Florida State fans likely aren’t tired of reading the headlines anointing the Seminoles as 2014 national champions.
On January 6, 2014, Seminoles fans watched nervously as quarterback Jameis Winston and the talented ‘Noles offense orchestrated a near-flawless two-minute drill. The drive culminated in a title-clinching touchdown from Winston to now Carolina Panthers receiver Kelvin Benjamin.
Coach Jimbo Fisher and the rest of the Seminoles hoisted the school’s third crystal ball into the Pasadena night and celebrated an undefeated season with roses clenched between their teeth and the warchant reaching levels that hadn’t been heard since the ’90s.
It’s August now and Fisher wants his players to put 2013’s success behind them.
”You have to live in the moment,” Fisher said at ACC kickoff. ”You have to proceed to the future, learn from our past experiences, and grow from them, and then be hungry enough to go play great football this fall.”
Coming in at No. 1 in preseason coaches poll, Florida State and Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston are focusing their attention on Dallas, Texas — the scene of their opening game vs. Oklahoma State and site of what they hope to be their final victory: the 2015 National Championship game.
”Opening up in Dallas stadium and the excitement and the exposure for that game and for our program and for our conference is tremendous,” Fisher said.
FSU enters 2014 with a cast of talented newcomers and key position battles over spots left void by players who graduated or declared for the NFL Draft.
Here’s a look at the players who left Tallahassee, the athletes coming in, important position battles and the top storylines entering the season:
Timmy Jernigan, DT: Talented DT who could stuff the run and put pressure on opposing QBs. A first-team All-ACC selection in 2013.
Lamarcus Joyner, S: A safety/cornerback/linebacker hybrid, Joyner started all 14 games in 2013 and was second on the team in tackles. A team leader, he will be missed both on and off the field.
Telvin Smith, LB: Versatile LB who could both rush the passer and drop back in coverage, Smith was a veteran leader of the LBs and defense who leaves big shoes to fill.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR: A 6-foot-5 WR who led the ‘Noles with 15 TD receptions, was a dominant red-zone threat with the ability to go up and win one-on-one battles with defensive backs.
Bryan Stork, C: Drafted by the New England Patriots in the fourth round, Stork solidified the offensive line from the center position.
NEWCOMERS TO WATCH
Dalvin Cook, RB: A highly touted five-star recruit out of Miami Central High School, Cook rushed for 1,940 yards and 34 TDs his senior year. He’s a home-run threat from anywhere on the field.
Ermon Lane, WR: A big, physical WR from Homestead Senior High School, Lane’s 40-yard time is listed at 4.52 seconds, making him a difficult cover for opposing defensive backs. The Seminoles are hoping Lane can come in and eventually take over Benjamin’s role.
Travis Rudolph, WR: He was the No. 1 rated WR in Florida for the 2014 class and is a gifted route runner with good hands, according to Rivals.com. Rudolph will look to fill one of the open WR slots behind No. 1 WR Rashad Greene.
Kain Daub, LB: An Under Armour All-American, Daub stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 243 pounds. The four-star recruit moves very well for his size and can make plays from sideline to sideline.
Linebacker — Matthew Thomas vs. Reggie Northrup vs. Ukeme Eligwe
Redshirt junior LB Terrance Smith started 10 out of the 14 games last year and finished fourth on the team in total tackles. He is the only definite starter among linebackers, leaving the other positions up for grabs.
Matthew Thomas, a redshirt freshman, is a former five-star recruit who played in four games last year until he was sidelined by season-ending shoulder surgery. Ranked the No. 1 LB in the 2013 class, Thomas has the talent to take over a starting spot.
Junior LB Reggie Northrup and redshirt sophomore LB Ukeme Eligwe both played roles in last year’s success. Northrup played in all 14 games and recorded 46 tackles, while Eligwe played in 13 games and totaled 28 tackles and 2 interceptions. Their experience playing on last year’s defense could move them into the starting lineup.
Defensive tackle — Eddie Goldman vs. Nile Lawrence-Stample
Jernigan left a huge hole in the middle of FSU’s defensive line (both literally and figuratively), and it will be very difficult to replace him.
Junior DT Eddie Goldman and redshirt junior DT Nile Lawrence-Stample will both be given the opportunity to take over Jernigan’s position. Goldman is expected to enter camp as the starter.
Wide receiver: Multiple players
Florida State WRs had an outstanding 2013 season, but Rashad Greene is the only starter returning for 2014. The competition for the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 slots are wide open and there’s a laundry list of candidates to fill them.
Christian Green, Kermit Whitfield and Isaiah Jones are returners from last year’s roster who could contend or it could be the freshmen Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph. This is truly an interesting battle.
Backup running back: Mario Pender vs. Ryan Green vs. Dalvin Cook
Karlos Williams is set to be the starter after being used mostly in a reserve capacity, but still averaging 8 yards per rush and scoring a touchdown every 8.3 attempts last season.
Fisher likes to spread carries around, which means redshirt sophomore RB Mario Pender, sophomore RB Ryan Green, and freshman RB Dalvin Cook could put pressure on Williams.
Pender is a very interesting case because he missed all of 2012 with a groin injury (redshirted) and was ruled academically ineligible last season, so he’s never played a down for the Seminoles. Coaches say if he can stay healthy and make grades he could come in and contribute right away, evident by him being placed second on the depth chart behind Williams.
Jameis Winston (left) and coach Jimbo Fisher
Can Florida State repeat?
There are very few things more difficult in sports than to repeat as champions. In college football there have only been two teams to repeat as consensus national champions in the last 58 years — Nebraska (1994 and 1995) and most recently Alabama (2012 and 2013). Each week will prove to be challenging as their opponents will look to be the team that knocks FSU out of the top spot in the rankings. The ‘Noles will have to avoid injuries and not fall victim to ”trap games” against much inferior opponents — a disease that plagued Seminole teams of the mid-2000s. Fisher stresses a game-by-game approach and with their more difficult games scheduled to be played in Doak Campbell Stadium, FSU’s toughest road challenges will be their opening game against Oklahoma State and a Nov. 15 matchup at Miami.
Will Jameis Winston win another Heisman Trophy?
Only one person has ever won the Heisman Trophy in back-to-back years, Ohio State RB Archie Griffin in 1974 and 1975. Winston has a legitimate chance to win it again this year, but fierce competition from other players around the country like Oregon QB Marcus Mariotta and Georgia RB Todd Gurley could make it difficult to repeat. Winston will also have to stay out of trouble off the field.
Which WR steps up to complement Rashad Greene?
There is a long list of WRs, from veterans to freshmen, that are in the running to fill in the vacant starting WR positions left by Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw. No matter the age, it will be critical that someone, or multiple players, step up and fill the positions.
Can this year’s FSU defense be as dominant as last year’s?
The Seminoles lost defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt to Georgia and five starters from last year’s National Championship defense, all currently in camps with NFL teams trying to make a roster. It is now new defensive coordinator Charles Kelly and the six returning starters’ job to make sure Florida State’s defense is as good as, or better than, last year. In the secondary, FSU returns BCS championship game defensive MVP junior CB P.J. Williams, and the team leader in interceptions last year with 4, sophomore DB Nate Andrews. The linebackers are very inexperienced with only one projected starter, redshirt junior Terrance Smith, having started a game last year (he started 10 games). The projected starting defensive line, according to FSU’s current depth chart, has two former five-star recruits in junior DE Mario Edwards, Jr. and junior DT Eddie Goldman, as well as four-star recruit redshirt sophomore DE Chris Casher. However, the trio only produced a total of 7.5 sacks last season, a number that must improve if the Seminoles defense wants to outperform last year’s unit.