Published August 19, 2013
| Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA – 2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: It took just three seasons for Jimbo Fisher to return Florida State to the top of the ACC. With a strong veteran core on both sides of the football, the Seminoles posted a 12-2 record, going 7-1 in the ACC, and capturing their first ACC crown since 2005.
To say that FSU got off to a fast start in 2012 would be an understatement. The 'Noles blew by their first three opponents, outscoring Murray State (69-3), Savannah State (55-0) and Wake Forest (52-0) by a combined score of 176-3. Thing got much tougher in week four against rival Clemson, but a 49-37 victory, followed by a win at USF (30-17) left the team at 5-0 at the end of September.
October however, started on a sour note, with a stunning 17-16 loss on the road at NC State. The Seminoles got back on track in a hurry with another five-game win streak, knocking off Boston College (51-7), Miami-Florida (33-20), Duke (48-7), Virginia Tech (28-22) and Maryland (41-14), prior to the regular-season finale against arch-rival Florida, a game the Seminoles lost, 37-26, in Tallahassee.
Despite the setback, Florida State still had plenty to play for and earned an ACC championship a week later against Georgia Tech (21-15) in Charlotte.
As a result, FSU earned its spot in the Orange Bowl opposite mid-major darling Northern Illinois, which was no match for the Seminoles in a 31-10 rout.
OFFENSE: A solid season under center for EJ Manuel propelled him into the NFL, as a first-round selection of the Buffalo Bills. Despite the loss of one of the ACC's top signal-callers, Florida State remains optimistic on offense, thanks to all the hype surrounding redshirt freshman Jameis Winston (6-4, 220). Fellow youngster Jacob Coker (6-6 sophomore) is still in the running, but Winston may have the upperhand due to his ability to be a difference maker with both his arm and legs.
Still, Fisher didn't tip his hand one way or the other at the ACC media event in late July.
"I'm very proud of where those guys are," said Fisher about Winston and Coker. "I think they both have a great knowledge of our offense, I think they both understand what they are capable of physically and now the thing is, can you do it consistently? And that's what I want to wait and see. I want to see how they handle fall camp."
The quarterback's ability to thrive early on is enhanced by one of the top offensive lines in the country, highlighted by four returning starters in center Bryan Stork (6-4, 312), guards Tre Jackson (6-4, 327) and Josue Matias (6-6, 326) and tackle Cameron Erving (6-6, 310), all of which have All- American potential.
There is talent at the rest of the skill positions as well. The backfield is led by the one-two punch of tailbacks Devonta Freeman (660 yards, eight TDs) and James Wilder (635 yards, 11 TDs). The receiving corps also returns a couple of reliable contributors, highlighted by junior Rashad Greene (6-0, 175), who earned Second-Team All-ACC last year with 57 receptions, for 741 yards and six TDs. Junior tight end Nick O'Leary (6-3, 240) could see his role expand with a new signal-caller under center.
DEFENSE: Strong defense was the driving force behind Florida State's resurgence last season, and that success was enough to land Mark Stoops the head coaching job at Kentucky. Now with only four starters returning on that side of the football in 2013, new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt will need unproven talent to step up and deliver. The biggest hit area on defense is up front, where standout ends Bjoern Werner, Tank Carradine and Brandon Jenkins have all moved on to the NFL. Werner and Carradine combined for 24 sacks in 2012 and finding that kind of production won't be easy. Sophomore Mario Edwards could be vital in that regard, as the 6-3, 282-pound sophomore showed flashes of strong play as a true freshman in 2012.
The Seminoles must replace playmakers in the back seven as well, with the most glaring loss being standout cornerback Xavier Rhodes. Strong safety Lamarcus Joyner (51 tackles, one interception) will anchor the play in the secondary, while fellow senior Christian Jones (team-high 95 tackles) headlines the linebacking corps.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The kicking game will also be in a state of transition as place kicker Dustin Hopkins departs Tallahassee as the NCAA and ACC all-time leading scorer in kicking points (466) and career field goals (88). Roberto Aguayo (6-1, 212) spent last season redshirting and the hope is that he is ready to step up and fill the void in the kicking game. Cason Beatty had his ups and downs as a freshman last season (38.3 yards per punt), but should be much more consistent this year with his punting.
OUTLOOK: No team has lost more in the ACC from last year than Florida State. Still, the general consensus is that the Seminoles are once again one of the favorites to win the conference title.
The team jumps right into its ACC schedule with a season-opening contest at new league member Pittsburgh. The non-conference slate begins after that with home dates against Nevada and Bethune-Cookman and concludes in late November with back-to-back tilts against Idaho (at home) and Florida (in Gainesville) to end the season. ACC matchups in Tallahassee include Maryland, NC State, Miami-Florida and Syracuse. In addition to the early date at Pittsburgh, Florida State will also travel to Boston College, Clemson and Wake Forest within the conference.
Despite the turnover in talent, another double-digit win total is more than likely. The trip to Death Valley in mid-October could determine if FSU plays for a second straight ACC crown.