Florida State Seminoles: Florida State

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- When Jimbo Fisher is asked about his 2014 class -- and he’s been asked a lot -- he smiles and cracks a joke, one that has become part of the fifth-year Florida State coach’s preseason vernacular.

“I'll put it this way: We may get caught by the game warden for having our [fishing] live well too full,” he cracks, “but I'm not throwing any of them back.”

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY Sports"That's the kind of guys you want here, guys who want to get on the field quickly," Jimbo Fisher said.
Maybe he’s just happy this offseason he’s being asked about newcomers instead of a quarterback competition or whether the Seminoles are “back.” Or maybe it is possible Fisher really does expect greatness out of this 2014 class, which RecruitingNation ranked No. 3 in February.

Through summer workouts and the first two weeks of preseason camp, Fisher said this class is far along as physically as he has ever seen. That is due in large part to 13 linemen Fisher signed, seven of whom tip the scales at 290 pounds or more. While linemen are usually relegated to a redshirt season upon arrival, Fisher said he sees a use for several of the newcomers to play early. Over the course of the last three classes, nine freshman linemen have been letterwinners, and Fisher has played junior college transfers immediately, as well.

Mentally, however, this group of 28 is as far along as any of the five classes Fisher’s recruited. There wasn’t a single academic casualty among the signees, and the 2014 signees began studying the playbook as soon as possible. The coaching staff has commended the Seminoles’ upperclassmen throughout camp for tutoring the younger players, too.

“All of those guys have been very coachable and they’re willing to learn. That’s been huge,” first-year defensive coordinator Charles Kelly said. “The whole class in general, size speed and athleticism has been very impressive.

Expect some of the 2014 praise to subside as fall camp ends and preparations for Oklahoma State begin, but there should be more than a handful of freshmen who make significant contributions as freshmen. Receivers Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph were in the top six among receivers nationally in the 2014 class, and in practices freshman defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi has been “that dude,” according to end Mario Edwards Jr.

Over the last three seasons, 29 freshmen have earned letters and 14 were named to at least one freshmen All-America team. Those numbers should continue to grow in 2014. Sophomore Jalen Ramsey, a Thorpe Award watch list member in 2014, said Florida State embraces its freshmen like few programs, and there is rarely a grudge if a younger player earns a starting job from an upperclassman.

“As a team, we want the best people on the field beside us. When you have the best people on the field, you don’t have to worry about doing extra roles,” Ramsey said. “If they’re the best, then definitely play them.”

Ramsey said he entered his freshman season with a mindset that he was not going to be outworked and would secure at least a spot in the defensive backfield’s rotation. He ended up starting every game.

“It inspires [the freshmen],” Fisher said. “That’s the kind of guys you want here, guys who want to get on the field quickly.”
Boston College coach Steve Addazio remembers an era when players wanted to redshirt as true freshmen to better prepare them for the final four years of their college career.

"Now it's 'I want to play,' " Addazio, 55, said. "If you're talking about not playing them early, the majority are like 'What do you mean?'"

So, the ability to play or possibly even start as a true freshman has become a regular sales pitch for coaches from the Power Five to the Group of Five. It's certainly a tool in the belt for Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. Last week, Fisher alluded to the number of freshmen All-Americans he's coached the last four seasons. Twenty-four hours later, it was on the program's official recruiting Twitter page.

"The last [four] years we've had 14 freshmen All-Americans," said Fisher, condensing multiple outlets' freshmen award teams into one, concise Florida State propaganda poster. "If you come in ready to play, we're willing to put you on the field. It's critical for guys to come in saying 'When I'm the best, I'll play.'"

Fisher has the goods to back up his claims, even if the numbers are obviously skewed to best represent his program. But how does his résumé compare to those coaching some of the country's other top programs?

I tried to come up with a way to accurately discern which schools play the most freshmen and decided true freshmen letterwinners was the simplest and most effective way to crunch the numbers. To earn a letter, a player has to actually play consistently through the season. The disclaimer is each program can use different benchmarks when awarding letters, but there is never going to be a perfect way.

I began with Florida State's, looking back at the 2011-2013 classes. To properly quantify the data from Florida State, I decided I'd look at the five schools ranked highest in the preseason polls that have had its coach in place at least five seasons. Oregon's Mark Helfrich was offered an exemption because he was promoted from within and is in his sixth season with the Ducks. Coaches in place at least five years was the stipulation since an incoming coach might be susceptible to playing the prospects he recruited or having a number of transfers that could open up starting or rotational spots.

The criteria: Each class was looked at and the total number of signees was pared down to just those who enrolled as members of the football team in the fall. Junior college signees were excluded, as were any recruits who were academically or medically disqualified before playing a game. That explains why the total number of freshmen for our purposes might look different than what might be seen on RecruitingNation. Any true freshmen who spent a year at a post-graduate or prep school was also excluded. Redshirt freshmen were disqualified, too.

Bottom line is if the player was not a part of the football team the fall following his high school graduation, he was excluded.

Nearly all of the data was collected after poring through media guides and archives, although the communications departments at some of the schools were also helpful providing numbers and deserve recognition.

So, here is the actual data:

 

It is hardly a coincidence that Fisher and Alabama's Nick Saban, who mentored Fisher at LSU, have identical percentages of true freshmen earning a letter. Fisher and Saban arguably have been the two best recruiters over the last few cycles, and, the data shows those two are not going to keep young talent off the field simply because of age. Nearly half of the true freshmen at Alabama and Florida State lettered over the last three seasons.

Mark Dantonio has built Michigan State into a national title contender in a different manor, relying on experience. Only 12 percent of true freshmen lettered over the last three seasons. Recruiting to Michigan State is not the easy task it is at some other top-10 programs, and the Spartans are not recruiting as many ESPN 300-level players as the likes of Alabama and Florida State.

It should be noted Michigan State, Oklahoma and Oregon don't have quite the recruiting base Alabama and Florida State do.

Inquiring minds want to see how that 45 percent stacks up to some of the other top programs in the country, so even though they did not fit the criteria I looked at a few other schools with coaches in place at least five seasons and lately in the top half of the rankings. LSU was worth a look considering it's Les Miles' 10th season in Baton Rouge and, like Fisher and Saban, has recruited exceptionally well for a long period of time. Mark Richt is in his 14th season at Georgia and, like Miles, usually has a highly-regarded recruiting class. Steve Spurrier is in his 10th season at South Carolina and has steadily improved the Gamecocks' class to the point that the 2015 class is No. 5 nationally. Dabo Swinney has turned Clemson from a perennial disappointment into a two-time BCS bowl participant. And Ohio State and Texas A&M, mainly because it's worth seeing how third-year Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer fares considering he frequently voices his preference to avoid redshirting. Kevin Sumlin is also in the process of trying to build an SEC power that can compete with Alabama and LSU in the SEC West.

 

For the Buckeyes, out of the 69 true freshmen to land in Columbus, Ohio, from 2011-2013, 31 lettered -- the same 45 percent. Looking at just Meyer's two seasons, however, he is decimals ahead of Fisher and Saban at 46 percent (21 out of 46), thanks in large part to 14 freshmen letterwinners in his first season.

Georgia's Mark Richt has a percentage of nearly 50 percent, but the Bulldogs' numbers might be the most skewed. Along with South Carolina, the Bulldogs had several recruits that either did not qualify or spent time at a prep school or junior college. Also, Georgia's long list of dismissals and transfers is well documented, and all of the departures has opened up spots for freshmen to earn immediate playing time.

It is Miles, though, who plays a higher percentage of freshmen than all of the others. Twelve true freshmen lettered for LSU in both 2012 and 2013, and another nine earned a letter in 2011. There were a total of 65 applicable freshmen to enter LSU during that span and 33 of them lettered. That's a percentage of 51 percent.

Certainly the numbers will fluctuate year to year, and coaches at every single program are playing freshmen more frequently than ever before. When taking into account the timeline is over three years, LSU averages just one more freshman letterwinner per season than Alabama and Florida State. For our intents and purposes, though, the data shows which top programs consistently play the most freshmen in this new era of freshmen phenoms.

And, uh, FYI, Alabama has 19 ESPN 300 players prepping for their freshmen season this fall. LSU has 16, and Florida State isn't far off with 13 of their own.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Odell Haggins has been Florida State’s defensive tackles coach since 1996, a total of 19 consecutive seasons. As far as stability goes on the defensive staff, it begins with Haggins. It ends there, too, as the remaining three assistants have been on staff a combined five seasons.

Charles Kelly is in his second year on staff but shifts from linebackers coach to the secondary while also adding the title of defensive coordinator, a position he’s never held for an entire season at the FBS level. In his stead coaching the linebackers is Bill Miller, who was hired away from Minnesota.

Early returns indicate Kelly, who received rave reviews when he was hired, has hit the ground running as the new leader of a defense that finished No. 1 in points per game during their 2013 championship run.

“He stays positive. He gets on you when you mess up but he explains it when you do,” cornerback Ronald Darby said. “If I’m going to do something, he asks why you did it, and if I explain why, he’s more understanding as a coach instead of ‘Shut up I don’t want to hear that!’ He’s a great coach.”

Despite switching defensive coordinators, Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said not much has changed schematically. Kelly worked under 2013 coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, and the players have said the changes have been minimal. The terminology and the scheme remain largely intact, which could foster an easier transition this season for a defense replacing its best player at every level of the unit.

Kelly said there will be small differences, though, simply because he and Pruitt are not clones of each other. Kelly said he will have his own identity, which is really just a mosaic of the knowledge he’s gained in his 23 seasons of coaching.

Over those 23 seasons, Kelly has coached nearly every position group, and that is not limited to just the defense. There are challenging aspects to that, but Kelly said a good coach is able to adapt to any position and it’s prepared him to coordinate the entire defense.

“I grew up wanting to be a coach, so if you can coach and communicate and teach, you should be able to coach any position,” Kelly said. “Coaching different positions, sometimes the personalities at positions are different, so it teaches you how to handle people differently.”

Kelly acknowledges the potential issues of adding a new coach in the mix, but he welcomes the addition of Miller, who began coaching in 1978 and has coached six first-round draft picks, including Ray Lewis.

“Change is good sometimes because it’s new blood, new ideas. It’s a different way of looking at things,” Kelly said. “When you’re the only one doing it, you get tunnel vision. When you trust people you work with, then you trust what they say.”

Helping facilitate a smooth transition for Miller is his familiarity with Fisher’s coaching philosophies. Fisher is a protégé of Nick Saban, and Miller was on Saban’s staff at Michigan State.

“There’s kind of an unwritten club of guys that worked for Nick Saban,” Miller said. “What helps me a lot is I’ve been in this defensive system before. Sal [Sunseri] and I were together at Michigan State, and having that kind of background and knowing what this system is all about has been a great aid to me.”

Fisher said E.J. Levenberry is working with the first team at linebacker, and the sophomore said during fall camp that Miller has helped him with his fundamentals.

Florida State held its first scrimmage this week, and throughout the defense the fundamentals were not lacking. Fisher was upbeat following the scrimmage, and defensive lineman Mario Edwards said the players are comfortable in the system. Any mistakes were attributed to tired legs, Edwards said.

“We know the defense,” Edwards said, “and we know where to be.”
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- When Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher was asked who stood out to him during the team's first preseason scrimmage, he listed nearly one-fifth of his roster, 15 names and an entire position group total.

It's quite the stark contrast from how Fisher felt at the end of March following the first scrimmage of the spring, when the fifth-year coach, sounding like a let-down parent, expressed no anger but disappointment in the Seminoles' effort.

"Our kids know how to work. We know how to do things and what's expected," Fisher said Tuesday. "They know what's tolerated and not tolerated, and we're doing a very good job of staying above that line."

Fisher said Florida State, ranked No. 1 in the USA Today Coaches Poll, covered "everything from A to Z" in practice -- which was the longest of camp thus far -- mixing in full drives with the first-team offense playing against the first-team defense and working on situation football -- third downs, red zone and short-yardage to name a few examples.

The practice's physicality, a topic covered at length the last few days in the wake of Jalen Ramsey's dismissal from practice Sunday, was where Fisher wanted it to be. While a few healthy players wore the blue non-contact jersey, the rest of the team was in pads and hitting full speed.

"There were some good licks," said Fisher, who added Ramsey had one of his best practices for a second straight day.

A handful of projected starters did not participate -- Ukeme Eligwe, Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams to name a few -- the coaching staff learned enough about the Seminoles on Tuesday to see evidence that the 2014 team's identity is forming. Florida State has a starting lineup that could be the best in the country, but the team's depth was on display through much of the scrimmage. The freshmen have received rave review throughout camp, and Fisher once again was pleased with how his young players performed.

"You can visualize who can begin to help you, and the next three or four days will be interesting to see how they recover and how they play after this scrimmage," Fisher said.

The defense is in the midst of replacing its leader at every level of the unit, and there were some mental miscues during the scrimmage. However, junior defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr. said those were largely because the starting defense was not used to a high-intensity, 12-play drive. Through much of the everyday practices, Edwards said the defense usually is on the field for only a few snaps before rotating with the second team.

The positive for the defense is the veterans are jelling with the inexperienced underclassmen.

"I would say the chemistry of the defense," was the biggest difference between the first spring and summer scrimmage, Edwards said. "We know where to be. We still had mental busts and brain farts, but for the most part we know where to be."

Florida State has its first day off Wednesday, and Fisher can rest comfortably knowing the Seminoles have earned one.

"I'm pretty pleased where we're at," Fisher said. "We got a lot of work to do but I'm not disappointed at all. We know where we're going."
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State is not deviating from company line that the Seminoles have moved on from 2013, but forgive FSU fans if they’re still reveling in the past.

Levonte Whitfield gave Florida State its first lead of the national championship game with a 100-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter, and, seven months later, it’s still a talking point for Seminoles fans when interacting with the player affectionately known as Kermit.

“It’s like every day, I get a lot of [Twitter] mentions about it,” Whitfield said. “I try not to think about it. They can’t take it away from me but I try not to think about it. It’s time to move on.”

Whitfield still has the play burned in his memory, though. With the Seminoles trailing 24-20 with 4:42 left in the game, the then-true freshman fielded the kickoff from about two yards deep in the end zone. Eleven seconds later, he was in the end zone.

“As soon as I got the ball I see Chad Abram kicked out, got his block and Karlos [Williams] made a cut and I see a big hole and I see nothing but daylight,” Whitfield said.

With his sophomore season on the horizon, though, Whitfield wants to be remembered as more than just the kick returner from the national championship. The 5-foot-7, 183-pound receiver said he is working with the first-team offense in practice, and he could be relied upon in the passing game more often this season as a slot receiver, especially with fellow diminutive receiver Jesus Wilson (5-9, 177) indefinitely suspended.

Whitfield is one of the fastest players in the country, but Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said Whitfield needs to display that speed even when the ball is not in his hands. Whitfield said he is working on his route running, too.

“I want to be an All-American,” Whitfield said, “and do what I need to do to help the team win."
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It’s the double-edged sword of having a wildly talented team but with nearly a month's worth of practices still standing in the way of the season opener. There are not many question marks in the starting lineup for Florida State, which means the uncertainties at those few positions are squarely under the microscope.

[+] EnlargeDoak Campbell, Christian Green
Phil Ellsworth/ESPN ImagesSenior Christian Green is among a group of Florida State wide receivers looking to complement Rashad Greene.
That’s why Jimbo Fisher, Rashad Greene, the offensive line and even the Seminoles’ secondary are being asked about the inexperienced group of receivers. It’s understandable why the receiver corps has been a debated and scrutinized, and it is a legitimate question to ask which receivers will step up to complement the senior Greene, the team’s leading receiver. Especially when considering Fisher’s frustration with the receivers boiled over this spring.

A lack of consistency drew the ire of Fisher in March, but through three practices this fall, Fisher has been much more measured and complimentary of the receivers. However, consistency is still a concern during preseason practices for a unit that, outside of Greene, combined for 23 catches in 2013.

“Consistency, guys knowing what to do, where to be when that ball is thrown to you,” Fisher said when asked what will separate the jumble behind Greene. “I’ve been pleased with the younger and older receivers.”

The younger receivers, for only practicing three days and none with full pads on, have been the stars among the corps so far. At this point, though, that is more a product of the vast hype and media and fan intrigue rather than on-field performance.

Ermon Lane was the No. 2 receiver nationally in the ESPN 300 and stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 206 pounds. Travis Rudolph was not far off in the recruiting rankings, registering as the sixth-best receiver in the 2014 class. Four-star Ja'Vonn Harrison rounds out the highly regarded freshman trio.

“Travis and Ja’Vonn, those two really do have good routes. Ermon is more of a physical type guy, he can go up, get off the jam. That’s what separates those guys,” senior receiver Jarred Haggins said. “By the time they all take their role, they’re going to be awesome."

Haggins missed the entire 2013 season with a stress fracture in his knee but is healthy and competing for the No. 2 spot. With Kermit Whitfield and Jesus Wilson -- who is still indefinitely suspended -- likely filling the slot receiver role, Haggins, Christian Green and Isaiah Jones are competing with the freshmen for the starting outside receiver position.

The 6-foot-2, 204-pound Green caught 13 passes last season, second most among returning receivers, but he caught more passes as a redshirt freshman (26) than he has the rest of his career combined. A member of the 2010 recruiting class, Green arrived in Tallahassee with the same national acclaim as the current freshmen, as he ranked No. 53 in the ESPN 150.

Despite the limited action and attention he has received the first four years of his career, Green is determined to make a senior jump similar to the departed Kenny Shaw, Green’s freshman roommate and a receiver who caught nearly as many passes a senior (54) as he did his first three seasons (70).

“It’s something I’ve been waiting for,” Green said. “I’ve been patient and playing my role and doing whatever they asked me to do. Now is the time.”

Green said he is doing his best balancing his own ambitions with mentoring the younger receivers, but this offseason they were all under the tutelage of Jameis Winston. Last summer, Winston was still embroiled in a quarterback competition. During summer 7-on-7 workouts and throwing sessions that coaches couldn’t watch, it was Winston who took the lead role of developing his young receivers.

“Jameis really understands what he wants and how he wants it,” Fisher said. “It’s something he picked up this summer from Peyton Manning. I always talk to him about taking two routes a day and running it 100 times. Make those guys understand how to do it.”
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State had the No.1 pass defense in 2013. It’s hard to believe it, but the secondary could be even better in 2014, with four possible first-round picks starting in the backfield.

Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher knows what he is going to get out of his defensive backs. However, the front seven is looking for players to emerge to alleviate the burden of losing tackle Timmy Jernigan and linebacker Telvin Smith. The defensive line needs a handful of role players to complement the starters, and the linebacking corps doesn’t have a definitive first-team unit just yet.

“I want to see those [starting linemen] take responsibility, and I want to see the quality depth behind it so we can get a quality rotation,” Fisher said. “I know we have plenty of guys capable.

[+] EnlargeEddie Goldman
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsEddie Goldman will start at defensive tackle, but Jimbo Fisher is hunting quality behind the junior.
“The leadership role at linebacker, Terrance [Smith] is there but who steps up at Mike linebacker? Who’s going to become the pass rushers, who’s going to be the DPR [designated pass rushers], who’s going to be the nickel ’backers, who’s going to be the first- and second-down ’backers?”

Standing at the podium for his first fall camp news conference, Fisher still displayed a palpable confidence as he elaborated on the defense’s questions, but he was cataloging them so he could return to them in another two weeks to see which have been answered.

Florida State has what looks to be a clearly defined set of starters on the defensive line with Mario Edwards Jr., Eddie Goldman, Nile Lawrence-Stample and Chris Casher. Defensive line inherently is a position that requires a bevy of fresh bodies, though, which is why Fisher is determined to uncover quality rotational players who will allow his starters to come off the field without the defense taking a step back.

There is no shortage of options behind Florida State’s starters. There are 10 backups along the line who are either freshmen or sophomores, and they average almost 6-foot-4 and 293 pounds. Keith Bryant, Justin Shanks and DeMarcus Walker were blue-chip recruits out of high school, and the defense needs those three to become primary rotational players with the idea they could be the starters in 2015. Florida State also brought in a number of freshmen, and Fisher said, physically, they already fit the Florida State defensive lineman archetype.

The luxury Fisher has is the younger players will all be able to learn from Edwards, who is in his second year in this defensive system but in his first as the unquestioned leader of the defensive line. The former No. 1 high school recruit, few players nationally are as physically gifted as Edwards.

“He’s so daggone big and athletic. He’s still 300 pounds, but we played a lot with those guys at LSU, 300-pound ends,” said Fisher, calling upon his days as an assistant in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “When you can do a standing back flip and a run a 5-flat [in the 40-yard dash] and bend like he does, you don’t worry.”

Behind the defensive line, Smith returns as a starter in the linebacker corps, but it is a tossup as to who will partner with him. Ukeme Eligwe, who is recovering from a Lisfranc injury, E.J. Levenberry and Reggie Northrup all played at least 13 games last season, and Matthew Thomas was shelved after four games in 2013 to repair a balky shoulder and preserve his redshirt. Thomas was a five-star recruit and one of the top players during the spring. When a player has a good practice, Fisher likes to say he “flashed,” and routinely this spring Fisher said “No. 6 flashed,” referring to Thomas.

As Fisher balances each player’s talents and weaknesses, the potential deciding factor ultimately could boil down to chemistry. Fisher said it’s often overlooked, but certain players raise their level of play when lining up next to certain teammates.

“We’ll mix and match and also see who plays well together,” Fisher said. “Sometimes people don’t look at that. Some guys play better beside certain guys, and creating those packages is going to be critical.”
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Preseason camp begins with five days of heat acclimation, but that doesn't mean there is a nearly week-long grace period for Florida State. Not when the Seminoles are in pursuit of consecutive national championships.

New linebackers coach Bill Miller was already adjusted to head coach Jimbo Fisher's "attitude of domination" standard at the onset of the Seminoles' first practice of fall camp. When a freshman linebacker didn't perform a warm-up drill correctly, Miller sent him back to the front of a line with a not-so-subtle message to do it better next time.

"I liked the intensity of practice. It was very good competition, guys getting after each other, competing with each other, for the most part knowing what to do," Fisher said.

Although players were not in pads Monday, Fisher was encouraged by what he saw. With the mandated restriction on pads -- Florida State's first two-a-day will be Saturday -- the first day of practice was an opportunity for the Seminoles to work on alignments, assignments and execution.

Fisher expressed a little disappointment in how the passing game performed -- he called the quarterbacks' execution "very average" -- but he acknowledged it was the first time the group had a defensive line charging at them in four months. And when you return Jameis Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, there is little reason for long-term concern.

Once baseball season ended, Fisher forced Winston to take a couple of weeks off to ease the demands on his star player's body. The result was a Winston who is much fresher than he was entering the 2013 season and a smarter player under center. When Winston was kept from the field, he used it as an opportunity to fine-tune his mechanics.

"He was very anxious to get better fundamentally. He did a lot of film study with his footwork and working on his release and quickening things up," Fisher said.

Coupled with an energized Winston, the first few days of practice should go smoother this season because of the lack of roster turnover on the offense line and a defensive scheme that remains largely unchanged. The offensive line has five seniors and more than 100 starts among them, and new defensive coordinator Charles Kelly is executing the same defensive scheme as predecessor Jeremy Pruitt. Kelly was the Seminoles' linebackers coach in 2013. While Florida State has to replace defensive leaders Timmy Jernigan, Lamarcus Joyner and Telvin Smith, there is a knowledge that should allow the new starters to transition quickly to their roles.

"It's the second year on defense of exactly the [same] system we're running, so I think the knowledge is increased," Fisher said. "The young guys will know more because the older guys can help them. Last year early, the older guys couldn't help them because they were learning it for the first time, too."

There is a belief those younger players will crack the rotation and make an impact at some point in 2014, possibly for the Aug. 30 opener against Oklahoma State. Freshman receivers Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph, recovered from offseason foot surgery, look physically impressive, and there is an opportunity for playing time on the defensive line; the Seminoles have seven freshmen defensive linemen, and Fisher said "there's not one you'd throw back."

Linebacker Terrance Smith smiled when asked about the big bodies accompanying their new faces.

"This is probably the biggest group of freshmen we've had in a long time," he said. "Me as a linebacker, I'm not complaining because we got some big D-Linemen in front of me."

Notes: Sophomore receiver Jesus "Bobo" Wilson remains indefinitely suspended following a Monday meeting with Fisher. Wilson is practicing and should return during the season, but Fisher sounded as if Wilson will not play in the opener. ... Linebacker Ukeme Eligwe (Lisfranc injury) is not practicing, but Fisher said Eligwe is ahead of schedule. Nile Lawrence-Stample (shoulder surgery) is practicing but will be eased back into contact. ... A few players wrote on Twitter that Sunday would be their last day tweeting until the season ends. Fisher said it was a team initiative and he did not ask his team to quit social media until the season ended. However, Fisher did say Florida State does monitor what its players and the athletes it is recruiting say on social media.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher smiled at the ACC Kickoff when asked about the potential pitfalls of being the assumed preseason No. 1 team.

“I’d much rather be there than think we can’t win,” Fisher quipped.

Well, the first preseason poll was released Thursday, and, as expected, the Seminoles sit atop the Amway Coaches Poll with 56 of 62 first-place votes. Florida State also opened as the odds-on favorite in Las Vegas to win the inaugural College Football Playoff; has a 40 percent chance to finish the regular season undefeated, according to the ESPN Stats & Information Football Power Index (FPI; and returns the Heisman winner in quarterback Jameis Winston.

Expectations are piling on top of Florida State -- the FPI expects a 17-point margin of victory in every game -- and coaches who have been through it before know the mounting pressure can suffocate even the most talented teams.

Boston College coach Steve Addazio was the offensive coordinator at Florida in 2009 and witnessed first-hand how outside expectations can weigh on a program. The Gators were coming off a national championship and returned Tim Tebow, fabricating a false sense of reality among fans and media. Simply winning the game was not going to satiate those who expected weekly perfection. With a two-time national champion coach and quarterback, they surmised Florida should cakewalk through its schedule.

When the Gators failed to blow out teams at the onset of SEC play, each week the tensions heightened exponentially and would boil over into the locker room during halftime of games with Florida players shouting at each other. And they would be winning, Addazio said.

“You cannot let your team take that poison pill and worry about how much they win by,” said Addazio, adding one offensive lineman even suffered hair loss from the 2009 season’s stresses. “When you’re a national championship-caliber team, you have the high expectation level and managing that with your team so they keep the focus on the here and now, that’s what’s important.”

Fisher won a national championship at LSU in 2003, but the Tigers had a remodeled offense in 2004 and began the season ranked No. 3 in the Coaches Poll. USC was also crowned the 2003 champion in the final Associated Press poll, mitigating a majority of the pressures that accompanied LSU’s title.

This season is not entirely unique in Tallahassee, however, where wire-to-wire No. 1 seasons and national title defenses were not uncommon in the 1990s under former coach Bobby Bowden. Florida State was the preseason No. 1 three times under Bowden, including 1993 and 1999. The Seminoles won the national title in both those seasons, and they went wire-to-wire in 1999. Florida State and USC (the Associated Press title was not vacated) are the only teams to be ranked No. 1 the entire season in the history of the AP poll since the inception of preseason rankings in 1950.

“The thing about preseason No. 1 is you can’t sneak up on anybody,” Bowden said this summer. “Every team you play, they’re telling their boys ‘We’re playing No. 1 in the nation’ and they get sky high for that one. You got to be ready to play.”

Mickey Andrews served as defensive coordinator for nearly three decades under Bowden, and he believes Fisher is ridding the program of complacency in the same fashion he and Bowden did during the Seminoles’ 14-year run of consecutive top-five finishes.

Andrews said they were always acutely aware of which players would be counted on the following season and consciously made an effort to give them playing time during the meaningful portions of games. Bowden expected his eventual starters to contribute like a first-team player the season prior so Bowden would be confident the following season.

It also created an edge in practice during the season. A starter’s job had to be earned every week in practice lest a motivated backup steal the role on Saturdays.

“You got to sell them on great preparation being the key to great performance, and then they got to buy into it,” Andrews said. “A lot of times the people we practiced against was better than those we’d play against. We’d go first against first, even during the weeks of games. We’d have coaches come in and ask how we got them to practice so hard, and we’d say if they don’t, then they won’t play.”

The distinction between 2014 and the previous two seasons following a Florida State national title is this is the first time the Seminoles were ranked No. 1 the ensuing season. Andre Wadsworth, a member of the 1993 and 1994 teams, said that puts a little more pressure on this current group of Seminoles.

Fisher and his team don’t look like a team saddled by expectations yet, and they’re saying all the right things, refusing to use the word defend and celebrating the opportunity at the potential of a second national title completely exclusive from the first.

Fisher likes to say each team has a one-year life expectancy, but dynasties are expected to live much longer.

FSU No. 1 in coaches' poll

July, 31, 2014
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Surprise, surprise -- Florida State is the preseason No. 1 team in the Amway Coaches Poll.

The Seminoles received 56 of the 62 first-place votes as they enter 2014 looking to repeat as national champions.

Clemson and North Carolina were the only other ACC teams to be ranked, coming in at Nos. 16 and 23, respectively. For those keeping track, that means UNC is the only team from the Coastal Division to be ranked in the poll. This comes after Miami was chosen by the media in Greensboro, North Carolina, last week as the preseason Coastal favorite, in the same poll that saw Duke receive the most first-place Coastal votes. It is worth repeating again: This division race is wide open.

Notre Dame, which begins its football affiliation with the ACC this fall, checks in at No. 17 in the coaches' poll.

Miami leads the ACC contingent in the "others receiving votes" category of the coaches' poll, coming in at No. 34 overall. Right behind the Hurricanes? Duke and Louisville, at Nos. 35 and 36, respectively. Virginia Tech comes in at No. 40 while Georgia Tech is No. 48.

Half of the ACC's coaches vote in the poll: Frank Beamer, David Cutcliffe, Larry Fedora, Jimbo Fisher, Al Golden, Paul Johnson and Dabo Swinney. Notre Dame's Brian Kelly votes as well. Shockingly, all eight of those coaches saw their teams receive votes.

ACC's lunchtime links

July, 30, 2014
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In the spring, Syracuse coach Scott Shafer said he was looking forward to seeing a new and improved Wayne Williams ready to tackle fall practice.

I'd say these photos are proof of that.

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The picture on the left was taken in January, when Williams enrolled at Syracuse and weighed close to 350 pounds. The picture on the right is what he looks like now. Though Williams did not say how much weight he has dropped, it appears to be a significant amount.

A new and improved Williams indeed.

Why is this important? Williams' development is a huge key for a Syracuse defensive line that has to address major depth issues when practice begins Saturday. Syracuse has to replace tackle Jay Bromley, who led the team with 10 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss last season. Williams was so out of shape in the spring, he could not really contribute in a meaningful way, and the Orange ended up cross-training ends to play inside to help make up for depth concerns.

An in-shape Williams changes the picture dramatically. Syracuse has been waiting on him for years now, a talented prospect who has been frustratingly out of reach. But now that it appears Williams has taken the necessary steps to get himself into playing shape, the Orange defensive front could end up surprising some people.

Now, here is a look at more headlines across the ACC:
 
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Jameis Winston's dad and his coach have said this season won’t be the reigning Heisman Trophy winner’s last at Florida State, but the Seminoles’ star quarterback isn’t willing to go that far.

Winston, a redshirt sophomore and eligible for the 2015 draft, dodged the question when asked at the ACC Kickoff.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreJameis Winston is focused on the 2014 season, not any decisions he'll face after it.
"Well you know, four years, I can't really focus on that right now. I can't tell you about the past, I can't tell you about the future, but I can tell you about right now,” he said. “Right now it's about us developing as a team, us having another successful season, us getting the young guys regrouped, watching film, getting them doing their thing because I can't predict the future."

Throughout the spring, Fisher cautioned that it was not a foregone conclusion Winston would depart for the NFL following the 2014 season. Winston’s dad, Antonor, told AL.com last month that Winston will play two more seasons of football and remain in school “until he gets that degree.”

A talented baseball player, Winston closed for the Seminoles’ baseball team this past spring. At the ACC Kickoff, Winston was asked if he would prefer to go to the NFL straight out of high school. High school players are eligible for the MLB draft. Winston was the No. 1 quarterback in the Class of 2012, although he acknowledges he would not have been prepared for the NFL without spending a few seasons in college.

"With baseball, they have so many leagues that develop them into being that players that they want, the minor leagues. There aren't that many Bryce Harpers in the world that can go at 17 and play in the [minor leagues],” Winston said. “Football, it's a team-oriented sport. This game is so strategic. I respect that we can't leap into the NFL. … We know before you go up there, you have to be truly ready. Baseball is more individual based.”

The movement to compensate college student-athletes in revenue sports is reaching a tipping point with the conference autonomy and the O’Bannon trial, but Winston isn’t interested in profiting off his likeness just yet. Florida State recently made its redesigned jerseys for sale, and Winston’s No. 5 jersey is on the front page of the athletic department’s official online store.

The No. 1 player on Mel Kiper’s 2015 Big Board, Winston said he is fine waiting for his payday.

"One thing about college is we're blessed to get a free education. That's the most important thing college gives you,” Winston said. “… My job as a Florida State Seminole is to be a good student first and an athlete second. So that scholarship we get every year, that's enough money for me. My love is for the game and one day, hopefully, god willing, I will have the opportunity to have football as my job and baseball being my job."
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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- In between breaking down pass-rushers and drawing up passing trees, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher wanted to watch some basketball. Last month’s NBA Finals provided little drama, so he loaded Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals onto the screen. The "Flu Game."

This wasn’t a reprieve from preparations for the 2014 season, though. This was a lesson in history, one that will have a profound impact on the Seminoles’ 2014 season, Fisher believes. He didn’t so much wonder how Michael Jordan played through the flu-like symptoms, but why.

Why did Joe Montana play through six concussions? Why did Larry Bird refuse to retire from a back injury so bad that his surgeon was bewildered as to how he played through it?

“We study guys who had attitudes of domination who won for long periods of time -- Joe Montana, John Elway repeated, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson,” Fisher says. “Those guys all had that killer instinct and were guys who wanted to be on top, stayed on top, and one championship wasn't enough.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonJimbo Fisher said that Florida State's biggest obstacle in 2014 may not be an opponent, but complacency.
“A picture’s worth 1,000 words. Your actions speak, your drive, your commitment to excellence. Michael Jordan, you never saw him not play to the max, and that, to me, to the players, sends a message. It’s a constant education to me, to these kids, to get them to think in that type of mold, because it’s human nature to win and relax.”

There are certainly questions on Florida State’s roster, but it is still considered the best in the country. Where the Seminoles could trip up is mentally, an aspect of the game Fisher has worked so hard to strengthen within his program. He’s spent the past year praising the 2013 team for its work ethic and desire to return the Seminoles to the pinnacle of the sport they once dominated.

