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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2000

Huskers Picked to Oust Seminoles

For Florida State, the Absence of Kicker Janikowski May Prove Costly

August 20, 2000|TOM DIENHART | THE SPORTING NEWS

Chris Weinke wears a big smile as he looks at the stat sheet in the locker room. Three touchdown passes and more than 300 yards passing. He nods approvingly. Not bad for a first effort of the season.

But Weinke is most pleased that Florida State scored a dominating win over BYU in the Pigskin Classic. This'll show 'em. This'll prove to any doubters who didn't vote Florida State No. 1 in the preseason that the Seminoles, the defending national champs, are the best team and won't go down easily.

Count The Sporting News among the non-believers. Florida State is No. 2 in our rankings. But on this day, the Seminoles deliver a championship-style message to other members of TSN's preseason top five: Nebraska (No. 1), Alabama (3), Wisconsin (4) and Kansas State (5).

The Seminoles show on this day that, once again, they seemingly have it all. Of course, that's about as newsy as sunrise. "We should compete for the national championship each season," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden says. "We're expected to do that every year. That's just the way it is around here. It's a good spot to be in."

Florida State was in a prime spot four times in the 1990s: It won it all last season and in '93 and lost the title games in '96 and '98. But for all of their winning, it seems like the Seminoles should have more hardware.

Oh, they'll add a ninth ACC title. Then, almost every FSU assistant will have a doorstop. The Seminoles have lost only two league games (at Virginia in '95 and at NC State in '98) since joining in '92. And that's part of the problem. The ACC isn't as competitive as the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-10. That means the Seminoles don't stay sharp because they aren't tested often. If not for annual non-league games against Florida and Miami (Fla.), Florida State would replace Kansas State as the punch line to all those weak schedule jokes.

Further dulling Florida's State's senses is the lack of an ACC title game. Though they can ruin a season, league championship games keep teams in the SEC and Big 12--homes to six of the last eight national champs in the coaches' poll--in tune before the bowl season. Florida State always finds itself idle for more than a month between its season-ending game with Florida and its bowl. Last season, the Seminoles were off 44 days before the Sugar Bowl.

Though its league affiliation isn't ideal, that's not the major problem for Florida State in 2000. To discover that, you have to look closer.

In fact, get really close and examine each of TSN's preseason top five teams, the ones with the best chance to play for the national championship January 3 in the Orange Bowl. Don't be blinded by the positives. Instead, look for that one fatal flaw in each that will undo its season. Except for Nebraska, each has one.

For Florida State, it's the absence of kicker Sebastian Janikowski that will be costly in what will be close games with Miami and Florida.

It might seem funny that a team with talent like running back Travis Minor, receivers Javon Walker and Anquan Boldin and defensive ends Jamal Reynolds, Roland Seymour and David Warren could be done in by the loss of a kicker.

But Janikowski wasn't one of those import kickers who wears Pop Warner-size shoulder pads and a single-bar face mask. Janikowski was the greatest college kicker ever. A first-round draft choice. Though his field-goal kicking was deadly (66-of-83, 79.5%, for his career), he was more valuable as a kickoff man. Last season, 57 of his 83 kickoffs (68.7 percent) were touchbacks. Few teams are capable of driving 80 yards on Florida State's defense.

In his absence, Florida State likely will turn to true freshman Brett Cimorelli (6-4, 220), who has a Janikowski-like build. One bonus: He hasn't shown Janikowski's penchant for off-field mischief.

"We have to stay out of trouble off the field," Bowden says. "That has been something that has dogged us from time to time. It's always a concern."

Alabama knows all about off-field distraction, but that won't be the fatal flaw that dooms it. The program showed it could focus last season, when coach Mike DuBose was embroiled in a scandal involving a school employee. So don't think recent incidents that resulted in recruiting coordinator Ronnie Cottrell being reprimanded will have any effect.

"We have to find out who will lead us like Shaun Alexander and Chris Samuels (did)," DuBose says. "They also were spiritual leaders. I have an idea who those players will be, but I won't know it until I see it on the field."

Dante Ellington looks like the next Samuels, but Alexander's loss is big. None of the candidates to replace him possess glowing credentials. Without a ground game, the Tide could flop in trips to UCLA, Arkansas and Tennessee.

Kansas State coach Bill Snyder feels Alabama's pain, but you can't tell it because of his perpetually stoic expression. It's a good thing he's a great coach because he would starve as a mime.

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