Florida State expected to reclaim ACC crown

Terps' surprising season gives others hope, though

College Football

July 22, 2002|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

PINEHURST, N.C. - Take two things from interviews with players at an Atlantic Coast Conference media event yesterday: One is that Florida State should be back. The other is that the Seminoles should watch their back.

The team that had won the conference title every year since joining the league in 1992 lost twice in conference play last season and saw Maryland walk away with the ACC crown. So now hunger can be added to the talent and customary top 10 preseason ranking for the Seminoles.

Meanwhile, the Terrapin triumph of 2001 (coming off a 5-6 finish the year before) gives hope to the rest of the conference, particularly the also-rans.

"Maryland wasn't picked to win last year - let them pick who they want," said Virginia receiver Billy McMullen, whose team will probably be picked to finish near the bottom of the conference this season. "They came out of nowhere. They always had great athletes, but they just came out to another level last year and had a no-quit attitude."

The question is whether last year represented something significant, or just a momentary lapse in Florida State's dominance over the league.

According to Maryland linebacker E.J. Henderson, it's both. Teams know that Florida State is still the major target, but they also know that it's a reachable one.

"FSU is still FSU," said Henderson said, whose team contended with the Seminoles for three quarters before losing by three touchdowns last season. "It's still the big dog on the block. But what happened is that it gave a lot of people a lot of confidence. We almost got them, but you've got to give them their respect."

Florida State lost by 32 points to North Carolina early last season, then lost late in the season to North Carolina State, the latter its first league defeat at home since joining the ACC.

The Seminoles, however, have 17 starters returning from the team that defeated Virginia, 30-17, in the Gator Bowl last January. "Watch out ... because we're back," Florida State defensive end Alonzo Jackson said.

Said Seminoles quarterback Quarterback Chris Rix: "We're going to be back on top of the league this year. ... It gives us a new goal this year. Year after year, it's been automatic. `Hey, come to Florida State and you'll get an ACC ring.' "

No one has problems identifying the team least likely to win the ACC this year. That would be Duke, which has lost 23 straight games.

The Blue Devils, led by fourth-year coach Carl Franks, could have hope for future years because every player except one is expected to return for the 2003 season. But for that one senior, linebacker Jamyon Small, those brighter days can't come soon enough.

"I still think there are things to be done here, and I still think I have a lot to prove," he said. "My hope is ... if I can be a better leader, maybe I can quicken the pace of that progression. It's not like I feel like we're far away from winning. We can grasp it. We can taste it. I feel like we're right there."

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