Florida State Seminoles: Rodney Smith

Throughout the summer, NoleNation will be counting down the 40 players we're projecting to make the biggest impact on the Seminoles' 2013 season, taking into consideration everything from experience to potential to their spot on the current depth chart.

Next up: No. 16 Kelvin Benjamin

Position/Class: WR/RSSo.

Kelvin Benjamin
AP Photo/Phil SearsPhysically gifted at 6-foot-5 and 243 pounds, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin has yet to translate that into consistent production in FSU's offense.
What he's done: In his first year of action, Benjamin finished fourth on FSU's offense in catches and receiving yards, second in receiving touchdowns and had the highest yards-per-catch average of any receiver on the team -- and yet it's hard to look at his 2012 campaign as anything other than a mild disappointment. The hype surrounding Benjamin was immense, and he opened the season showing plenty of flash. But by midseason, his lack of focus became clear, and he mustered just four catches for 23 yards in FSU's final four games.

Where he's at: Benjamin's potential hasn't dipped any, and his 16.5 yards-per-catch average last season only solidified the notion that he can blossom into one of the most dangerous receivers in the country in time. The question is, when will his time come? There's ample opportunity now for Benjamin to establish himself. With Rodney Smith gone, Jimbo Fisher would love to find another big-bodied receiving target, and with Greg Dent suspended indefinitely, there's a major need for someone else to step up. Benjamin insists his head is in the game now and he's learned the lessons he needed to learn, but questions linger.

What's to come: Through two years at Florida State, Benjamin has earned an immense amount of hype, and perhaps that's been his biggest downfall. He knows he's good, and too often he's relied on that natural ability to carry him. Sometimes it's worked, but too often he's disappeared from the offense. Where Benjamin was a luxury for FSU in years past though, he's an integral cog in the offense this season, and the Seminoles can't afford another year of growing pains. Benjamin must be aware of that, and last year's struggles should be a reminder of how much farther he has to go. He may not blossom into the superstar some have projected in 2013, but if he can become a more consistent threat without the problematic ups and downs, Florida State would be thrilled.
Throughout the summer, Nole Nation will be counting down the 40 players we're projecting to make the biggest impact on the Seminoles' 2013 season, taking into consideration everything from experience to potential to their spot on the current depth chart.

Next up: No. 17 Kenny Shaw

Position/Class: WR/Sr.

[+] EnlargeKenny Shaw
AP Photo/Phil SearsFSU senior receiver Kenny Shaw should be a reliable target in the slot this fall.
What he's done: A contributor at Florida State since he first arrived on campus, Shaw has seen his role grow each year. After busting out with 418 yards and four TDs as a sophomore in 2011, Shaw became one of EJ Manuel's most reliable targets last season, catching 33 passes for a career-best 532 yards. His 16.12 yards-per-catch average was the eighth-best mark in the ACC, and he had four catches of 40-plus yards on the season. Shaw also put a merciful end to FSU's merry-go-round at punt returner, stepping into the starting job for the final four games of the season, finishing with 99 return yards.

Where he's at: With Rodney Smith gone and senior Greg Dent suspended indefinitely, Shaw is now the Seminoles' most experienced receiver and the clearcut starter in the slot. He showcased his skills to dramatic effect during this year's spring game in which he racked up a whopping 12 catches for 205 yards and a TD. His role on special teams remains a bit more of a mystery, as FSU figures to give several speedsters a look at punt returner, but Shaw's ability to stabilize the volatile position late last season provides a strong argument to keep the job.

What's to come: At 6-foot, 170 pounds, Shaw fits nicely into the slot for FSU, but that's also part of the problem. After years of trotting out tall, physical receivers, the Seminoles now have a wealth of players who can handle the slot but may be overmatched against more aggressive corners. Still, Shaw stands out as the best of the lot, and his veteran experience will only serve as an additional security blanket for new QB Jameis Winston. Shaw has seen his numbers increase each season -- from 36 yards to 418 to 532 -- and there's a good chance that happens again. He'll work in the shadow of Rashad Greene and potentially Kelvin Benjamin, but that could be a boon for FSU if opposing defenses overlook his skill set. Expect career highs once again from Shaw.
Each season brings with it new expectations, and a handful of Seminoles will bear the brunt of the pressure to perform in 2013. We're counting down the top 10 FSU players being counted on the most to help the Seminoles live up to expectations.

