Midseason report: Grading the unbeaten but flawed Seminoles

The Seminoles, who edged Notre Dame last weekend, are ranked No. 2 in both polls.

Matt Cashore/Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

After squeaking by Oklahoma State in their season opener, the Florida State Seminoles have gone on to beat a handful of tough opponents. The Seminoles needed overtime against ACC rival Clemson, but they eventually beat the Tigers while without the services of quarterback Jameis Winston.

They finally ended a two-game losing streak against the NC State Wolfpack by winning inside of their "House of Horrors" — Carter-Finley Stadium — and last Saturday beat the No. 5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish in thrilling fashion 31-27.

The defending national champions are 7-0, ranked No. 2 in The Associated Press and coaches polls and are riding a school record 23-game win streak that hasn’t seen them drop a game since Dec 1, 2012.

"I love our team, I really do," Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher said. "I like this team. I like to coach it. It competes hard. It plays well."

Although undefeated, this 2014 Florida State team isn’t as dominant as the one from a year ago, the 2013 squad that shattered records and left opponents wondering what just hit them.

The comparisons have existed all season and to some extent have hurt the current team. Their coach, however, embraces this group and everything they do differently than the championship group from a season ago.

"You can say whatever you want," Fisher said after Saturday’s comeback win over Notre Dame. "This team is dominant. This team understands how to win.

"I’ll tell you what, I wouldn’t trade it for any team in America. … The team has tremendous what I call adversity tolerance. It doesn’t flinch. It can deal with anything. It can deal with pressure moments, pressure situations."

Fisher has made it known how he feels about the Seminoles, but now it’s FOXSportsFlorida.com’s turn to grade the reigning college football champs:

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Lorenzo Featherston.

DE Lorenzo Featherston

Initially thought to receive minimal playing time this year, the 6-foot-7, 220-pound Lorenzo Featherston — who has a wingspan of a "guy who’s 7-foot-3," according coaches — has come in and made an immediate impact.

Featherston burst on to the scene against NC State. Implemented into the lineup after halftime because of injuries, he sacked Wolfpack quarterback Jacoby Brissett late in the third quarter causing him to fumble the football which resulted in a turnover and Florida State scoring the game-clinching touchdown plays later.

With 15 total tackles this season and five tackles for loss, Featherston is listed as a joint starter at defensive end and will continue to see his playing time increase as the season moves forward.

"We call him Spiderman," fellow Florida State defensive linemen Mario Edwards Jr. said. "He’s just so long and athletic and quick. I put him under my wing like he’s a little brother and I’m proud of him because he’s come in and learned a complicated defense and he’s doing great in it."

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Florida State’s offensive line.

Offensive line

Entering 2014, the offensive line was one of the most experienced in the nation (114 combined starts) and arguably the most talented. Led by Cameron Erving, 2013 ACC Jacobs Blocking Trophy Award winner, the line has struggled to keep Winston upright, allowing 15 sacks in seven games; Winston was sacked 23 times in 14 games last year.

Not helping the cause, Florida State’s starting center, Austin Barron, broke his arm during the game against Wake Forest. As a result, true freshman Ryan Hoefeld has had to take over the duties, making it even more difficult for the line to find its stride from a season ago.

Always the positive player, Winston still hasn’t lost faith in his much maligned offensive line.

"I still have the best offensive line in the country," Winston said. "I get hit a lot of time, but you know what I do, I get back up and I keep playing football, and we keep winning."

MVP

Rashad Greene.

Rashad Greene

Greene leads the Seminoles in receptions (52), receiving yards (791), receiving yards per game (113) and is tied for the team lead with four touchdown catches.

Against Syracuse, Greene broke the Florida State record for career receptions, previously held by Rod Sellers. Greene has 223 career catches and has been invaluable to the Seminoles both on and off the field.

