Florida State loses 10 starters from the 2013 national championship team. But the Seminoles were so deep (and ahead by so many points in many games) that they were able to extend playing time to second- and third-team players last year.
There are holes to fill, but none are insurmountable. Years of top-10 signing classes by Jimbo Fisher have ensured that he and his staff have plenty of options.
With Jameis Winston and so many playmakers returning, FSU's offense should again be prolific. And the defense is expected to be just as stingy, which could help the Seminoles win the ACC title and earn a spot in the new College Football Playoff.
Projected starter: Jameis Winston
Backups: Sean Maguire and John Franklin III
Incoming freshman: JJ Cosentino
It's impossible to do better than what Winston accomplished on the field as a freshman, throwing for 4,057 yards and 40 touchdowns (a single-season school record)—and, of course, winning a Heisman Trophy and a national title. Expectations are high for Winston again.
His numbers may not be as high in 2014, especially with FSU replacing two starting receivers in Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw.
After Jacob Coker's transfer to Alabama, Maguire has the inside track to win the No. 2 job ahead of Franklin III and Cosentino. But if Winston leaves early, that trio will be battling for the starting job in 2015.
Projected starter: Karlos Williams
Backups: Ryan Green, Mario Pender, Freddie Stevenson and Nigel Terrell
Incoming freshman: Dalvin Cook (early enrollee)
Williams' move from safety to running back helped FSU overwhelm defenses on the ground in 2013. He was often the No. 2 or 3 option, though, and the majority of his 91 carries, 748 yards and 11 touchdowns came in the second half.
But Williams could enjoy a breakout season. He loves to run outside the tackles and use his burst to get into the open field, so he is a threat to score anytime he touches the ball.
The big question is: Who will be Williams' backup? It's likely that FSU will use a mix of Cook, Pender and Green (Stevenson should start at fullback over Nigel Terrell). Even with Winston throwing the ball, FSU found a way to run 505 times in 14 games. Jimbo Fisher will again hand off as much as he throws in an attempt to wear out defenses. It worked in 2013 … will it work again in 2014?
Projected starters: Rashad Greene, Scooter Haggins and Jesus Wilson
Backups: Isaiah Jones, Kermit Whitfield and Christian Green
FSU's season will hinge on finding a No. 2 receiver after playmaker Rashad Greene (1,128 receiving yards, 9 TDs). Winston and Greene have excellent chemistry and should again be able to connect frequently in games. But the No. 2 option could be a senior like Haggins or Green. Or one of the talented sophomores like Wilson, Jones or Whitfield.
If he stays healthy, Haggins could win the slot receiver job. Winston said after the spring game that Wilson was ahead of the other sophomores, so he could hold on through August to start the opener. But if they don't, Fisher has plenty of choices. The three freshmen should be able to contribute more as the season goes on (Fisher's playbook is very complex), and expect all three to be vying for starting jobs in 2015.
Projected starter: Nick O'Leary
Backups: Kevin Haplea and Jeremy Kerr
O'Leary had 33 receptions for 557 yards and seven touchdowns, and his 11 career TDs are already the most by a tight end in school history. O'Leary could have better numbers in 2014 simply because he's FSU's No. 2 receiving option at the moment.
Haplea and Kerr both suffered season-ending knee injuries in the summer. But the healthy return of both means that Fisher will be able to use more sets with two tight ends. Haplea is an exceptional blocker, and the 6'5" Kerr was a strong blocker in high school.
With a wealth of talent, Fisher will likely redshirt Saunders or Izzo (or both). Saunders has played just two seasons of football, one at receiver and another at tight end. But the former basketball star has soft hands and is exceptional in the red zone. Izzo had nearly 1,100 receiving yards his last two high school seasons.
Projected starters: LT Cameron Erving, LG Josue Matias, C Austin Barron, RG Tre Jackson and RT Bobby Hart
Backups: Wilson Bell, Ruben Carter, Ryan Hoefeld and Alec Eberle
FSU is loaded with playmakers, but the reason for the Seminoles' success is an offensive line that pass-blocks well and clears holes for the running game. The Seminoles had 7,267 offensive yards in 2013, and they could again have one of college football's top offensive lines.
