Florida State Seminoles: james wilder jr

The NFL draft concluded with 42 ACC players selected last weekend, and a slew more ended up signing free-agent deals in the days afterward.

Here’s a quick rundown of where the ACC’s undrafted free agents landed.

BOSTON COLLEGE
QB Chase Rettig, Green Bay Packers
OLB Kasim Edebali, New Orleans Saints
LB Steele Divitto, New York Jets
OT Ian White, San Diego Chargers
OT Matt Patchan, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
DB Albert Louis-Jean, Chicago Bears

CLEMSON
K Chandler Catanzaro, Arizona Cardinals
G Tyler Shatley, Jacksonville Jaguars
LB Spencer Shuey, Jacksonville Jaguars
CB Darius Robinson, Buffalo Bills

DUKE
RB Juwan Thompson, Denver Broncos
DE Kenny Anunike, Denver Broncos

FLORIDA STATE
LB Christian Jones, Chicago Bears
RB James Wilder Jr., Cincinnati Bengals
WR Kenny Shaw, Cleveland Browns
FB Chad Abram, Detroit Lions
DT Demonte McAllister, Seattle Seahawks
DT Jacobbi McDaniel, Cleveland Browns

GEORGIA TECH
DT Euclid Cummings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
CB Lou Young, Denver Broncos
DE Emmanuel Dieke, New York Giants

LOUISVILLE
DT Roy Philon, Pittsburgh Steelers
S Hakeem Smith, Tennessee Titans
DT Brandon Dunn, Chicago Bears
WR Damian Copeland, Jacksonville Jaguars

MIAMI
WR Allen Hurns, Jacksonville Jaguars
QB Stephen Morris, Jacksonville Jaguars
TE Asante Cleveland, San Francisco 49ers
DT Justin Renfrow, Arizona Cardinals
FB Maurice Hagens, Atlanta Falcons
S A.J. Highsmith, San Francisco 49ers
OG Jared Wheeler, Carolina Panthers
LB Jimmy Gaines, Buffalo Bills

NORTH CAROLINA
OT James Hurst, Baltimore Ravens
QB Bryn Renner, Denver Broncos

NC STATE
DE Carlos Gray, Green Bay Packers
TE Asa Watson, New England Patriots
DL Deylan Buntyn, New England Patriots

PITTSBURGH
P Matt Yoklic, Atlanta Falcons

SYRACUSE
CB Keon Lyn, Indianapolis Colts
CB Ri’Shard Anderson, Tennessee Titans
RB Jerome Smith, Atlanta Falcons

VIRGINIA
DE Jake Snyder, Minnesota Vikings

VIRGINIA TECH
DT Derrick Hopkins, Baltimore Ravens
LB Tariq Edwards, Miami Dolphins
WR D.J. Coles, Oakland Raiders
G Andrew Miller, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
DE James Gayle, Tennessee Titans

WAKE FOREST
DT Nikita Whitlock, Cincinnati Bengals
LB Justin Jackson, Detroit Lions
LB Zach Thompson, New York Jets
The dust has settled after the NFL draft, and it was another solid showing by the ACC. Overall, the league had 42 players selected, the second most in ACC history and the second most by any conference this year (trailing only the SEC’s 48).

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
Elsa/Getty ImagesFormer Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins was the first ACC player selected (No. 4 overall) in the NFL draft.
Four of the first 14 players selected in this year’s draft came from the ACC, led by Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins (No. 4 overall to the Buffalo Bills) and UNC tight end Eric Ebron (No. 10 to the Detroit Lions). Five ACC players were taken in the first round and 10 more were selected in the second and third rounds.

For the second straight year, Florida State led all ACC schools in players drafted. Seven Seminoles were selected throughout the weekend, starting with wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin in round 1 by the Carolina Panthers and ending with linebacker Telvin Smith in round 5 by the Jacksonville Jaguars. In the past two years, Florida State has had 18 players drafted by NFL teams.

Of course, it wasn’t just strength at the top for the ACC. All 14 programs had at least one player selected this year, including five apiece from Clemson and North Carolina and four from Boston College.

New addition Louisville, which officially enters the ACC next month, had four players selected this year, including three (Calvin Pryor, Marcus Smith and Teddy Bridgewater) in the first round.

Three ACC quarterbacks were selected, led by Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas (No. 120). Pitt’s Tom Savage (No. 135) and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd (No. 213) were also taken.

Duke corner Ross Cockrell was taken with pick No. 109 by the Bills, becoming just the third Blue Devils player drafted since 2001. He was also the highest-selected Duke defensive player since Mike Junkin was taken fifth overall in 1987.

Miami had three players selected over the weekend (Brandon Linder, Pat O'Donnell and Seantrel Henderson), extending its streak of consecutive years with at least one player drafted to 41. Florida State and Virginia extended streaks of their own to 32 years.

Of the ACC underclassmen who declared for this year’s draft, four went undrafted. FSU running back James Wilder Jr. inked a free-agent deal with the Cincinnati Bengals, Syracuse running back Jerome Smith signed with the Atlanta Falcons and NC State defensive lineman Carlos Gray signed with the Green Bay Packers.

Among other notable undrafted free agents in the league, former Miami quarterback Stephen Morris signed with Jacksonville, UNC quarterback Bryn Renner inked a deal with Denver, FSU receiver Kenny Shaw signed with Cleveland, Tar Heels offensive lineman James Hurst signed with the Ravens and former BC quarterback Chase Rettig signed with Green Bay.

FSU instant impacts: Dalvin Cook

February, 19, 2014
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Jimbo Fisher closed out his fifth straight top-10 recruiting class earlier this month, but as he’s shown in years past, that doesn’t necessarily mean a bevy of big contributions from the incoming freshmen.

Some seasons, such as 2011, Florida State relied heavily on the new recruits. Others, such as 2012, only a select few saw routine playing time.

This week, we’ll dig into the Class of 2014 to project which of the newest group of Seminoles project to make an instant impact on the field this season.

We’ve already looked at DT Demarcus Christmas and FSU’s wide receivers.

