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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.
I cannot say for sure that fans of Florida State's rivals and college football in general followed each of the five stages of grief when it came to FSU's revival. There was certainly plenty of Stage 1 (denial), and at least a little bit of Stage 2 (anger). And if SB Nation's primary Florida representatives are any indication, there's certainly plenty of Stage 4 (depression) to go around, about FSU and plenty of other matters.
But following the Seminoles' romp through the 2013 season, there was no more doubt about whether FSU's glory days were left in the past. There was no more wondering if the Seminoles could come through when it counted the most under Jimbo Fisher. And there was no more doubting what Fisher has built.
Florida State had improved in each of Fisher's first three seasons since succeeding Bobby Bowden in 2010. After sinking to 42nd in the F/+ rankings in Bowden's final year, the Seminoles improved to 18th in 2010, then 10th in 2011, then fifth in 2012. There was always something holding FSU back and allowing naysayers to believe they weren't as close as they were. Injuries and youth crippled the offensive line in 2011 and prevented the offense from gaining steam. And in 2012, a nearly complete machine still figured out a way to sputter and collapse late against NC State.
Haters had their narratives, but FSU had the numbers. And in 2013, one extra piece -- a confident, calm, quarterback -- pushed the 'Noles over the top.
Best teams since 2005 (according to F/+)
1. Alabama 2011 (+53.9%)
2. Alabama 2012 (+50.6%)
3. Florida 2008 (+49.4%)
4. Florida State 2013 (+49.2%)
5. USC 2008 (+47.6%)
With a devastating, experienced offensive line, a deep array of skill position support, and a defense that was too big, too fast, and too well-coached to falter, Jameis Wisnton and Florida State not only won the national title in 2013 but did so with almost no challenges. Until the BCS Championship game against Auburn, a 48-34 win at Boston College was the only FSU game decided by fewer than 27 points. A relatively weak schedule allowed critics to continue residence in the Denial stage, but what was taking shape was pretty obvious.
In the end, nothing could stop FSU's run -- not a slow start in the BCS Championship, not Auburn's late-game Malzahn magic, not Auburn assistant Dameyune Craig's familiarity with FSU's signals and play-calling (Craig was FSU's quarterbacks coach for three years before becoming Gus Malzahn's offensive co-coordinator), and not Winston's participation in the calorie-heavy Heisman banquet circuit. In their first close game of the year, the Seminoles came back from a 21-10 halftime deficit to take the national title, 34-31, in the closing seconds.
FSU is back. Obviously. The only thing the Seminoles have to prove in 2014 is how they can handle encores and expectations. Winston is back, as are quite a few of the names you got to know last season. There are a couple of interesting road land mines on the schedule, and we'll do our best to find some weaknesses below, but any conversation about 2014 title contenders must start with FSU.
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 14-0 | Adj. Record: 14-0 | Final F/+ Rk: 1|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|2-Sep||at Pittsburgh||54||41-13||W||54.3 - 25.2||W|
|14-Sep||Nevada||88||62-7||W||46.7 - 13.1||W|
|21-Sep||Bethune-Cookman||N/A||54-6||W||40.7 - 19.2||W|
|28-Sep||at Boston College||65||48-34||W||43.7 - 27.8||W|
|5-Oct||Maryland||63||63-0||W||51.5 - 11.7||W||28.0|
|19-Oct||at Clemson||16||51-14||W||55.6 - 14.0||W||30.4|
|26-Oct||N.C. State||92||49-17||W||46.8 - 17.9||W||29.5|
|2-Nov||Miami||36||41-14||W||41.0 - 18.5||W||29.7|
|9-Nov||at Wake Forest||81||59-3||W||25.7 - 5.3||W||30.6|
|16-Nov||Syracuse||75||59-3||W||73.0 - 13.2||W||34.6|
|23-Nov||Idaho||116||80-14||W||35.3 - 22.6||W||28.9|
|30-Nov||at Florida||48||37-7||W||40.9 - 12.9||W||28.7|
|7-Dec||vs. Duke||41||45-7||W||44.6 - 10.8||W||30.9|
|6-Jan||vs. Auburn||4||34-31||W||28.5 - 19.5||W||28.6|
|Points Per Game||51.6||2||12.1||1|
|Adj. Points Per Game||44.9||1||16.5||2|
2. A nearly flawless season
Seasons tend to take on a certain ebb-and-flow quality. A young team gets better as the year progresses. An older team peaks early but slips late. An injury or two cause clear regression. There are ups and downs for almost everybody. But there were only ups for Florida State. There was a peak in the middle, I guess, but it was all pretty fantastic.
