Steve Cannon/Associated Press
Jameis Winston will lead Florida State into the defense of its 2013 national title.
2013 wasn’t supposed to be Florida State’s year. The Seminoles had recruited well, but with a freshman quarterback and a key Atlantic Division road game at Clemson (where FSU had not won since 2001), perhaps 2014 would be the year that Jimbo Fisher’s bunch put it all together and challenged for a national title. A No. 11 ranking in The Associated Press preseason poll reflected those thoughts.
How wrong we all were. That “freshman quarterback” was Jameis Winston, who solidified the job in preseason practice and turned into a force of nature, becoming the second freshman in as many years (following Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel) to win the Heisman Trophy.
Winston threw for 4,057 yards with 40 touchdowns against 10 interceptions and led a high-powered offense.
There are questions following the departures of first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin (who caught the game-winning touchdown in the national title game and had 54 receptions for 1,011 yards and 15 scores), Kenny Shaw (54 receptions, 933 yards, six scores), 1,000-yard rusher Devonta Freeman and No. 3 rusher James Wilder Jr.
Senior Christian Green (6’2”, 200 lbs) has speed and strength and is an option to replace Benjamin, as is sophomore Isaiah Jones (6’4”, 200 lbs). Both are largely unknown quantities. Rashad Greene, who led the Seminoles with 76 receptions for 1,128 yards and nine scores, does return.
Senior Jared "Scooter" Haggins (6’0”, 193 lbs), sophomore Kermit Whitfield (5’7”, 178 lbs) and sophomore Bobo Wilson (5’9”, 177 lbs) are battling to replace Shaw in the starting lineup.
But Florida State has recruited exceedingly well. In 2014, 5-star wideout Ermon Lane (rated as the nation’s No. 24 overall recruit by 247Sports), 4-star Travis Rudolph (rated as the nation’s No. 6 wideout) and 4-star Javon Harrison (rated as the No. 16 athlete) will all join the mix, as will 5-star tailback Dalvin Cook.
And coaches are high on returning rising senior tailback Karlos Williams, who had 730 yards and 11 touchdowns last fall.
Defensively, FSU must replace free safety Terrence Brooks (a third-round pick of the Ravens), defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (a second-round pick of Ravens), safety Lamarcus Joyner (a second-round pick of the Rams) and linebacker Telvin Smith (a fifth-round pick of the Jaguars).
Joyner will be replaced by rising sophomore Jalen Ramsey, while P.J. Williams, the national title game’s defensive MVP, figures to play an increased role in the secondary as well.
Florida State could have growing pains early, but the Seminoles must adjust quickly.
“I think it’s just the ability to have hunger again and understand that they have to have the chip on their shoulder and they have to stay aggressive and keep refining the things we did well and continue to do them and gradually tweak the things that we didn't do well,” Fisher said on a recent ACC teleconference.
“And I think that's been the key. To me it's all about we have worked, we have talent, we will adjust and we may be a different team in several ways because our players may be different. But I think the critical thing which I've been very pleased with is their attitude and work ethic.”
As the team that ended the SEC’s seven-year BCS national title streak, Florida State has become the ACC’s flagship program. Expect more of the same this fall. The Seminoles are No. 1 in Bleacher Report's preseason spring top-25 rankings.