[+] EnlargeDalvin Cook
Miller Safrit/ESPNParticipating in spring practice could give ESPN 300 running back Dalvin Cook a leg up in FSU's running back carousel.
Next up: RB Dalvin Cook

The player: One of the top running backs in the country, Cook has all the tools to make an immediate impact. At 5-foot-11, 196 pounds, he could stand to add some weight, but as an early enrollee, he’ll have the luxury of an extra five months in FSU’s conditioning program, along with the experience gained during spring practice. As a senior at Miami Central in 2013, Cook rushed for nearly 2,000 yards and added 24 touchdowns en route to being named Mr. Florida Football. Like the man he’ll be looking to replace in Florida State’s offense, fellow Miami-area product Devonta Freeman, Cook shined when the spotlight was brightest in high school, rushing for 223 yards and four touchdowns in Central’s state championship win.

The need: The starting tailback job appears to be Karlos Williams' to lose after the former safety rushed for 730 yards and 11 touchdowns in reserve duty in 2013. But during Fisher’s four seasons as head coach, his leading running back has accounted for just 27.5 percent of the team’s rushing attempts, and the last time any single runner had more than 40 percent of FSU’s carries was 2007 (Antone Smith). With Freeman and James Wilder Jr. headed to the NFL, there figures to be a lot of carries available to the youngsters -- even if Williams establishes himself as something of a bell cow.

The competition: Williams has ample talent, as evidenced by his 8 yards-per-carry average last season, but he’s hardly a sure thing. Of his 91 career rushing attempts, 73 came in the second half of games and 80 came with FSU leading by at least 8 points. In other words, a bulk of Williams’ success came against worn-down or second-string defenses. Still, his 91 carries account for nearly 40 percent of the combined rushing attempts of FSU’s roster. No one has significant experience, leaving a mix of youngsters pushing to prove their ready. Ryan Green showed flashes last season, racking up 163 yards on 33 carries, but he must improve his blocking and do a better job of hitting holes when they open. Mario Pender returns after missing 2013 due to academics, and while his blazing speed should make for an interesting weapon, he’s yet to even make it through a fall camp during his two years in Tallahassee.

The prediction: Cook is hardly a finished product upon arrival, but by enrolling early, he’s got time to add some weight and refine his craft. He's an immense talent and, with limited experience around him, it’s easy to envision the freshman getting a significant slice of the pie this spring. If he wows coaches at this level the way he did in high school, he could push for something of an even share of the carries in an offense where Fisher has always preferred an array of options. Williams remains the heir apparent, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if Cook matches those 91 carries Williams got in reserve duty last year -- and receives a good bit more.

ACC and the NFL combine

February, 11, 2014
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The NFL draft combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis will be held from Feb. 19-25 and will feature workouts, medical examinations, psychological testing and interviews for the 335 invited prospects. The ACC has a total of 46 players who will participate, including at least one player from every school (we included Maryland and not Louisville in this post, because it is from the 2013 season). National champion Florida State led the league with eight players heading to the combine, but UNC was right behind with seven. Don't cry ... you're gonna miss some of these names next year. Good luck to these guys.

Here is the official list of the ACC attendees:

BOSTON COLLEGE (5)
CLEMSON (4)
DUKE (1)
FLORIDA STATE (8)
GEORGIA TECH (2)
MARYLAND (1)
MIAMI (5)
NORTH CAROLINA (7)
NC STATE (1)
PITTSBURGH (3)
SYRACUSE (2)
VIRGINIA (2)
VIRGINIA TECH (4)
WAKE FOREST (1)

The ACC has lost 10 players who have decided to forgo their final seasons of eligibility and enter the NFL draft. It’s not a mass exodus, but their departures definitely leave some holes. Florida State is losing some talent, but Clemson arguably has the biggest shoes to fill, as the Tigers are losing their top two receivers from 2013, including All-American Sammy Watkins. With spring football around the corner, there will be plenty of competition throughout the league, but based on what we know now, here is the best guess at who the replacements will be for each of the ACC’s early entrees:

Leaving: Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Jones
AP Photo/Phil SearsIsaiah Jones (right) caught only two passes as a freshman, but Kelvin Benjamin's departure means he'll have to play a bigger role.
The replacement: Isaiah Jones. He is 6-foot-4, but he lacks Benjamin's physical strength (he weighs about 35 pounds less). Christian Green also could be an answer after playing sparingly the past two seasons. He's 6-foot-2 and known for his speed. He had 26 catches for 450 yards as a freshman in 2011 but has just 16 catches for 190 yards in the two seasons since. As far as a true red zone target and receiver who can win the jump balls, tight end Nick O'Leary will likely get the bulk of the throws that went to Benjamin in 2013.

Leaving: North Carolina C Russell Bodine

The replacement: Lucas Crowley. As a freshman, Crowley made his collegiate debut against rival NC State. He played 11 snaps and graded out at 90 percent. An encouraging sign for UNC fans should be Crowley’s performance against Pitt, where he played a respectable game opposite All-American defensive tackle Aaron Donald. He played 66 snaps at center in that game and had five knockdowns.

Leaving: Clemson DB Bashaud Breeland

The replacement: Garry Peters. He was one of Clemson’s rising stars at cornerback in 2012, but an injury last season set him back. He still played in 10 games and enters this fall with 54 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, one interception, 12 pass breakups, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in 33 games (five starts) in his career.

Leaving: Clemson WR Martavis Bryant

The replacement: Mike Williams. The true freshman played in all 13 games and started three, finishing 2013 with 20 catches for 316 yards and three touchdowns. His first career start came against Wake Forest, and Williams had a 14-yard touchdown. As a prep, he was rated the No. 3 player in South Carolina by ESPN.com. Williams has a lot of potential, and the Tigers will need him to reach it quickly.

Leaving: North Carolina TE Eric Ebron

The replacement: Jack Tabb. He played in 10 games at tight end and on special teams, and he also saw some time at linebacker. He finished with six catches for 116 yards and 10 tackles. UNC also signed two tight ends in the 2014 class, including one, Brandon Fritts, who enrolled in January. The other, Avery Edwards, is regarded as the top TE in North Carolina.

Leaving: Florida State RB Devonta Freeman

The replacement: Ryan Green. He played in all 12 games (no starts), and finished with 163 yards and one touchdown on 33 carries. He showed some explosiveness in his limited playing time, as six of his carries went for 10 yards or more. His blocking and ability to take advantage of open holes still need to improve.

Leaving: Florida State DT Timmy Jernigan

The replacement: Nile Lawrence-Stample. He played in 13 games and started six alongside Jernigan at defensive tackle. He finished the season with 15 tackles, including 1.5 for loss. He also had two quarterback hurries. He made his first career start against Pitt and had a season-high three tackles against both Boston College and Maryland. He had one tackle in the national championship game.