No. 10: WR Kelvin Benjamin

2012 performance: As a redshirt freshman, Benjamin showed flashes of meeting his immense potential, but overall it was something of a disappointing season. Benjamin finished the year with 30 catches for 495 yards and four TDs, but he averaged just 10 yards per game over his final five contests of the year.

[+] EnlargeBenjamin
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreAs a redshirt freshman in 2012, Seminoles receiver Kelvin Benjamin's production didn't match his size and potential.
Pressure point: Odds are, FSU's receiving corps is deep enough that a down season by Benjamin wouldn't wreak havoc on the passing game, but a breakout season from the highly touted sophomore could be the difference between a solid unit and an elite one. Rodney Smith is gone, leaving a major vacancy on offense for a receiver with size -- something Benjamin has in spades -- to help out a first-year starting quarterback. But Benjamin has suffered from maturity issues in his first two years in the program, and the jury is still out on whether he can figure it all out.

If he succeeds: Jameis Winston -- or whoever lands the starting QB job -- will have a huge target to work with, opening the door for a potentially explosive offense. While Rashad Greene, Greg Dent and Kenny Shaw offer some sure-handed options in the receiving corps, Benjamin's combination of size and speed are a unique weapon few defenses can handle. He's a deep threat, but he's also got the height and strength to be one of the top red-zone targets in the country.

If he fails: Greene still figures to be one of the ACC's top receivers, so FSU won't be bereft of talent even if Benjamin falters. Still, it would be incredibly frustrating to see a player with so much obvious talent languish for another year. And while Benjamin would still have two more seasons to develop, it's hard to envision the same enthusiasm from fans following him into 2014 if he doesn't show some immense signs of improvement.

Projection: Consistency is really the key for Benjamin, who readily admitted he'd lose focus often last season. What's more concerning is that, as Jimbo Fisher entrusted him with more and more big-play opportunities in crucial moments, Benjamin struggled more and more. Can a guy grow up that much during one offseason? It's certainly possible, and Benjamin now has the luxury of a year on the field under his belt. He knows what it'll take to succeed, but the question is whether he'll put in the work. Regardless, he's got the talent to be a solid receiver, even if he never develops into the superstar so many projected. A reasonable improvement on last year's numbers -- say, 40 catches and 700 yards -- would be a solid season, but FSU would much prefer Benjamin do a better job of maintaining a higher level of play rather than occasionally contributing monster outings.
When summer workouts began a year ago, players like Menelik Watson, Demonte McAllister and Nick Waisome were flying under the radar with little in the way of expectations. By season's end, however, they were among Florida State's most productive players.

It happens every year that a few relatively obscure names find their way into bigger roles, and as the Seminoles get set to start another summer NoleNation is counting down five under-the-radar players who could be in line for breakthrough seasons.

Next up: Willie Haulstead (Jr./WR)

Career arc: Haulstead burst onto the scene as a sophomore in 2010, finishing second on the team in receptions (38) and receiving yards (587) while hauling in a team-high six touchdowns. He seemed poised for stardom, but a serious concussion suffered during fall camp in 2011 ended his junior campaign before it ever began. Haulstead returned in 2012 overweight and out of shape, and he saw only limited playing time, catching just three passes all year.

Why he's overlooked: It has been two full years since Haulstead was last a productive member of the offense, and by the end of 2012, he was buried on a depth chart that included an ample amount of talent. With established veterans like Kenny Shaw and Rashad Greene along with potential stars like Kelvin Benjamin and incoming freshman Lavonte Whitfield, it's been tough to envision Haulstead rebounding as a senior.

Why he'll produce: Haulstead's path to regular playing time still isn't entirely clear, but he might be in for a bigger role than many have assumed. For one, he has shed the extra weight that plagued him last season. Haulstead has dropped 15 pounds and now checks in at a slim 217 -- and he's working to get down to 210. That has helped his speed, and it allowed him to be a much bigger part of the scheme this spring. Add that Benjamin has struggled with consistency and Rodney Smith is gone, and it stands to reason Jimbo Fisher would be looking for a productive receiver who can match up physically with bigger corners, and Haulstead could fit the bill.