- Adj. Points Per Game (first 4 games): FSU 46.4, Opponent 21.3 (plus-25.1)
- Adj. Points Per Game (next 4 games): FSU 48.7, Opponent 15.5 (plus-33.2)
- Adj. Points Per Game (final 6 games): FSU 41.3, Opponent 14.1 (plus-27.2)
On average, FBS teams scored around 28 points per game last year. Using that as your guide, you see that FSU played below average offense just once -- against Wake Forest, in a game the 'Noles won by 56 (Wake handed FSU some easy early points, and the 'Noles just tried to sit on the ball for the most part) -- and only came close to playing below average defense once (against Andre Williams and BC). FSU allowed 2.6 yards per play to Wake Forest one week, then averaged 11.6 per play against Syracuse the next.
This was a killing machine.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||54.5%||2||Succ. Rt. +||130.4||2|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||27.1||15||Def. FP+||102.4||30|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||5.5||2||Redzone S&P+||139.0||2|
|Q1 Rk||14||1st Down Rk||13|
|Q2 Rk||4||2nd Down Rk||3|
|Q3 Rk||1||3rd Down Rk||5|
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Jameis Winston||6'4, 235||So.||5 stars (6.1)||257||384||4057||40||10||66.9%||27||6.6%||9.4|
|Sean Maguire||6'3, 220||So.||3 stars (5.5)||13||21||116||2||2||61.9%||1||4.5%||5.0|
|John Franklin III||6'0, 171||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|J.J. Cosentino||6'4, 216||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
3. Hey, Jameis
We so often end up in a gray area when sports are involved, attempting to talk about an athlete's performance while tuning out a less-than-stellar track record in real life. And off the field, Jameis Winston has brought to the table plenty of shades of gray.
On one hand, Winston has never been charged with anything worse than stealing crab legs (and even then, he was "charged" more than he was charged). On the other, he was investigated for his role in a sexual assault and was perhaps never charged simply because of shaky/shady investigation tactics on the part of the Tallahassee police department. Since he has never been charged with anything serious, we continue to talk about him as a Heisman winner and national champion while a giant elephant just hangs out over in the corner of the room.
For the purposes of this preview, we'll just acknowledge the elephant, roll our eyes about how Jameis' judgment and decision-making off the field need to quickly catch up to those same on-field abilities, and move on, knowing that we might not know everything we should (and that we also know more than we want to).
Off-the-field issues aside, here's something rather incontrovertible: Winston is one hell of an athlete. In two seasons on the FSU baseball team, he has compiled a 1.95 ERA with nine saves and 52 strikeouts. And in just one season on the FSU football team, he threw 40 touchdown passes, helped the Seminoles to improve from 23rd in Off. F/+ to third, won the Heisman, and led FSU to a national title. As the rumblings from the sexual assault investigation were growing louder, he just continued to dominate. When it comes to shutting out noise and focusing on football, it was as admirable a performance as one can remember ... at least until you think about why the noise existed in the first place.