Leaving: Syracuse RB Jerome Smith

The replacement: Prince-Tyson Gulley. He was granted a fifth season of eligibility and as of now is expected to play this fall. Gulley qualified for a medical hardship waiver because he broke his collarbone in 2011 and played just four games. He was third on the team in rushing in 2013 and finished with 456 yards and four touchdowns on 83 carries. He also had 15 catches and one receiving touchdown.

Leaving: Clemson WR Sammy Watkins

The replacement: Charone Peake. Watkins was one of a kind, and his record-setting production nearly impossible to duplicate, but Peake is the next man up. He was the Tigers’ second-leading receiver before he tore his ACL during a simple non-contact drill in practice on Sept. 10. Prior to the injury, Peake had eight catches for 84 yards and a touchdown, second only to Watkins in both receptions and yards. In 2012, Peake had 25 receptions for 172 yards and two scores.

Leaving: Florida State RB James Wilder Jr.

The replacement: Karlos Williams. He moved from safety to tailback in Week 2 and finished his first season at the position with 91 carries for 730 yards. His 8.02 yards-per-carry average was sixth in the nation. His 11 rushing touchdowns tied for seventh in the ACC. No running back from an automatic-qualifier conference school scored more routinely than Williams, who scored once every 8.3 carries.

FSU's early 2014 power rankings

January, 21, 2014
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In the days after Florida State wrapped up its BCS National Championship run, we ran through our final Seminoles power rankings of 2013. But, of course, the football world moves quickly, and fans are already looking ahead to what could be in store for 2014. With that in mind, we’re taking an early crack at our preliminary power rankings for next season, with departing stars nixed from the countdown and emerging ones projected for 2014.

(Final 2013 ranking in parentheses.)

1. QB Jameis Winston (1): OK, this one was easy. Winston won the Heisman in his first season on the field, but expectations will be even higher for 2014. So what will he do for an encore? Having four-fifths of his offensive line back certainly makes the job a bit easier.

[+] EnlargeRonald Darby
AP Photo/Richard ShiroRonald Darby was excellent in 2013 despite being slowed by an injury. The 2014 season could be even better if he's healthy.
2. CB Ronald Darby (NR): Quietly, Darby was among the most dominant corners in the ACC in 2013, with quarterbacks avoiding him at all costs in spite of a groin injury that never completely healed. He figures to be 100 percent in 2014, meaning FSU could pair Darby and P.J. Williams in the secondary for arguably the best set of starting corners in the country -- even without Lamarcus Joyner in the mix.

3. WR Rashad Greene (4): Winston attempted 384 passes in 2013, and Greene was on the receiving end of more than 30 percent of those targets. He led FSU in receiving for the third straight season, catching 76 balls for 1,128 yards and nine touchdowns. More importantly, the receivers responsible for 206 of Winston’s other targets are gone, putting Greene at the forefront of a revamped receiving corps.

4. RB Karlos Williams (NR): Among AQ-conference tailbacks with at least 90 carries in 2013, none rushed for more yards per carry (8.0) or scored with more frequency (one TD per 8.3 rushes) than Williams. With Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. gone, Williams is in prime position to become FSU’s second straight 1,000-yard rusher.

5. S Jalen Ramsey (8): In Week 1 of 2013, Ramsey became the first true freshman to start at corner for the Seminoles since Deion Sanders. Three weeks later, he moved to safety and didn’t miss a beat. Ramsey started every game and racked up 49 tackles while anchoring the nation’s top pass defense. With a year of experience under his belt, 2014 could be even better.

6. LT Cameron Erving (NR): The expectations have been monumental for Erving since he first switched from the D-line to left tackle, and while he hasn't exactly reached star status -- hence, his decision to return for his senior year -- he’s made significant strides each season. He’ll be the anchor of a veteran O-line in 2014 and potentially one of the best left tackles in the nation.

7. DE Mario Edwards Jr. (9): He tended to get overlooked a bit in 2013 because of Florida State’s myriad of defensive stars, but Edwards was exceptional in his first season as a full-time starter. He tied for second on the team with 9.5 tackles for loss (the most among returning players) and had 3.5 sacks, an interception and a forced fumble. Perhaps as noteworthy, in the two games Edwards missed last season, opponents averaged 191 yards on the ground against FSU. In the 12 games he started, they averaged 113.

8. TE Nick O'Leary (NR): In 2013, O’Leary was FSU’s most reliable receiving target, catching 76 percent of the balls thrown his way while setting career highs in catches (33), yards (557) and touchdowns (seven). But O’Leary also only scored once after Nov. 1, and following his astonishing performance against Clemson (five catches, 161 yards), he didn’t have more than three grabs or 55 yards in a game the rest of the season -- including being held without a catch in the BCS title game. There’s room for O’Leary to improve, and with so much transition among FSU’s receivers, he figures to get plenty of chances to do it.

9. KR Kermit Whitfield (NR): He touched the ball just 25 times in 2013 and still racked up a whopping 818 all-purpose yards while scoring four touchdowns. Whitfield’s eight offensive touches figure to increase markedly next season as he steps in for Kenny Shaw as FSU’s top slot receiver, and his speed makes him a threat to score every time the ball is in his hands.

10. LB Matthew Thomas (NR): An injury cut Thomas’ 2013 season short after just five games of limited action as a true freshman, but he flashed the potential that made him a five-star recruit. Now, with Telvin Smith and Christian Jones gone, Thomas figures to land a starting job and blossom into a legitimate star.

Honorable mentions: DT Eddie Goldman, G Josue Matias, G Tre' Jackson, LB Terrance Smith, S Nate Andrews, CB P.J. Williams, K Roberto Aguayo
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. spent the season trying to convince coach Jimbo Fisher to name Florida State’s two-back set after them. “Wild and Free” they proposed it be called, a nickname that offered ample cache but never really caught on in practice. They ran it a few times a game, and it worked well enough to keep at it, but Fisher was never quite so impressed that he embraced the moniker. Besides, he had plans to add a third element.

Karlos Williams rarely practiced in the two-back set all season until the ACC championship game in December. In fact, for the bulk of the season, Williams barely touched the football in the first half. But when Florida State clobbered Duke to assure a second straight conference title, Williams was a crucial cog.

