Florida State and college football in general enter a new era for the 2014 season. Not only will the Seminoles have a new logo and college football a new playoff, but also, the defending champs will have the biggest of targets on their backs.
Repeating as national champions isn't an easy task. It only happened once in the old BCS system (Alabama in 2011 and 2012), and it's only happened one other time since the start of the bowl alliance in 1992 (Nebraska in 1994 and 1995).
As the Seminoles look to do the nearly impossible in a new era, they took to the field for the annual spring game Saturday—two-sport star Jameis Winston and all.
There are always things to learn from spring, so let's take a look at what we learned from Saturday afternoon in Tallahassee.
Winston's Competitive Nature is Infectious
Winston won the Heisman Trophy, completing 66.9 percent of his passes for 4,057 yards and 40 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. On Saturday, that talent was on full display once again.
He threw for 396 yards and two touchdowns, but he completed just 48.2 percent of his passes (27-of-56). For a guy whose attention has been split between baseball and football all spring long, his raw talent once again shined through the somewhat painful early moments.
If there was one thing that stood out in Winston's performance Saturday, it was his ability to not let a slow start get the best of him. As the game went on, Winston and the rest of the offense continued to get better, and by the end of the game, the offense was clicking like it did last season.
It was also pretty clear Winston's arm and his body were exhausted by the double duty in the spring, something he even acknowledged after the game to ESPN.com's Jared Shanker:
Physically, some days I was drained. I'm a busy man. I got to study and I'm a regular college student. Football is not my job yet. I got to carry out my everyday life. I'm going to be tired sometimes and if [head coach] Jimbo [Fisher] asks me, 'Jameis,are you tired?' I'm going to say, 'No, coach.' It's how college life is but I love it.
Battling through fatigue is just another sign of how competitive Winston is. Even if he wasn't perfect Saturday, that competitive nature will go a long way toward keeping his team on track during the most challenging regular season FSU has seen in over a decade.
Don't Sleep on the 'Noles Defense
Hey, guess what? Florida State is more than Winston. To Seminole fans, that shouldn't be a surprise, but given the national narrative, one could be forgiven for forgetting the defense is also really good.
Sure, last season, the Seminoles secondary ranked No. 1 in pass defense, but two big pieces of that secondary are gone this year. On Saturday, FSU's defense reminded everyone it can play some quality football despite those pieces moving on.
In fact, early on in the game it was dominating Winston and the Seminole wide receivers. According to the stat sheet, Winston started 3-of-10 passing for 102 yards and an interception.
Fisher noted just how locked down the secondary was at times in his post-game availability.
"I thought Jameis started out slow early. We didn't have many guys open and that secondary was locking them down," Fisher said, according to Shanker's article. "We gradually got guys open and he made some throws."
The Seminoles secondary was all over its counterparts on offense for most of the game, and one player in particular stood out—sophomore cornerback P.J. Williams.
Williams had two passes defensed, five tackles and a forced fumble (which he also recovered) during the spring game. That's one way to make a statement about moving on from losing an All-American like Lamarcus Joyner.
The secondary impressed former players as well, including a starting safety from last season—Terrence Brooks. He had high praise for the secondary, according to Natalie Pierre of the Tallahassee News.
Those are the guys that I worked with while I was here. I got them used to this game and the college atmosphere. They’re all handling it very well. I love how (defensive backs) Jalen (Ramsey), P.J. and Tyler Hunter are out there commanding them. It’s a good group out there. I’m pretty sure they’re going to be fine for years to come.
Having the young corners step up to a challenge was important to see, because come ACC play, you can bet FSU will see some pass-happy offenses along the way.
Given the fact both Ronald Darby and Nate Andrews didn't play in the spring game, what the Noles secondary did was even more impressive. It appears this group isn't going to miss a beat, and could be another reason to believe Florida State is, once again, a legitimate title contender.
The Offensive Line May Be FSU's Best Weapon in Title Defense
Florida State doesn't know much about who will be doing what in the run game this season, as not a single scholarship running back was available for the annual spring game. Yet, despite those odds, Florida State showed it had a run game Saturday.
That's because of a very powerful offensive line, one that features four returning starters who are seniors. Those four also happen to have a combined 113 starts, and that includes new starting center Austin Barron.
Experience has a funny way of showing itself when you least expect it. How else do you explain a converted linebacker turned fullback gaining 85 yards on 16 carries Saturday?
Florida State's defense eventually had a tough time handling the offensive line, because Freddie Stevenson and the line wore down the defensive line as the game went on.
Now, add in an actual running back on scholarship to the mix, and FSU's offense could be just as dangerous on the ground as it will be through the air with Winston.
Credit an offensive line that didn't rest on its laurels and wealth of experience. Instead, it came out and competed at a high level in both pass- and run-blocking Saturday.
Winston wasn't officially sacked either, yet another indication of just how good FSU's offensive line is heading into the 2014 season.
Look for this group to be the linchpin if FSU continues to have the success needed to make the inaugural College Football Playoff.
Most importantly, Saturday taught us Florida State isn't a team that will fall off after one year of success. Fisher and the rest of the staff have built a team that could well resemble the ones that competed for national honors on a nearly annual basis in the late 1990s.
Saturday was more proof of that, even if it was just one of 15 practices in FSU's spring season.
*Andy Coppens is national college football featured columnist. You can follow him on Twitter: @AndyOnCFB.
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