Projection: Haulstead might never get back to the numbers he posted as a sophomore, but he won't be an overlooked piece of the offensive game plan this year. While Fisher figures to still spread the ball around, it wouldn't be surprising if Haulstead earned a sizable slice of the pie this year, potentially sliding into a starting role when FSU opens in three-receiver sets. He might not match the numbers Smith posted last year (38 catches, 524 yards) but a 25-catch, 400-yard season is certainly possible.

Noles 2013 snapshot: Isaiah Jones 

February, 18, 2013
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With national signing day now beyond us, NoleNation takes a closer look at the next crop of Seminoles.

Vitals: Wide receiver Isaiah Jones (Milton, Fla./Milton), 6-foot-4, 195 pounds.

Committed: July 6, 2012.

ESPN.com grade: 83, four-star prospect.

ESPN.com rankings: No. 18 wide receiver in the country, No. 75 player in the Southeast region, No. 32 prospect in the state and the No. 160 player in the ESPN 300.

Picked Florida State over: Auburn, Georgia, Miami (Fla) and Tennessee.

State of the position: Arguably Florida State's deepest and most talented position on the roster, the wide receivers have a chance to be a special group over the next couple of years. Rashad Greene, Kenny Shaw, Greg Dent and Kelvin Benjamin, Jarred Haggins, Marvin Bracy, Christian Green and Willie Haulstead are all back in 2013. Jimbo Fisher's offense, though, loves rotating players at the position and most, if not all, will see significant time next season.

2013 Spring Preview: WRs, TEs 

January, 22, 2013
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Florida StateRobert Mayer/US PresswireTight end Nick O'Leary will need to be more consistent in 2013.

From the impending quarterback competition to finding replacements for departing juniors, Jimbo Fisher will have his work cut out for him during the next few months as he lays the groundwork for 2013.

With that in mind, we're going to go position-by-position looking at Florida State's strengths and weaknesses as the Seminoles prepare for the start of spring practice.

Last week: Cornerback

Next up: Receivers and Tight Ends


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Werner rising on draft boards

December, 13, 2012
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More than four months remain before the 2013 NFL draft, and everything from the senior bowl to the combine to individual workouts can shake things up significantly between today and the moment when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell steps to the stage to announce his first name in April.

Much of that mystery trickles down to Florida State, which at various times since this summer has had as many as five different players discussed as possible, probable or even definitive first-rounders.

Wener
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesBjoern Werner is likely to be picked high in the first round if he declares for this April's NFL draft.
As it stands at the moment, however, the Seminoles might have just one: Bjoern Werner.

Never mind that Werner has yet to announce an official decision on whether he'll forego his senior season at Florida State. That seems a near inevitability after the loss of both his defensive coordinator and position coach, along with his firsthand witnessing of cautionary tales of fellow defensive ends destined for first-round status who later suffered season-ending injuries.

In his first mock draft, ESPN's Todd McShay doesn't simply list Werner as a first rounder, but goes so far as to project the FSU junior as the third overall pick.
[The Raiders] would face a tough call between Werner and LSU DE Barkevious Mingo, who has a better natural skill set as a pass-rusher and would give the Raiders a lighter, faster edge rusher. However, Werner is the more consistent player and has a better all-around game.

If McShay's projection proved accurate, it would be the earliest a Florida State player has been selected in the NFL draft since Arizona took Andre Wadsworth with the third overall pick in 1998. Even if Werner slides a few spots -- Mel Kiper Jr. has him eighth on his big board -- he'd still be just the third first-round pick out of FSU in the past five years, and the highest overall pick since Peter Warrick (fourth) and Corey Simon (sixth) were selected in 2000.

But what of the rest of the Seminoles' 2013 draft class? Here's a quick look at where the other potential pros might stand.

