We're just past the half way point in the '09 season, and it's getting ugly. Nevermind the off-field issues about the coaching staff, the succession plan, and Bobby's place in the program; the product on the field is 2-4 and 0-3 in the ACC. A winning season and a post-season bowl game both seem unlikely at this point and the front 7 of the defense has been seriously exposed as an enormous weakness after back-to-back losses at BC and at home against GT.
Some bright spots
I'll take this part on first, b/c it's quicker and easier to write. The offense, led by QB Christian Ponder, looks pretty good and has done enough to win every game but USF. In 2010, Ponder could be a dark horse Heisman candidate with some help around him. The receivers have made us forget about the loss of Parker and Surrency, and the running game has shown flashes of strength; Jermaine Thomas moves well when he's healthy and Lonnie Pryor reminds me alot of Greg Jones, running north-south and seldom letting the first man bring him down.
On defense, Greg Reid has proven he's a big-time playmaker and LBs Nigel Bradham and Nigel Carr form the core of a strong, young LB corps. Jaccobi McDaniel has gotten alot of time at DT and Jenije has made a nice transformation from safety to corner.
... and despite the distraction created by the coaches and administrators, the team seems to be holding up fairly well. They took the field arm-in-arm against GT and there's a positive attitude from the players' interviews and public statements.
The not-so bright spots
It's time to tell it like it is - this is easily the worst FSU defense in the last quarter century. The defensive line wouldn't be second string on many of the past Seminoles' teams and the LBs are sloppy in coverage and below average (by FSU standards) in tackling and run support. QBs facing the 'Noles are seldom pressured, let alone sacked, and average lines from BC and GT have blown FSU's front 4 off the line of scrimmage and opened holes for the running game at will.
In the secondary, FSU has an enormous hole at rover, and slot receivers, backs, and TEs often streak down field for easy completions. To make matters worse, the rover has also failed in run support, leaving the job to the front 7 alone which they have too often failed to accomplish. The corners - Robinson, Jenije, Reid, and Allen - have played well, all things considered, and could really excel if the line could muster more pressure.
The problems that have led to the 2-4 start run much deeper than anything that can be corrected this season. In the Spring, I expected FSU to go 9-3 and compete for an ACC Championship. Now, 5-8 seems much more likely with UNC, Clemson, and UF all ahead. NCSU and Wake Forest are not gimme's either, and FSU could lose either or both. Maryland seems like the only game left that's a fairly certain win, but even that could turn out poorly in late November.
The defensive line is small and weak in the middle, and slow and undisciplined on the outside. This absolutley must be a point of emphasis in recruiting, and to the best of my knowlege, FSU has yet to target the kind of players they'll need in this area. Tavares Barnes (6'5", 250 DT) seems like a good start, but FSU really needs 4 or 5 guys as good or better than him to prevent this problem from carrying over into '10 and beyond.
New coaching is needed for FSU's front 7 as well. Markus White came to FSU with significant pedigree but has yielded absolutely nothing after two years in the system, and that seems like poor coaching. The LBs? - Nigel Bradham and Nigel Carr are tremendous talents with great upside, but their progress over the first two years of their career has been modest at best. Jacobbi McDaniel came to FSU with high expectations, but he's really just holding ground at DT. FSU needs to load up on the line, and the current coaching staff will struggle to land the type of recruits we need in light of their past few years of performance. Mickey Andrews has said he will retire at the end of the season after a long and tremendously successful run as FSU's defensive coordinator. His successor should come in and overhaul the defensive coaching staff.
Finally, there's the Bobby Bowden situation. All indications are that he will finish out the 2009 season, but will he be back in '10? With the losses piling up faster than empty seats at Doak Campbell Stadium, it seems unlikely FSU will extend his contract another year. Jimbo Fisher will take over and his first critical manuever will be naming Mickey Andrews' successor and hitting the recruiting trail hard. The consecutive bowls' streak is in jeopardy, but that might not be the worst thing in the grand scheme of things.... 'Noles fans want FSU competing for a National Championship, and the quickest road to get there lies on the recruiting trail, not the November practice field getting ready for the Meineke Car Care Bowl.