The future arrived for Florida State a year earlier than expected.
When the Seminoles announced Jimbo Fisher as Bobby Bowden's eventual successor at the end of the 2007 season, the popular notion was that Bowden would continue coaching the Seminoles through 2010 before ending his legendary career.
Bowden instead was forced out in the wake of a 37-10 defeat at Florida -- the Seminoles' fifth consecutive loss to their archrivals -- that capped a 6-6 regular season. Florida State sent Bowden out a winner with a Gator Bowl victory over West Virginia and now ushers in a new era.
Fisher went right to work by overhauling the coaching staff and attracting the nation's 10th-ranked recruiting class. Now he must go to work retooling a defense that gave up 30 points per game last season.
Here's a look at the Seminoles as they head into spring practice.
FLORIDA STATE AT-A-GLANCE
Christian Ponder is among nine returning offensive starters for Florida State.
Coach: Jimbo Fisher Last season: 7-6 overall, 4-4 in the ACC. Defeated West Virginia 33-21 in the Gator Bowl.
Spring dates: March 16-April 10.
Florida State could boast one of the nation's top offensive lines. The Seminoles return all five starters, including an All-American in Rodney Hudson. The line should create plenty of protection for Christian Ponder, who could emerge as the ACC's top quarterback if he stays healthy. Ponder threw for 2,717 yards with 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions last season before a separated throwing shoulder caused him to miss the final four games. The veteran line also could help Jermaine Thomas become the Seminoles' first 1,000-yard rusher since Warrick Dunn in 1996. Thomas bounced back from a slow start to finish the season with 832 yards and nine touchdowns on 163 carries.
HELP IS NEEDED
FSU must significantly improve across the board on defense. The Seminoles ranked 108th in the nation in total defense and run defense and 110th in pass efficiency defense last year. The line lacks an elite run-stuffer or a feared pass rusher. The Seminoles also have major holes in their secondary. They must replace each of their starting safeties and need someone to emerge as a shutdown cornerback to replace potential first-round pick Patrick Robinson. FSU does have a promising candidate to replace Robinson in sophomore Greg Reid, a former five-star prospect who earned significant playing time in the secondary and led the nation in punt-return average last season.
THREE GUYS TO WATCH
LB Nigel Carr: After making 26 tackles while backing up Dekoda Watson last season, Carr figures to step into a feature role this season. FSU lacks proven outside linebackers, so the Seminoles need Carr -- a junior -- to grow up in a hurry.
RB Debrale Smiley: Smiley, a 6-foot-2, 240-pound sophomore signed out of junior college, has the size to make an impact in goal-line and other short-yardage situations. Smiley set school records for touchdowns in a season (35), touchdowns in a career (81) and rushing yards in a season (2,028) while starring at Thomas County Central High School in Thomasville, Ga.
DE Toshmon Stevens: Florida State needs someone to upgrade the pass rush. Stevens recorded a tackle for loss in the Gator Bowl victory over West Virginia and generally played well enough in that game to raise hopes that he could fill the void.
THE PRESSURE IS ON
CB Ochuko Jenije: Although Jenije started all 13 games for the Seminoles last season, that doesn't necessarily mean his job is safe. Florida State's new coaching staff figures to explore all options in its attempt to improve a pass defense that last season ranked among the nation's worst. Reid, an emerging star, figures to have one starting cornerback position locked down. The arrivals of five-star prospect Lamarcus Joyner and four-star prospect Mike Harris -- a junior-college transfer -- could provide more competition, so Jenije needs to play well this spring.
Fisher wasted no time reshaping the coaching staff. The only holdovers from Bowden's regime are offensive coordinator/tight ends coach James Coley, receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey, defensive line coach Odell Haggins and offensive line coach Rick Trickett. The new defensive coordinator is Mark Stoops, who held the same position at Arizona for the past six seasons. Former East Carolina defensive coordinator Greg Hudson came aboard as linebackers coach. Former Auburn quarterback Dameyune Craig is the new quarterbacks coach and former Rice defensive line coach D.J. Eliot will work with the defensive ends. This spring also could serve as a showcase for redshirt freshman QB Will Secord and true freshman QB Clint Trickett. Secord and Trickett should get plenty of reps because No. 2 QB E.J. Manuel will miss spring practice to recover from shoulder surgery. Ponder is expected to participate in workouts on a limited basis as he comes back from a separated shoulder. OT Zebrie Sanders (hip) and DT Moses McCray (elbow) will miss spring practice.