(Read full post)

The Big Board: Distributing the ball 

December, 12, 2012
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Among the myriad talking points entering the season that offered heaps of optimism for the 2012 Seminoles was the deep and diverse group of receivers and the potential damage Florida State's aerial assault might inflict on opposing defenses.

The case for FSU's receivers was air tight: Rashad Greene would be a year older and healthy for a full season after missing four games in 2012; Kelvin Benjamin would be on the field and his size would make him a huge weapon; Willie Haulstead would finally return from a concussion that kept him out all of 2011 after being the team's leading receiver in 2010; juniors Kenny Shaw, Jarred Haggins and Greg Dent were ready to come into their own.

Really, the only question was how EJ Manuel would manage to find enough footballs to ensure all these weapons were given sufficient opportunities to make plays.

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Florida State is in. The Jackets are in. How they got here is a moot point. One of them will be crowned ACC champ on Saturday. Here’s a primer for those of you who need to get caught up:

Who: No. 13 Florida State (10-2, 7-1 ACC) vs. Georgia Tech (6-6, 5-3 ACC)

What: Dr Pepper ACC Championship game

When: Saturday at 8 p.m. ET

Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.

TV/Radio: ESPN

Twitter: #ACCFCG

The coaches:

Jimbo Fisher: 29-10 (third year) at Florida State and overall

Paul Johnson: 39-25 (fifth year) at Georgia Tech; 146-64 (16th year) overall

The series:

All games: Florida State leads 12-9-1;

In bowls and at neutral sites: First meeting

In ACC play: Florida State leads 12-2

Last meeting: Georgia Tech 49, Florida State 44 (Oct. 10, 2009 at FSU)

FSU title game history: Florida State will be seeking its 13th ACC championship. The Seminoles won or shared the title for the first nine seasons after they joined the conference (1992-2000), and went on to capture the national championship in 1993 and 1999. The Seminoles were also ACC champions in 2002, 2003 and 2005. FSU is making its third appearance in the ACC championship game. The Seminoles defeated Virginia Tech 27-22 in the inaugural event in 2005 in Jacksonville, Fla., and suffered a 44-33 loss to the Hokies in 2010 in Charlotte.

GT title game history: The Yellow Jackets captured their first of two ACC titles in 1990, when they went on to claim the national championship. Georgia Tech shared the title with Florida State in 1998. The Yellow Jackets are making their third appearance in the ACC championship game since its inception in 2005. Georgia Tech suffered a 9-6 loss to Wake Forest in the 2006 championship game in Jacksonville, Fla. The Yellow Jackets defeated Clemson 39-34 in 2009 in Tampa, Fla., but later vacated the win and the ACC title because of NCAA sanctions.

FSU stat stars

DE Bjoern Werner: He ranks third nationally and leads the ACC in QB sacks per game with 1.08 and is tied for 15th in total tackles for lost yardage per game (1.50). Werner’s 18 TFL this season have accounted for 134 yards in lost yardage. Werner now has 13 sacks this season.

QB EJ Manuel: He ranks eighth nationally in passing efficiency with a 160.01 rating and leads an offense that averages 41.5 points per game and has scored at least 51 points in four regular-season games.

PK Dustin Hopkins: He now ranks third on the all-time NCAA FBS scoring list with 456 points. Hopkins trails Travis Prentice of Miami (Ohio) by 12 points for second place all-time. He enters Saturday’s game tied for the all-time lead in field goals among NCAA FBS kickers with 87.

WR Rodney Smith: He has caught a pass in 37 consecutive games, one shy of the school record. E.G. Green (1994-97) holds the school record for most consecutive games with a reception at 38.

Georgia Tech stat stars

RB Orwin Smith: His 9.43 career yards per carry is the best for any ACC running back who has gained 1,000 or more yards. Smith has 1,830 yards on 194 carries and 20 touchdowns. His 61.2 yards per game leads the team.

QB Tevin Washington: His 36 career rushing touchdowns are an ACC and school record by a quarterback. Washington leads all active conference players in rushing touchdowns, and his 216 points scored rank seventh. He has improved his completion percentage by more than 12 percentage points (47.1 in 2011 to 59.6 in 2012).

