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1. Roll the dice, part 1
It takes some breaks. Alabama benefiting from missed field goals in both 2011 (Oklahoma State vs. Iowa State) and 2012 (Oregon vs. Stanford) to get back into the national title hunt after a home loss. Auburn going 7-0 in one-possession games in 2010. Florida going 5-0 in such games in 2006. About 15 teams losing at key times to get LSU into the BCS title game with two losses. Et cetera. In the end, no matter how good your team becomes, it will need some luck to take the final step and not only play elite ball, but end up in college football's elite setting.
All you can do is put a really good product on the field every year, execute as well as you can, roll the dice each year, and hope that you get the breaks you need at some point. Hope that one year you don't lose to NC State.
Sometimes it happens almost immediately, like Bob Stoops winning a national title at Oklahoma in his second year. Sometimes, it takes forever, like Tom Osborne winning 10 or more games 11 times in 21 years at Nebraska before finally winning a national title in Year 22. Or, of course, Bobby Bowden doing it in Year 18 in Tallahassee.
With each passing year, the odds of Florida State getting the right numbers on the dice seem to improve. There are still questionable losses lingering (2012 vs. NC State, 2011 vs. Wake Forest and Virginia), but the Seminoles keep inching closer.
Maybe the Seminoles are missing something -- perhaps the offense is too staid and conservative, for instance. We can theorize if we want to. What we know for sure, though, is this: In 2010, Jimbo Fisher inherited a program that had gone 7-6 and ranked 42nd in the F/+ rankings in Bobby Bowden's last season. The Seminoles improved to 18th (10-4) in 2010, then to 10th (9-4) in 2011. And in 2012, they ranked fifth, won the ACC for the first time since 2005, and won 12 games for the first time since 1999.
Yes, NC State. Yes, Wake Forest. Of course. But the 'Noles are inching closer and closer. With new assistant coaches and a super-young quarterback, perhaps 2013 isn't the year that the dice favor FSU. But if Fisher continues to produce what he's produced thus far, the odds are decent that his time will come.
2. Roll the dice, part 2
There is a price to success. If you begin to put the pieces together in a manner that other schools admire, you become ripe for the picking. Other schools come after your assistants, and your ability to succeed long-term is dictated almost as much by your ability to make new assistant coaching hires as it is your ability to maintain tactical or recruiting superiority.
It was a ridiculously eventful offseason for Jimbo Fisher in this regard.
- Defensive coordinator Mark Stoops was hired as Kentucky's head coach.
- Stoops brought defensive ends coach D.J. Eliot to Lexington as his new defensive coordinator.
- Linebackers coach Greg Hudson became Darrell Hazell's new defensive coordinator at Purdue.
- Offensive coordinator James Coley accepted the same job at Miami, tantalized by a return to south Florida and a chance to call plays. (Fisher calls the plays at FSU.)
- Quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator Dameyune Craig was hired as Auburn's offensive co-coordinator and wide receivers coach.
- Running backs coach Eddie Gran left to become Cincinnati's offensive coordinator.
In all, a coordinator became a head coach, and four position coaches became coordinators. It is both a sign of success and a red flag. A head coach is a CEO, and while we tend to think that a great coach with wonderful acumen -- say, Nick Saban -- would succeed no matter what, he doesn't control every detail of a program no matter how much he may want to. He has to continue making strong hires if he wants to stay a strong coach, and every replacement is a roll of the dice.
That said, it's easy to like the general experience and bona fides of the new assistants Fisher brought to the program. New defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was Alabama's defensive backs coach. (Having a Saban disciple on staff probably isn't a bad thing.) New defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri is another recent Sabanite (Alabama's linebackers coach and assistant head coach from 2009-11) who served as Tennessee's defensive coordinator last year. New quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders was Kentucky's offensive coordinator under Joker Phillips. New tight ends coach Tim Brewster was Minnesota's head coach for four seasons. New linebackers coach Charles Kelly oversaw improvement as interim defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech last year. And new running backs coach Jay Graham, a younger guy, was most recently running backs coach at South Carolina and Tennessee.
