Friday, August 2, 2013

season preview: Florida State Seminoles


9/2: @ Pittsburgh (Mon.)
9/7: BYE
9/14: Nevada
9/21: Bethune-Cookman
9/28: @ Boston College
10/5: Maryland
10/12: BYE
10/19: @ Clemson
10/26: NC State
11/2: Miami
11/9: @ Wake Forest
11/16: Syracuse
11/23: Idaho
11/30: @ Florida

Skip: Duke, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech

2012 results:

Murray State: W, 69-3
Savannah State: W, 55-0
Wake Forest: W, 52-0
Clemson: W, 49-37
South Florida: W, 30-17
NC State: L, 17-16
Boston College: W, 51-7
Miami: W, 33-20
Duke: W, 48-7
Virginia Tech: W, 28-22
Maryland: W, 41-14
Florida: L, 37-26
Georgia Tech: W, 21-15 (ACC championship)
Northern Illinois: W, 31-10 (Orange Bowl)

Record: 12-2 (7-1); 1st of 6, Atlantic Division; ACC champions

Projected starters:

QB: Jameis Winston (rFr.)
RB: James Wilder (Jr.)
FB: Chad Abram (Sr.)
WR: Rashad Greene (Jr.)
WR: Kenny Shaw (Sr.)
TE: Nick O'Leary (Jr.)
LT: Cameron Erving (rJr.)
LG: Josue Matias (Jr.)
C: Bryan Stork (5Sr.)
RG: Tre Jackson (Jr.)
RT: Bobby Hart (Jr.)

DE: Dan Hicks (5Sr.)
DT: Timmy Jernigan (Jr.)
DT: Demonte McAllister (5Sr.)
DE: Mario Edwards (So.)
SLB: Terrance Smith (rSo.)
MLB: Christian Jones (Sr.)
WLB: Telvin Smith (Sr.)
CB: Nick Waisome (Jr.)
CB: Lamarcus Joyner (Sr.)
SS: Karlos Williams (Jr.)
FS: Terrence Brooks (Sr.)

K: Roberto Aguayo (rFr.)
P: Cason Beatty (So.)

(Italics indicate new starter.)

Coach: Jimbo Fisher, 4th season

Media prediction: 2nd of 7, Atlantic Division


2012 1st team: K Dustin Hopkins, DE Bjoern Werner, DE Tank Carradine, CB Xavier Rhodes, S Lamarcus Joyner
2012 2nd team: QB E.J. Manuel, RB Chris Thompson, OT Cameron Erving, G Tre' Jackson, C Bryan Stork, DT Everett Dawkins, LB Christian Jones
2012 HM: DT Timmy Jernigan, DT Anthony McCloud, OT Menelik Watson, LB Vince Williams
2013 preseason: G Tre' Jackson, C Bryan Stork, RB James Wilder, DT Timmy Jernigan, LB Christian Jones, CB Lamarcus Joyner

(Italics indicate departed player.)

I thought it was a little odd that the media put six Seminoles on the preseason all-conference team - far more than any other school - and voted them second in their division after Clemson.  Do they value Tajh Boyd that much?  The depth chart at Florida State isn't the depth chart of a team poised for a hard fall after winning 12 games and the ACC championship in 2012.

-- Offense

Probably the most glaring difference between Clemson and FSU is at quarterback, where Clemson had the luxury of bringing back their highly touted signal caller and the Noles didn't.  There are already a lot of expecations piled on Jameis Winston's shoulders, even though he hasn't taken a snap yet in a live game.  Winston is only a redshirt freshman, but the options under center in Tallahassee are very limited following Clint Trickett's transfer, and there aren't many other serious contenders for the job.  Winston is a big dual-threat quarterback (6'4", 225) with the athleticism to be a star, and the Noles hope his spring game performance, where he went 12-for-15 with 205 yards and 2 touchdowns, is indicative of his passing talents.

The FSU receiving corps took a hit this summer when Greg Dent was arrested for sexual assault; it's highly unlikely he'll be back.  But there's very good depth remaining on the field, with an excellent top two of Rashad Greene and Kenny Shaw, the top two in FSU receiving yardage last year.  Greene piled up 741 yards, and both players had a touchdown catch of 70+ yards last season.  Kelvin Benjamin measures in at 6'5", 238, and should be a difficult matchup for opposing defenses; he, too, has some big-play capability.  At tight end, FSU's depth has been whittled down all spring and summer by injuries and transfers, and the only really legitimate option now is multiyear starter Nick O'Leary.  O'Leary's a very good player, but the lack of options behind him at tight end could occasionally limit FSU's formation options.  All told, there's no really elite talent among the receivers but quite a few very good and dangerous players, and it's a setup that could be more than the sum of its parts.