KR Jamal Golden: He ranks second in the ACC and 10th nationally in kickoff returns with 29.0 yards per runback, including two returns for touchdowns.

LB Jeremiah Attaochu: He leads the team and ranks third in the ACC with eight sacks in 11 games (.73 per game).

Five Storylines: FSU vs. Florida 

November, 22, 2012
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The regular season comes to a close Saturday, and Florida State's schedule saved the best for last.

For the first time since 2000, Florida State and Florida will face off while ranked in the top 10, and with both teams likely shut out of the BCS national championship picture, Saturday's game represents something of its own title game to determine the state's champion.

So, as FSU preps for its stiffest competition of the season, here are five key storylines to watch this weekend.

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Florida State 10: Week 9 power rankings 

October, 29, 2012
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With Chris Thompson -- last week's No. 1 player in our Florida State power rankings -- gone for the season, the Seminoles need others to step up on offense. If Saturday was any indication, that won't be a concern.

Florida State's offense racked up five touchdowns in a dominant win over Duke, and had it not been for four fumbles, it might have been a lot more.

So, with a bye week finally at hand, here's how the power rankings stack up after nine games. (Last week's ranks in parentheses.)

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3 Up, 3 Down: Florida State 48, Duke 7 

October, 28, 2012
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Florida State spent the week doing its best to talk up Duke. This was, after all, a battle of the two division leaders in the ACC. But when the game began Saturday, things didn't look much different than the first 17 times these two teams faced off.

FSU is now a perfect 18-0 against Duke, dominating the Blue Devils on Saturday with a 48-7 victory. In spite of the lopsided score, it wasn't exactly a flawless performance, but it perfectly illustrated just how dominant Florida State can be, even when things aren't all clicking into place.

A few of the best and worst performances from the game:

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The game was billed as a battle of division leaders, but Duke hardly looked the part Saturday as Florida State dominated the Blue Devils en route to a 48-7 victory.

Despite Duke's upstart status this season, little has changed in its rivalry with the Seminoles. EJ Manuel threw for 282 yards and two touchdowns, Tyler Hunter added a 75-yard punt return for a score and Florida State cruised to its 18th victory in as many tries against the Blue Devils.

It was over when: James Wilder Jr. rumbled into the end zone from 1 yard out just 1:50 into the second quarter. That touchdown put Florida State ahead 24-0, and it was already clear that in spite of all the buzz leading up to the game surrounding Duke's sudden resurgence, the Blue Devils simply weren't in the same class as the Seminoles.

Game ball goes to: Wilder and Devonta Freeman. There were plenty of stout performances, from Manuel's long passes to stellar defensive work by Cornellius Carradine and Christian Jones. But coming into the game, the big question was how Florida State's ground game would respond to the loss of starting tailback Chris Thompson, and Freeman and Wilder offered an emphatic answer. The pair combined for 174 yards on 25 carries and scored three times on the ground. Since Thompson's injury, Wilder and Freeman have averaged 6.8 yards per carry.

Stat of the game: Manuel wasn't asked to do much against Duke, but when he unloaded in the passing game, it was usually for a big play. Manuel averaged 17.6 yards per attempt against Duke -- the highest average of his career. Five of Manuel's eight completions gained at least 30 yards, and he finished with 282 yards passing. In his two career starts against Duke, Manuel has completed just 17 passes, but five have gained 50 yards or more. Meanwhile, Duke's quarterbacks averaged just 3.6 yards per attempt Saturday.

Unsung hero: Dustin Hopkins. OK, so neither of his field goals meant a whole lot in determining the outcome, but Hopkins connected on a 56-yard kick with 9:40 to go in the fourth quarter to set the ACC's all-time record for most field goals in a career, eclipsing former Maryland kicker Nick Novak. Hopkins has 15 field goals in his last five games, but the 58-yarder was a career-long for the senior. He's just 10 points shy of setting the NCAA record for most points scored in a career.

Record performance: Hopkins provided the only ACC record of the day, as Duke's Conner Vernon will have to wait to set the conference record for receiving yards. Vernon entered play needing 94 yards to break Peter Warrick's career mark for ACC receivers, but he managed just three catches for 12 yards.