|Karlos Williams||RB||6'1, 219||Sr.||5 stars (6.1)||91||730||11||8.0||7.5||52.7%|
|James Wilder, Jr.||RB||81||563||8||7.0||6.2||49.4%|
|Jameis Winston||QB||6'4, 235||So.||5 stars (6.1)||61||407||4||6.7||4.2||55.7%|
|Ryan Green||RB||5'10, 195||So.||4 stars (6.0)||33||163||1||4.9||8.0||33.3%|
|Freddie Stevenson||FB||6'1, 230||So.||4 stars (5.8)||8||33||1||4.1||1.9||37.5%|
|Mario Pender||RB||5'10, 194||So.||4 stars (6.0)|
|Dalvin Cook||RB||5'11, 192||Fr.||5 stars (6.1)|
|Rashad Greene||WR||6'0, 178||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||113||76||1128||67.3%||27.2%||63.0%||10.0||228||11.1||227.6|
|Nick O'Leary||TE||6'3, 244||Sr.||4 stars (6.0)||42||33||557||78.6%||10.1%||40.7%||13.3||194||11.0||112.4|
|Christian Green||WR||6'2, 207||Sr.||4 stars (5.9)||20||13||157||65.0%||4.8%||87.5%||7.9||0||10.1||31.7|
|Jarred Haggins (2012)||WR||6'0, 202||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||13||8||108||61.5%||3.1%||61.5%||8.3||N/A||8.4||15.9|
|Karlos Williams||RB||6'1, 219||Sr.||5 stars (6.1)||12||8||63||66.7%||2.9%||100.0%||5.3||-32||1.9||12.7|
|Isaiah Jones||WR||6'4, 193||So.||4 stars (5.8)||6||2||31||33.3%||1.4%||N/A||5.2||-5||0.0||6.3|
|Jesus Wilson||WR||5'9, 177||So.||3 stars (5.7)||6||3||23||50.0%||1.4%||N/A||3.8||-19||0.0||4.6|
|Freddie Stevenson||FB||6'1, 230||So.||4 stars (5.8)||4||2||18||50.0%||1.0%||N/A||4.5||-10||0.0||3.6|
|Kermit Whitfield||WR||5'7, 184||So.||4 stars (5.8)||4||4||78||100.0%||1.0%||N/A||19.5||38||0.0||15.7|
|Kevin Haplea||TE||6'4, 246||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Jeremy Kerr||TE||6'5, 251||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Ermon Lane||WR||6'2, 172||Fr.||5 stars (6.1)|
|Travis Rudolph||WR||6'0, 189||Fr.||5 stars (6.1)|
|Javon Harrison||WR||6'2, 190||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
4. Searching for flaws: injuries could lead to youth
The Florida State process
The Florida State process
Winston's a hell of a quarterback, and his supporting cast returns an incredible number of potential (and verified) studs. Converted defensive back Karlos Williams takes over at running back; in a backup role last season, he proved both explosive and devastatingly efficient, and with another offseason of acclimation to the position, there's little reason to doubt that he'll be one of the nation's better running backs.
Meanwhile, Winston's No. 1 target, Rashad Greene, is also back; he's either one of the most explosive possession receivers in the country or one of the most efficient big-play guys. Take your pick. Tight end Nick O'Leary, who really needs to stay off of anything that has only two wheels, should be healthy this fall; if so, he's one of the best, meanest tight ends in the country.
And then there's the offensive line. Despite the loss of All-American Bryan Stork, FSU returns five players who have combined for 114 career starts, one of the highest totals in the country.
The starting 11 for this offense is nearly unassailable. It is big, fast, strong, and experienced. But if we're looking for potential cracks, if we're looking for weaknesses that might appear this season -- and lord knows we have to look pretty hard -- it does bear mentioning that the second string will be pretty inexperienced. After Williams, FSU running backs have combined for only 33 carries, all from sophomore Ryan Green. After Greene, the next four leading receivers from 2013 combined for only 22 catches. And after a potentially all-senior starting five up front, we're looking at a whole lot of redshirt freshmen and newcomers on the OL depth chart.
And then, of course, there's Winston himself. Backup Jacob Coker transferred to Alabama, leaving 21 career passes (all from Sean Maguire, all in mop-up time) among FSU's backups. If FSU is hit pretty hard by injuries in 2014, the Seminoles could end up quite a few freshmen and little-used sophomores on the field.