At running back, FSU has a thunder-and-lightning combo in big, bruising, and relatively fast James Wilder, and 5'8" scatback Devonta Freeman.  FSU has a highly experienced and stable offensive line, and will have a nasty running game, especially if fullback Chad Abram, til now a special-teamer, settles into his role as a lead blocker.  Wilder and Freeman each had 600+ rushing yards last season and combined for 19 touchdowns, and the FSU running game produced 40 touchdowns overall.  Given enough carries, Wilder and Freeman could each top 800 yards this year.

That offensive line produced two preseason all-ACC picks in the middle, with Bryan Stork at center and Tre Jackson at RG.  Stork moved to center during the 2012 preseason and played extremely well.  Cameron Erving is a 320-pound left tackle whose play is steady.  If there's any source of insecurity on an offensive line that returns four 2012 starters, it's at right tackle, where the leading candidate is Bobby Hart.  Hart moved into the starting lineup in 2011 as a true freshman, but was bumped back to the bench last year.  Assuming Hart gets the nod, this is a very big, very powerful, and very experienced offensive line; all five starters are listed at 300 pounds or more and all but Stork at no less than 315.

There's probably no reason the Seminoles can't have one of the best offenses in the conference, except for one thing that always makes people nervous: a freshman quarterback.  Winston might put a few mistakes under his belt this year; freshman QBs usually do.  But he's got the tools for success, too, and FSU puts a very, very good and experienced team on the field around him.  If he can take the reins and be a worthy successor to E.J. Manuel, FSU's offense will be extremely tough to stop.

-- Defense

It'd be tempting to think there'll be a major dropoff in defensive line play with four new starters taking over.  There probably won't be.  FSU did lose a ton of production as some very good players departed, but their recruiting has allowed them to fill those gaps pretty well.  DT Timmy Jernigan might technically not be a returning starter, but he's been right there in the rotation in each of the past two years and his likely "promotion" to starter is mainly in name only.  Jernigan is a stout run-stuffer, and he'll play next to Demonte McAllister and Jacobbi McDaniel at three-tech.  McAllister, like Jernigan, has been a fixture in the rotation, and McDaniel was a starter in 2011 before he blew out his knee, requiring a long rehab process that only just now is letting him back on the field.  Both do a nice job of slicing into the backfield.  Another strong candidate for rotation snaps is former five-star prospect and true sophomore Eddie Goldman.

There's far less certainty and experience on the edges, where FSU is losing just a metric ton of production.  They're replacing it with mostly potential.  Mario Edwards is a former uber-prospect who the Noles have high expectations for, but on the other side, Dan Hicks has spent two years as a backup and last season injured.  He may face stiff competition from Giorgio Newberry for the starting role.

Linebacker Christian Jones, who was the Noles' leading tackler in 2012, returns for his senior season and moves to the middle.  Fellow senior Telvin Smith, the 2012 third-leading tackler despite not starting a game, moves from backup MLB to starting WLB.  These two are the core of a linebacking unit that is otherwise short on experience.  There's hardly any game experience otherwise and what there is, is mostly special teams.  Terrance Smith is the frontrunner for the Sam job; his 2012 stats consist of nine tackles.

There's some shuffling in the secondary too; star safety Lamarcus Joyner, who is a supremely good athlete albeit a little on the short side, moves to cornerback to make room for Karlos Williams, a multitalented player who has played a little linebacker in a pinch as well.  Nick Waisome will start opposite Joyner and Terrence Brooks at free safety; both are good but unspectacular experienced players. 

A lot of this shuffling is due to the arrival of new DC Jeremy Pruitt, taking over for Mark Stoops after Stoops left to be the head coach at Kentucky.  Pruitt talks about wanting to blitz a lot more (don't they all) and his schemes may have a learning curve to them.  FSU's defense may in turn require a breaking-in period before it hits its full potential, but this side of the ball is full of excellent athletes that can mask some of the growing pains.  The Noles probably won't have as good a pass rush as they had last season with so much NFL talent at defensive end, and depth at linebacker could turn into a sore spot, but neither would I count out their athleticism.

-- Special teams

FSU's website brags of how many punts of Cason Beatty's weren't returned last season; this could refer to excellent hang time or it could be a nice way of covering up the fact that many of them were just too short.  Beatty, a sophomore in 2013, averaged a little over 38 yards per kick last season, a number that could stand some improvement.  New kicker Roberto Aguayo gave the Noles very high hopes for their placekicking in the spring game, nailing a 51-yard field goal and a 58-yarder.

-- Outlook

A lot will ride on Jameis Winston.  FSU has surrounded him with very good players.  Some questions exist on defense, mainly at defensive end and SLB, and there isn't a returning player on that side of the ball with a statistical pedigree that inspires terror, but the Noles have the athletes to answer those questions a lot better than many teams would.  If Winston plays consistently well, FSU will have a fantastic shot at reminding the Clemson Tigers who still rules the ACC roost, and another Orange Bowl trip will await.  If not, it's still not a doomsday scenario; there's still basically a big 2 and a little 5 in the Atlantic Division, so great is the divide between Clemson and FSU and the rest of the division.  Outside of road trips to Clemson and Gainesville, any game FSU loses in the regular season would be considered a major upset.

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