I got together with Bud Elliott of the well-regarded FSU blog Tomahawk Nation to chat about the Chick-fil-A Bowl. I'm sure you'll be interested to read his insightful responses to my questions. You can view my answers to his questions here.
Fisher has transformed the program. Everything is different. The overarching theme has been attention to detail. Fisher is a Saban clone and I see very little Bobby Bowen in him. Jimbo was fourth in charge until this year and the changes he has implemented show just how little control he had until this year. Bringing in bright, young coaches and insisting they work really long hours is an enormous improvement over the staff of has-been or never-weres that Bowden called a staff.
Having the best season in almost a decade has helped a bunch, but what really has people excited is the recruiting. Fisher is bringing in a class that may end up #1 overall. If you out-recruit every SEC team, Texas, OU, and USC, fans take notice. USCe fans should like that as well. It is much easier to win the SEC East if FSU is taking some kids from UF every year.
One of Jimbo's mandates was to get much bigger overall. FSU's S&C program was a joke. This year the front seven is almost 100lbs bigger. The 'Noles also have a hammer of a safety in Nick Moody (big hitter, poor in coverage).
This defense jumped from 88th to 48th, but of the defenses South Carolina has played, Clemson, Bama, Arkansas, Florida, and Auburn are clearly better. FSU is about the level of UGA's defense (45th).
FSU has an extremely young defensive line featuring seven sophomores/freshmen in the two-deep. They were a massive improvement over 2009, but with very limited depth they were dead down the stretch. Perhaps having almost four weeks off will make the difference. If FSU's young defensive line is fresh, it will have some success limiting Lattimore by dropping Moody into the box. Whether FSU will be able to defend the passing game from that look is another question entirely.
I will go with safety Terrace Parks. Parks isn't a good player, but that is the point. FSU will load the box against Lattimore, leaving Parks as the high safety. He doesn't need to play a great game, but he does need to avoid blowing coverages. On offense, whichever outside receiver (Willie Haulstead or Rodney Smith) does not draw Gilmore in coverage will need to have a big day, particularly if Ponder does not play.