From Dallas to Dallas.
Florida State's mantra is not meant to be arrogant. It's just an expression of the Seminoles' confidence, a knowledge of what they can accomplish on a long journey that begins Aug. 30 with a neutral-site game against Oklahoma State and could end right back at AT&T Stadium in the national championship game. OK, technically it would be Arlington, Texas, to Arlington, Texas...but that just doesn't sound as snappy to the Seminoles.
FSU coach Jimbo Fisher has spent part of the last seven months trying to figure out how to get the Seminoles back to a national championship game—and win it. He has studied the 1980s Los Angeles Lakers, the 1990s Dallas Cowboys and 1990s Chicago Bulls.
How did they put together a repeat run? How were they able to succeed?
"The common denominator is they didn't try to recreate the wheel, they didn't try to reinvent things," Fisher said. "But they stayed hungry and they kept a chip on their shoulder and they played with an attitude and they played with a purpose."
The Seminoles must navigate a challenging schedule but one that is set up well for a 12-0 regular season. FSU plays just two teams that are ranked in the AP preseason top 25 in No. 16 Clemson and No. 17 Notre Dame. But the Seminoles also face four teams—Florida, Louisville, Oklahoma State and Miami—that received votes and could be ranked by the time those games are played.
This fall's slate is a far cry from the relatively easy 2013 schedule that featured the likes of nonconference foes in Bethune-Cookman, Nevada and Idaho. But FSU also faced, and resoundingly defeated, a top 5 Clemson team on the road and a top 10 Miami team at home. At this point, neither team is anywhere close to knocking on the door of the top 10.
There will be plenty of challenges, of course. FSU is replacing a 1,000-yard rusher (Devonta Freeman) and a 1,000-yard, 15-touchdown receiver (Kelvin Benjamin). Gone is All-American cornerback (Lamarcus Joyner), leading tackler (linebacker Telvin Smith) and run-stopping defensive tackle (Timmy Jernigan). And there's a new defensive coordinator (Charles Kelly was promoted to replace Jeremy Pruitt).
Losing such talent on and off the field often leads to a few speed bumps in the road. Of course, Fisher and the Seminoles would love it if Benjamin, Freeman, Jernigan and tailback James Wilder Jr. had returned. It would have made a repeat run significantly smoother.
|2014 FSU coaching staff|
|Name||Years at FSU|
|Head coach||Jimbo Fisher||5th|
|Defensive coordinator/DBs||Charles Kelly||2nd|
|Co-offensive coordinator/WRs||Lawrence Dawsey||8th|
|Co-offensive coordinator/QBs||Randy Sanders||2nd|
|Head coach of defense/DEs||Sal Sunseri||2nd|
|Associate head coach/DTs||Odell Haggins||21st|
|Assistant head coach/OL||Rick Trickett||8th|
|Recruiting coordinator/TEs||Tim Brewster||2nd|
|Special teams coordinator/RBs||Jay Graham||2nd|
|Linebackers coach||Bill Miller||1st|
|FSU media guide|
Jimbo Fisher is 45-10 going into his fifth season at FSU. He's put the Seminoles back on the college football map after the program's struggles in the final years under coaching legend Bobby Bowden. Fisher's resume is impressive: a national title, two ACC championships, a 4-0 mark vs. Miami and a 3-1 record against Florida.
Fisher's staff has changed dramatically through the years and it has evolved from one that was loaded with young assistants who were aggressive recruiters into one that now features veteran assistants who have a wealth of knowledge but are also strong recruiters.
A week after FSU won the national title, Pruitt made a stunning announcement that he was leaving to take the same position at Georgia. Fisher evaluated his candidates but was able to maintain stability on his staff by promoting Kelly from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator.
Fisher hired longtime college assistant Bill Miller as linebackers coach. Miller has been a defensive coordinator at Miami and an associate head coach at Florida, among his stops in a 35-year coaching career.
What to Watch for on Offense
|2014 FSU Offensive Depth Chart|
|Position||First string||Second string||Third string|
|QB||Jameis Winston||Sean Maguire||J.J. Cosentino|
|RB||Karlos Williams||Dalvin Cook or Mario Pender||Ryan Green|
|WR||Rashad Greene||Kermit Whitfield or Scooter Haggins||Ermon Lane|
|WR||Christian Green||Travis Rudolph or Ermon Lane||Kermit Whitfield|
|TE||Nick O'Leary||Kevin Haplea||Jeremy Kerr|
|LT||Cameron Erving||Roderick Johnson|
|LG||Josue Matias||Kareem Are|
|C||Austin Barron||Cameron Erving|
|RG||Tre' Jackson||Ruben Carter|
|RT||Bobby Hart||Chad Mavety|
|FSU media guide|
FSU scored a Football Bowl Subdivision-record 723 points in 2013 and racked up 7,267 yards. Even after losing receivers like Kenny Shaw and Benjamin and running backs like Freeman and Wilder, the offense is loaded with talent.
