In one of the most anticipated college football games of the weekend, the No. 1 ranked Oklahoma Sooners make their first ever visit to Tallahassee to take on the No. 5 ranked Florida State Seminoles.
To further discuss the persons and strategies likeliest to decide this game, while also providing some local flavor to the many football fans who will be watching this opening night tilt nowhere near Tallahassee or Norman, we've enlisted a representative of noted Florida State Seminoles blog Tomahawk Nation. Ideally, we'd have a Sooner source included as well, but scheduling problems have made this a one-sided affair. Thankfully, the game itself dosen't figure to be.
HuffPost Sports: What has been the biggest change from the nadir of the 7-6 record in 2009 in Bobby Bowden's last season to today, when the team is ranked No. 5 and playing in a prime time game? It is it as simple as the coaching change?
Tomahawk Nation: In short, yes, it is that simple. By the end of Bowden's tenure in 2009, Florida State lagged behind programs committed to winning in terms of using its resources. Changes in strength and conditioning, addition of support staff, and modernizing practices were among the first things Jimbo Fisher did after taking over the head-coaching job. He cleaned house of the coaches who weren't getting the job done anymore and brought in a hungry group of guys who are talented coaches and recruiters. The results were immediate. FSU achieved a 10-win season last year, and Jimbo’s first two recruiting classes have ranked inside the top 10, with last year’s being the top class in the country.
HuffPost Sports: How is this FSU team different -- in physically, mentally and/or schematically -- from the team that got rolled by OU last season?
Tomahawk Nation: The primary difference will be on defense. The 2010 Noles defense played Oklahoma as its first real opponent after installing a completely new defense featuring a shift from the heavy man-coverage schemes of Mickey Andrews to a multiple but zone-leaning system of Mark Stoops. The results weren'’t pretty. The Florida State defense was absolutely steamrolled in Norman, which wasn't exactly surprising to those who understood what the defense was going through. What was surprising was how badly FSU's wide receivers played, which was the main factor in the offensive ineptitude. This year, the Seminoles' defense will be in Year 2 of its scheme and should be much better, and the wide receivers have matured and will hopefully step up in a big way. Hopefully, the atmosphere inside Doak Campbell Stadium will aid the team in a better performance.
HuffPost Sports: More important unit in this game: offense or defense?
Tomahawk Nation: I think it has to be the defense. Oklahoma has an absolute juggernaut offensively and tore the Noles to pieces last season (and may be even better this year). This year's defensive unit should be much improved and will have to show it under the bright lights. The keys will be handling OU's breakneck tempo and making the Sooners drive the field, as opposed to giving up the long scores the Seminoles surrendered last year. Longer drives mean more opportunities for the Oklahoma offense to hurt itself through penalties and turnovers. OU is going to move the football -- the important thing for Florida State will be to force some field goals instead of touchdowns and to force some turnovers to give the offense a chance to win the game late.
HuffPost Sports: What player-player matchup or schematic tendency (on either side of the ball) do you think is likeliest to go in favor of your team?
Tomahawk Nation: One area in which we feel FSU has a clear advantage is special teams. The Seminoles have an outstanding kicker in Dustin Hopkins and punter in Shawn Powell. The unit also features one of the most electrifying punt-returners in the game in Greg Reid. Oklahoma, by contrast, is bringing either 4 or 5 kicking specialists to Tallahassee this weekend, though they also have an excellent return man in Ryan Broyles. Hopefully the Florida State special teams group can help in achieving the defensive goals of making Oklahoma drive a long field. Those in Tallahassee will feel much better about a game that comes down to a field goal than those in Norman will.
HuffPost Sports: And, against your team?
Tomahawk Nation: We are concerned about the Florida State interior offensive line, which has undergone some turmoil of late. In the second half of last week's game against Charleston Southern, FSU switched center Jacob Fahrenkrug with left guard Bryan Stork. Fahrenkrug is a junior college transfer who hadn't adapted well to playing center early, with left tackle Andrew Datko actually making the line calls in the first two games. Naturally, this uncertainty along the offensive line is quite unsettling to the faithful of the garnet and gold. The Seminoles will need to run the ball effectively to control the football and let its defense rest, so solid play along the line will be vital to FSU’s chances of success Saturday night.
HuffPost Sports: Knowing that a talented team will be losing tomorrow night, how high do you put the stakes in this one?
Tomahawk Nation: A loss for either team tomorrow night, in all likelihood, means an end to national title dreams. However, this doesn't mean that the game against Oklahoma is even the most important of the season for Florida State. While a win would be fantastic and would make FSU a legitimate title contender, the focus for us at TN is primarily to win the conference for the first time since 2005. The game against OU is huge for national perception, recruiting, etc., but we don't feel that it will make or break a successful season.
HuffPost Sports: What is one underrated player or underreported (at least, nationally) storyline that has grabbed your attention during the preseason that the rest of us might have missed?
Tomahawk Nation: Regarding this game, the biggest fear for FSU fans is a repeat of last season's outcome against Oklahoma. So, injuries to starters at wide receiver that necessitate relying on young guys frighten us deeply, as poor play at wideout was chief among the reasons for last year's debacle in Norman. One of FSU's top three receivers, Willie Haulstead, is experiencing post-concussion symptoms and will not play Saturday night, and another of the top three, Bert Reed, sustained an ankle injury against Charleston Southern last week. We think that Reed will play, though how effectively we do not know. Needless to say, this underreported factor has Seminole fans feeling nervous about the matchup with OU.
WATCH AT TOP for highlights from last year's game.