Fisher's new staff has a more impressive collective résumé than the departed coaches did when they first came to Tallahassee. The question, of course, is how quickly they will gel (and, technically, whether they will gel). Things could click quickly, and we could be talking about an 11-0 Florida State team heading to Gainesville in late-November. Or, things might need a year to settle in. It's impossible to know in advance.
2012 Schedule & Results
|Record: 12-2 | Adj. Record: 14-0 | Final F/+ Rk: 5|
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|1-Sep||Murray State||69-3||W||38.1 - 12.4||W|
|8-Sep||Savannah State||55-0||W||42.1 - 0.4||W|
|15-Sep||Wake Forest||52-0||W||44.6 - 3.4||W|
|22-Sep||Clemson||49-37||W||55.1 - 23.3||W|
|29-Sep||at South Florida||30-17||W||33.2 - 20.5||W|
|6-Oct||at NC State||16-17||L||28.0 - 18.8||W|
|13-Oct||Boston College||51-7||W||54.7 - 14.4||W|
|20-Oct||at Miami||33-20||W||31.6 - 10.8||W|
|27-Oct||Duke||48-7||W||38.3 - 13.0||W|
|8-Nov||at Virginia Tech||28-22||W||32.5 - 28.1||W|
|17-Nov||at Maryland||41-14||W||40.8 - 17.9||W|
|24-Nov||Florida||26-37||L||35.1 - 31.8||W|
|1-Dec||vs. Georgia Tech||21-15||W||30.1 - 17.7||W|
|1-Jan||vs. Northern Illinois||31-10||W||46.5 - 5.0||W|
|Points Per Game||39.3||11||14.7||6|
|Adj. Points Per Game||39.3||4||15.5||3|
3. Pace-adjusted quality: high
Florida State was really, really good in 2012. For 46 of 48 regular season quarters, this may have been one of the two or three best teams in the country. A fourth-quarter lapse versus NC State led to a jarring, unlucky upset, and an outright fourth-quarter collapse against Florida handed the Seminoles a second loss. But again, the quality was ridiculously high at the beginning of the season -- yes, FSU's first three opponents were quite bad, but the Seminoles still played like an elite team against bad opponents -- and remained high throughout.
Adj. Points Per Game (first 7 games): Florida State 42.3, Opponent 13.3 (plus-29.0)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 7 games): Florida State 36.4, Opponent 17.8 (plus-18.6)
There was a defined offensive drop-off when running back Chris Thompson went down against Miami, but this was still a very, very good team throughout the season. Now it just needs to figure out how to get two quarters better.
|Q1 Rk||21||1st Down Rk||4|
|Q2 Rk||3||2nd Down Rk||18|
|Q3 Rk||7||3rd Down Rk||11|
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Jacob Coker||6'5, 235||So.||*** (5.7)||3||5||45||60.0%||1||0||0||0.0%||9.0|
|Jameis Winston||6'4, 227||RSFr.||***** (6.1)|
|Sean Maguire||6'3, 215||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
4. Hello, Jameis
In E.J. Manuel, Florida State had an eventual first-round draft pick at quarterback. That makes it a bit odd that the play-calling seemed designed to protect him to some degree. FSU threw more frequently than the national average on standard downs, a gambit often used to take heat off of a young quarterback; meanwhile, thanks in part to Manuel's mobility, the Seminoles also ended up running slightly more than the national average on passing downs, another safe, protective approach.
In all, FSU ran and passed a rather normal amount, but considering how good the ground game was, especially before Thompson's injury, you could certainly make the case that FSU should have leaned on the run more than it did. A line that was incredibly young and banged up in 2011 quickly gelled and thrived in 2012 (13th in Adj. Line Yards), and while Thompson was easily the most explosive tailback on the roster, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder, Jr., still provided a nice, steady punch.
