Mark May recaps Florida State's win over Auburn in the title game.
Florida State finished off a spectacular season with a national championship, and with Jameis Winston, Rashad Greene, Jalen Ramsey and a host of other stars returning for 2014, the expectations for next season are already sky high.

So if FSU is going to repeat as national champs, what are the big stumbling blocks on the road ahead? We take a look at the top five.

1. Rebuilding the defensive line.

[+] EnlargeTimmy Jernigan
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsWith Timmy Jernigan heading to the NFL, Florida State will have a big hole to fill in the middle of its line.
With Timmy Jernigan leaving early for the NFL draft -- he’s widely considered a top-15 pick — Florida State will have a huge hole in the middle of the line. But the Seminoles also need to find someone to rush off the edge, as Christian Jones did throughout the season and develop some depth after waving goodbye to Demonte McAllister and Dan Hicks. Nile Lawrence-Stample, Matthew Thomas and others could fill those voids, but it will be incumbent on emerging stars Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman to step up their games, too.

2. Developing new receivers.

It wasn’t a huge surprise, but it was nevertheless a relief when Greene decided to return for his senior season. Florida State’s receiving corps was exceptional in 2013, but it wasn’t deep. Kenny Shaw is moving on, and Kelvin Benjamin could follow. That leaves Greene as FSU’s only established, consistent receiver. Isaiah Jones, Jesus Wilson and Kermit Whitfield all got a taste of playing time in 2013, but they’ll need to do a lot more next season.

3. Finding new leaders on defense.

This might be the toughest task for Florida State. Telvin Smith, Lamarcus Joyner, Terrence Brooks, Jones and Jernigan weren’t simply the defensive standouts on the field, they were the heart and soul of the unit in the locker room. There’s still plenty of talent remaining on the unit, but no one who has had to step up and galvanize a locker room or push the younger players to work harder. Finding leaders on that side of the ball — Edwards, Goldman, Terrance Smith and Ronald Darby, perhaps — will be crucial to maintaining the unit’s immense production in 2014.

4. Managing the schedule.

If the knock on Florida State this season was that it wasn’t tested until the title game, the concern for 2014 might be that there are simply too many big tests. The Seminoles open in Dallas against Oklahoma State, but also have Clemson, Louisville, Notre Dame, Miami and Florida before the season is out. If this title was a victory for the ACC’s legitimacy on a national stage, the 2014 slate for Florida State only underscores how much tougher winning the league will be going forward.

5. Handling the hype.

It’s one thing to win when no one is expecting it. Winning when everyone has you pegged as No. 1 is a whole other challenge. Florida State will enjoy its national championship now, but in 2014, everyone will be gunning for the Seminoles, and the media scrutiny will be immense. Can Winston go a full offseason as a Heisman winner and national champion and not waver from his commitment to getting better? Can the coaching staff maintain that same level of dedication from a group that already has a title on its résumé? There’s a reason so few teams repeat as champions. It’s really hard to do.

Timmy Jernigan leaving for NFL

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan will forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft.

Jernigan led Florida State with 11 tackles for loss in 2013, his first year as a full-time starter, and he was regarded as a strong run stuffer up the middle. Jernigan is widely projected as a first-round selection in this year's NFL draft and is rated as the No. 7 overall player by ESPN's Scouts, Inc.

"I feel I am the most versatile defensive lineman in the draft," Jernigan told ESPN's Joe Schad. "Some team will get an athletic, hard-working lineman who attacks, plays smart and doesn't come off the field."

Jernigan was essential in quieting Auburn's up-tempo running game during the middle of Monday's VIZIO BCS National Championship, allowing Florida State to chip away at a 21-3 deficit. When he was sidelined late in the fourth quarter, the Tigers quickly marched down the field for a score.

Jernigan started just two games in his first two seasons with Florida State but was a regular contributor off the bench. As a freshman in 2011, he recorded 30 tackles, including six for a loss, then added to those totals in 2012 with 46 tackles and eight for a loss.

Jernigan finished this season with 63 tackles, including 4.5 sacks and was a second-team AP All-American.

Junior running back James Wilder Jr. has also declared for the draft, while receiver Rashad Greene and offensive linemen Tre Jackson and Cameron Erving announced they would return for 2014.