Granted, that's an "if" that could be used for just about every team in the country. And granted, FSU has recruited well enough that a lot of these youngsters came with an impressive pedigree -- four-star freshman quarterback J.J. Cosentino, four-star sophomore running backs Green and Mario Pender, five-star freshman running back Dalvin Cook, four-star sophomore receivers Isaiah Jones and Kermit Whitfield, five-star freshman receivers Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph, et cetera. I told you it was pretty hard to come up with weaknesses here, and this was the best I could do.
|Bryan Stork||C||41||Consensus All-American, Rimington Trophy,
|Cameron Erving||LT||6'6, 302||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||28||All-American, 1st All-ACC|
|Tre' Jackson||RG||6'4, 339||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||30||1st All-ACC|
|Josue Matias||LG||6'6, 331||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||29|
|Bobby Hart||RT||6'4, 318||Sr.||4 stars (5.9)||23|
|Austin Barron||C||6'3, 292||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||4|
|Ruben Carter||RG||6'4, 299||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0|
|Wilson Bell||LT||6'4, 306||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Chad Mavety||OL||6'6, 320||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Kareem Are||LG||6'6, 335||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Roderick Johnson||OL||6'7, 310||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Corey Martinez||OL||6'4, 290||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Alec Eberle||OL||6'4, 270||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||32.5%||3||Succ. Rt. +||128.3||3|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||32.5||17||Off. FP+||103.5||23|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||3.2||4||Redzone S&P+||117.6||17|
|Q1 Rk||6||1st Down Rk||2|
|Q2 Rk||1||2nd Down Rk||11|
|Q3 Rk||2||3rd Down Rk||9|
5. Searching for flaws: Jeremy Pruitt did a spectacular job
Before Jeremy Pruitt arrived in Tallahassee in 2013, the FSU defense was already awfully good. The Seminoles ranked third in Def. F/+ in 2011 and fifth in 2012. They were too much for most opponents, and even random glitches -- 394 yards and a late explosion of points against Florida in 2012, 5.5 yards per play and 37 points to Clemson in 2012, 5.3 yards per play and 35 points in an upset loss against Wake Forest in 2011 -- were pretty minor. The national average for yards per play is in the 5.7 neighborhood, and FSU hadn't allowed that in the two years prior to Pruitt's arrival.
But Pruitt still figured out how to make one hell of a difference. FSU had the best defense in the country last season -- better than Michigan State's, better than Alabama's, better than Virginia Tech's. He brought discipline and the Alabama structure to the 'Noles, and when combined with a loaded two-deep of play-makers from front (tackle Timmy Jernigan) to middle (linebacker Telvin Smith) to back (corners Lamarcus Joyner and P.J. Williams, safeties Terrence Brooks and Nate Andrews), the results were ridiculous and impressive.
Pruitt got lured away to Georgia in the offseason, however. Plus, four of the six players I just mentioned are gone. Coordinator Charles Kelly, last year's FSU linebackers coach, now takes over a younger defense, and while the 'Noles have talent and athleticism to burn, there has to be at least a modicum of concern here.
With the No. 3 and No. 5 defenses, FSU was vulnerable to upsets. If the defense is only top-10 caliber and the offense has its first bad game since 2012, then that puts FSU on upset watch.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Mario Edwards, Jr.||DE||6'3, 294||Jr.||5 stars (6.1)||11||23.5||3.1%||9.5||3.5||1||1||1||1|
|Chris Casher||DE||6'4, 243||So.||4 stars (6.0)||10||20.0||2.6%||5.0||2.0||0||2||1||1|
|DeMarcus Walker||DE||6'3, 273||So.||4 stars (6.0)||10||13.5||1.8%||2.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Eddie Goldman||DT||6'4, 314||Jr.||5 stars (6.1)||10||13.5||1.8%||3.0||2.0||0||0||0||0|
|Desmond Hollin||DT||6'3, 286||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||7||12.0||1.6%||3.0||2.0||0||0||0||0|
|Nile Lawrence-Stample||DT||6'1, 319||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||11||11.5||1.5%||1.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Derrick Mitchell, Jr.||DT||6'4, 292||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||4||6.0||0.8%||1.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Justin Shanks||DT||6'2, 322||So.||4 stars (5.8)||2||2.0||0.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Giorgio Newberry||DT||6'6, 280||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Keith Bryant||DT||6'2, 308||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Derrick Nnadi||DT||6'1, 299||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Demarcus Christmas||DT||6'3, 285||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Rick Leonard||DE||6'7, 250||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
6. Searching for flaws: Not many proven entities at tackle
Even with the loss of Joyner and Brooks in the secondary, it's hard to fear too much for FSU's back four. The Seminoles still have Andrews and Williams, and while safety Jalen Ramsey didn't make a ton of individual plays as a freshman starter in 2013, he didn't need to. Safety Tyler Hunter returns to the rotation following an early-season neck injury, and players like Ronald Darby and Nick Waisome have shown plenty of play-making ability when given the opportunity.