The play-calling almost suggests that FSU knew it had a good running game (just look at how much FSU ran in the red zone -- when it needed points, FSU ran the ball) but use the threat of the run to take heat off of Manuel, who still took too many sacks (and didn't get amazing protection).
If Fisher was reasonably conservative with a solid senior quarterback, chances are he will be that way again in 2013, with a redshirt freshman at the helm. Jameis Winston is, by all accounts, about as close to a sure thing as possible, to the point where he was being asked about "Manziel disease" (i.e. how one reacts to great success as a young player, basically) recently. It will be a shock if he doesn't succeed, but one still has to figure that Fisher's No. 1 tactic will be even more easy passes on standard downs and even more scrambling and running opportunities on passing downs.
This approach isn't very exciting, but it can work. It turned Nebraska into a Big Ten division champion last year, and, after all, it led FSU to a conference title. And the 'Noles should have the pieces to pull it off. Freeman and Wilder both return, so expect quite a bit of running between the tackles. And to the extent that getting to the edge is still a goal, youngsters like Mario Pender or Ryan Green could play a role. Meanwhile, three of Manuel's top four targets return in the receiving corps, and all three averaged at least 9.0 yards per target. (And, of course, there are about 17 new blue-chippers trying to crack the rotation.) And the line, so young in 2011, is ridiculously experienced, with four of five starters returning (96 career starts in all, including backups). That's a nice thing for a young quarterback to have.
|Devonta Freeman||RB||5'9, 203||Jr.||**** (5.8)||111||660||5.9||4.4||8||+14.6|
|James Wilder, Jr.||RB||6'2, 229||Jr.||***** (6.1)||110||635||5.8||4.2||11||+10.4|
|Mario Pender||RB||5'10, 192||RSFr.||**** (6.0)|
|Ryan Green||RB||5'10, 188||Fr.||**** (6.0)|
|Rashad Greene||WR-X||6'0, 180||Jr.||**** (5.8)||75||57||741||76.0%||9.9||18.2%||61.3%||9.9||108.9|
|Kelvin Benjamin||WR-Z||6'5, 238||So.||**** (5.9)||55||30||495||54.5%||9.0||13.3%||54.5%||9.3||72.7|
|Kenny Shaw||WR-Y||6'0, 170||Sr.||**** (5.9)||46||33||532||71.7%||11.6||11.1%||58.7%||11.5||78.2|
|Nick O'Leary||TE||6'3, 248||Jr.||**** (6.0)||32||21||252||65.6%||7.9||7.7%||84.4%||7.4||37.0|
|James Wilder, Jr.||RB||6'2, 229||Jr.||***** (6.1)||24||19||136||79.2%||5.7||5.8%||58.3%||5.6||20.0|
|Jarred Haggins||WR-Y||6'0, 193||Sr.||*** (5.7)||13||8||108||61.5%||8.3||3.1%||61.5%||8.4||15.9|
|Devonta Freeman||RB||5'9, 203||Jr.||**** (5.8)||12||10||86||83.3%||7.2||2.9%||50.0%||7.2||12.6|
|Christian Green||WR-Y||6'2, 205||Jr.||**** (5.9)||8||3||33||37.5%||4.1||1.9%||75.0%||5.4||4.8|
|Giorgio Newberry||TE||6'6, 280||So.||**** (5.8)|
|Isaiah Jones||WR||6'4, 200||Fr.||**** (5.8)|
|Levonte Whitfield||WR||5'7, 178||Fr.||**** (5.8)|
|Jesus Wilson||WR||5'9, 177||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
5. Should we be worried about depth here?
Depth is not a concern on the line, but technically FSU is a couple of injuries away from leaning on freshmen, redshirt freshmen, and sophomores to a pretty heavy degree at the skill positions. Yes, most of those youngsters are former star recruits, but if this offense has a problem in 2013 (other than "they're starting a redshirt freshman at quarterback, and that could always go awry"), it could be depth. Injuries have already limited FSU to basically one reliable tight end.
