You're going to read it in every single college football preview, in every publication across the country. You're going to hear pundits say it on TV and sports talk radio hosts repeat it millions of time on the air. Anybody who knows what they're talking about understands the Seminoles are only going to be as good as their offensive line allows them to be this year.
Last year their line was porous, ranking 104th in the run and allowing far too many sacks. Granted it was largely due to injuries, but it was the team's achilles heel nonetheless.
This season, with one of the nation's top defenses, a fifth-year senior quarterback and plenty of young, if unproven talent at the skill positions, it's just a matter of fact that the offense can only be as good as the offensive line.
The pressure is on. They will be under a magnifying lense all season, the natural scapegoats for any Florida State missteps.
But redshirt junior offensive tackle Bryan Stork and the rest of the unit are tuning it out.
"We don't really listen to all the media stuff," said Stork. "We don't talk about it, but we know what we've got to do and it's just got to be one day at a time."
One Day at a Time
The Seminoles will look to overhaul a line that was decimated by injuries and inconsistency last season. The lone standout, tackle Zebrie Sanders, is now a Buffalo Bill leaving more than a few questions for a unit that saw ten different players start at points last season.
Right now converted defensive lineman Cameron Erving, a redshirt sophomore, is lining up opposite Stork as a starting tackle. At 6-6, 310, Erving has the size and athleticism to make the transition, he just needs time and reps to nail it down.
"[Cam's] doing good," said Stork. "I think defense helped him play offense, he's improving every day and he should do well."
The team also brought a pair of international players, guys who took the JuCo route, to compete at offensive tackle. Daniel Glauser is originally from Rheinfelden, Switzerland while Menelik Watson hails from Manchester, England.
They each have some junior college experience, but are transitioning to major college football.
"They're getting it, they're smart kids," Stork observed. "I think they'll be fine, you can tell it's probably a little bit different in JuCo as far as game speed, but they'll adjust quickly. They have no choice."
Watson in particular is intriguing, as I mentioned yesterday, he has very little experience but boasts staggering athletic measurables, a massive frame and loads of potential.
"I'm kind of jealous I've been playing football since I was like 11, it's just cool that someone can be that athletically gifted," admitted Stork. "He's got a good head on his shoulder and a good work ethic, I'm sure he'll be fine."
Former St. Thomas Aquinas standout Bobby Hart, a sophomore who saw considerable action last season, will also factor into the mix at tackle. At center sophomore Austin Barron, another Aquinas alumni who saw extensive action in 2011 is penciled in again as the starter.
And at guard, the Noles currently list Josue Matias and Tre Jackson as the starters in front of Jakob Fahrenkrug and Garrett Faircloth. While Fahrenkrug and Faircloth both saw starts last season Matias and Jackson have been impressive early on.
"I go against the guards, so I mean both of them have improved crazy levels. Before they were just freshmen they were okay but now they've gotten a lot better," said senior defensive tackle Everett Dawkins. "Both of them are athletic and big, you know they can pass block and run block."
One of the biggest bonuses for this offensive line is that they get to cut their teeth against one of the best lines in the country. Maybe the best, FSU is deep, returning the entire unit from last year (2nd overall vs. rush, 8th in sacks) in addition to adding four extremely high-profile blue-chip prospects to the mix this offseason.
That means every day, every rep the offensive line is working against fresh, talented defensive players. And they're getting better one day at a time.
Things Far From Settled
Right now you get the sense that the Rick Trickett's line is far from finalized, players are still rounding into form, developing and learning to play alongside one another. But whatever the final arrangement is, those around the program expect the line to take a major step forward.
And look for them to be able to scrap a little.
"Yeah most definitely they're [going to be] scrappy, if there's one thing you can bet, [it's] Coach Trickett, his offensive line's always going to be scrappy," said Dawkins. "But they're also big man, the guys put a lot of weight on so it's not as easy as it used to be to get them up off of you."
Stork credits a lot of the improved strength along the line to a new conditiong regimine over the offseason that was, as he put it, "balls to the wall."
The new conditioning program along with the chance to battle one of the top defensive lines in the country on a daily basis in practice should pay huge dividends come September, but Stork and the O-Line don't want to get ahead of themselves.
"Everybody's pretty confident," said Stork. "We're feeling well about ourselves, we're on a mission to turn everything around and we just have to take a it a day at a time to get there."