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ACC's lunch links

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
Fun fact: With Bobby Petrino taking over at Louisville, six of the ACC’s 14 coaches either coached or were coordinators at SEC schools.

Hiring Petrino certainly comes with its share of risks, writes the Louisville Courier-Journal, but the rewards are even greater.

Nevertheless, some members of the Louisville Athletics Association have some questions about the hire.

I imagine folks in Tallahassee will have fun debating this for a while: Which Florida State national title team was the best? The Tallahassee Democrat weighs in.

Did Auburn have Florida State’s signs in the national championship game? Tomahawk Nation dishes out some evidence that the Tigers knew what was coming.

Syracuse’s 2014 schedule doesn’t project to be a cake walk, writes the Troy Nunes Blog.

Anthony Chickillo will be back for 2014 at Miami, but the Al Golden mystery lives on, writes the Miami Herald.

The Roanoke Times looks back on Logan Thomas’ up-and-down final season at Virginia Tech.

One ACC team cracked Athlon’s list of programs on the rise for 2014.

Athlon also put together a list of the top first-year coaches from this season, and fittingly, Boston College’s Steve Addazio makes the cut.

Pitt has a new strength and conditioning coach, writes the Post-Gazette.

CSS Sports takes an end-of-season look at the numbers from the ACC’s bowl games.
National signing day is approaching quickly. With three official visit weekends remaining before Feb. 5, here is a look at a number of prospects who could flip to and/or from SEC schools in the coming weeks.

Florida commit Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla./Homestead): Lane, No. 28 in the ESPN 300, is scheduled to officially visit national champion Florida State with the Gators fighting hard to keep the uber-talented wide receiver. The flip from Florida to the Seminoles by Dalvin Cook (Miami/Central High), the nation’s No. 20 prospect, makes the chore even tougher for the Gators

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Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher just led the Seminoles to a perfect season and a national championship, doing so in the shadow of Bobby Bowden and every naysayer who wondered whether this program would return to the top.

So now the question becomes: Is Fisher an elite level coach? Does winning a championship automatically vault him into that conversation?

It is a debate worth having when you consider what Fisher accomplished this season. Not only did he win every single game, he helped guide a redshirt freshman quarterback to the Heisman Trophy, and made it look like his completely revamped coaching staff had been working together for years. Oh, and he produced an even better team than the one that lost a record 11 picks to the NFL a year ago.

Looking back, it is hard to believe the two biggest questions headed into this season revolved around Jameis Winston and the new staff. Those were never liabilities but terrific assets throughout the course of the season. Winston proved his worth and so did defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, whose new, aggressive scheme took full advantage of the athletes he had on his side of the ball. Fisher deserves credit for not making one bad hire in the bunch -- another sign of a good coach.

Now, you can say the significant pay raise Fisher received (now in the $4-million club) and interest from Texas already have him in the elite coaching club. His success has been validated in both ways.

But it still feels as if his efforts this past season were somewhat overshadowed.

Fisher won zero national coach of the year awards and was not really considered for ACC Coach of the Year honors, either. Much of that has to do with the position itself. When you coach at Florida State, you are expected to win -- even when you start the year ranked No. 11. This is to take nothing away from the coaching jobs David Cutcliffe and Gus Malzahn did at their respective schools. There were many outstanding coaching jobs done across the country this season worthy of recognition.

But it also is true that doing the unexpected draws much more national attention. Duke, Auburn and Missouri had stunning seasons. Florida State went 14-0 but the reaction was not, ‘Surprise!’ It was more along the lines of, ‘It’s about time!’

Fisher has had to live with a reputation for not being the strongest play caller, one that he seemed to put away throughout the course of 2013. But those concerns showed up again in the BCS national title game, when he was outcoached for the first half by Malzahn and the Auburn staff. Once again, to his credit, Fisher made the necessary adjustments and helped steady Winston enough to win the game.

Fisher has had two of the best mentors in the business in Nick Saban and Bowden, but he has developed into his own man with his own identity. Fisher already has equaled them in undefeated seasons -- they all have one. It only took Fisher four seasons as a head coach to get there, compared to 14 for Saban and 34 for Bowden.