|Bryan Stork||C||6'4, 300||Sr.||*** (5.6)||27 career starts; 2012 2nd All-ACC|
|Tre' Jackson||RG||6'4, 330||Jr.||*** (5.6)||15 career starts; 2012 2nd All-ACC|
|Josue Matias||LG||6'6, 322||Jr.||**** (5.8)||15 career starts|
|Cameron Erving||LT||6'6, 320||Jr.||*** (5.6)||14 career starts|
|Jacob Fahrenkrug||LG||6'4, 326||Sr.||**** (5.9)||12 career starts|
|Menelik Watson||RT||12 career starts|
|Bobby Hart||RT||6'4, 315||Jr.||**** (5.9)||9 career starts|
|Austin Barron||C||6'3, 300||Jr.||** (5.2)||4 career starts|
|Daniel Glauser||LT||2 career starts|
|Jonathan Wallace||LT||6'7, 290||Sr.||NR|
|Sterling Lovelady||C||6'3, 291||Jr.||*** (5.7)|
|Ruben Carter||RG||6'4, 309||So.||*** (5.6)|
|Ira Denson||OL||6'3, 330||Fr.||**** (6.0)|
|Wilson Bell||OL||6'4, 314||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
|Q1 Rk||21||1st Down Rk||11|
|Q2 Rk||8||2nd Down Rk||7|
|Q3 Rk||8||3rd Down Rk||6|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Brandon Jenkins (2011)||DE||13||35.0||5.0%||12||8||0||1||0||0|
|Timmy Jernigan||NG||6'2, 294||Jr.||**** (6.0)||13||34.0||4.9%||8||1.5||0||0||0||0|
|Demonte McAllister||DT||6'2, 298||Sr.||**** (6.0)||13||22.5||3.2%||5||3.5||0||0||1||0|
|Mario Edwards, Jr.||DE||6'3, 277||So.||***** (6.1)||11||12.5||1.8%||2.5||1.5||0||1||0||0|
|Dan Hicks (2011)||DE||6'4, 260||Sr.||** (5.4)||13||11.5||1.7%||4.5||0||0||1||0||0|
|Nile Lawrence-Stample||NG||6'1, 313||So.||**** (5.8)||8||7.0||1.0%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Eddie Goldman||DT||6'4, 313||So.||***** (6.1)||10||6.0||0.9%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jacobbi McDaniel (2011)||NG||6'0, 295||Sr.||***** (6.1)||6||5.0||0.7%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Chris Casher||DE||6'4, 260||RSFr.||**** (6.0)||2||1.0||0.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|DeMarcus Walker||DE||6'3, 274||Fr.||**** (6.0)|
|Derrick Mitchell||DT||6'4, 295||So.||**** (5.8)|
|Desmond Hollin||DE||6'3, 268||Jr.||*** (5.5)|
|Keith Bryant||DT||6'2, 312||Fr.||**** (5.8)|
6. Questions up front (relatively speaking)
For the second straight season, Florida State fielded a top-5 defense according to Def. F/+. This was a tremendous, deep unit with a stellar linebacking corps and outstanding secondary. But thanks in part to injuries, the defensive line lagged a bit behind. Brandon Jenkins was lost for the season in the first game, and only three of the 11 linemen who logged at least 6.0 tackles, actually played in all 14 games. Accordingly, the line stats lagged a bit. The Seminoles' defensive front was still top-40 versus the run and top-25 in pass rush (Cornellius Carradine and Bjoern Werner were still ridiculous on passing downs), but any potential FSU weakness on defense seemed to stem from a front four in shuffle mode.
