Gators game preview: Florida State

ESPN’s GatorNation brings you the 30 things you need to know about Florida’s upcoming 2012 season. For 30 weekdays we’ll preview games, talk about trends, spotlight players and positions, and give you pretty much everything you need to know to be ready for the season before the Sept. 1 opener against Bowling Green.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- GatorNation is previewing each of Florida’s 2012 opponents. Today is Florida State (Nov. 24 in Tallahassee, Fla.).


2011 record: 9-4 (5-3 ACC), beat Notre Dame 18-14 in Champs Sports Bowl.

Coach: Jimbo Fisher, third season (19-8).

Series record: Florida leads 33-21-2.

Top returners: QB E.J. Manuel (203-311-8, 2,666 yards, 18 TDs); RB Devonta Freeman (579 yards, 8 TDs); DE Bjoern Werner (37 tackles, 7 sacks); CB Greg Reid (32 tackles, 2 INTs).

Did you know? FSU has not had a running back surpass 1,000 yards since Warrick Dunn in 1996. Only three backs since then have rushed for 900 yards.

Scouting the offense: Everyone keeps waiting for Manuel to take the next step and become an elite QB, and this season is his last chance. He and the offense have had their moments in the past few seasons but have not been consistent. The running game has been an issue for the past several years, too. FSU should have a deep, experienced group of receivers.

Scouting the defense: FSU may have the best defense in the country and returns nine starters from last year’s unit, which finished fourth nationally in total defense and second nationally in rush defense. Werner and DT Brandon Jenkins anchor a line that is arguably the best in the country. This defense should remind some of the FSU defenses of the 1990s: Quick, aggressive, and dominant.

Three things to watch

  1. FSU’s offense didn’t exactly tear things up against Florida last season. The Noles managed just 95 yards of total offense but won 21-7 thanks to four interceptions, including one which was returned for a touchdown. What will the Seminoles do differently this season? Is it just a matter of execution or is talent or coaching the issue?

  2. How will the friendship between Fisher and Will Muschamp be affected by their professional rivalry? They’re competing for a lot of the same recruits and face each other annually on the field. It was a new, interesting twist to the rivalry last season in Muschamp’s first year, but both coaches will get weary of answering questions -- especially about the beach house they co-own.

  3. The key to this game will be how well UF’s offensive line handles FSU’s defensive front. The Gators didn’t do a great job in this game last season, and it prompted Muschamp to call the team soft in his post-game comments.