Seminoles in good shape even if some juniors leave early

Florida State running back James Wilder Jr., here celebrating with fans in the Rose Bowl stands after the BCS National Championship game, reportedly has decided to enter the NFL Draft.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — The groundwork for the 2014 team already has begun for Florida State coaches.

There’s plenty of work to do ahead of National Signing Day in February. But coach Jimbo Fisher also wants to secure the commitments of a large group of juniors that are weighing the decision of staying in Tallahassee or entering the NFL Draft a year early. Those players have until Jan. 15 to declare for the draft.

In the moments after Florida State’s 34-31 win over Auburn that earned the Seminoles the program’s third national title, left tackle Cameron Erving and tailback Karlos Williams said they were strongly leaning toward staying. Now coaches will try to convince 1,000-yard receivers Rashad Greene and Kelvin Benjamin (draft-eligible as a redshirt sophomore) and tight end Nick O’€™Leary to return.

Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan is projected to be a first-round pick, but he said he has not decided.

The biggest question mark at the moment for 2014 is at tailback, where 1,000- yard rusher Devonta Freeman, James Wilder and Williams are all juniors. Wilder has reportedly said he will turn pro, and Freeman remains undecided.

In January 2013, Fisher was able convince cornerback Lamarcus Joyner and linebacker Christian Jones they should stay at Florida State in hopes of making a national title run and improving their draft stock. And Fisher is hoping to find the same success when talking with many of the juniors this time.

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"I think there may be one or two I’ve got to have serious conversations with, because we have to get the right information," Fisher said. "This is an extremely young football team. So I think this team will look very, very similar to the one you just saw."

If Florida State is able to keep most of its juniors in Tallahassee, the Seminoles could be in good shape as they attempt to repeat as Atlantic Coast Conference and national champions.

The Seminoles lose just a handful of senior starters on each side of the ball, a group that includes wide receiver Kenny Shaw, center Bryan Stork, fullback Chad Abram, linebackers Telvin Smith and Jones, and defensive backs Terrence Brooks and Joyner. While those players won’t be easy to replace, Florida State’s success on the recruiting trail the past few seasons has ensured there’s depth and some experienced backups on the roster.

Florida State also is facing a tougher schedule than in 2013. The Seminoles will play two ACC teams that finished in the top 15 of the coaches’ poll — No. 7 Clemson and No. 15 Louisville. But both the Tigers (Tajh Boyd) and Cardinals (Teddy Bridgewater) have lost their starting quarterbacks, and Louisville coach Charlie Strong has left for Texas. Other games against teams that finished in the top 25 of the coaches’ poll include No. 17 Oklahoma State and No. 24 Notre Dame.

The Seminoles will open on Aug. 30 against Oklahoma State in Arlington, Texas. Florida State’s toughest road game will be at Miami, and it’s conceivable that it would be the first of two meetings between the teams in 2014. If the Seminoles win the Atlantic Division and the Hurricanes win the Coastal, they will play in Charlotte, N.C., for the ACC title on Dec. 6.

The Seminoles will play host to Notre Dame on Oct. 18, Florida on Nov. 29 and Clemson. Other home games include The Citadel on Sept. 6, Virginia, Boston College and Wake Forest. Florida State will also travel to North Carolina State, Syracuse and new ACC member Louisville. ACC officials will announce the complete schedule in February.

FSU wins national title

School officials haven’t reported any specific numbers but ticket sales have been strong because of the team’s national title run. The demand for BCS Championship tickets was overwhelming, as Florida State received requests for 35,000 tickets (the school was allotted 20,000).

On Monday, thousands of Florida State fans gathered in the shadows of the Rose Bowl for a pregame tailgate party. The fact that so many boosters and alumni were willing to make the 2,200-mile trip west from Florida is a sign to school officials that Florida State football’s present and future is strong.

"There’s something about Florida State that’s very different. You always have a sense of family, that you belong and it’s a community," Florida State president Dr. Eric Barron said. "To see a sea of garnet and everybody with smiles on their faces, I trust that they know it’s going to continue this way."

You can follow Bob Ferrante on Twitter @bobferrante or email him at bobferrante17@gmail.com.