[+] EnlargeKarlos Williams
Jeff Gammons/Getty ImagesKarlos Williams made the move to running back this season and posted 730 yards on just 91 carries.
This was the plan for Williams. The move from safety to tailback in Week 2 was a renovation project for the former five-star recruit, but Fisher always had a grand design in mind. It just took some time for Williams to figure out the nuance of his new position.

“I’m just trying to catch on and learn as much as possible and learn very, very fast,” Williams said. “I do feel myself growing, getting better but it’s also a lot of work that needs to be done.”

Williams finished his inaugural season at tailback with a 91 carries for 730 yards. His 8.02 yards-per-carry average was sixth in the nation. His 11 rushing touchdowns tied for seventh in the ACC. No running back from an automatic-qualifier conference school scored more routinely than Williams, who punched in a touchdown once every 8.3 carries.

Still, Williams had a niche role. He had just 18 first-half touches all year. He had limited work in close games, with 70 of his 91 carries coming with FSU ahead by at least 15. He ran the ball 10 times or more in just three games, all blowouts.

For all of his 2013 success, Williams was a work in progress.

“People laugh at me because I’m very, very athletic, but I don’t have a lot of moves,” Williams said of his running style. “I’m a straight-line speed guy. So if I kind of stop, it’s kind of hard to start up again.”

Williams’ limitations weren’t often on display in 2013, but that figures to change going forward. If last season was about getting the offensive convert acquainted with his new job, 2014 will be a far more immersive experience.

Wilder has announced he’s headed to the NFL. While the school has yet to make Freeman’s decision official, he’s expected to follow suit. That leaves Williams as the lone veteran in Florida State’s backfield.

As the prognosticators look ahead to 2014, Florida State’s offense gets high marks for all its returning talent, led by quarterback Jameis Winston. But the turnover in the ground game will be immense.

Freeman led the Seminoles in rushing in each of the past three seasons. Wilder was as good a short-yardage back as Florida State has had in recent years. With that duo leading the charge, only two teams have averaged more yards per carry (not including sacks) against FBS foes since the start of 2012 than Florida State (6.31 yards per rush).

Now it will be up to Williams to prove he’s capable of a bigger workload, but he’ll have some help.

Ryan Green didn’t see much action in 2013, but he flashed some explosive talent. Six of his 33 carries went for 10 yards or more, but Green still needs to work on his blocking and his ability to hit holes when they open.

It’s possible Mario Pender could fill the void as well, but his first two years at Florida State have been a disaster. Pender has exceptional speed and enjoyed a nice spring in 2013, but he’s yet to see action in a game. A groin pull kept him on the sidelines as a true freshman in 2012 and academic issues forced him off the team in 2013. He’s back practicing with the Seminoles now, however, and Fisher said he hopes the academic and injury issues are in the past.

Perhaps the most exciting option for FSU, however, is Dalvin Cook, a five-star recruit who spurned Florida at the last moment and is expected to practice with the Seminoles this spring.

It’s a talented group, but it’s not an experienced one, and that’s what makes Williams so crucial to Florida State’s hopes in 2014. With fullback Chad Abram moving on, too, Williams’ 18 first-half carries represent the only significant snaps any member of FSU’s current backfield has in a close game.

But Fisher had a plan when he pushed Williams to make the move to running back in September, and the benefits of that decision are just now becoming clear. For Williams, it’s now just a matter of proving he’s the right man for the job.

“It’s progressing,” he said. “Slowly but surely.”
Jimbo Fisher was still on the podium, gazing into the crystal trophy that comes with winning a national championship, when it was suggested that once the team returned to Tallahassee, it was back to work preparing for 2014.

First on the docket for FSU will be identifying which star players will be returning for next season. Running back James Wilder Jr. is entering the draft, according to a source, and more decisions will trickle in before the Jan. 15 deadline. Here are our best guesses at what’s to come — and who might step in for departing underclassmen.

Likely going

[+] EnlargeTimmy Jernigan
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsFSU nose tackle Timmy Jernigan is a force inside, and how well the Tigers do against him could determine how well they run the ball.
DT Timmy Jernigan (junior)

Why he’d leave: Entering the season, Jernigan was Florida State’s top-rated underclassman by most draft experts, and that standing never changed. Jernigan was dominant all season, and his impact was never more noticeable than in the national title game. When he was on the field, Auburn found no running room between the tackles. When he was out of the game, the Tigers moved the ball with ease on the ground.

Next up: Nile Lawrence-Stample took a big step forward this season, gaining valuable playing time in the defensive line rotation. He started six games and finished with 15 tackles. Florida State has five current defensive tackle commitments, so it’s certainly possible one of the incoming freshmen could make a big impact early — as Jernigan did in 2011 — but Lawrence-Stample is the safest bet to step in full time.

WR Kelvin Benjamin (redshirt sophomore)

Why he’d leave: Benjamin was projected as a star from the moment he arrived on campus, but it took him a while to get acclimated. He enjoyed a breakthrough 2013 season, finishing with 1,011 yards and 15 touchdowns, including the game-winner in the VIZIO BCS National Championship. Some of his game could still use some refinement — as evidenced by two big drops vs. Auburn — but his physical skills already peg him as a likely first-rounder.

Next up: Kermit Whitfield certainly projects as Florida State’s next big-play receiver after an electric season as a freshman, but he fits more in the slot. Replacing Benjamin’s size and physicality isn’t an easy task, but 6-4 freshman Isaiah Jones figures to have the best chance. He saw limited playing time this year, catching two balls for 31 yards.

Possibly going

RB Devonta Freeman (junior)

[+] EnlargeDevonta Freeman
AP Photo/David J. PhillipDevonta Freeman became the first Seminoles tailback to gain 1,000 yards in a season since Warrick Dunn in 1996.
Why he'd leave: Freeman has been the steadying force for FSU’s running game for three years, and on Monday, he became the first Seminoles tailback to top 1,000 yards in 17 years. Wilder’s role was smaller this year as injuries hampered his production, but that could also have served as a reminder why it’s better to take the big hits with an NFL paycheck. Neither has a ton of early draft buzz which could convince them to return, but both could show out at the combine and work their way into the top three rounds.

Next up: Karlos Williams showed plenty of promise this season after moving from safety in Week 2, finishing with 748 rushing yards in reserve duty. He’s largely a straight-ahead runner, but his combination of size and speed makes him a weapon. FSU will still need to develop depth, likely with Mario Pender or Ryan Green, but could get a boost from four-star commit Dalvin Cook.

