Thursday, August 7, 2014

2014 season preview: Florida State Seminoles


8/30: Oklahoma State
9/6: The Citadel
9/13: BYE
9/20: Clemson
9/27: @ NC State
10/4: Wake Forest
10/11: @ Syracuse
10/18: Notre Dame
10/25: BYE
10/30: @ Louisville (Thu.)
11/8: Virginia
11/15: @ Miami
11/22: Boston College
11/29: Florida

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

2013 results:

Pittsburgh: W, 41-13
Nevada: W, 62-7
Bethune-Cookman: W, 54-6
Boston College: W, 48-34
Maryland: W, 63-0
Clemson: W, 51-14
NC State: W, 49-17
Miami: W, 41-14
Wake Forest: W, 59-3
Syracuse: W, 59-3
Idaho: W, 80-14
Florida: W, 37-7
Duke: W, 45-7 (ACC CG)
Auburn: W, 34-31 (BCS CG)

Record: 13-0 (8-0); ACC champion

Projected starters:

QB: Jameis Winston (rSo.)
RB: Karlos Williams (Sr.)
WR: Rashad Greene (Sr.)
WR: Christian Green (5Sr.)
WR: Jarred Haggins (5Sr.)
TE: Nick O'Leary (Sr.)
LT: Cameron Erving (5Sr.)
LG: Josue Matias (Sr.)
C: Austin Barron (Sr.)
RG: Tre Jackson (Sr.)
RT: Bobby Hart (Sr.)

DE: Chris Casher (rSo.)
DT: Eddie Goldman (Jr.)
DT: Nile Lawrence-Stample (rJr.)
DE: Mario Edwards (Jr.)
SLB: Ukeme Eligwe (rSo.)
MLB: Reggie Northrup (Jr.)
WLB: Terrance Smith (rJr.)
CB: Ronald Darby (Jr.)
CB: P.J. Williams (Jr.)
SS: Tyler Hunter (rJr.)
FS: Jalen Ramsey (So.)

K: Roberto Aguayo (rSo.)
P: Cason Beatty (Jr.)

(Italics indicate new starter.)

Coach: Jimbo Fisher (5th season)

Media prediction: 1st, Atlantic; ACC champion


2013 1st team: QB Jameis Winston, WR Rashad Greene, RB Devonta Freeman, OT Cameron Erving, OG Tre Jackson, C Bryan Stork, CB Lamarcus Joyner
2013 2nd team: TE Nick O'Leary, DT Timmy Jernigan, LB Christian Jones, LB Telvin Smith, S Terrence Brooks, K Roberto Aguayo
2013 3rd team: WR Kelvin Benjamin, OG Josue Matias, DE Mario Edwards, S Nate Andrews
2013 HM: WR Kenny Shaw, WR Bobby Hart, RB James Wilder, CB P.J. Williams,
2014 preseason: QB Jameis Winston, RB Karlos Williams, WR Rashad Greene, TE Nick O'Leary, OT Cameron Erving, OG Tre Jackson, DE Mario Edwards, CB P.J. Williams, K Roberto Aguayo

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Well, these guys did alright last year.  They did so alright that the table of contents of their media guide is on page 20; the first 19 are devoted to showing off.  I guess you can do that when you're the owner of the crystal football.  Truthfully, I think most of the college football world was happy to see it; Florida State might be basically an SEC program in the ACC, but dethroning the actual SEC was good enough.  All the early rankings have them back on top of everything, so, no pressure.

-- Offense

I wrote last year that this group would be tough to stop if Jameis Winston proved a worthy successor to E.J. Manuel.  A guy named Mr. Heisman said he did alright.  So did the offense; FSU rolled up scores in their ACC games normally reserved for I-AA opponents.  They averaged 51 points in conference games.

Winston, of course, is back for more, being only a redshirt sophomore, and is the odds-on favorite to repeat as Heisman winner.  The challenge is replacing his receiving targets.  Rashad Greene was his favorite target last year (76 receptions, 1,128 yards), and Greene returns, as does dangerous tight end Nick O'Leary.  O'Leary is a heck of an athlete for a tight end, and registered a 94-yard reception last year.  The rest of the receiving corps is seeing plenty of turnover.  Listed at the top of the depth chart are fifth-year seniors Jarred Haggins and Christian Green, but Haggins has been injury-prone and Green hasn't been a major factor since 2011, his redshirt freshman year.  A better bet would be on itty-bitty speedsters Kermit Whitfield and Jesus Wilson to start making their marks; Whitfield has already opened eyes as a kick returner with a huge 36.4 yard average in 2013, and two touchdowns.  FSU also brought in two of the top five WR recruits in the country in Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph, so odds are the underclassmen will be the ones reloading the FSU arsenal this year.

At running back, Karlos Williams was abruptly moved from safety to tailback last season, after the first game, and thrived in his new role.  It seemed a bit presumptuous for the media to pick him for the preseason all-conference team after being a second-stringer last year, but he averaged eight yards a carry and piled up 730 yards.  Five-star freshman Dalvin Cook is likely to see a lot of carries too, and both will thrive behind this offensive line.