Fisher likes to throw a little bit of everything at defenses from three-receiver sets to two-tight-end-sets. Winston even did a few zone-read plays, so expect the playbook to be even more wide open in his second season as starter.
An offensive line that was pressed into action as freshmen in a 2011 bowl win over Notre Dame is now filled with experienced veterans. Tackles Cameron Erving and Bobby Hart and guards Tre' Jackson and Josue Matias have a combined 106 starts. Erving was the ACC's Jacobs Blocking Trophy winner (given to the league's top offensive lineman). Bryan Stork, the 2013 Rimington Award winner as the nation's top center, will be tough to replace. But senior Austin Barron has five starts under his belt and has fit in well at center during the spring and preseason.
Winston will be critiqued and compared to his 2013 Heisman Trophy season, in which he threw for 4,057 yards and a school-record 40 touchdown passes. He's spent the past few months improving his footwork and mechanics, and he could have a completion percentage close to or better than the 66.9 percent from last season.
Karlos Williams is now the unquestioned No. 1 tailback (748 yards, 11 touchdowns in 2013). While he has never started, Williams has the ability to run off tackle and break off long runs. If he's also willing to run aggressively between the tackles, Williams could have a 1,000-yard season.
FSU's tailbacks are short on experience, but Dalvin Cook had an impressive few weeks of preseason practice. Fisher praised Cook for his ability to pass block, a sure indication that he will be used in passing and rushing situations. Mario Pender has been on campus two seasons and hasn't played a college down yet, but he has the speed and physicality to be successful.
Rashad Greene is a playmaker who has led FSU in receptions his first three seasons. He is fourth on FSU's all time receptions list (171) and is a consistent option for Winston. Nick O'Leary has become one of the nation's top tight ends, grabbing 33 receptions for 557 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Fisher said he likes the way senior receiver Christian Green has performed in preseason practices, so Greene and Green could start. But FSU has plenty of receiving options, including senior Scooter Haggins, sophomore Kermit Whitfield and a trio of true freshmen like 5-stars Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane and 4-star Ja'Vonn Harrison.
What to Watch for on Defense
|2014 FSU Defensive Depth chart|
|Position||First string||Second string||Third string|
|DE||Mario Edwards Jr.||DeMarcus Walker|
|DT||Eddie Goldman||Giorgio Newberry||Derrick Nnadi|
|DT||Nile Lawrence-Stample||Justin Shanks|
|DT||Derrick Mitchell||Desmond Hollin|
|DE||Chris Casher||Jacob Pugh|
|LB||Terrance Smith||Matthew Thomas|
|LB||Reggie Northrup||E.J. Levenberry||Matthew Thomas|
|CB||Ronald Darby||Nick Waisome||Keelin Smith|
|CB||P.J. Williams||Marquez White|
|S||Jalen Ramsey||Trey Marshall||Tyrell Lyons|
|S||Tyler Hunter||Lamarcus Brutus|
|S||Nate Andrews||Colin Blake|
|P||Cason Beatty||Jonathan Hernandez||J.J. Cosentino|
|FSU media guide|
The biggest change in defensive coordinators was from 2012 to '13 when Mark Stoops left for Kentucky and Fisher hired Pruitt from Alabama. Even though Pruitt is gone, the 2014 defense will schematically be very similar to what FSU showed in 2013 (and it's a defense where FSU led the FBS in points allowed at 12.1).
FSU will also throw a number of different looks at offenses. A 4-3 defense is often tweaked until it looks nothing like a 4-3. FSU loves to show off its abundance of talented defensive backs by playing nickel and dime packages against pass-first offenses. And FSU will often go with three- or five-man fronts, dropping an end into coverage or sliding up a linebacker. The confusion and athleticism has caused opponents plenty of problems.
The line features star defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. and tackle Eddie Goldman. Chris Casher is an athletic end who could have a breakout season. Coaches have assembled a deep rotation at tackle, and Goldman and junior Nile Lawrence-Stample will anchor a group that features 10 interior linemen. Fisher has also praised Derrick Nnadi, who appears to be one of the stars of the five-man group of true freshmen. It's not a line that generated sacks—Edwards, Goldman and Casher had just 7.5 combined in 2013—but they will collapse the pocket and make quarterbacks release the ball quicker than they want (which is part of the reason why FSU had 26 interceptions last season).