LT Cameron Erving (redshirt junior)

Why he’d leave: Erving has hovered near the top of the offensive tackle draft boards since the end of 2012, and in his second season since moving from the defensive line, he showed significant progress. Still, it’s a deep draft at the position, and there were moments — including against Auburn’s impressive defensive front Monday — when he showed some flaws.

Next up: Florida State brought in two potentially strong replacements last year in Ira Denson and Wilson Bell. Injuries hampered the progress for both during the season, however, which makes Erving’s decision potentially crucial for the stability of the line going into 2014.

Likely staying

G Tre Jackson and G Josue Matias (juniors)

Why they’d leave: Matias and Jackson might be among the top underclassmen at the position, but both could benefit from another year working with line coach Rick Trickett.

Next up: Florida State has struggled to recruit on the line the past few years, which makes depth — particularly on the interior — a significant concern. The Seminoles have a solid class coming in for 2014, but the loss of more than one of their underclassmen on the line would be a serious concern.

TE Nick O’Leary (junior)

Why he’d leave: O’Leary made huge strides this season, developing into one of Jameis Winston’s favorite targets and a legitimate red-zone threat. He’s an adept route-runner, a sure-handed receiver and his blocking game has developed nicely. But with Florida State's receiving corps in transition, O’Leary could be in a position to post huge numbers in 2014 if he sticks around.

Next up: Kevin Haplea returns from a knee injury next year, but he’s more of a blocking tight end than a true replacement.

WR Rashad Greene (Jr./WR)

Why he’d leave: What more can Greene accomplish at Florida State? He’s been the team’s most reliable receiver for three consecutive seasons. He became the Seminoles’ first 1,000-yard receiver since Anquan Boldin this year. He’s quick, a great route-runner, and he has good hands. He does everything well, and his quarterbacks have taken notice. The problem for Greene is that he lacks the obvious physical skills that make scouts drool, so his draft value might not reflect his on-field contributions.

Next up: It would be a surprise if Greene left, but it would also be a huge blow to Florida State’s offense. Winston was a star this season in part because of an exceptional group of receivers, but the group will get a major makeover in 2014. The Seminoles need Greene to help ease the transition.

FSU's ground game toils in the shadows

December, 26, 2013
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The first half of December was a coronation for Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. He won the ACC championship game MVP, led his team to a berth in the VIZIO BCS National Championship, won a slew of postseason awards, including the Heisman Trophy.

[+] EnlargeJames Wilder Jr.
Mark LoMoglio/Icon SMIJames Wilder Jr., who has tallied 542 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground, is one of three of Florida State's solid running backs.
Meanwhile, last year’s ACC championship game MVP, James Wilder Jr., relaxed and enjoyed awards season from home. Never mind that Florida State’s ground game actually tallied more rushing touchdowns and averaged more yards per carry this season than it did a season ago, when it was widely considered one of the best units in the country.

No, with a quarterback like Winston, the shadow the ground game lives in can be a long one.

“We have a Heisman[-winning] quarterback,” Wilder said. “It’s hard to talk about the running backs when you have a Heisman[-winning] quarterback.”

It’s not just Winston overshadowing Florida State’s runners now. The narrative for this season's national title game has already been written, with Winston’s high-flying passing attack going up against Auburn’s spectacular ground game, and the team that best executes its strength is likely to be the one hoisting a championship trophy on Jan. 6.

But again, that ignores the work of Florida State’s running backs.

Auburn’s rushing attack has earned raves -- and for good reason. The Tigers led the nation in rushing touchdowns entering bowl season with 46. Of course, that’s just five more than Florida State had, despite 202 more carries.

Auburn also had one of the most explosive running games this season, racking up 335 yards per game on the ground -- the best total in the country. But break those numbers down a bit by eliminating yardage lost to sacks on passing plays and big numbers tallied against FCS competition, and Florida State was actually just a tick better running the ball (6.43 yards per carry) than was Auburn (6.42 yards per carry).

In other words, there will be more than one talented rushing attack on the field in Pasadena.

“Inside the [running backs meeting] room, we feel we’re as good as anyone,” said Karlos Williams, FSU’s third-string back who has averaged 8.2 yards per carry and scored 11 times this year.

Outside that meeting room, however, the Seminoles’ runners are happy flying beneath the radar.

Williams has been spectacular when he has touched the ball, but he’s gotten just 14 first-half carries all year.

Devonta Freeman is on course to become Florida State’s first 1,000-yard runner in 17 years, but he hasn’t complained about his lowly 12.5 carry-per-game average or the fact that he has had just 65 rushing attempts in the second half this year (an average of just five per game).

Wilder entered the season with NFL aspirations, but a shoulder injury and a concussion limited his workload. One year after winning the ACC championship game MVP, he is on pace to carry the ball 26 fewer times this season, but he’s not complaining.

“The backs, we’re not those guys that care if we get attention or not,” Wilder said. “All of our running backs are unselfish guys who just want to see the team succeed.”

And thus far, that dynamic has worked particularly well for Florida State’s offense, which leads the nation averaging 7.81 yards per play.

The Seminoles have done it with an almost perfect 50-50 split in running plays vs. passing plays -- a much heavier dose of the passing game than in years past under coach Jimbo Fisher. From 2010 through 2012, FSU ran 58 percent of the time. Florida State’s 36 rushes per game this season ranks 84th nationally, yet its 41 touchdowns ranks seventh and its 5.7 yards-per-attempt average is ninth.

“We’re explosive,” Williams said. “Very, very explosive when we lock in, when we pay attention to the small details and when we play our football.”

Of course, that’s not to take anything from Auburn’s ground game, which Wilder insists is as good as advertised.

The Tigers’ tailback Tre Mason was there in New York alongside Winston at the Heisman Trophy presentation, a worthy finalist. Wilder is good friends with Mason, and he actually texted the Auburn junior to wish him luck before Winston won the award.

But that’s where all the good wishes are likely to end. With a national championship to be decided, Wilder knows Mason will be a big factor, but on Jan. 6, Florida State’s ground game will get a chance to shine, too.
North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron is the only ACC player to declare for the NFL draft so far. Chances are, he will not be the only one leaving school early. Here is a look at the top ACC players facing tough decisions about whether to stay in school or turn pro.

The deadline to declare is Jan. 15.

Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson. Though Beasley plays defensive end, he projects as a linebacker in the NFL. ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper has Beasley as his No. 1 non-senior prospect among outside linebackers. Beasley ranks No. 15 on the latest Kiper Big Board and has hinted that he will leave school early. Beasley told local reporters last weekend that he is leaning toward coming out but has not made a final decision yet.

[+] EnlargeKelvin Benjamin
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneFSU WR Kelvin Benjamin is one of many talented ACC underclassmen who must decide if they will enter the NFL draft.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State. Benjamin, a redshirt sophomore, has risen up draft boards after his performance in the final month of the season. Kiper lists him as the No. 3 non-senior at receiver, and says Benjamin will have a chance to go in the first round if he runs well.

Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State. Erving could end up becoming a first-round pick if he decides to leave school early. Kiper has him as the No. 4 non-senior offensive tackle.

Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State. Freeman needs 57 yards to become the first 1,000-yard rusher at Florida State since 1996. The All-ACC first team selection is not listed among the top non-senior running back prospects, but he has had a terrific season by all measures.

Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State. Greene might still be one of the more underrated receivers in America but it is tough to question his production after another great season. Kiper lists Greene as the No. 10 non-senior at receiver. He will have a tough decision to make.

Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State. Kiper has Jernigan as the No. 2 non-senior among defensive tackles, and just moved up him to No. 12 on the Big Board. Kiper writes that Jernigan is "not out of the mix" to land in the top 10. Given his domination this year, most observers expect him to enter the draft.

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson. Kiper has Watkins ranked as the No. 1 non-senior receiver. Kevin Weidl of ESPN’s Scouts Inc., lists Watkins as the No. 2 prospect among players he saw in person this fall. Watkins is currently listed No. 6 on the latest Kiper Big Board. Though Watkins has been non-committal about his future in recent interviews, it would be a shock if he decides to return to school.

James Wilder Jr., RB, Florida State. Wilder had an injury-plagued season but made headlines last month when he reportedly told a recruit he would be turning pro. Wilder denied the reports but has not definitively said what he plans to do after the national championship game.

Others to watch

Here are a few other players to keep an eye on as the draft deadline looms:

Russell Bodine, C, North Carolina

Tre' Jackson, OG, Florida State

Kyshoen Jarrett, S, Virginia Tech

Nick O'Leary, TE, Florida State

Luther Maddy, DT, Virginia Tech

Josue Matias, OG, Florida State

Denzel Perryman, LB, Miami

One more post to check out. Todd McShay unveiled his first mock draft earlier Wednesday. He has Watkins as the first ACC player off the board, at No. 13 to the Jets. McShay also projects Ebron, Jernigan and Benjamin as first-rounders.

FSU in position to reload for 2014

December, 18, 2013
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For the past four seasons, Florida State’s seniors have worked to rebuild a program that was mired in mediocrity when they arrived. The project was a resounding success, but after the VIZIO BCS National Championship on Jan. 6, they’ll be gone. If 2013 gave the seniors a chance to take that final step toward a title, it also offered a glimpse at what’s to come, and Florida State appears well stocked to weather the inevitable losses.

Out: Lamarcus Joyner, CB

[+] EnlargeTyler Hunter
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsTyler Hunter could replace cornerback Lamarcus Joyner for the Seminoles in 2014.
After moving from safety to corner, Joyner proved he was one of the nation’s top defenders, leading FSU in sacks and finishing second in tackles.

In: Tyler Hunter, DB

Joyner is a huge loss, but Hunter is well prepared to step into the vacancy. His 2013 season was cut short by a neck injury, but he knows the defense well and his combination of size and speed allows him to fit well at safety, corner and nickel. Replacing Joyner is impossible, but Hunter could be in for a huge 2014.

Out: Terrence Brooks, S

He has been an under-the-radar performer since he arrived at FSU as a three-star recruit, but Brooks has been consistently good at safety for two years.

In: Nate Andrews, S

Brooks found a perfect protégé in the similarly underrated Andrews, and the relationship has already paid dividends. Andrews started just one game, but he leads the Seminoles with seven takeaways (four INTs, three forced fumbles) and is second on the team with eight passes defended.

Out: Telvin Smith, LB

For the past two years, there has been no louder voice in the locker room than Smith, and in 2013, he blossomed on the field, too, leading FSU in tackles.

In: Reggie Northrup, LB

Northrup hasn’t started a game in his two seasons at Florida State, but when he’s been on the field, he has proven to be a big-play defender. He has 46 tackles this season, and he has a skill set to both play the run and in coverage. Terrance Smith is FSU’s only returning linebacker with starting experience, but there’s ample depth at the position, led by Northrup.

Out: Christian Jones, OLB

Jones' move from traditional linebacker to edge rusher was a turning point for Florida State’s defense, helping to seal the edge and add another dynamic pass rusher to the D line.

In: Matthew Thomas, OLB

An injury ended Thomas’ season after just five games, but his potential is immense. He had two tackles for loss in his limited playing time, and his athleticism and strength could make for a smooth transition into the role Jones defined so well in 2013.

Out: Kenny Shaw, WR

Always a reliable option in the slot, Shaw blossomed as a senior and is on pace for 1,000-yard season while also handling punt return duties.

In: Levonte Whitfield, WR

Whitfield may lack Shaw’s consistency, but his big-play potential is through the roof. He racked up 646 total yards and three TDs on just 21 touches (an average of 31 yards per touch) as a runner, receiver and kick returner. It was valuable experience as a freshman, and Whitfield should be an excellent fit in the slot in 2014.

Out: Bryan Stork, C

As Florida State’s line developed from disaster in 2011 to dominant in 2013, Stork was the centerpiece. The veteran leader of the group has been the foundation for the unit’s growth.

In: Austin Barron, C

Losing Stork is big, but Barron is no rookie. He has six career starts already under his belt, and he has worked routinely with the first-team line during practices this season while Stork has nursed a foot injury.

Out: The underclassmen

No one has made it official that they’re leaving, and with so much talent on the roster, plenty of Florida State’s draft-eligible underclassmen could decide to come back for what figures to be another big season in 2014. Of the group, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan -- widely considered a first-round selection -- is the most likely to depart. Beyond that, tailbacks Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr., receiver Kelvin Benjamin, tight end Nick O’Leary, and lineman Cameron Erving will all have big decisions to make.

