Florida State Seminoles: Cameron Erving

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Fifth-year senior Cameron Erving walked off the practice field Saturday after one of the most interesting practices of his career. For those attending the afternoon practice, it was a bizarre sight watching Erving orchestrate the offensive line considering Florida State’s All-ACC left tackle is still only in his third year playing the position, and not once in his life had he previously snapped the ball. Erving, a potential first-round pick in 2015, would be the NFL’s tallest starting center at 6-foot-6.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsJimbo Fisher moves players to other positions in part to make them better.
The odds that Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher would move his best offensive lineman out of one of football’s premium positions to play center are slim. It is the spring, and nearly the end of it, and Fisher said he is prepping for a worst-case scenario in which injuries force him to reshuffle his offensive line, which returns five players with starting experience.

"Center is like quarterback,” Fisher said. “You can move guards, tackles, receivers. Centers and quarterbacks, that's a learned profession and you have to have as many as you can. … We’re just doing things to develop backups and get other guys snaps.”

Through the spring, Fisher has mixed and matched his offensive line so his five starters have at least an elementary knowledge of playing more than one position on the line. It’s not limited to just the maulers up front either, as Fisher routinely cross-trains his linebackers and defensive backs.

Jalen Ramsey could play three positions in the secondary this fall. The same goes for defensive back Nate Andrews. Several Seminoles linebackers are receiving work at multiple positions.

Cross-training his players is not simply Fisher guarding against a series of injuries that would cause him to revamp his offensive line or back seven on defense. Fisher contends it makes a player better at his starting position. The constant formation and personnel changes opponents present necessitates a comprehensive awareness of the entire unit.

Redshirt sophomore Ukeme Eligwe is campaigning for a starting position this spring. He played in 13 games last season, mostly out of position at outside linebacker. A natural inside linebacker, he was uncomfortable and out of his element flanked to either side of the defense. But this spring he is once again playing inside linebacker and is doing so with a better appreciation and understanding of playing in the middle.

“Whatever the call is I know exactly what the outside man is doing and that makes it easier for me to know ‘I don’t have to go over here because he has the flats, and I can drop,’ so I’m glad I moved to the outside last year,” Eligwe said. “Now it’s a little easier. I know the defense a lot more.”

The 15 practices permitted during the spring are the optimal time for Fisher to explore. Coaches have a limited amount of hours of on-field practice time during the fall. Fisher said the hope is he can build a strong enough base in the spring that if and when a player is called upon in a meaningful situation, he can reach back into his library to bring forth the information he filed away five months earlier.

“It’s demanding on them because they have to learn quickly in a short amount of time, but in the long run it’s going to help. Right now you got to cram as much information as you can,” Fisher said. “If you’re familiar with something, it makes it easy to learn it once the package comes out.”

It would be naïve to believe Fisher is not cramming that same information for his own use. He is interested to see how Ramsey works at nickelback or how Erving responds at center and whether it might give Florida State the best chance to win. The spring is meant for tinkering, but it also gives Fisher an opportunity to appraise his roster and formulate a way to get the best 11 players on the field.

“You don’t know a guy can do this [at a different position] and you can mix and match to get the best personnel on the field in different packages,” Fisher said. “… You’re always looking for that.”
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Three years ago, Jimbo Fisher was out of options. Injuries and ineffectiveness had rendered his offensive line a sieve, and as the 2011 season drew to a close, Fisher threw his hands in the air and sent four true freshmen onto the field to start Florida State’s bowl game against Notre Dame.

The last resort proved to be a stroke of genius. The group gelled and by the time the Seminoles secured the 2013 national championship, the offensive line was a strength. With five seniors projected as starters for 2014, the line promises to be the backbone of Florida State’s offense again.

[+] EnlargeRoderick Johnson
Cliff Welch/Icon SMIESPN 300 offensive tackle Roderick Johnson is the Seminoles' top-ranked offensive line signee for the 2014 class.
The problem, however, is the incredibly uncertain future after Tre' Jackson, Cameron Erving, Josue Matias and the rest of this veteran line wave goodbye.