If Fisher keeps winning, he will continue to be mentioned with them but for a different reason. Instead of following behind them, he could end up being right in step with them.

ACC all-bowl team

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
Bowl season was kind to the ACC in a few games (Florida State and Clemson won BCS games), not-so-kind in a few others (Miami, Virginia Tech, we're looking at you) and at least one was a little of both (can we get Texas A&M and Duke every year?). But now that it's all over, we're honoring the best individual performances in the ACC with our all-bowl team.


QB: Tajh Boyd, Clemson: The big stage hadn't been kind to Boyd through most of 2013, but on the first day of 2014, he was exceptional. Boyd accounted for 505 yards and six touchdowns in a Discover Orange Bowl win over Ohio State, giving the ACC two BCS bowl game victors.

RB: James Conner, Pittsburgh: The freshman tailback carried 26 times against Bowling Green, blowing past Tony Dorsett for the Pitt bowl game record with 229 yards on the ground. For good measure, Conner chipped in on the defensive line for a few snaps, too.

RB: Devonta Freeman, Florida State: It wasn't the most spectacular performance of bowl season -- Freeman wasn't even the best running back on the field in the BCS title game -- but his hard running early kept FSU from falling too far behind, and his final tally -- 11 carries for 73 yards and a TD -- helped Freeman become the first FSU running back since Warrick Dunn to top 1,000 yards on the season.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesOhio State wasn't able to catch Sammy Watkins, as the Clemson WR set multiple Orange Bowl receiving records.
WR: Sammy Watkins, Clemson: Watkins made his last game in a Clemson uniform one to remember, catching an Orange Bowl record 16 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns despite battling an injury for half the game.

WR: Jamison Crowder, Duke: Ho-hum, another 12 catches for 163 yards and a touchdown for Crowder, who turned in one last stellar performance to cap an exceptional season for the Blue Devils.

WR: Rashad Greene, Florida State: The Seminoles' dramatic comeback against Auburn in the BCS championship game wouldn't have been possible without Greene's big day. He was the only FSU receiver with positive yardage in the first half of the game, and his 49-yard reception -- he dodged two tacklers and picked up most of that yardage after the catch -- was the key play on FSU's dramatic last-minute, game-winning drive.

TE: Braxton Deaver, Duke: The junior had six catches for 116 yards, including three grabs that went for 25 yards or more and five that went for first downs.

OL: Dorian Johnson, Pitt: The Panthers simply overwhelmed Bowling Green's defensive front in the Little Caesars Bowl, racking up 487 yards of offense, including 255 on the ground. (Ed. note: We mistakenly included Matt Rotherham here in an initial post. Johnson slid from tackle to guard for the game, replacing Rotherham, and the Pitt line didn't miss a beat. We apologize for the error.)

OL: Jon Heck, North Carolina: Cincinnati entered the Belk Bowl second in the AAC in sacks with 35, but the Bearcats couldn't get to UNC QB Marquise Williams, as the Tar Heels' offense racked up 39 points -- the second-most Cincinnati gave up all season.

OL: Laken Tomlinson, Duke: The Blue Devils racked up 661 yards of total offense and 29 first downs against Texas A&M, with the offensive line -- led by Tomlinson -- paving the way for a 300-yard passer and a 100-yard rusher.

OL: Tre' Jackson, Florida State: Yes, the Seminoles' line allowed four sacks in the game, but Jackson and Co. also helped FSU run for more yards per carry (4.8) than the vaunted Auburn ground game and provided Jameis Winston with plenty of time to throw on a dramatic game-winning drive in the final minute.

C: Macky MacPherson, Syracuse: The Orange rushed for 208 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner with 1:14 left, to knock off Minnesota in the Texas Bowl. The physically dominant performance on the line was a fitting conclusion to MacPherson's Syracuse career.


DE: Mario Edwards Jr., FSU: Edwards had one sack and three tackles for loss among his six total tackles for a Seminoles front that turned it up a notch in the second half, allowing the offense to catch up and ultimately escape with the win.

DT: Andre Monroe, Maryland: The Terrapins' finale as an ACC member ended on a sour note with a 31-20 loss to Marshall in the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman. Monroe tied for a game-high with 10 total tackles, three of which went for a loss, one of which was a sack. Monroe added a quarterback hurry as well.