Since FSU plays so much nickel, the Seminoles will frequently play just two linebackers. Terrance Smith is FSU's returning leader in tackles (59) and will start. E.J. Levenberry has won the other starting linebacker job, but FSU will also rotate in Reggie Northrup, Matthew Thomas and Ukeme Eligwe (who is coming back from foot surgery).
FSU is loaded at defensive back. Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams are the ACC's top corner tandem, and Jalen Ramsey is a rising star at safety. The other safety spot is up for grabs between Tyler Hunter and Nate Andrews, and Fisher has also consistently praised early enrollee Trey Marshall. All six will be on the field frequently.
|LB Ukeme Eligwe||Lisfranc foot surgery||Sept. 20 vs. Clemson|
|Jimbo Fisher post-practice interviews|
FSU escaped the offseason relatively healthy. Eligwe will miss the first two games but is expected to return for the Clemson game on Sept. 20, Fisher said.
The Seminoles lost sophomore wide receiver Isaiah Jones, who has been declared academically ineligible and will miss the 2014 season.
Rudolph has everything that a coach could want in a receiver. He's 6'2", 185 pounds, fast, athletic and runs routes well.
There are two things holding him back in August. The first was surgery on his left foot to repair what Fisher said was an injury stemming from his high school days. And the second is Rudolph's knowledge of the playbook. Once Rudolph has a firm grasp on things, he will see playing time in FSU's three-receiver sets.
He had 57 receiving touchdowns in his four years at West Palm Beach (Florida) Cardinal Newman. Rudolph will be a tough one-on-one matchup. It may be a slow start between the injury and his need to absorb the playbook, but Rudolph could develop into an elite receiver.
Make or Break Games
Oklahoma State presents so many challenges as a team that loves to throw the ball around, but that simply plays right into the hands of FSU's strength: defensive backs. The Cowboys will likely score some points, but FSU's defense is just too good. And Winston & Co. will light up the scoreboard on Aug. 30. Oklahoma State has lost too much experience and leadership, and FSU should put this game away in the second half.
FSU's toughest ACC challenges are Clemson (Sept. 20), at Louisville (Oct. 30) and at Miami (Nov. 15). The Seminoles shouldn't have much of a problem against a Tigers offense that will still be rebuilding after losing quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins.
A Thursday night road game against Louisville could be a tougher-than-expected challenge but again it will be coach Bobby Petrino's aerial attack against FSU's defensive backs. Expect the same result: Louisville will do its damage but FSU will put up more points on the scoreboard. It all depends on the quarterback play at Miami, but any offense that has Duke Johnson will have FSU's respect. This is a fun rivalry game (with plenty of respect on both sides) but Fisher's teams have recorded double-digit wins in three of his four games as head coach against the Hurricanes.
The Notre Dame game on Oct. 18 in Tallahassee, Florida, has the makings of a potential top-10 showdown. But what effect will the four suspensions for the Fighting Irish have on the team? Notre Dame wouldn't be the same if cornerback KeiVarae Russell, receiver DaVaris Daniels, defensive end Ishaq Williams and linebacker Kendall Moore were not on the field.
Florida should be much better in 2014, or at least much healthier. Gators offensive coordinator Kurt Roper has installed his spread attack, which suits quarterback Jeff Driskel better. But Florida lacks an established receiver and the Gators could struggle again on offense.
FSU's new logo and new uniforms were the talk of social media this spring. The Seminoles now have three different uniforms and two helmets.
FSU won 12 of its 14 games last season by 30 or more points. The only two close games were a 48-34 win at Boston College in which FSU rallied from a 21-point, first-half deficit and the BCS championship game, in which FSU again came back twice in the final five minutes to defeat Auburn 34-31.
So the expectation will be that FSU will again blow out opponents. And, yes, that will happen often.
Fans will want to again see decisive, dominating wins. But this schedule is tougher and it's expected that a few games will be close.
Still, FSU should run the table and go 12-0 in the regular season. Expect FSU, after winning the ACC title, to earn one of four invitations to the new College Football Playoff.
Winston likely won't win the Heisman again simply because his 2013 numbers will be compared to 2014 every week. But Winston has said he's not thinking about a Heisman repeat—only his desire to help FSU win another national title.
Winston (Maxwell), Greene (Biletnikoff), O'Leary (Mackey), Erving (Outland), Ramsey (Thorpe) and Roberto Aguayo (Groza) could all be in line postseason honors.
Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report, all quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Stats are courtesy of FSU media guides and seminoles.com. Follow Bob on Twitter. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.
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