With the final BCS game in the rearview and College Football Playoff commercials already consuming your television, the focus already turns to next season. After all, Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher revealed his inner Saban when talking about preparations for the 2014 season, as Steve Greenberg of the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
Jimbo: "In two days, I'm gonna go get ready to try and win another one." #FSU— Steve Greenberg (@SLGreenberg) January 7, 2014
Although the confetti has yet to be completely cleared from the Rose Bowl turf, it’s never too early to look ahead. More specifically, it’s never too early to look at what this year’s championship teams could provide eight months from now.
It hurts the soul just to type that. The offseason darkness is upon us.
For Auburn and Florida State—two teams that were flying under the radar heading into the 2013 offseason, one more than the other—the expectations will be drastically different heading into the spring. Each will enter the fall with their sights set on a spot in the College Football Playoff.
When taking a deep look into the crystal ball to see which team has a better chance to get there, however, you must start with the quarterbacks. Jameis Winston will be back at Florida State, and Nick Marshall will be back at Auburn.
That's a heck of a place to start.
Each player will benefit greatly from another offseason with brilliant teachers. Winston should build off his Heisman season, improving some of the imperfections that became more pronounced later in the year. Marshall, who flashed moments of brilliance throughout much of the second half, will have the luxury of working with Gus Malzahn in spring and fall practice.
Auburn will return most of its offense, although it will be operating without at least one key piece.
Greg Robinson, the Tigers’ left tackle and a fast riser in the scouting world, announced on Twitter that he would forgo his senior year and enter the draft.
This was a tough decision but I have decided to declare for the NFL Draft.— Greg Robinson (@GregRobinson73) January 7, 2014
Along with this key loss on the line, running back Tre Mason could test the NFL waters after closing strong, leaving at a time when his stock might be the highest it will ever be.
Outside of Mason and Robinson, the majority of the weapons on offense will return.
Defensively, Auburn will lose Dee Ford and cornerback Chris Davis, two players that factored in enormously this year. It has plenty of youth to be excited about, however, and the development of defensive end Carl Lawson will be a joy to watch over the next few years.
Florida State clearly has more uncertainty and draft-eligible players who could stay or go.
We do know that talented linebacker Christian Jones and freakish defensive back Lamarcus Joyner are gone. Wide receiver Kenny Shaw also exhausted his eligibility, although this is an interesting position to keep an eye on.
Do Rashad Greene and Kelvin Benjamin come back? What about Nick O’Leary at tight end? And how about Devonta Freeman, Karlos Williams and James Wilder Jr. at running back? It would appear that Wilder is likely moving on, according to ESPN's Joe Schad.
FSU RB James Wilder will enter the next NFL Draft per source— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) January 7, 2014
These potential departures will be some of the early storylines to watch in the offseason.
In terms of talent coming in and developing, both teams have recruited quite well in recent years. Auburn will continue to thrive on the recruiting trail, but Florida State has become almost Alabama-esque in the way it has stockpiled talent and filled openings over the past few seasons.
Returning to the championship picture is more than just returning or developing talent, though. Much of this boils down to things outside of a team’s control, like the expected power of the conference, and more importantly, the schedule.
This is where Florida State separates itself as more viable repeat candidate, thanks in large part to ample questions in the ACC.
The Seminoles’ toughest road game next season will come against Louisville or Miami. They will also open against a rebuilt Oklahoma State team. And FSU will welcome Notre Dame, Florida and Clemson to Tallahassee, a favorable draw—at least as it looks now in January.
Auburn, meanwhile, will have to travel to Kansas State, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Georgia and finish with a trip to Alabama. The Tigers will also welcome LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M. There are many questions to be answered by the teams on tap for the Tigers, but the schedule doesn't look like much fun on paper.
At this point last year, however, Auburn was penciled in as a win for most teams that drew the Tigers. Look how that turned out.
Given the quarterback, talent in place, talent that could potentially return and the difficulty of the schedule, Florida State seems like the more likely team to find its way back into the championship picture.
With key pieces set to return for each team, however, it seems unlikely that either will fall out of the picture over the next eight months.
Oh, and the reality of the wait ahead has certainly set in, the most significant obstacle of them all.
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