DT: Aaron Donald, Pitt: With one more game to go in a historic season, Donald did not disappoint. The senior closed out his career with two tackles for loss, including one sack, to go with a pass break-up in the Panthers' 30-27 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl win over Bowling Green. Donald's sack came on second down of the Falcons' final drive, all but sealing the win.

DE: Vic Beasley, Clemson: Beasley was part of a Tigers front that made life extremely difficult for Braxton Miller and the rest of the Ohio State backfield. Beasley recorded four tackles for loss and a sack among his five total tackles, and in the end Clemson's defense proved to be the difference in a shootout win.

LB: Norkeithus Otis, UNC: The Tar Heels capped their strong second half with a bang, routing Cincinnati 39-17 in the Belk Bowl to make them 6-1 over their last seven games. Otis tallied seven total tackles -- two for loss and one sack among them -- to go with two quarterback hurries.

LB: Jack Tyler, Virginia Tech: UCLA proved to be too much for the Hokies in a 42-12 win in the Hyundai Sun Bowl, but Tyler played well, totaling seven tackles, including half of a sack, to go with one pass break-up and one quarterback hurry.

[+] EnlargeP.J. Williams
AP Photo/Gregory BullP.J. Williams' interception was the big break Florida State needed to create in its come-from-behind victory over Auburn in the BCS title game.
LB: Cameron Lynch, Syracuse: The Orange finished a successful first season in the ACC by topping Minnesota 21-17 in the Texas Bowl. Lynch, a junior, tied for a team-high with eight stops, with most of his big plays coming behind the line of scrimmage. He had two tackles for loss, one sack and a forced fumble to help Syracuse go 7-4 after an 0-2 start in coach Scott Shafer's first year.

DB: P.J. Williams, FSU: The defensive MVP from the Vizio BCS National Championship came up huge when it mattered most, picking off Auburn's Nick Marshall early in the fourth quarter to set up a touchdown that cut the Tigers' lead to one. Williams finished with seven total tackles and 0.5 tackles for loss.

DB: Jemea Thomas, Georgia Tech: Thomas ended his college career with a bang, totaling a game-high 15 tackles. Three of those stops were behind the line of scrimmage, including one sack.

DB: D.J. White, GT: The Yellow Jackets get two more years of White, a future that looked all the brighter in the 25-17 loss to Ole Miss in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. White finished with 13 total tackles, two forced fumbles, one interception and three pass break-ups.

DB: Bryce Jones, Boston College: The Eagles' turnaround campaign under Steve Addazio ended on a down note, falling to Arizona 42-19 in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl, but Jones was a bright spot, with the sophomore notching a team-high 12 tackles, including one for loss.


K: Chris Blewitt, Pitt: Blewitt went 3-for-4 for the Panthers in Detroit, connecting from 25, 28 and, most important, 39 yards with the game-winning kick with 1:17 left in Pitt's 30-27 win.

P: Tommy Hibbard, UNC: Hibbard was phenomenal for the Tar Heels, punting four times for an average of 44.2 yards per boot. He pinned Cincinnati inside its own 20 three different times, and he had a long of 59 yards in the win.

KR: Levonte Whitfield, FSU: At the time, Whitfield's 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown seemed as if it would go down as one of the greatest returns in BCS championship game history. The touchdown gave Florida State a 27-24 lead with 4:31 to play -- but the lead would change twice more before it was over. Whitfield finished the game with 172 return yards.

PR: Ryan Switzer, UNC: The Tar Heels had a huge day on special teams in a Belk Bowl win over Cincinnati, with Switzer -- an All-American -- leading the way, returning his fifth punt of the season for a touchdown.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Three key contributors to Florida State's national championship run will be back for 2014, the school announced Wednesday.

Offensive tackle Cameron Erving, guard Tre' Jackson and receiver Rashad Greene will return for their senior campaigns next season. Erving and Jackson are both two-year starters on the offensive line, while Greene has been Florida State's leading receiver for three straight seasons.

"We have something really special going on here at Florida State," Erving said in a statement released by the school. "I want to be a part of that. I want to mature and grow as a player before I make that big step to the NFL."

