After a couple weeks of speculation and dread, which players will and won't play in the Music City Bowl is finally clear.
On Saturday, Florida State released its travel roster listing the 85 players making the trip to Nashville, Tennessee. The final tally is 21 scholarship players that will not be part of FSU's December 31st bowl game.*
While the 21 figure is in line with earlier reports of 20 or more players being suspended as a result of the investigation into academic fraud, the actual number is a bit less. That's because at least three of the list of 21, and possibly more, are staying home for unrelated reasons like injuries. Also, Kevin McNeil has been suspended all season and there was never any indication that he would play in the bowl game.
"We are releasing our travel roster for the Music City Bowl as we do prior to all road games," said FSU Associate Athletic Director Rob Wilson. "It is very important that the media make clear that those missing the bowl trip are not included because of either injury or for a violation of team policy. We can not, due to student records laws, provide more specific information with respect to each student-athlete. It would be irresponsible to imply or state that any or all of the student-athletes will miss the trip for one particular reason."
The biggest impact of the player absences will felt on the defensive line -- four defensive linemen with starting experience, and a key backup, will not be available. The missing players are Budd Thacker, Letroy Guion, Neefy Moffett, Justin Mincey and Paul Griffin. As a result of the lack of personnel, either Kendrick Stewart or Emmanuel Dunbar will likely get the start next to Andre Fluellen in the middle. Also, neither defensive end spot will have a backup with any playing experience. Depth is so bad that long-snapper Garrison Sanborn was working out at defensive end in practice.
Other positions to be hit hard by the absences are linebacker, tight end and offensive line.
Starting linebacker Dekoda Watson and key backup Marcus Ball are out meaning that true freshman Kendall Smith will likely earn his first career start. And with Toddrick Verdell and Rodney Gallon both out with injuries, Recardo Wright is the only backup linebacker with playing experience.
At tight end, neither Charlie Graham nor Caz Piurowski are making the trip. That means that senior John Frady, who has 21 career starts at center, should make his first and last start at tight end.
Finally, the offensive line took a pretty good blow with the losses of starting tackle Daron Rose and starting guard Jacky Claude. As a result, redshirt freshman Evan Bellamy is expected to start. Whether he lines up at tackle or guard is still undecided. But either way, offensive line coach Rick Trickett will have to shuffle several players around to come up with his starting five.
Other key absences include cornerback Patrick Robinson, the team-leader in interceptions, wide receiver Joslin Shaw and cornerback J.R. Bryant.
* NOTE: An initial list of players suspended for the bowl game made the rounds both among the media, through emails, and some names were even posted on another website. At the time, we did not feel it would be responsible to release a non-finalized list of student athletes that may be suspended for the bowl game. Some subscribers expressed their displeasure with our decision but as it turns out, a handful of the players that were on that initial list are making the trip to Nashville and were not suspended.
In our opinion it is very irresponsible for anybody in the media to post the names of student athletes involved in a cheating scandal without a university representative, a coach or the player confirming the suspension on the record. We stand by our decision and will continue to act in a responsible manner when it comes to dealing with student athletes.
Gene Williams is the founder and administrator of Warchant.com and writes stories and features covering all of FSU's sports with an emphasis on football and football recruiting. During football season, he hosts a weekly sports radio show in Tallahassee on NewsRadio 1270 WFLA, and appears as a weekly guest on 1460 ESPN Radio in Jacksonville. Williams is also a former ACC correspondent for College Football News (weekly national newspaper), and contributes to The Osceola. Story about Gene Williams & Warchant.com.