Fisher clearly remembers the struggles of 2011, and he’s not eager to relive them again in 2015 and beyond. So while rebuilding the line is still a year away, the groundwork for that massive overhaul began in earnest Wednesday.

Florida State inked an impressive class on national signing day, reeling in 28 new Seminoles -- including five early enrollees -- and one quarter of that group is offensive linemen. It is one of the largest recruiting scores at the position in school history, Fisher said, and it’s a group with significant upside.

“We got size on the edges, in the middle and that can snap the football,” Fisher said. “From that standpoint, it’s a great group, and guys are just getting bigger and faster.”

There might not be room for the seven linemen FSU inked to get much bigger. The group already averages 6-foot-6 and 313 pounds, including juco transfers Kareem Are (6-6, 350) and Chad Mavety (6-5, 315), who Fisher believes can step in and play immediately.

Of course, finding reps for the fresh faces won’t be easy given the veterans already in place atop the depth chart, but Fisher understands it’s necessary if Florida State wants to avoid another season of linemen learning on the job in 2015.

“If those guys play well, there will be a lot of playing time,” Fisher said. “They’ll get a lot of playing time, and that’s why it was critical we got two junior college guys.”

If game-ready talent was necessary, developmental projects were significant for Florida State, too.

Fisher has racked up big recruiting wins in virtually every segment of the roster since his arrival in 2010, but the offensive line has remained a concern throughout. Part of the struggles to recruit top talent on the line lies with position coach Rick Trickett, who is far less interested in recruiting rankings than finding players malleable enough for him to build up from scratch.

Since Trickett took over the line in 2007, Florida State has signed just three offensive linemen ranked among the top 150 recruits. Jordan Prestwood left shortly after arriving. Ira Denson, last year’s prize recruit, could be on his way out, too. (Fisher said Wednesday that Denson was “still in school,” but didn’t elaborate on his status with the team.) Of FSU’s best line recruits in the Trickett era, only Bobby Hart remains embedded on the depth chart.

In fact, if Denson leaves, FSU will have just two scholarship linemen to show for its recruiting efforts in 2012 and 2013 combined and, before Wednesday’s haul, had just three linemen on the current roster set to still be with the team in 2015. Fisher praised the potential of redshirt freshman Wilson Bell and redshirt junior Ruben Carter, but there’s no doubt Wednesday’s new additions were a necessary influx of bodies.

“The guys who put their hands in the dirt on the offensive line, that controls the game,” Fisher said. “You can have all the skills in the world you want but you’ve got to win those battles up front and protect. Getting great offensive linemen is critical.”

Just how great this group ends up remains to be seen. Strong bodies with weak constitutions have a tendency to crumble under Trickett’s demanding approach. But the potential for this group is obvious.

Roderick Johnson is 6-7, 330 pounds and ranked as one of ESPN’s top prospects at tackle. FSU snagged him out of Missouri as one of Wednesday’s late additions to the class.

"Big Rod is a very athletic guy -- bends tremendously well for a guy 6-7 and 330 pounds,” Fisher said. “Great length and can bend his lower body, great flexibility and very intelligent. Very smart guy. Works very hard. I think the sky is the limit for the guy.”

Corey Martinez ranked just a tick behind Johnson as an ESPN 300 member, too. It’s the first time FSU landed multiple ESPN 300 linemen in the same class since Prestwood and Hart came aboard in 2011.

At 6-9, Brock Ruble is one of the tallest recruits in the nation, while Are and Movety were both among the top junior college linemen in the country. The Seminoles also added three-star center Alec Eberle.

Replacing the five seniors projected to start in 2014 will be no small task, but the first step in the process was providing Fisher and Trickett with some building blocks. Wednesday’s recruiting haul did that, and Fisher hopes that means there won’t be another season like 2011 on the horizon.

