Florida State Football: Realistic Expectations for Seminoles' 2014 Season

Bob Ferrante@@bobferranteContributor IMay 15, 2014

Despite losing 10 starters, FSU coach Jimbo Fisher returns Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and a deep roster built on recruiting success the past few years.
Despite losing 10 starters, FSU coach Jimbo Fisher returns Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and a deep roster built on recruiting success the past few years.Steve Cannon/Associated Press

From Dallas to Dallas.

Jameis Winston said it in January and the motto has caught on. Florida State opens the 2014 season against Oklahoma State in Arlington, Texas, on Aug. 30. The Seminoles, of course, would love to return to AT&T Stadium on Jan. 12, 2015.

For many FSU fans, anything short of a title would be a disappointment. Is that an unrealistic expectation? Of course. But FSU is one of about 15 programs where there is frustration any year a national title isn't earned.

But coach Jimbo Fisher refuses to call it a title defense.

"We're not defending anything,'' Fisher said in March. ''I don't want us to think in those terms. What I'm looking for is another group of hungry guys who are willing to pay the same price they did last year when they didn't know they were real good."

Now, everyone knows FSU is very good.

If FSU repeats, it's a title that was earned in the days following the Seminoles' win over Auburn in the final BCS championship game. FSU lost four players who declared early—defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, receiver Kelvin Benjamin and running backs Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr.

But a large group of players decided they were returning to pursue back-to-back titles, including receiver Rashad Greene, left tackle Cameron Erving, tight end Nick O'Leary and tailback Karlos Williams.

FSU certainly has holes to fill, losing five starters on offense and five on defense.

Losing a 1,000-yard rusher (Freeman), a 1,000-yard receiver (Benjamin), an All-American defensive back (Lamarcus Joyner), the team's best defensive lineman (Jernigan) and the team's leading tackler (linebacker Telvin Smith) would be tough to overcome at most programs.

But this is where depth built from FSU's stellar recruiting classes comes in. Fisher has an answer for nearly every loss. 

John Raoux/Associated Press

At running back, Williams is the likely starter after enjoying a breakout junior season following his September move from safety. He will lead a deep group of backs, which includes Mario Pender, Ryan Green and early enrollee Dalvin Cook (Florida's Mr. Football in 2013).

Wide receiver is easily the biggest question mark going into 2014, especially after losing Benjamin and Kenny Shaw from last year's team.

If healthy, senior Scooter Haggins could see playing time in Shaw's old slot position. But Winston and Fisher are pleased with the development of rising sophomores Kermit Whitfield, Jesus Wilson and Isaiah Jones. Plus FSU welcomes a five-star receiver (Travis Rudolph) and a four-star receiver (Ermon Lane) this fall.

At defensive tackle, Eddie Goldman will start at one spot and either Desmond Hollin or Nile Lawrence-Stample will take over the other.

FSU lost Smith and Christian Jones at linebacker, but the unit is loaded with players who gained experience as backups last season. Reggie Northrup, E.J. Levenberry, Ukeme Eligwe and Ro'Derrick Hoskins will fight for starting jobs alongside rising junior Terrance Smith.

Defensive back is FSU's deepest unit on either offense or defense.

While the Seminoles lose Joyner and safety Terrence Brooks, they could still feature a starting group of Jalen Ramsey, Nate Andrews, Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams. The group will be even better if senior Tyler Hunter is able to have an impact after missing most of 2013 with a neck injury. Fisher also raved about early enrollee Trey Marshall's versatility this spring.

Every college football team has to deal with roster turnover each year. Between graduation and early NFL draft entries, it's impossible to avoid. But FSU has a returning Heisman Trophy winner in Winston, plenty of playmakers on offense and a defensive backfield that may be the nation's best.

The Seminoles' schedule is certainly more challenging this time than it was in 2013.

FSU trades in nonconference matchups with Nevada, Idaho and Bethune-Cookman for Oklahoma State, The Citadel and Notre Dame (Florida, of course, remains a long-term, out-of-conference opponent). The ACC Atlantic also got tougher when Maryland was replaced with Louisville.

On the other hand, the 2014 schedule sets FSU up well to make another run.

The FSU-Oklahoma State game looked like a great matchup when it was scheduled in 2012. But Oklahoma State loses 29 seniors and returns just nine starters.

FSU also has an open date before hosting Clemson on Sept. 20. The Tigers just lost star wideout Sammy Watkins to the draft and will be breaking in a new quarterback.

A wild card is Notre Dame, which plays at FSU on Oct. 18. Will the Irish take a step forward now that Everett Golson is back? FSU's season will likely hinge on how it fares against Notre Dame. 

Even if FSU enters November with an 8-0 record, the Seminoles will play Virginia, at Miami, Boston College and Florida in consecutive weeks.

Since 1994, three teams have been able to repeat as national champs: Nebraska (94-95), USC (2003-04) and Alabama (2011-12). Barring injuries, FSU has a very good chance to end the season in Dallas and join that club.

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report, all quotes obtained first-hand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter