. They know what to expect. In fact, this may be one of the Top 10 defensive backfields on paper in the entire nation. They still have never proved it against FSU, and this time around the task will be their most difficult, seeing how Rix is not longer an underclassman. Back in the summer, we would have told you that Maryland held a big advantage in this match-up. But after watching a lesser candidate in Northern Illinois' QB Josh Haldi go 21-of-35 for 266 in beating the Terps, we have to wonder if the Terrapin secondary is as good as advertised. NIU receiver P.J. Fleck caught an amazing 13 passes for 116 yards, so what exactly do you think the Seminole receivers will do? Maryland gets one more chance to redeem their poor week one appearance, so let's call this one even.

Again, if we could rewind the clock back to last fall, or even this past summer, we would have told you that Maryland and senior QB Scott McBrien held a nice advantage in this department. Especially considering the FSU pass-defense was borderline disastrous. But McBrien took some huge strides backwards against NIU. Granted, he has been hampered by a pulled groin muscle, so the typical sprint-draws and option formations were not necessarily available from Coach Ralph Friedgen's shelves of plays. It appears, though, that McBrien is now essentially 100% ready, so look out for a much different approach.

Looking at the Terrapin WR roster, the names are highly touted, with guys like Jafar Williams and Latrez Harrison (the most athletic player on the team). But again, this group laid a big goose egg against NIU with both dropped passes and misjudgments on where the ball was going. So now that leaves Florida State much more competitive.

FSU pulls even mostly because the Seminole DBs are the best that long-time defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews has had in the last three seasons. Viewers will see Nole safeties Jerome Carter and Pat Watkins as much-improved young guns. Both were top rated at their positions coming out of high school, and you'll see why much like last Saturday. Watkins was last week's Defensive MVP as he led the team in tackles (8) and pass breakups (4). The Seminole's sack-pressure on the outside is extremely talented and deep on paper, but hasn't shown the ability to sack anyone yet. The spring and August scrimmages showed otherwise, but most are still waiting when it counts. Look for statistical anomalies like this to average out as of Saturday. This match-up should be the one that wins or loses the game for either team, simply because it was FSU's Achilles Heel in 2002 and Tar Heel QB Darian Durant was able to find enough holes last week. Maryland will need to take advantage in this department if they have any hopes of pulling this one out a win.

Knocking the Terps in this area is almost impossible - they have a Lou Groza Candidate in proven kicker Nick Novak, and a punter in Adam Podlesh who averaged 45.4 yards per punt in his first ever appearance versus NIU. Maryland could have taken a larger lead in this category if first-team All-American punt returner Steve Suter was 100% healthy. The problem is, Suter has a hamstring that just won't heel, and his debut is still in question after sitting so far. This one really hurts the Terps.

Florida State isn't so bad either. Kicker Xavier Beitia, in his third year starting, has been a rock. His streak of 80 straight extra points was broken last Saturday as one got blocked. Even more ironically amazing is that all SEVEN of his kickoffs were for touchbacks in that Carolina game. But we have questions concerning his field goal accuracy, as his confidence just never seems to have rebounded after the famous "Wide Left" in Miami last year. Hurting FSU is the loss of Leon Washington (Mr. Florida Football, 2001) returning kicks and punts. He should be out a few weeks after dislocating his elbow in the opener. But FSU has plenty of skill people as mentioned, so the drop-off isn't too bad. But Maryland, even without the services of Suter, takes an edge in this category. If the game boils down to a field goal match, put the money on Nick Novak's deadly accuracy from any distance.

The game is in Tallahassee. It's the first week of September, the heat and humidity is almost intolerable, and Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen will end up changing his shirt at least ten times. That doesn't bode well for the team up north and here's why. To quote Friedgen after watching game film of FSU vs. North Carolina,

"I'm amazed at the number of players they have. I see three and four teams on the field (for them) and that (UNC) was an away game. It's hard to tell who the starters are and who the backups are."

People say speed kills, but as Bobby Bowden would tell you, depth kills…especially in the literal heat of the early "summer" season. FSU has made a mark of "out-talenting" teams into the fourth quarter through avid rotations. You'll see the same this week, in particular on defense, where fresh legs are crucial. But don't write the "down-but-not-out" Terrapins after last week's debacle. This defense is good enough to give FSU fits, enough so that spotting Maryland 14 points is hogwash. FSU should win this game outright, no doubt about it. Again, too much depth. But let's say this…Maryland has about as much of a chance at beating FSU as Northern Illinois does of again beating Maryland. The problem is, the game is in Doak Campbell Stadium.

PREDICTION: Florida State 23 Maryland 14