2013 SEASON IN REVIEW: The stars aligned perfectly for Florida State in 2013, as the team went a perfect 14-0, won the ACC and put the icing on the cake with a thrilling win in the BCS Championship Game to win the school's third national title.
A lot of that success was due to the meteoric rise of quarterback Jameis Winston, who became just the second-ever freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. The word prolific almost doesn't do justice to the Seminoles, who set an NCAA record with 723 points in 2013.
The biggest threat in the regular season came from Boston College in late September, a game the Seminoles won 48-34. Two games later, FSU moved to the top of the national title contender list by trouncing then fifth-ranked Clemson in Death Valley (51-14). Outside of Boston College, only one other team got within 27 points of the 'Noles in the regular season and that was rival Miami-Florida in a 41-14 rout.
Jimbo Fisher's squad closed out a perfect regular season with a dismantling of rival Florida in Gainesville (37-7), followed that up with a whipping of Duke in the ACC Championship Game (45-7), sending the Seminoles to the BCS Championship Game in Pasadena on Jan. 6.
In one of the most memorable title games in recent memory, FSU battled back from a 21-10 halftime deficit to earn a dramatic 34-31 victory over the Auburn Tigers with a last minute drive engineered by its Heisman-winning quarterback.
OFFENSE: The offensive numbers were downright staggering for Florida State in 2013, as the team averaged 51.3 points per game on 519.7 yards per game. While those numbers may be impossible to match in 2014, seven starters return to Tallahassee, including Winston.
The young gunslinger picked up the Davey O'Brien Quarterback Award along with the Heisman last year, as he completed 66.9 percent of his passes, for 4,057 yards and 40 TDs. While star wideout Kelvin Benjamin (54 rec, 1,011 yds, 15 TDs) jumped ship to the NFL, there is plenty of quality targets to throw to this year, including first-team All-ACC wideout Rashad Greene (76 rec, 1,128 yds, eight TDs) and senior tight end Nick O'Leary (33 rec, 557 yds, seven TDs).
Leading rusher Devonta Freeman (1,016 yds, 14 TDs) is gone, but emerging talent Karlos Williams (730 yds, 11 TDs) is poised for a big season after bursting on the scene last year with 8.0 ypc.
The Seminoles also benefitted from one of the nation's top offensive lines in 2013 and although center Bryan Stork has moved on, there may not be a more talented line in 2014, with star power like senior tackles Cameron Irving and Bobby Hart and senior guards Tre' Jackson and Josue Matias.
Winston addressed the issue of staying hungry and not being satisfied with past accomplishments at the ACC Kickoff in July.
"It's not hard at all. It's really easy because we always play with a chip on our shoulder and we have high expectations, and we know if we become complacent or we become off in any way that we will lose."
DEFENSE: It wasn't just the offense that posted huge numbers in 2013 for FSU, as the defense was also one of the best in the country. The Seminoles held foes to just 12.1 points per game and a mere 281.4 yards of total offense. The unit also forced 35 turnovers, including 26 interceptions.
Standouts Telvin Smith (90 tackles, three INTs, two sacks), Lamarcus Joyner (69 tackles, 5.5 sacks, three INTs) and Timmy Jernigan (63 tackles, 4.5 sacks) are no longer around, but others will step up and fill the void in 2014, as new defensive coordinator Charles Kelly has plenty to work with.
Up front, expect junior end Mario Edwards (28 tackles, 3.5 sacks) to become a factor. Linebacker Terrance Smith (59 tackles, two sacks, one INT) is the top returning playmaker in the middle after earning All-ACC honorable mention a year ago. The secondary will again be one of the most feared units in the country, highlighted by junior cornerback P.J. Williams (35 tackles, three INTs).
Williams talked about the defense and what to look for from the unit in 2014.
"The personality is just to be mean, be mean, be physical, compete at a high level, and just work on being the best defense in the country and just every element, defensive backs, linebackers, defensive line, getting pressure on quarterbacks, making turnovers, and just keeping the offense from getting points on the board."
SPECIAL TEAMS: The kicking game was also crucial to Florida State's run to the national title and should be a strength once again, with the return of place kicker Roberto Aguayo and punter Cason Beatty. Aguayo was an astounding 21- of-22 on field-goal attempts, with a long of 53 yards, en route to earning the Lou Groza Award as a freshman. Beatty didn't get a lot of work, but did average over 41 yards per punt as a sophomore last season. The return game is left in good hands as well, with sophomore Kermit Whitfield. As a freshman in 2013, Whitfield proved to be lethal with the ball in his hands, leading the nation in kickoff return average (36.4), with two kicks returned for TDs.
OUTLOOK: To be the champ you have to beat the champ and that won't be easy to do in 2014. The Seminoles are once again loaded with talent in every area and with Winston pulling the trigger, the victories will continue to pile up.
The non-conference schedule does feature the Citadel, but the other three games will test the Seminoles, starting with the season-opener against Oklahoma State in Arlington, TX. Notre Dame and Florida are on the docket as well, but both games come in Tallahassee. The toughest conference game will also take place in Doak Campbell Stadium, with a visit by Clemson on Sept. 20. Other league bouts at home include Wake Forest, Virginia and Boston College. The road has a couple of potential struggles, with games at NC State, Syracuse, Louisville and Miami-Florida.
The task at hand is for Fisher to keep his team grounded in the here and now.
"It's all about what you do now. You have to live in the moment, you have to proceed to the future, learn from our past experiences, and grow from them, and then be hungry enough to go play great football this fall."
FSU should open the season atop the national polls and if Winston can avoid a sophomore slump and continue to deliver, the Seminoles will once again be among the nation's elite, win the ACC and earn one of the coveted spots in the new playoff system come the end of the season.