On the field, his 50-yard touchdown catch with 3:58 remaining against Oklahoma State clinched the victory for the Seminoles. He tied the Clemson game late in the fourth quarter with a 74-yard touchdown catch (Seminoles ended up winning in overtime), and his 11 catches for 125 yards with a touchdown were key in finally getting Florida State a victory at NC State.

"Greatness is measured to me with consistency and performance over a long period of time, and that’s what he is all about," Fisher said of Greene. "He makes the flash plays, he makes all the big plays, but to me if I had to compare him to somebody, he reminds me of Derek Jeter. He’s got every record known to man, a lot of victories to go with it, and he’s a team leader behind that."

Off the field, he is the most respected player on the roster. A quiet, lead-by-example kind of guy, Greene is constantly mentoring players and forcing them to strive for their best, including his embattled Heisman-winning quarterback.

"He’s a big brother to me," Winston said. "When adversity hit our team last year, I stayed at his house every night. We got that brotherhood together and that’s my brother, I love him."

OFFENSIVE GRADE: B+

The Florida State offense is averaging 37.9 points a game, 20th in the nation, and could be even higher if Winston hadn’t been benched for the Clemson game, in which the Seminoles only scored 23 points.

But it’s the eye test and comparison with last year’s unit that doesn’t give them an A.

The offensive line’s struggles have effected the rest of the offense. Rushing totals are down from last year as a result of defenders being in the backfield before backs have a chance to make a play. The Seminoles passing offense is still ranked among the nation’s best, but most of that can be contributed to Winston.

DEFENSIVE GRADE: B-

Florida State’s defensive line has been ravaged by injuries, with six different linemen missing at least one game throughout the year, and defensive tackle Nile Lawrence-Stample is out for the year with a torn pectoral muscle. The defense has 11 sacks this season, putting them in a tie for second to last place in the ACC.

As a result, the linebackers — mainly Terrance Smith and Reggie Northrup — have had to elevate their play to compensate for the missing pieces up front. Smith leads the ACC with 10.2 tackles per game, and Northrup ranks among the conference’s best as well.

The Seminoles’ secondary refers to themselves as "The No-Fly Zone," but so far teams have dared to air it out and challenge them. Last season, Florida State led the nation with 26 interceptions, but this year they’ve picked off only seven.

Florida State’s defense has allowed 17 or more points five times this year. Including 14 games last season, that only occurred three times in 2013.

SPECIAL TEAMS GRADE: A

Roberto Aguayo.

Sophomore kicker Roberto Aguayo is the best kicker in the country. For the season, Aguayo is 14-for-14 on field goal attempts and 31-for-31 on point-after attempts.

"Having him as a weapon as a field goal kicker is tremendous," Fisher said. "He’s phenomenal. His work ethic. It’s not talent, I mean he’s talented, but that guy puts the time and effort into being a great player."

Punter Cason Beatty has had his ups and downs but seems to have found his stride after early season struggles that lead many of the Florida State faithful begging for a replacement.

Regardless of the punting woes, Aguayo is so good that it would be tough not to award the special teams unit an A.

LOOKING AHEAD

To finish out the season, the Seminoles will travel to Louisville on Thursday, then play Virginia at home, visit Miami, and then have back-to-back home games against Boston College and Florida.

If everything goes to plan for Florida State, a Dec. 6 date would be against the champions of the ACC’s Coastal division.

Though many believe the most difficult games are behind the Seminoles, their head coach would disagree.

"We’re in the toughest part of our schedule," Fisher said Friday. "These last five games will be the toughest part of our schedule, bar none. We’re playing some of the best teams. Louisville is a good team. Virginia, you watch Virginia on film, good defense and big playmakers out wide.

"Miami is getting better and better each week, getting healthy and getting dynamic players back on the field. Boston College is playing well, and then Florida at the end of the year is a rivalry and Will [Muschamp] is a good coach and he’ll have em ready to go."

When asked to grade his team at the midway point of the season, coach Fisher responded with, "I don’t do that, I don’t grade teams." Well, no worries, we just did.