Erving opted to return for his senior season, and it's a decision that should help him in the eyes of the NFL but will also protect Winston's blind side. The ACC's Jacobs Blocking Trophy winner in 2013, Erving could be a first-round pick in 2015.
Matias and Jackson have both been All-ACC picks, and they are physical blockers inside. Hart has struggled at times and needs to develop more of a nasty edge. Barron has five games of starting experience and should start at center.
Projected starters: Mario Edwards Jr. and Chris Casher
Backup: DeMarcus Walker
After bruising quarterbacks with pass-rushers like Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine, FSU used linebackers and defensive backs to bring the heat in 2013. Of FSU's 35 sacks, just 6.5 came from Edwards Jr., Casher and Walker.
Edwards Jr. is a monster at 6'3" and 295 pounds, and he should increase his numbers from 29 tackles and 3.5 sacks. But he also likes to slide inside and play defensive tackle as FSU adjusts its fronts (a linebacker also often comes down to play on the line).
Casher didn't start in 2013, but he is in line for increased playing time. Walker earned valuable experience as a true freshman and will battle Casher for the starting job. Featherston was considered the top prep recruit in North Carolina by ESPN. Leonard was named Maryland's prep defensive player of the year in 2013, when he had 14 sacks.
Projected starters: Eddie Goldman, Nile Lawrence-Stample
Backups: Desmond Hollin, Keith Bryant, Derrick Mitchell, Giorgio Newberry and Justin Shanks
FSU will, of course, miss defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, who was a second-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens. Eddie Goldman, who was considered the nation's top defensive tackle in the class of 2012, may be poised for a breakout season.
He has steadily improved (19 tackles, two sacks in 2013), and while it's not likely he will have a Jernigan-like season, Goldman could collapse the pocket from the middle and be an effective run-stopper. Fisher praised both Lawrence-Stample and Hollin in the spring, and both will be part of a deep rotation of defensive tackles.
FSU reloaded in February, signing five defensive tackles. Coaches clearly must redshirt some, but not after what should be an entertaining competition in August.
Projected starters: Terrance Smith, Matthew Thomas and Reggie Northrup
Backups: Ukeme Eligwe, E.J. Levenberry and Ro'Derrick Hoskins
FSU loses its leading tackler and emotional leader in Telvin Smith (90 tackles) as well as hybrid linebacker/end Christian Jones (56 tackles). The Seminoles will start junior Terrance Smith (59 tackles) and then surround him with some rising stars.
Fisher and new linebackers coach Bill Miller have plenty of choices. Northrup didn't start in 2013 but still showed his playmaking ability and accumulated 46 tackles. Levenberry (39 tackles) and Eligwe (28 tackles) both saw significant playing time as freshmen. The best of the group may be Matthew Thomas, a 5-star prospect who missed most of 2013 with a shoulder injury.
Daub, Pugh and Purifoy are all highly regarded and could contribute as backups in 2014.
Projected starters: Jalen Ramsey, Nate Andrews, Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams
Backups: Tyler Hunter, Nick Waisome, Keelin Smith, Lamarcus Brutus, Marquez White and Colin Blake
Incoming freshman: Trey Marshall (early enrollee)
FSU allowed a national-low 156.6 passing yards per game. And even after losing senior corner Lamarcus Joyner and senior safety Terrence Brooks, the Seminoles could still have one of the nation's top defensive backfields.
Darby and Williams are both lockdown corners that helped FSU hold opponents to just 14 passing touchdowns in 14 games in 2013. Ramsey is a fast, physical safety. Andrews said this spring that he thought he would be taking a redshirt in 2013 but instead led the team with four interceptions.
Fisher raved about Marshall's versatility in the spring, saying that he could play corner, nickel corner or safety.
Projected starters: PK Roberto Aguayo, P Cason Beatty
Backup: P Jonathan Hernandez
Aguayo won the Lou Groza Award as a freshman, making 21 of 22 field-goal attempts. He's a confident kicker with a strong leg. If FSU struggles in the red zone with a new group of receivers, Aguayo could be called on more often to kick a few chip-shot field goals.
Beatty averaged 41.1 yards per punt but needs to be more consistent. If he struggles in the preseason or early in the year, Fisher could look to the walk-on Hernandez or even Cosentino, who was signed as a quarterback but has a strong leg and punted in high school.
Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter.
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