In 2013, the line will likely once again be a question mark, at least compared to the other units on this great defense. FSU will be without four of its top six ends and two of its top four tackles, and while returning tackles Timmy Jernigan and Demonte McAllister are studs, depth is a serious issue. As with other units, there are former star recruits littered throughout the two-deep (it's hard being FSU), but experience isn't strong. DE-turned-TE-turned-DE Dan Hicks is projected to start right now, and if five-star sophomore Mario Edwards doesn't thrive, there aren't any other obvious options. (The odds are pretty good that he thrives, however.)
Lamarcus Joyner and Christian Jones. Robert Mayer, USA Today.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Christian Jones||MLB||6'4, 235||Sr.||***** (6.1)||14||71.5||10.2%||7||0||0||3||0||2|
|Telvin Smith||WLB||6'3, 218||Sr.||**** (5.8)||14||50.5||7.2%||9.5||1||0||3||1||0|
|Terrance Smith||SLB||6'4, 220||So.||*** (5.7)||13||8.5||1.2%||1.5||0||0||0||0||0|
|Reggie Northrup||WLB||6'1, 223||So.||**** (5.8)||13||7.5||1.1%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Ukeme Eligwe||SLB||6'2, 240||RSFr.||**** (6.0)|
|Matthew Thomas||LB||6'3, 210||Fr.||***** (6.1)|
|E.J. Levenberry||LB||6'3, 234||Fr.||**** (5.9)|
|Freddie Stevenson||MLB||6'1, 237||Fr.||**** (5.8)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Terrence Brooks||FS||5'11, 200||Sr.||*** (5.7)||14||45.0||6.4%||1||0||2||4||1||0|
|Lamarcus Joyner||CB||5'8, 190||Sr.||***** (6.1)||14||39.0||5.6%||1.5||0||1||5||0||0|
|Karlos Williams||SS||6'1, 230||Jr.||***** (6.1)||14||28.5||4.1%||1||0||1||2||0||0|
|Tyler Hunter||SS||5'11, 197||Jr.||*** (5.7)||14||22.5||3.2%||0||0||3||2||0||0|
|Ronald Darby||CB||5'11, 192||So.||**** (5.9)||14||20.0||2.9%||0||0||0||8||1||0|
|Nick Waisome||CB||5'10, 176||Jr.||**** (5.8)||14||17.5||2.5%||0||0||1||7||0||0|
|P.J. Williams||CB||6'0, 193||So.||**** (5.8)||14||11.5||1.6%||1||0||0||1||0||0|
|Keelin Smith||CB||6'3, 185||So.||*** (5.7)||13||7.5||1.1%||0.5||0||0||1||0||0|
|Gerald Demps||FS||5'11, 201||Sr.||*** (5.7)||12||5.5||0.8%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Lamarcus Brutus||SS||6'0, 202||So.||*** (5.6)|
|Colin Blake||FS||6'3, 214||RSFr.||**** (5.8)|
|Jalen Ramsey||DB||6'1, 195||Fr.||***** (6.1)|
|Marquez White||DB||6'0, 171||Fr.||**** (5.8)|
7. If the line is solid, look out
The new members of Fisher's defensive coaching staff have quite a bit of experience with Alabama's 3-4 in their background. Sunseri attempted to install the defense at Tennessee last year, for that matter. It doesn't appear that Pruitt is going with a straight 3-4 this year, but the idea will be for FSU to be multiple, capable of going from three down linemen to four, from a 4-3 to a nickel, and from a nickel to a dime with as much ease as possible.
Lord knows the Seminoles will have depth and versatility at linebacker and defensive back. If you can remain unpredictable in the way you align your defense, you don't have to blitz very much to keep an offense on its toes. Saban's defense really doesn't send the house very often -- you just never know where the fourth or fifth pass-rusher will be coming from. Without leaning on a strict 3-4, it's likely Pruitt will be taking on the same attitude.