Cause for concern: It was an easy win for Florida State, but fumbles remained a big problem for the second consecutive game. FSU coughed up the football four times Saturday, with Duke recovering each of them. This comes on the heels of a six-fumble performance against Miami last week. The problems were across the board, too, with Manuel fumbling on a QB run, Rodney Smith fumbling after a long reception, Freeman coughing up the football on a running play and Hunter muffing a return.

The Big Board: FSU going deep

October, 17, 2012
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The first pass EJ Manuel threw against Boston College was a 35-yarder from the back of his own end zone that sailed just over the head of Rodney Smith down the sideline.

[+] EnlargeEj Manuel and Jimbo Fisher
Melina Vastola/US PresswireEJ Manuel had a solid game throwing downfield against Boston College.
Five of the next eight passes Manuel threw were deep balls, too, including a 77-yard touchdown to Kenny Shaw and a 42-yard deep ball to Jarred Haggins.

It was a stark contrast from a week earlier, when Manuel rarely looked downfield and Florida State's offense sputtered in the second half, failing to score as NC State engineered a dramatic, come-from-behind win.

"I wanted to be aggressive as a quarterback, and I told that to Coach Fisher," Manuel said. "I told him I wanted to attack these guys and allow our receivers to make plays. He opened it up for us, and we had a great game."

A week after earning heavy criticism for his conservative approach against NC State, Fisher called easily the most aggressive passing game of the season.

Manuel attempted 10 passes of 20 yards or more in Saturday's win over BC, according to ESPN Stats and Info. If we factor out his final three throws against NC State -- desperate downfield attempts in the final seconds -- Manuel had attempted just 19 throws of 20 yards or more in the first six games of the season combined.

But the difference in Saturday's outcome wasn't just about scheme or play-calling. The big offensive numbers against Boston College were built upon better protection up front and better execution from the quarterback.

"It's going through those reads, being able to take a five-step drop, hitch up and throw the ball downfield," Manuel said. "It takes time. I told those guys in the huddle, 'Give me a second-and-a-half and we'll get this ball down the field.' "

So, why did it all work so well against Boston College after things went so horribly wrong against NC State?

Protection -- particularly from the two tackle positions -- was crucial.

"When you go short corners and you have two guys that can handle the corners, it becomes a much easier task to do things and get the ball more vertical and get the ball down the field," Fisher said. "No matter how you say you want to throw the ball down the field, you have to have time. And you say, well, block them all up -- but then you end up double covered. You have to get your guys out and block."

We wrote last week about how NC State thwarted Fisher's attempts at an effective passing game, and the numbers against Boston College illustrate the alternative.

It's all fairly intuitive in retrospect, but the numbers speak to the importance of the offensive line in aggressive play-calling. The bottom line: Manuel's best games have come when he's faced the least pressure.


(*Courtesy ESPN Stats and Info.)

The big plays early set a perfect precedent, and BC made the rest of the game fairly easy for the offense. There were few blitzes, as BC chose to keep extra players in coverage, and that opened the door for both Manuel and the FSU running game.

Boston College represented something of a perfect storm for FSU -- improved blocking, better throws from the quarterback, a soft pass rush and some aggressive play-calling. Add it all up, and it was a recipe for a huge offensive performance.

The question now is whether Miami -- which has its share of problems in the secondary -- chooses BC's approach or the more aggressive style that worked for NC State. More importantly, what happens to Florida State when it faces a team (such as Florida) that can do both?

Florida State 10: Week 7 power rankings 

October, 15, 2012
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One week after a dismal loss, Florida State responded with a dominant victory over Boston College stuffed with enough big performances that sorting out the top of the power rankings is a nearly impossible task. Here's how things stand after seven weeks, with last week's rankings in parentheses.

1. Chris Thompson, RB (1)
It wasn't a spectacular game for Thompson, who finished with 68 yards rushing on 10 carries, but his cumulative work for the season keeps him atop the power rankings. He has now tallied 640 rushing yards for the year, surpassing Devonta Freeman's team-leading tally from all of last season in just seven games. Thompson needs to average just 60 yards per game the rest of the way to become FSU's first 1,000-yard back since 1996.

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