By: Vaughan Sheffey (Twitter: @Vizzle311)
Last season: 12-2, ACC Champions (first since 2005)
Bolstered by yet another recruiting class ranked in the Top 3, Head Coach Jimbo Fisher and this year’s version of the Seminoles enter the season with expectations running high. However, it is noteworthy that the AP and Coaches Polls have them ranked at #12 and #10 respectively. This is a definite contrast to their Top 5 preseason rankings of the last 2 years and to most observers it probably seems like FSU is appropriately ranked going into this season. It is painfully obvious in 2013 that winning the perennially underpowered ACC does not garner an automatic top 5 ranking by any stretch of the imagination. In addition, the lopsided Orange Bowl victory against a completely over-matched Northern Illinois team at the end of last season capped a campaign in which the Seminoles were almost always the favorite going in. Still, it can be viewed as a successful season and returning to the top of the conference is a big step for Jimbo and his plans for returning FSU to annual contention for a national championship.
This season is a real tipping point in that the coaching staff needs and expects many of their own recruits to start living up to their potential and contribute in a big way this season. Florida State only returns 11 of 22 starters this season and were hit with more roster attrition than any other team in the ACC.
The biggest and most obvious question on this side of the ball is the competition for the starting QB job which will begin in earnest once practices begin on Aug. 12. The 2 candidates to replace EJ Manuel (now with the Buffalo Bills) are redshirt freshman Jameis Winston and redshirt sophomore Jacob Coker. Winston came to town with a rush of expectations and hype inducing YouTube videos to his name. His spring game performance was nothing short of electric and he has been turning heads in the baseball program (a big reason he chose to attend FSU was them allowing him to play both sports). The consensus thus far is he has all the tools to be a top flight dual threat quarterback in Jimbo’s offensive system. Coker possesses excellent size (6’ 5, 235 lbs.) but is unproven as he only attempted 5 passes all of last year although he did throw a TD with one of those attempts.
Fisher’s offense places a heavy emphasis on establishing the run to enable the QBs to roll out and chuck it deep. He will most likely rely heavily on both junior backs this season. FB Lonnie Pryor also needs to be replaced and the coaching staff is hoping senior Chad Abraham can step up at that position.
Mario Pender, Ryan Green, and Taylor Doan are the freshmen in this group and all 3 should have an opportunity coming to Tallahassee. Pender has shown glimpses of top end speed and ability to make plays. He may make the field this season as a scat back type option.
As has been the case since Fisher came to town, FSU is loaded at running back. When he was healthy, Chris Thompson was the focal point of the running game the last couple seasons but the bulk of the carries this season will most likely go to junior James Wilder. He has already proven more than capable as he tallied 635 yards and 11 touchdowns last year, posting up a per carry average of 5.8 yards. However, fellow junior tailback Devonta Freeman cannot be counted out as he produced similar numbers to Wilder (111 carries, 660 yards, and 8 TDs). He possesses a slightly smaller frame but again has shown the coaches he can handle a larger workload.
The Seminoles return their leading receiver from last year in speedy junior Rashad Greene (57-741-6). Potential second receiver sophomore Kelvin Benjamin has the size that coaches and scouts drool over (6 5’, 238 lbs) and he acquitted himself well last year with 495 yards and 4 touchdowns. Kenny Shaw (Sr.) is project to start at the slot and the coaches are hoping he can improve on his numbers from last year (33-532-3).
There is a plethora of young talent behind the projected starters and the depth chart could very easily get shaken up as August moves along. There is even more scary size waiting in the wings with Isaiah Jones (6-4, 200), Parker Conley (6-5, 210) and David Tyrrell (6-3, 195). Incoming freshman Jesus Wilson from Miami has been noted as someone to watch going into camp. His speed may allow him to make some noise early on.
At tight end, the Seminoles have faced a lot of attrition going into this season and the position at this point is a bit of a question mark. Junior Nick O’Leary and freshman Jeremy Kerr are expected to compete for the starting gig. Kerr comes in with prototypical size and a reputation as a strong run blocker.