There are a couple of unsettled issues for the defense, however. For one thing, last year's top three tackles are gone, including Jernigan, whose play helped to turn the BCS title game around. Juniors Eddie Goldman and Nile Lawrence-Stample are keepers and could play just as well as last year's tackles if given the opportunity, but they've only proven so much, and there's almost nothing else proven behind them. There are options, but few proven commodities.
Meanwhile, at linebacker, FSU still needs to figure out its rotation. Two starters who combined for 17.5 tackles for loss are gone, and a potential starter, sophomore Ukeme Eligwe, is battling injury. Again, former blue-chippers abound. But we're searching for potential flaws, not actual ones, and until former stud recruits like Matthew Thomas and E.J. Levenberry live up to hype, we don't know that they will.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Terrance Smith||MIKE||6'4, 228||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||13||46.5||6.1%||2.5||2.0||1||3||0||0|
|Reggie Northrup||WILL||6'1, 217||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||10||34.0||4.4%||2.5||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|E.J. Levenberry||SAM||6'3, 237||So.||4 stars (5.9)||10||28.5||3.7%||1.0||0.0||1||1||1||0|
|Ukeme Eligwe||SAM||6'2, 233||So.||4 stars (6.0)||11||23.0||3.0%||3.0||2.0||0||0||0||0|
|Matthew Thomas||MIKE||6'3, 224||RSFr.||5 stars (6.1)||4||4.0||0.5%||2.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Ro'Derrick Hoskins||WILL||6'2, 235||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Delvin Purifoy||LB||6'2, 228||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Jacob Pugh||LB||6'4, 236||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Kain Daub||LB||6'3, 240||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Jalen Ramsey||FS||6'1, 198||So.||5 stars (6.1)||14||43.0||5.6%||2||1||1||1||1||1|
|Nate Andrews||SS||5'11, 209||So.||3 stars (5.6)||12||29.5||3.9%||1||1||4||4||3||0|
|P.J. Williams||CB||6'0, 196||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||13||28.0||3.7%||1.5||0||3||7||0||0|
|Lamarcus Brutus||SS||6'0, 202||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||8||15.0||2.0%||1||0||0||1||0||0|
|Keelin Smith||CB||6'3, 191||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||9||13.5||1.8%||1||0||1||1||0||0|
|Ronald Darby||CB||5'11, 188||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||9||12.5||1.6%||0||0||2||4||0||1|
|Nick Waisome||CB||5'10, 182||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||8||10.5||1.4%||1||0||0||2||0||0|
|Marquez White||CB||6'0, 168||So.||4 stars (5.8)||7||10.0||1.3%||1||0||1||0||0||0|
|Tyler Hunter||SS||5'11, 205||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||3||7.5||1.0%||0||0||1||2||0||0|
|Colin Blake||DB||6'3, 200||So.||4 stars (5.8)||3||2.5||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Tyrell Lyons||FS||6'0, 213||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Trey Marshall||DB||6'0, 192||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
7. So many future pros
For a lot of teams, I create a list of ifs to figure out what it will take for them to reach a certain height. For FSU, I've been using them to figure out how low I can make the floor.
Injuries, youth, etc., can strike any team, but it's impossible to write an FSU preview and not talk about how many future pros were on the field last year and how many will be on the field this year.