Pruitt will be able to utilize a prototype middle linebacker in Christian Jones and a wealth of stellar cornerbacks while moving around versatile players like speedy linebackers Telvin Smith and Reggie Northrup and bulky safety Karlos Williams (bigger than either Smith or Northrup) in a variety of ways. A ridiculous number of four- and five-star freshmen and redshirt freshmen will give Pruitt options if someone gets hurt.
Again, there is no guarantee that the line will be great, but the linebackers and secondary will be. And that alone should keep FSU's defense in the top 10 or top 15, despite all the turnover.
|Cason Beatty||6'3, 229||So.||47||38.3||2||23||23||97.9|
|Lamarcus Joyner||KR||5'8, 190||Sr.||18||23.6||0|
|Karlos Williams||KR||6'1, 230||Jr.||13||26.2||0|
|Rashad Greene||PR||6'0, 180||Jr.||20||15.4||2|
|Tyler Hunter||PR||5'11, 197||Jr.||8||15.8||1|
|Special Teams F/+||31|
|Field Goal Pct||12|
|Kick Returns Avg||16|
|Punt Returns Avg||8|
8. Replacing Hopkins
FSU will once again have a stellar return game in 2013, and while Caston Beatty wasn't a very deep punter in 2012, he at least gave opponents few return opportunities.
But in replacing Dustin Hopkins, the 'Noles do have at least one question mark here. You never, ever, ever know how a new kicker is going to fare, and for years FSU was able to rely on Hopkins to deliver guaranteed points once it crossed inside the opponent's 25. Fisher's general strategy has been to take the points instead of taking risks in the red zone. This can work when you have a good defense and kicker. But if you don't?
2013 Schedule & Projection Factors
|28-Sep||at Boston College||69|
|9-Nov||at Wake Forest||81|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||14|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||5|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-5 / +2.9|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||16 (9, 7)|
9. ACC balance of power
As always, as I finish previews for a given conference, I take a look at what I consider to be the conference's balance of power. This has nothing to do with schedules or predicted order of finish; it's just how I view team strength at this point in the (quickly dwindling!) offseason.
1. Florida State
That Clemson hosts FSU might be enough to earn the Tigers a division crown, but I feel a lot more comfortable about FSU overall. The Seminoles' strengths may not be quite as strong this year, but their question marks aren't quite as questionable, either.
Miami's defense still won't be very good in 2013. That's why the Hurricanes, and everybody else, are still a step or two behind FSU and Clemson. But I like their offense enough to put them a nose ahead of the other teams that have a decent shot at the other Coastal Division contenders, even if their schedule puts them in an even race for the title.
4. North Carolina
5. Virginia Tech
6. Georgia Tech
I don't feel quite as good about UNC as some, but getting Miami at home will help division title hopes. Meanwhile, I struggle to find much separation between Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech ... and I'm going to bang the Pittsburgh drum one last time by putting the Panthers here.
8. NC State
10. Wake Forest
12. Boston College
Speaking of little to no separation ... if I asked 50 people to rank these seven teams, I would probably get 50 different combinations. At least a couple of these teams will make bowls because of scheduling, but if I think long enough, I could make a case for all seven to top the tier.
10. Two games
Yes, there are still potential land mines on the schedule. The season-opening trip to Pitt could be scary if the Panthers are a top-40 team (and I suspect they could be); that's not the optimal place for a redshirt freshman quarterback to begin his career. And a team like Miami or, perhaps, Nevada or Maryland could certainly bite FSU if the 'Noles fall asleep at home. But for the most part, Jimbo Fisher and FSU have a two-game season. Unfortunately, both of those games are on the road.
I think Florida State is the best team in the ACC and a top-10 or top-12 team overall. I'm confident in the Seminoles overall, but I can't necessarily see them surviving trips to both Clemson and Florida unscathed and still winning the other 10 games as well without a random stumble. Like Texas, a lot of people could feel pretty silly for doubting the 'Noles come November, but with a new quarterback and so much new blood on the coaching staff, I think they are probably at least a year away from successfully rolling the dice and becoming a major piece of the national title race.