Greene's return is vital for Florida State's hopes of repeating its offensive success in 2014. With senior Kenny Shaw departing and redshirt sophomore Kelvin Benjamin projected as a potential first-round selection in the NFL draft, Greene's return allows for some stability within a receiving corps that figures to have a much different look next season. Greene caught nine passes for 147 yards in FSU's win over Auburn in the VIZIO BCS National Championship on Monday, including a 49-yard catch-and-run on the game-winning drive in the final minute of play.

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Winston: Baseball good for me

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8
[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/MCT/Getty ImagesJameis Winston was an outfielder and a relief pitcher for the Seminoles baseball team last spring.

A Heisman Trophy and a national championship weren't enough to deter Jameis Winston from his plans to be a star in two sports.

Winston reiterated Wednesday that he plans to play baseball again this spring in spite of his elevated celebrity after leading Florida State to a 34-31 win over Auburn in the VIZIO BCS National Championship on Monday.

Winston, who was named the winner of the 10th annual Manning Award on Wednesday, said baseball serves as an appropriate distraction as his off-the-field life grows busier.

"It keeps me busy instead of dealing with all the outside stuff and dealing with everything coming my way," Winston said. "I keep playing sports and I've got to keep my grades up, so I won't be focused on any outside things."

Winston played baseball last spring, too, serving as an outfielder and one of the Seminoles' top relief pitchers.

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Winston accuser eyes civil lawsuit

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8
[+] EnlargeWinston Sacked
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesThe lawyer for Jameis Winston's alleged rape accuser told ABC News her client will "absolutely" sue the Florida State quarterback and "possibly the university."

The woman who accused Jameis Winston of rape plans to file a civil lawsuit against the Florida State quarterback and the Tallahassee Police Department, her attorney told ABC News on Wednesday.

"I want heads to roll," Patricia Carroll said in an exclusive interview with ABC News.

"The family is proceeding, with civil action against the TPD and Jameis Winston. And possibly the university."

Last month, the Florida state attorney decided not to charge Winston, who had faced felony charges after being accused of sexually assaulting the woman, a Florida State student at the time, at an off-campus apartment on Dec. 7, 2012.

His attorney, Tim Jansen of Tallahassee, said Winston had consensual sex with the woman. But Carroll said Winston raped her 19-year-old client, who withdrew from classes after the allegations resurfaced in media reports.

Those allegations were initially reported to Tallahassee police nearly a year ago, but the investigation wasn't turned over to prosecutors until November.

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Jameis Winston wins Manning Award

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8

NEW ORLEANS -- Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has one more award to add to his collection.

Winston was announced Wednesday as the winner of the Manning Award, given annually to the nation's top quarterback. The award comes two days after Winston led Florida State to a 34-31 victory over Auburn in the BCS championship game.

"It means a lot just to have Manning next to my name, to have my name next to Manning, with the accolades that Peyton, Eli and Mr. (Archie) Manning have had in college and professional football," Winston said. "That makes me so happy. It really makes my day for me to be able to get announced as the winner of this award."

The Manning Award is the only annual quarterback award that takes a player's bowl performance into consideration. That distinguishes it from the Davey O'Brien Award, another honor given annually to the nation's top college quarterback. Winston, the Heisman Trophy winner, also was named the recipient of the Davey O'Brien Award last month.

At a teleconference announcing Winston as the winner, College Football Hall of Famer Archie Manning called Winston "the total package."

"He's got great command out there," Manning said. "He kind of scans the field. He's certainly capable of tucking it and running, but he doesn't do it too quick. He goes through his options. I just thought he showed so much in really his first year in big-time football there. This game, especially the quarterback position, it's about repetition and experience. And he led the team like he did in his first year as a starting quarterback, and rallied them (to) winning all their games and a national championship just speaks highly for him."

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Scene and Heard: Top 10 Predictions
In a conversation with ESPN's Antonietta Collins, national recruiting reporter Gerry Hamilton breaks down the recruiting momentum building at Auburn and offers predictions for where the top 10 recruits will commit.Tags: Trenton Thompson, Kerryon Johnson, Jeffery Holland, Martez Ivey, Torrance Gibson, Cece Jefferson, ESPN 300, RecruitingNation, high school football recruiting, Gerry Hamilton