The starting offensive line played quite well last season and they possess some continuity with 4 of 5 starters from last year returning. The line is anchored at center by senior Bryan Stork with his thorough understanding of the offense and solid technique. The other standout is junior Bobby Hart at tackle.
The depth behind the starters has been questioned by the FSU faithful and a run of injuries could affect the offense more than it would some other teams in the ACC.
The FSU defensive line went from beastly to potential question mark almost overnight. The loss of both Bjoern Werner and Cornelius Carradine (both in the NFL) cannot be overstated as they were 2 top flight talents. Of course, this being Florida State there is no shortage of young and hungry players looking to step to take the starting jobs. Junior Timmy Jernigan showed potential lining up in the interior of the line last year and registered 45 tackles along with numerous quarterback hurries. At defensive end, sophomore Mario Edwards came in highly touted and is expected to solidify a starting job this season. Hard working senior Dan Hicks is projected to start at the other end. FSU has always counted on its defensive line to be a top unit year in and year out and there is no reason to think this won’t be the case in 2013 as well.
While not as strong as some of the units FSU has rolled out in recent years, the linebacker group still contains a strong mix of proven upper classmen and some very intriguing incoming talent. The key cog here is returning inside linebacker Christian Jones, who led the team in tackles last year. He possesses the physical size and skillset to play both inside and outside. As such, he should be a critical player while the defense continues to transition to a 3-4 style. There is some grumbling that the team should stick with the traditional 4-3 but with the linebacker talent that FSU brings in the 3-4 approach has some merit.
This position group is another traditionally strong area for the Seminoles and this season projects to maintain that trend. The conversation begins with the aggressive and hard-hitting strong safety Lamarcus Joyner who was All ACC last year and a lock to be the next FSU defensive back taken high in the 2014 NFL draft. There is a lot of buzz around junior Karlos Williams stepping up to take a starting spot. Anyone who watched the ACC Championship game would have been hard pressed to not notice Williams.
The team may opt to start Joyner at corner along with the returning Nick Waisome and sophomore Ronald Darby at nickel. Don’t count out Darby for a starting gig however, as he has shown great instincts as a cover corner in the Seminole’s system.
Much like the defensive line, the depth for this unit should be excellent. Florida State always seems to find the next stud to step up in the secondary and the memory of Greg Reid should be fully faded into the background by the mid-point of the 2013 season.
3 Key Games for the 2013-2014 season
At Clemson, Saturday Oct. 19
Clemson has been the major obstacle for Florida State in winning the ACC Atlantic Division for years, going back to the days of the Bowden Bowl. They always bring plenty of speed and the environment in Death Valley is arguably just as tough on a visitor as some of the crazier venues of the SEC. The fans and the team also completely relish in taking down the Seminoles. FSU handled them at home last year in a high flying 49-37 victory that felt close throughout. Tajh Boyd and company will not be intimidated nor will they be caught unprepared this year.
Prediction: FSU win
vs. NC State, Saturday Oct. 26
This is another ACC team that has been a thorn in the side of Florida State the last few seasons. Much like Clemson, they get geared up to face the Seminoles and always seem to be able to contain the FSU offense and keep themselves in the game. FSU fans hoped for a respite when Russell Wilson transferred but the close battles have continued. NC State has rained on their parade the last 2 seasons and last year’s 17-16 loss can be classified as an upset seeing as how heavily favored the experienced ‘Noles were.
Prediction: FSU win
At Florida, Saturday November 30
Florida State gets to close the regular season against their old pals in Gainesville. The Seminoles were favored against the Gators at home last season but ended up losing 36-27. Florida came in with a rock solid game plan that stifled a lot of what Florida State tried to do on offense. They simply looked like the more confident team throughout the game and sent the Seminole faithful home frustrated. This year projects to be another war between these two long-time rivals and it is a very tall order for this year’s Seminole team to go into The Swamp to avenge last year’s stinging loss.
Prediction: FSU loss
11-1 Regular Season record, repeat ACC Atlantic Division Champs, repeat ACC Champs, Orange Bowl berth.