No. 11 Florida State takes on Pittsburgh at Heinz Field on Monday, eager to get back to the playing field after winning the Orange Bowl last season.
The Seminoles went 12-2 (7-1 ACC) last season, but quarterback EJ Manuel departed for the NFL during the offseason.
This is Pittsburgh's first season in the ACC after going 6-7 (3-4 Big East) last season. The Panthers haven't made it to a BCS bowl since losing to Utah in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl.
Here's a look at what's in store for the season opener, complete with the major storylines and a prediction of the clash.
Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pa.
When: Monday, Sept. 2 at 8 p.m. ET
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Spread (via Bovada): Florida -10.5
Over/Under (via Bovada): 49
Injury Report (via USA Today)
Rashad Greene, WR, Probable (Finger)
Jeremy Kerr, TE, Out indefinitely (Knee)
Isaac Bennett, RB, Questionable (Knee)
Will Florida State Be Able to Make Up for Its Losses?
Florida State lost 11 players—count it—to the NFL draft in the offseason.
That included quarterback EJ Manuel, cornerback Xavier Rhodes and defensive end Bjoern Werner, who were all selected in the first round.
Jameis Winston won the job under center for the Seminoles in the preseason. During Florida State's spring game, he went 12-of-15 for 205 yards and two touchdowns. Head coach Jimbo Fisher has high hopes for the redshirt freshman.
Of course, if Winston starts piling up touchdowns, don't expect him to go all "Johnny Manziel" on us.
Via Perry Kostidakis of FS View, Winston said in early August:
He then proceeded to drop the mic, via Kostidakis:
Of course, Florida State also returns running backs Devonta Freeman and James Wilder, as well as a dynamic receiver in Rashad Greene. Freeman and Wilder combined for 1,295 yards and 19 touchdowns on 5.9 yards per carry in 2012. Greene posted 57 catches for 741 yards and six touchdowns.
Junior tight end Nick O'Leary is also widely expected to have a breakout year, while the offensive line is still solid.
How Will Pittsburgh Adjust to the ACC?
The general perception is not good when it comes to Pittsburgh transitioning to the ACC.
Pittsburgh was picked to finish fifth in the Coastal Division in its first year in the ACC. Considering the Panthers went 6-7 while playing in a weaker conference last season, that may hold true.
The Orlando Sentinel tabbed Pittsburgh as the No. 45 team in the country in its preseason rankings. The defense should still be relatively solid after allowing 21.1 points per game last season (23rd in the country), but the loss of leading rusher Ray Graham and No. 1 receiver Mike Shanahan figures to hurt a squad that ranked 76th in the nation in points per contest in 2012.
It's going to be a menacing year for Pittsburgh, and it certainly doesn't help that the Panthers have to face Florida State in their first game in the ACC.
How Will Tom Savage Fare Against Florida State?
Pittsburgh starting quarterback Tom Savage hasn't played a live down in nearly three years.
The Seminoles ranked sixth in the nation in points per game allowed last season. They also ranked first in yards per pass attempt allowed (5.0) while finishing 12th in opponents' passing touchdowns.
Sure, they no longer have Rhodes, Werner or defensive end Tank Carradine, but they should still be a challenge for Savage and the Pittsburgh offense.
It's going to be interesting to see how the Panthers offense—particularly Savage—responds to Florida State's pressure, with practically an entire nation expecting the unit to fail.
Prediction: Florida State 24, Pittsburgh 9
Even if Florida State doesn't score a whole lot of points as the players get accustomed to playing alongside one another (and Winston gets comfortable in the pocket), I don't see Pittsburgh lighting up the scoreboard in this one.
Not only is Savage inexperienced, but he lost the team's most productive offensive stars over the offseason. He'll be going up against a top team in a big game with only one full season as a starter under his belt, and he also hasn't been given much to work with on his side of the ball, with two players on Pittsburgh's offense making their first career starts.
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