Champions in the ACC and a dominant victor in the Orange Bowl over Northern Illinois, Jimbo Fisher brought the Florida State Seminoles to the precipice of their former glory in 2012. But with the key departures of top talents looming over the 2013 season, all eyes in Tallahassee were fixated on Saturday's Garnet and Gold game.
Though it's tough to draw any implications for Week 1 against Pittsburgh, it's safe to say the future is bright for the Seminoles. The Gold side defeated the Garnet squad, 40-24, in a game that got out of hand down the stretch.
That being said, the game was far closer than the final score indicates. Both sides were entrenched in a one-score contest throughout the day, with the Gold squad pulling away late in the fourth quarter—capped off by an astounding 58-yard field goal by Roberto Aguayo.
But like every other spring game going on around the country, the final scoreboard is without long-term implications. Barring the starters getting blown out 66-0 or something, the takeaways from these contests are always about answering lingering questions and giving previews of position battles.
One of the most vexing questions in Tallahassee was who will be under center Week 1. Longtime starting quarterback E.J. Manuel's storied career with the Seminoles ended with the Orange Bowl triumph, and he should be drafted within the first few rounds of April's NFL draft.
The answer to who will be replacing Manuel began surfacing on Saturday. And if the spring is any indicator of future results, redshirt freshman Jameis Winston should have a stranglehold on the gig—perhaps for the next four years.
Winston, who also is an outfielder for Florida State's baseball team, was a breakout star Saturday. Showing slashes of pocket poise and athleticism on the outside, he looked like the type of player who could adequately replace Manuel.
His first pace of the day was a 58-yard rocket for a touchdown. And he followed that up with another touchdown on his subsequent drive, the latter going to Rashad Greene. Playing for the Garnet team, Winston finished the first half 8-of-10 for 140 yards and two touchdowns.
Elsewhere at the quarterback spot, the results weren't so pretty. Clint Trickett had a fine, steady game in the first half, completing 8-of-13 passes for 76 yards, but he was nowhere near as effective as Winston. Sean Maguire and Jacob Coker both looked like complete non-contributors for the most part, the latter showing a cringe-worthy penchant for turning the ball over on Saturday.
On the defensive side of things, Florida State's starting unit looked like it should be solid again in 2013. Bjoern Werner and Xavier Rhodes, two likely first-round picks, are gone, but the Seminoles are replacing them with highly touted stars who looked strong for the most part.
Though he won't be playing Werner's position in 2013, the anchor of Florida State's defensive line may be Nile Lawrence-Stample this season. The defensive tackle wreaked havoc in the backfield throughout the contest, making tackles for loss and making three sacks.
Overall, if we're giving out grades—which we will be in a second—Saturday was a "B" for the Seminoles. They looked like a solid young team that should compete in the ACC, but nowhere near a national title contender.
However, if Winston's ascent on Saturday is true to his form this season, folks who think 2013 is a transition year may be proven incorrect.
Jameis Winston, QB: A-
Florida State's latest two-sport athlete looked every bit the part of a star in the making on Saturday. The highly touted redshirt freshman was the most talented player on the field for most of the game, connecting on beautiful passes both down the field and on intermediate routes.
The only downgrade Winston gets was for his propensity to take sacks. He would get stuck in a rut where he was trying to make big plays happen, but his pocket presence isn't great yet and that would lead to going down for a loss. That propensity will only improve as Winston gets older and more comfortable as a pocket passer.
Overall, though, it's impossible to complain about Winston's performance. Jimbo Fisher needed him to show flashes of what made him such a top recruit, and Winston did that and more.
Nile Lawrence-Stample, DT: A
Talk about a difference-maker. Heading into a critical season in Tallahassee, Lawrence-Stample made a massive impression on the crowd Saturday. In the backfield on seemingly every play, the up-and-coming star defensive tackle looked like a modern-day Warren Sapp.
He had three sacks and was one of a select few guys able to bring down Winston in the backfield. With the Seminoles having major questions on the offensive side of the ball, the defense will have to be Florida State's calling card.
If Saturday was any indication, that shouldn't be a problem with Lawrence-Stample leading the way.
Dan Hicks, DE: B
Hicks has played just about everywhere throughout his career in Tallahassee, most recently as a tight end. But he made the switch over to defensive end on Saturday, where he had previously spent time, and looked pretty comfortable back in his former position.
During the first half, Hicks recorded four tackles, a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss. After missing all of last season due to injury, he should be an interesting player to watch for the Seminoles in 2013. Saturday got him off to a good start, and he should be a part of Fisher's rotation on defense this coming season.