“Those guys will get a lot of playing time this year, and we’ll develop them,” he said. “They’ll have been able to play, and they’ll all be sophomores and juniors [in 2015] and they’ll fit in.”
Some are can't-miss prospects, such as Jameis Winston. The Florida State quarterback was ESPN's No. 1 QB in the Class of 2012, won the Heisman Trophy in his first season as the Seminoles' starter and added a national championship to cap his redshirt freshman year.

Others are not so easy to find.

Andre Williams, who finished three spots behind Winston in the 2013 Heisman Trophy voting, was a two-star prospect in the Class of 2010. All the Boston College running back did this past fall was tally the fifth-highest rushing total in FBS history (2,177 yards).

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston, Andre Williams
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesAndre Williams and Jameis Winston came from opposite ends of the recruiting spectrum.
With national signing day coming Wednesday, we figured this is a good time to revisit where our All-ACC players stood when they signed with their schools. The results, as usual, offer some surprises.

Just one ESPN.com All-ACC player from this past season entered college as a five-star prospect. Williams was one of two two-star prospects. There were 11 four-star prospects and eight three-star prospects. Two players, both of whom are from the high school Class of 2009, don't have star ratings, as ESPN didn't start using star ratings until 2010. Kickers and punters have no ratings, rankings or grades.

(All rankings and information are from ESPN's Recruiting Nation.)

Offense

  • QB Jameis Winston, Florida State via Hueytown (Ala.) High: Four stars, No. 14 overall prospect, Class of 2012. Scout grade: 84
  • RB: Andre Williams, Boston College via Allentown (Pa.) Parkland High: Two stars, No. 152 RB, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 73
  • RB: Devonta Freeman, Florida State via Miami Central High: Four stars, No. 15 RB, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 80
  • WR: Sammy Watkins, Clemson via South Fort Myers (Fla.) High: Four stars, No. 39 overall prospect, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 82
  • WR: Rashad Greene, Florida State via Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Saint Thomas Aquinas High: Four stars, No. 125 overall prospect, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 80
  • WR: Jamison Crowder, Duke via Monroe (N.C.) High: Three stars, No. 65 WR, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 78
  • TE: Eric Ebron, North Carolina via Greensboro (N.C.) Smith High: Four stars, No. 8 TE, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 80
  • T: Cameron Erving, Florida State via Colquitt County (Ga.) High: Three stars, No. 83 DT, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 76
  • T: Brandon Thomas, Clemson via Dorman (S.C.) High: No. 60 OG, Class of 2009. Scout grade: 76*
  • G: Laken Tomlinson, Duke via Chicago Lane Tech High: Three stars, No. 65 OG, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 75
  • G: Tre’ Jackson, Florida State via Wayne County (Ga.) High: Three stars, No. 50 DT, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 78
  • C: Bryan Stork, Florida State via Vero Beach (Fla.) High: No. 45 TE, Class of 2009. Scout grade: 76*
Defense

  • DE: Vic Beasley, Clemson via Adairsville (Ga.) High: Four stars, No. 19 ATH, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 80
  • DE: Kareem Martin, North Carolina via Roanoke Rapids (N.C.) High: Three stars, No. 59 DE, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 80
  • DT: Aaron Donald, Pitt via Pittsburgh Penn Hills High: Four stars, No. 22 DT, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 79
  • DT: Timmy Jernigan, Florida State via Lake City (Fla.) Columbia High: Four stars, No. 17 overall prospect, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 84
  • LB: Telvin Smith, Florida State via Valdosta (Ga.) Lowndes High: Four stars, No. 107 overall prospect, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 81
  • LB: Kelby Brown, Duke via Charlotte (N.C.) Christian High: Three stars, No. 88 OLB, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 75
  • LB: Kevin Pierre-Louis, Boston College via Stamford (Conn.) The King & Low Heywood Thomas School: Four stars, No. 20 OLB, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 79
  • CB: Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State via Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Saint Thomas Aquinas High: Five stars, No. 6 overall prospect, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 87
  • CB: Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech via Baltimore Mount St. Joseph High: Three stars, No. 43 CB, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 77
  • S: Terrence Brooks, Florida State via Dunnellon (Fla.) High: Three stars, No. 21 CB, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 70
  • S: Anthony Harris, Virginia via Cheesterfield (Va.) Lloyd C. Bird High: Two stars, No. 203 ATH, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 72
Special Teams