That's a line, by the way, that starts five seniors.  Center Austin Barron is the only newcomer to the starting role, after having rotated in for the past three years as a backup.  Guards Tre' Jackson and Josue Matias are each entering their third year as starters, as is left tackle Cameron Erving.  RT Bobby Hart will be in his second starting year.  This is a massive line, with only Barron weighing in at less than 300 pounds, and three of them (Jackson, Matias, and Hart) at 320 or more.  Jackson is the real road grader, topping the nit at 330 pounds.

Behind an offensive line like that, it'd take a lot for this offense not to be a powerhouse.  Winston averaged a first down every time he threw the ball, and tossed 40 touchdowns, so even a sophomore slump would probably place him in the top 10 or 15 quarterbacks in the country.  Lot of starts to replace at the other skill positions, but nobody's crying poverty here.  The replacement pantry is well-stocked.  And lest anyone forget: five seniors on the offensive line.  The offense is primed and loaded to get FSU into the brand-new playoff.

-- Defense

This is without doubt the weaker of the two units.  Not that it's likely to be bad, but it could struggle against the better offenses it faces.  A lot of big names departed, and their replacements aren't sure things.  On the line, DE Mario Edwards and DT Eddie Goldman return as starters; Edwards, as the strong-side DE, carries as much weight as a typical tackle, but his athleticism lets him make plays of all kinds, including the occasional drop-back into pass coverage, and he can command a double-team as well.  Goldman, too, demands a double-team at times, since he weighs in at 320 pounds.  He only managed 19 tackles last year but he can clog up the middle something fierce.

The front-runner to start at the other DT spot is Nile Lawrence-Stample, who would give FSU a pair of 300-pounders in the middle.  The depth and experience in the middle is a questionable, though, partly because FSU keeps bouncing Giorgio Newberry back and forth between DT and TE.  Back at DT for now, he's expect to be the third tackle.  Chris Casher likely has the upper hand on Desmond Hollin for the other starting DE spot, as he's more of a playmaker than the juco transfer Hollin, but both will play.  But, if there's one thing FSU's defense lacked last year it was a consistent pass-rush threat, and they had to scheme their way to many of the sacks they registered.  That looks to be the same this year.

FSU took a beating from graduation at linebacker, where only Terrance Smith returns among starters.  Smith is the leading returning tackler and was fourth on the team last season with 59.  He manned the middle last season but is listed on the weak side this year; the middle has Reggie Northrup now listed as the starter.  Northrup picked up 46 tackles last year despite not starting a game, but he's being pushed hard by E.J. Levenberry.  Ukeme Eligwe looks like the starter for now on the strong side, but that too is written in pencil.

The secondary looks like the most talented unit on defense.  Jalen Ramsey jumped in with both feet last year as a true freshman, starting games at both cornerback and free safety.  The latter is where he's expected to play this year, alongside Tyler Hunter who had a very promising start to the 2013 season before it was cut short by a neck injury.  And of all this talent at safety, it was actually true freshman Nate Andrews, starting just one game, who led the team in INTs with four.  FSU goes an easy three deep at corner, too. Senior Nick Waisome was a full-time starter in 2012, but was bumped to the bench last year in favor of Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams.  Waisome gives FSU experienced depth; not that they need much of it as Darby and Williams are both juniors.  With this much depth in the backfield, FSU figures to spend a lot of time in a nickel package.

Last year this was sort of the anti-Duke defense.  Duke had a bunch of guys with gaudy stats but the defense overall was kinda lousy.  FSU had nobody at all who made you look twice at the stat sheet, but it was one of the best defenses around.  The challenge this year is replacing some highly productive linebackers and figuring out how to keep pressure on opposing QBs.  Plus, they're on their third DC in three years.  When Jeremy Pruitt bolted to take the same job at UGA, the Noles promoted from within, so many of the philosophies and schemes will be the same; still, the constant turnover is less than ideal.  FSU almost always has the better athletes when they take the field, so it's not like this defense is going to crash into the bottom half of the ACC; still, it won't be as strong as last year's unless a lot goes right, and really good offenses might expose them.

-- Special teams

Somehow, the Lou Groza Award winner for top kicker in the country placed on the all-ACC 2nd team.  Either the ACC media isn't too bright, or the Groza people aren't.  (I'm going with the latter, actually - Nate Freese was a perfect 20-for-20 with two from past 50 yards.  The Groza Award is handed out by the probably-geographically-biased Palm Beach County Sports Commission.)

Not that Roberto Aguayo did a bad job - he missed just once all year, going 21-for-22, and as a redshirt freshman at that.  He gives FSU the top returning kicker in the league.  Punter Cason Beatty boosted his average by three yards from 2012 to 2013.  FSU, naturally, also has some of the best return units in the league, with the aforementioned Kermit Whitfield and his 36-yard average.

-- Outlook

This team is the heavy favorite to repeat as ACC champions, and why not?  The offense ought to be explosive again, even if last year's standard will be tough to top.  The defense may have its weaknesses, but that shouldn't be enough to knock them from their perch.  The expectation here is that the Noles claim one of the four spots in the new playoff, likely in the Sugar Bowl.  Anything other than an undefeated season in-conference would be a pretty big upset.

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