Now that they’re there, the next task -- admittedly his toughest yet -- is keeping the Seminoles there. So if you happen upon Fisher wandering through the Florida State library, it’s because he is looking for a book on a very specific topic. He’s soliciting suggestions, but perusing the bestsellers list and Oprah’s book club will be fruitless. The coach needs reading material on how to maintain the Seminoles' status as one of college football’s elite programs.

"Can't find many books on it,” Fisher says. “All of them talk about how to get there, not many of them talk about how to stay there.”

He’s turned to friend and confidant Nick Saban, who mentored Fisher during their time at LSU. Saban won the national championship at Alabama in January 2010, but a talented team failed to meet expectations during the 2010 season. Saban found the formula again, however, and the Tide won the title after the 2011 season; they repeated the next year.

As the confetti fell in Pasadena, California, in January when Fisher won his first national championship, the two coaches sat on the "College GameDay" set. They celebrated, they reminisced but, most importantly, they advised.

“He said, ‘Now you got some challenges, now is when the problems start,’ and I understood that,” Fisher recalls of their conversation inside the Rose Bowl. “He’s been through it, and he fixed it after a while, didn’t he? He had that one year and then came back and did it twice.”

But Saban isn’t going to spell it out for Fisher -- even Saban is constantly tinkering to quell complacency. They’re friends, but increasingly they have become rivals. Florida State is the biggest threat to end an Alabama dynasty that has three of the final five BCS crystal balls in a trophy room in Tuscaloosa.

Fisher says he believes he has a Jordan in Tallahassee, Florida: quarterback Jameis Winston, a player who wants to win two more than he wants to win one. The redshirt sophomore won a national championship and a Heisman Trophy before losing a game, which he still has yet to do. Winston says a loss is “definitely not in our vocabulary.”

With Winston, Fisher is confident that the “attitude of domination” has been instilled throughout the program, which means there is not as much of that annual concern as to whether his current team has the needed motivation for a national title run. What Fisher still needs to discern is how the 2014 team is different from last season’s. He has an idea, but the pads won’t come on for another two weeks, and two-a-day practices have not worn down this particular squad yet. One of the underrated aspects of being the head coach is identifying the personality and drive of a team, Fisher says, and pushing the wrong buttons at the wrong time can derail a season.

“There’s no formula for it,” Fisher says. “I think it evolves and don’t think you ever have the answer. It’s a constant battle that challenges you all the time. That’s one of the things that makes it so hard to duplicate that success. You’re constantly fighting that battle.”
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- There was quite a different feel around the ACC Kickoff this season. More swagger, more puffed out chests, more bravado.

All those years of BCS misery? Almost like they never happened. Losing bowl record last season? Forgotten. How about that losing record against power-five conference teams? Nope, not going to talk about that. Because the ACC is now home to the national champions, and everybody in the ACC did their best to remind us all over two days.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsFSU's national title has given a confidence boost to the ACC.
Florida State permeated every single conversation, its national championship win serving as a national championship win for all. Its momentous victory meant fist pumps around the room. Duke coach David Cutcliffe, whose team lost to Florida State in the ACC championship game by 38 points, might have summarized the mood best when he was asked about the Seminoles’ championship.

“Go Noles!” he shouted.

Anybody think Coach K shouted, “Go Heels!” when North Carolina won its national title a few years back?

The dynamic in football is obviously different. There are rivalries, yes, but there also is a brotherhood among these coaches, steeped in their determination to make the ACC shed its “basketball conference” label. They have all shared in the pain over the past 10 years, watching the SEC exert its dominance while the ACC was left to answer questions about why it was always a step behind.

They all promised their day would come, selling the league hard to anybody who would listen. Jimbo Fisher has been one of their loudest defenders, his stock line: “There is really good football in this league!”

People used to roll their eyes. But now, finally, there are believers. Finally, the national conversation has flipped from, "Who can take down the SEC?" to "Who can take down Florida State?"

Without a doubt, the ACC deserves this moment. Winning national championships should come with a shot of confidence and an infusion of new energy. So what if it felt like some of the coaches were reciting a list of carefully scripted, neatly orchestrated talking points? Talking points, by the way, that John Swofford recited in his Commissioner Forum media event, perhaps hoping to set the tone for the Kickoff.

Every league coach should revel in the victory. They should use those talking points on the recruiting trail. Do you want to play against the best? Well, the best is right here, in the ACC.

Now, one championship does not make a league, nor does it change the perception that the ACC is not yet among the top three conferences in the country. There has to be consistency. The SEC did not earn its reputation based on one national championship alone, or one team alone carrying the flag for the conference.

Everybody else in the league needs to step up their level of play. Everybody else in the league needs to start winning its elite nonconference matchups. A national championship, a BCS bowl win, and 11 bowl teams are obviously a terrific start. But it cannot end there.

All this bravado and swagger need to be translated into results on the football field. Confidence needs to be channeled into momentum. Having bragging rights now is great. But the ACC knows it has to find a way to hang onto those bragging rights, so that every year it can beat its chest just a little bit louder.

ACC's lunchtime links

July, 21, 2014
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Make sure to check out our live coverage of ACC media day starting at 1:30 p.m.! Follow @ESPN_ACC, @DavidHaleESPN, @Matt_Fortuna and @JShankerESPN for all our coverage.

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