In: The next regime

Replacing Jernigan will be a tough task, but Nile Lawrence-Stample (14 tackles, 2 QB hurries) took some big steps in 2013. Karlos Williams (705 yards, 11 touchdowns) is ready to pick up the slack if either tailback leaves, while Jesus Wilson and Isaiah Jones will see their workload at receiver increase in 2014. Kevin Haplea returns from a knee injury, though he’s unlikely to match O’Leary’s productivity in the passing game. Wilson Bell earned rave reviews before an injury ended his season, but he could step into a vacancy at tackle should one arise in 2014.

FSU offense poised to make history

December, 12, 2013
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — They know the numbers, but none of Florida State’s offensive playmakers wants to vouch for just how significant 1,000 would be.

The refrain was established even before the season, and it has been repeated again and again each time another Seminoles star gets within striking distance.

“I don’t feel like anyone is really focusing on that,” said Rashad Greene, Florida State’s leading receiver with 981 yards. “We want that crystal ball. That’s the goal, and individual stuff will take care of itself.”

It’s the same answer given by Kenny Shaw, now 71 receiving yards shy of 1,000.

It’s the same answer given by Kelvin Benjamin, who needs 43 receiving yards to crack 1,000.

[+] EnlargeRashad Greene
AP Photo/Richard ShiroRashad Greene is one of three FSU receivers who's less than 75 yards from the 1,000-yard mark this season.
It’s the same answer given by Devonta Freeman, who can top 1,000 rushing yards with just 57 in the VIZIO BCS Championship Game.

And, of course, the national championship is exactly where their focus should be, but the proximity of all four players to that elusive mark is nothing to shrug off.

At Florida State, getting to 1,000 has been a remarkably rare accomplishment for anyone. In the school’s history, only 12 players have reached that mark, and only once have multiple Seminoles cracked 1,000 in the same season.

For Freeman, getting to 1,000 would end the longest -- and one of the most inexplicable -- streaks in the country. No Florida State back has topped 1,000 yards since 1996 thanks to a confluence of injuries, depth, performance and bad luck. To end the streak in a national championship game would be a perfect conclusion.

“That would be great,” Freeman said. “But we’ve got to win it. We’ve got to win, then get these 1,000 yards.”

Freeman figured to have plenty of competition from his teammates in Florida State’s backfield, but Karlos Williams (705 yards) was developed slowly after moving from safety in Week 2, and James Wilder Jr. (542 yards) was hobbled by injuries in the early season, opening the door just enough for Freeman to approach that elusive mark.

When the season began, the depth at receiver actually appeared to be a concern. Senior Greg Dent was suspended after being charged with sexual assault. Senior Willie Haulstead was ruled academically ineligible. Jarred Haggins suffered a preseason knee injury and was lost for the year, too. That left Florida State with just four veteran receivers, but the lack of depth actually proved to be a blessing.

The tight rotations meant Greene, Shaw and Benjamin were on the field more often, and for Benjamin in particular, that made a marked difference in his performance. In 2012, Benjamin withered down the stretch, but this season, his last two games have been his best. He has caught 14 passes for 331 yards and five touchdowns in his last two contests, pulling him into position to crack 1,000 yards, too.

Only once has Florida State had two receivers top 1,000 in a season -- 1995, when E.J. Green and Andre Cooper did it with a combined 9 yards to spare. That Florida State might have three this year would put the Seminoles’ offense in rarefied company.

Only four other teams in college football history have had three 1,000-yard receivers in the same season. Three of those teams -- 2009 Houston, 2007 Hawaii and 2003 Texas Tech -- hardly offer apt comparisons. They combined to throw the ball on 69 percent of their plays. Florida State, meanwhile, has thrown just 46 percent of the time this season.

The 2007 Tulsa Golden Hurricanes are really the only good comparison to what Florida State has done on offense this year. They had a 50-50 split on play-calling, and they are the only team in the last 10 years to have four players top 1,000 yards in one season.

It’s not a record that established Tulsa as an all-time great, of course. It’s simply just an interesting bit of trivia. And that’s why Florida State’s mantra is so significant.

One thousand yards would mean something. Four players topping 1,000 would mean even more. But four 1,000-yard players sharing a national championship would assure the Seminoles of their place in history.

“To me, if it’s in the context of winning and being successful, then it’s a great accomplishment,” Jimbo Fisher said. “Still, 1,000 yards is 1,000 yards, and that means a lot.”

Q&A: Florida State RB Devonta Freeman

December, 6, 2013
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Florida State’s offense leads the nation in yards per play, and while Jameis Winston has gotten the bulk of the credit, the ground game led by junior tailback Devonta Freeman has been among the best in the country all season.

Freeman has set career highs in rushing yards (852), touchdowns (13) and yards from scrimmage (1,087) this season, despite averaging just 13 touches per game.

[+] EnlargeDevonta Freeman
Don Juan Moore/Getty ImagesDevonta Freeman has been a force for the Florida State running game.
ESPN.com caught up with Freeman this week, as his Seminoles get set to take on Duke in the ACC championship game.

Q: Has it dawned on you yet that you might be just one game away from playing for a national title?

A: It’s scary. It hasn’t hit me yet, to be honest. It hasn’t even hit me yet that we’re No. 1. I don’t know if that’s natural or what, but it hasn’t hit me yet. It seems insane, but it’s kind of natural, too. We’re kind of used to the great success we’re having. Now that we’re No. 1, we know we’re supposed to be No. 1. I just feel like it hasn’t changed anything. Or maybe it hasn’t hit me yet. I don’t know which one it is.

Q: Florida State’s offense has a chance to have three receivers top 1,000 yards, and you’re on pace to reach that, too. Is that a source of pride?

A: I think that’s good, something to be accomplished here at Florida State. But I haven’t paid attention to it too much. But I think it’s a great thing if we accomplish that.

Q: Is it indicative of how everyone on the offense seems to get their share of touches?

A: Jimbo does a great job spreading the ball a lot. And we’re so hungry, we make plays. Any time we get the ball, we know we might not get it again until three series later, so we try to take advantage of the opportunities we get. We’re getting good YAC yards and things like that.

Q: You’re having a career year. James Wilder Jr. has been running well since returning from a concussion. Karlos Williams has had a full season to get used to playing tailback. Is this the best your position group has looked all season?

A: I think there’s still work out there. But I think as a unit, we’re getting better and better every day. I wouldn’t say we’re at our best, but I feel like we’re increasing.

Q: People don’t seem to be giving Duke much chance to win this game. Does it worry you when everyone is overlooking the team you’re about to play?

