MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — A new quarterback. The most consistent receiver. At least six new starters on defense. Three new assistant coaches.
And the kicker? Him, too: Florida State also loses the BCS’ all-time kicking scoring leader.
Florida State is coming off an Atlantic Coast Conference championship and a 31-10 win over Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl, but reloading will be a challenge with so many new faces.
There are three key storylines for the Seminoles in 2013: Who will replace quarterback EJ Manuel? How does Jeremy Pruitt respond to his first college defensive coordinator job? And how do the young, talented defensive ends fill the gap of Tank Carradine — and potentially Bjoern Werner?
Werner has been projected as a top-five overall pick in April’s NFL Draft if he decides to leave after his junior season. After Florida State’s win over NIU, Werner said he would take a few days to make his decision.
“Bjoern has got to do what’s best for Bjoern,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. “He’ll make a decision and announcement here very soon, but these guys have laid a tremendous foundation.”
Florida State won 12 games in 2012 — a significant turnaround from the 7-6 seasons that were typical of the team in 2006, ’07 and ’09. While the Seminoles enjoyed double-digit wins in 2010 and 2012, there will be plenty of challenges this fall.
Florida State will look dramatically different on defense. Coordinator Mark Stoops takes over as Kentucky’s head coach. Defensive ends coach D.J. Eliot is following him to Lexington.
Fisher has hired Alabama defensive backs coach Pruitt as his coordinator. Pruitt has just four years of college coaching experience, but he won a national championship last season with the Crimson Tide and could have another next Monday when Alabama plays Notre Dame.
The cupboard won’t be empty, but there are plenty of players to replace. Gone are defensive ends like Carradine and Brandon Jenkins, who was injured for almost all of 2012 but could have opted to take a medical redshirt and return. Also gone are starting defensive tackles Everett Dawkins and Amp McCloud.
While the entire defensive line will likely feature four new starters, Florida State has some experienced backups to fill the gaps. The nation’s No. 1 defensive recruit, end Mario Edwards Jr., has two starts under his belt and will start in 2013. Giorgio Newberry or Chris Casher, who redshirted in 2012, could take the other spot. And the tackles will have experience, with senior Demonte McAllister and junior Timmy Jernigan as the starters.
At linebacker, Florida State loses Vince Williams and Nick Moody. But leading tackler Christian Jones (95) will likely opt to return for his senior season and anchor a group that also includes senior Telvin Smith (64).
In the secondary, junior corner Xavier Rhodes said after the Orange Bowl win that he will leave school early (he is projected as a first-round pick). Junior safety Lamarcus Joyner said he is still weighing his decision. If he returns, he will anchor a defensive backfield that is loaded with talent, including Nick Waisome, Ronald Darby, Terrence Brooks and Tyler Hunter.
On offense, Florida State loses three starters but all of them are critical. Manuel is the most accurate quarterback in school history (66.8 percent) and has helped the Seminoles go 4-0 in bowl games — the first Florida State quarterback to do so.
Clint Trickett has thrown for 947 yards and seven touchdowns as a reserve, and Fisher said that Trickett will be the No. 1 quarterback this spring. But it remains to be seen if Trickett can hold off Jameis Winston and Jacob Coker.
The Seminoles also lose 6-foot-6 receiver Rodney Smith, who is the most consistent of Florida State’s receivers after catching a pass in a school-record 39 straight games. While often overlooked nationally, fullback Lonnie Pryor was known as an exceptional blocker and had 23 career touchdowns (including two in the Orange Bowl).
Florida State also says goodbye to one of the best kickers in college history. Dustin Hopkins made 88 of 111 field-goal attempts. Roberto Aguayo will step into his shoes.
There are plenty of holes to fill, but Florida State has shown in past years that it has depth to overcome injuries (like those to Jenkins and tailback Chris Thompson). The recent recruiting classes have helped stockpile young talent.
“There’s a heck of a football team coming back and I’m going to tell you why,” Fisher said. “These seniors showed them how to practice, how to win and how to prepare and how to do things with class.”