While his reputation and his program were sagging, Bobby Bowden's recruiting continued to bring in strong class after strong class. The talent was there. Maybe not the wealth of riches from their 90s heyday, maybe not maximized the way it had been in those days, but it was and is there. That's one of the factors that made last year's complete disaster of a defense so confusing.
Jimbo Fisher had a real mess on his hands, or so it seemed, when he took over for Bowden after the 2009 season. In the spring, Fisher and new defensive coordinator began the cleanup process by installing a new scheme. The Noles are more zone-oriented now than they've been in (perhaps) decades.
It was reasonable to expect improvement no matter what happened with the scheme. 2009 was an aberration when compared to the years preceding it, and it would have been tough to avoid at least a smidge of bounce back from the 6.7 yards FSU allowed per play. But I don't think anyone expected this:
|FSU Defense||Total D (rank)||Scoring D||Yds/Play||Yds/PassAtt||Yds/Rush||3rd Down Conv%|
|2009||434.6 (108)||30 (94)||6.7 (115)||8.7 (116)||5.4 (112)||44.1 (101)|
|2010||308.1 (20)||16.1 (13)||4.3 (10)||5.8 (11)||2.9 (12)||32.1 (17)|
Total defense actually undersells the 2010 Seminoles defense a bit, as by every per-play standard, they're a top 15 unit. They've shaved almost 2.5 yards off their per-play and per-rush averages, almost three yards off opponents' pass attempts. See, kids, going from also-ran to division favorite is as easy as shaving a couple of yards off of your per-play averages.
They've held five of seven opponents under 5.0 yards per snap, and even their lone hiccup--the blowout at Oklahoma--isn't that bad by last year's standards. In fact, it would have been their fifth-best defensive performance of 2009.
The Noles got bigger and stronger during the offseason, and that's paying dividends; especially up front, where they're putting more pressure on the quarterback (they lead the nation in sacks) and consistently derailing the ground game.
Florida State's schedule hasn't provided much in the way of good offenses (which is one of the reasons why FEI doesn't care for this defense), so it remains to be seen just how good the new-look Noles are. Is this the best defense in the ACC? Maybe not. Is it better than it was a year ago and also good enough to propel the Seminoles to a division title? Definitely. Whatever the case, another 45-42 game seems unlikely.