The Seminoles had seven players picked in the 2014 NFL Draft and currently boast top draft prospects at running back (Karlos Williams), receiver (Rashad Greene), tight end (Nick O'Leary), offensive tackle (Cameron Erving), offensive guard (Tre' Jackson, Josue Matias), center (Austin Barron, though he's a rung below others), and strong safety (Tyler Hunter). Depending on which underclassmen go pro, they could also end up with high draft picks at quarterback (Jameis Winston), defensive end (Mario Edwards, Jr.), defensive tackle (Eddie Goldman), linebacker (Terrance Smith), and cornerback (P.J. Williams, Ronald Darby).
That's just ridiculous. Yes, injuries could strike. Yes, there could be some hangover issues after last year's success. Yes, the 'Noles could get some bad breaks and get upset. There's a reason why teams rarely repeat as national champions. But if you're looking at both upside and proven entities, FSU is suddenly in better shape than even Alabama.
|Cason Beatty||6'3, 224||Jr.||42||41.1||2||12||12||57.1%|
|Roberto Aguayo||6'1, 209||So.||120||60.8||45||5||37.5%|
|Roberto Aguayo||6'1, 209||So.||94-94||12-12||100.0%||9-10||90.0%|
|Kermit Whitfield||KR||5'7, 184||So.||17||36.4||2|
|Jesus Wilson||PR||5'9, 177||So.||8||11.1||0|
|Special Teams F/+||27|
|Field Goal Efficiency||6|
|Punt Return Efficiency||59|
|Kick Return Efficiency||4|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||13|
8. When your punt coverage is your biggest weakness...
...you know you're doing pretty well. That said, FSU's punting game really was atrocious in 2013. Cason Beatty's averages were decent, but his per-kick efficiency was shaky, as was his coverage unit. FSU ranked in the bottom 10 of punt efficiency, and if the Seminoles find themselves in closer games in 2014, this could matter. Small shifts in field position add up.
That really was just about the only weakness, though, for the team as a whole and for a special teams unit that included an explosive kick returner in BCS title game hero Kermit Whitfield and a nearly perfect place-kicker in Roberto Aguayo.
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|30-Aug||vs. Oklahoma State||18|
|27-Sep||at N.C. State||66|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||26.2% (6)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||5|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||17 / 6.0|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||13 (8, 5)|
9. Beware the landmines
Last season was almost too perfect. There were no random egg-layings on the road, and there were no serious injuries. Granted, part of that was simply because FSU was too good to be affected by such things, but again, this is college football.
Randomness happens. And if FSU is at less than perfect form, then the Seminoles could get upset by any number of teams away from Tallahassee: Oklahoma State, Louisville, Miami, et cetera.
But when randomness, complacency, and shaky punting are your biggest concerns, you're probably in great shape. FSU boasts draft prospects galore and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. The Seminoles have both former blue-chippers and proven starters at nearly every position, and there's absolutely no reason why they shouldn't start the season at No. 1.
Jimbo Fisher has brought this program back, and even if you didn't see it coming (and you should have), there's no choice but to acknowledge it now.
10. ACC balance of power
At the end of each conference run-through, I take a look at how I perceive the conference's balance of power heading into the season. This is in no way based on schedules, so they are not predictions. They're just how I would rank the teams after writing 4,000 or so words about each of them.
For the most part, I try to lay out four tiers, but I couldn't avoid five this time. There's too much separation at the top (and, sadly, bottom).
1. Florida State
If ACC divisions were redrawn with general "balance of power" implications included -- not something I recommend, by the way, but something the ACC definitely attempted with its over-thought Atlantic and Coastal -- there's no way in hell Clemson and FSU would end up in the same division.
4. Virginia Tech
5. North Carolina
9. Georgia Tech
Any of six teams could win the Coastal this year, and none of them would surprise me. My bet is on Virginia Tech, but I'm not putting a ton of money on that.
10. Boston College
12. N.C. State
Tier 4 could really be more like Tier 3a.
14. Wake Forest