A: To me, those are the teams that are most dangerous. I remember in high school, I was in a similar situation. We were playing Miramar, and we weren’t worried about them. They shocked us. They beat us the game before state. So those are the teams you can’t take for granted. You have to prepare well for them, because they’ll bring their ‘A’ game.

Q: What stands out to you about Duke’s defense?

A: They’re going to be everywhere they need to be. They won’t have too many missed assignments. They have a lot of guys who do the right thing every time.

Q: Can teams like that be more of a challenge than ones that are very athletic, but not completely disciplined?

A: I think it’s going to challenge us to just be consistent. Be more consistent than them because we know they’ll be everywhere they’re supposed to be. And that will challenge us.

Week 14 helmet stickers

December, 1, 2013
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Florida State wrapped up a perfect regular season with yet another blowout win. For the first time in a month, however, Jameis Winston and the starters got to stick around for the second half, making it a bit easier to hand out helmet stickers.

Winston: He hasn’t had to play often in the fourth quarter this season, but he got nearly a full game’s worth of work Saturday. He used the extra playing time to add to his Heisman campaign, completing 19 of 31 passes for 327 yards and three touchdowns. The competitive first half only underscored the fact that Winston hasn’t simply beaten up on overmatched foes this year. When Florida State is leading by 14 or fewer points or trailing, Winston is completing 73 percent of his passes, averaging 12 yards per attempt with 19 touchdowns and six INTs.

WR Kelvin Benjamin: Nine catches, 212 yards, three touchdowns… and yet, it could’ve been so much more for the sophomore receiver. Benjamin had two big drops and Winston narrowly overthrew him on another wide-open play, turning what might’ve been a historic day into simply the eighth-best receiving yardage total in school history. Benjamin became the first FSU receiver to top 200 yards since Craphonso Thorpe had 217 against Notre Dame in 2003.

DE Christian Jones: He had just five tackles, but two went for a loss and Jones was a beast coming off the edge, tormenting Florida QB Skyler Mornhinweg and keeping the ground game from getting to the outside. Mornhinweg continuously looked to his check-down targets under pressure -- often from Jones -- and the Gators’ ground game had just 28 yards on 23 carries, aside from one 50-yard run by Trey Burton.

Hat tips to: James Wilder Jr. continues to look sharp since returning from a concussion on Nov. 2. He had 63 yards on 10 carries. Terrence Brooks and Mario Edwards Jr. each had two TFLs. Edwards also forced a fumble and had a sack. Nate Andrews forced his sixth turnover of the season.

Planning for success: Florida State

November, 27, 2013
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The chase got a jump start last week against Idaho, but Devonta Freeman insists he’s not really thinking about 1,000.

Sure, the 17-year drought of 1,000-yard rushers at Florida State remains as popular a topic as ever, and yes, Freeman would love to be the one who finally, mercifully puts the subject to rest. But his big game last week, which significantly buoyed his chances, wasn’t about the stats.

“It would mean a lot, but I just feel like if we won a championship, that’d be way better,” said Freeman, who is up to 808 yards for the season, needing to average 64 yards per game the rest of the way to reach 1,000. “I’m not about individual goals. I see the big picture, and I want to get to the championship.”

Still, Freeman’s 11-carry, 129-yard day was a nice reminder that he’s still a significant weapon on an offense that hasn’t needed the running game to do much more than than salt away the clock down the stretch in recent weeks.

[+] EnlargeDevonta Freeman
Don Juan Moore/Getty ImagesDevonta Freeman is on pace to become Florida State's first 1,000-yard rusher since Warrick Dunn in 1996.
Like the rest of FSU’s starters, Freeman hasn’t played but a handful of snaps in the second half for much of the season, and in the two games leading up to Saturday’s blowout of Idaho, he’d gotten just 10 total carries.

It’s been that way for all three of FSU’s tailbacks this season. Each has his niche, but none has garnered a fraction of the spotlight enjoyed by Heisman candidate Jameis Winston.

Freeman has been the starter, which would normally mean he gets the bulk of the carries. But the slew of blowout wins have limited opportunities for the starters, and Freeman has just 12 carries in the fourth quarter all season.

James Wilder Jr. has been the battering ram, leading the team in short-yardage runs. He’s converted 10 of 12 third-and-shorts for first downs, but the punishing job has resulted in a shoulder injury and concussion, too.

Karlos Williams has been the game breaker, averaging 8.5 yards per carry, with nearly one-third of his rushes going for 10 yards or more. But his role has been largely limited to mop-up duty. He’s had just 12 first-half carries all year.

Cobbled together, the group has been incredibly effective. Florida State is averaging 6.7 yards per carry this season (not including sacks), which ranks fourth nationally. The Seminoles are on pace to shatter the program record for rushing touchdowns in a season (40) set just last year. The team’s rushing record of 3,021 is within reach, too. If FSU maintains its current per-carry average, that would set a record, too.

“I just think everybody’s hungry,” Freeman said. “Everybody’s going out like, ‘I might get three carries this week, and these need to be my three carries.’ ”

And, of course, there’s a chance this week’s game could help pad all those stats.

It’s rare that Florida looks like a pushover at the line of scrimmage, and for the most part, the Gators had been solid against the run this season. In its first five games, Florida allowed just 2.8 yards per carry and three total touchdowns. In its last six games, however, things have fallen apart. The Gators have coughed up an average of 5.1 yards per rush along with 13 touchdowns. The implosion culminated last week when Georgia Southern, an FCS team, racked up 429 rushing yards and won 26-20 without throwing a single pass.

If running the ball is the key to demoralizing Florida again, getting Freeman closer to 1,000 yards becomes a far more realistic possibility.

“To me, if it’s in the context of winning and being successful, then it’s a great accomplishment,” Jimbo Fisher said. “Still, 1,000 yards is 1,000 yards, and that means a lot. That’s a plateau that’s been set in this sport. If he gets it, I’m happy for him. That means the other thing, we were able to run the football, which I’m all for.”

Winston’s Heisman Trophy campaign remains in full swing at FSU, and Fisher insists getting Freeman to 1,000 isn’t a priority. But given the way Florida’s defense has struggled, it wouldn't be a surprise if the Seminoles run the ball early and often Saturday.

Of course, given the direction the two teams are headed, that still might mean Freeman only gets a handful of touches before resuming a comfortable position on the sideline.

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