- David M. Hale, College football
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- At long last, college football is here, and while Florida State still must wait a few extra days before kicking off its season against Pittsburgh, it's never too early to throw out some wild speculation. With that in mind, we're making our predictions for the 2013 season. Feel free to point out our mistakes in December.
Most Valuable Freshman: Is there any answer possible other than Jameis Winston? The only problem is, no one who knows Florida State's new starting quarterback will admit that he looks like a freshman, and the hype surrounding him certainly wouldn't indicate he'd never taken a snap in a college game. Nevertheless, he's the heavy favorite in this category for good reason.
Most Valuable Non-Winston Freshman: Scrap the big-name quarterback from the discussion, and the competition gets a bit more interesting. Florida State's young wide receivers should all see action, along with linebackers Matthew Thomas and E.J. Levenberry and tailback Ryan Green. But by year's end, it'll be cornerback Jalen Ramsey who makes the biggest impact of any of the true freshmen. He's worked his way up the depth chart to assume a top backup role in spite of massive competition. And with injury concerns surrounding Ronald Darby, Ramsey's playing time could grow quickly.
Biggest Surprise: It's been 17 years -- the longest stretch in the country -- but this is the season a Florida State running back finally cracks the 1,000-yard mark. In fact, to make up for lost time, both James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman will do it. Jimbo Fisher wants to run more to take the pressure off Winston, and the competition for carries won't be nearly as stiff as it was a year ago, when the pair combined for 1,347 yards.
Biggest Disappointment: There's seemingly universal enthusiasm about the new defensive scheme from coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, and it's a system that should provide some big plays along the way. But it's a complex scheme, too, and odds are the learning curve will last beyond opening week. The blitzing and aggressive style should offer some highlight-reel hits, but will likely result in some busted coverages and ugly moments, too. Matching the success of the past two seasons will be a tall order.
Breakout Star: Wilder and Mario Edwards Jr. already have some box office cache because of their lineage, but both should make a name for themselves in 2013. But for a real breakout prospect, watch for cornerback P.J. Williams, who won a starting job amid fierce competition in the secondary. He's incredibly talented, and Fisher raves about his NFL potential.
Under-Appreciated Star: For a team with as much buzz as Florida State, it doesn't seem like there should be too many under-the-radar stars, but there's ample competition for this award. Rashad Greene, Tyler Hunter, Demonte McAllister, the interior linemen and a handful of others could rightfully call themselves under-appreciated, but at year's end, the man with the most out-of-whack impact-to-hype ratio will be Telvin Smith. He gets overshadowed on his own defense by a host of big names, but ask anyone in Florida State's locker room whose voice carries the most weight, and the results will be unanimous: Smith.
Top Prospect: FSU had 11 players drafted last year, including three in the first round. That doesn't mean the Seminoles won't send a slew of players to the NFL again in next year's draft. A handful of players -- Cameron Erving, Timmy Jernigan, Lamarcus Joyner -- have first-round talent, but by year's end, the FSU player most likely to be hovering near the top of draft boards will be linebacker Christian Jones, whose diverse skill set and immense athleticism will be put to far better use in Pruitt's system this season.
MVP Offense: If all goes well for FSU, there will be plenty of options here, but the safe bet is Greene. He's led the Seminoles in receiving yards each of his first two seasons, but 2013 could still be a breakout year. He was targeted an average of 5.4 times per game in 2012, but there will be far fewer reliable options in the passing game in 2013, and that number could go up dramatically. If it does, look out. He led FSU receivers in completion percentage (75 percent) and is among the top scorers in the nation, finding the end zone once every eight touches in his career.
MVP Defense: This might be the toughest decision, but given his versatility, his leadership and his role in Pruitt's scheme, Joyner is the best bet. His decision to return for his senior year was a boon for FSU, and his move to corner should showcase his skill set nicely. His size may still hinder his draft stock, but no one will be able to argue with his production.
Bowl Destination: A look at the schedule shows three significant matchups -- at Clemson, vs. Miami and at Florida. It wouldn't be a surprise if FSU took two of three, but the problem is that Fisher somehow manages to also lose one he shouldn't. Will this be the year Florida State doesn't have an ugly slip-up? If it is, a BCS bowl game awaits. We'll say FSU vs. Louisville in the Orange Bowl.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- At long last, college football is here, and while Florida State still must wait a few extra days before kicking off its season against Pittsburgh, it's never too early to throw out some wild speculation.