  • K: Nate Freese, Boston College via Strongsville (Ohio) High: Class of 2009
  • P: Pat O’Donnell, Miami via Palm Beach (Fla.) Central High: Class of 2009
  • SP: Ryan Switzer, North Carolina via Charleston (W.Va.) George Washington High: Four stars, No. 59 WR, Class of 2013. Scout grade: 80

FSU depth chart breakdown: Offense

January, 24, 2014
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A lot has changed for Florida State in the few weeks since Jimbo Fisher hoisted that crystal trophy above his head in Pasadena, Calif. Stars have departed, several incoming freshmen have arrived and the Seminoles are already at work with an eye toward repeating in 2014.

With that in mind, we’re taking a quick run through the depth chart to see where Florida State stands in advance of spring practice. Up first, the offense.

Quarterback

Projected starter: Jameis Winston (RS-So.)
Backups: Sean Maguire (RS-So.) and John Franklin III (RS-Fr.)

[+] EnlargeWinston Sacked
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesKeeping Jameis Winston upright will be a key for Florida State, especially with Jacob Coker transferring.
Storylines: Winston plans to play baseball again this spring, which means at least some concerns about injury. Jacob Coker is transferring, leaving Maguire as Winston’s top backup. He had only limited playing time in 2013 and will need to continue to improve this spring. Franklin has great athleticism, but questions linger about whether he’ll stick at QB for the long haul.

Status: A
Returning the Heisman winner makes life easy for FSU’s offense, but Winston’s health will be watched closely.

Offensive line

Projected starters: Cameron Erving (RS-Sr.), Tre Jackson (Sr.), Austin Barron (Sr.), Josue Matias (Sr.), Bobby Hart (Sr.)
Backups: Sterling Lovelady (Sr.), Ira Denson (RS-Fr.), Ruben Carter (RS-Jr.), Wilson Bell (RS-Fr.), Ryan Hoefeld (RS-Fr.), Kareem Are (Fr.), Stephen Gabbard (Fr.)

Storylines: Barron steps in for Stork in the only noteworthy departure from the line. Barron has starting experience, and if he wins the job, FSU will have five senior starters -- meaning lofty expectations for the unit. Erving and Bell played well on the edges last year, but both could make further strides. The improvement for youngsters such as Bell, Hoefeld and Are will be crucial for both depth in 2014 and managing a massive overhaul in 2015.

Status: A
The starting lineup might be the best in the country, but developing depth for the future will be crucial this spring.

Running backs/Fullbacks

Projected starters: Karlos Williams (Sr.) and Freddie Stevenson (So.)
Backups: Mario Pender (RS-So.), Ryan Green (So.), Dalvin Cook (Fr.), Cameron Ponder (Sr.)

Storylines: Williams was a revelation in his first season as a tailback, but for all his success, 70 of his 91 carries came in late-game, blowout situations. Pender returns after sitting out two years because of injuries and academics, but he provides ample speed and a knowledge of the system. Green showed flashes of potential as a freshman but must improve his blocking and decision-making this spring. Cook could be the wild card. He’s an immense talent, and by enrolling early, he’ll have a leg up on getting touches in the fall.

Status: B
With a ton of talent, this group could easily turn this grade to an A by the end of the spring.

Wide receivers

Projected starters: Rashad Greene (Sr.), Christian Green (RS-Sr.), Kermit Whitfield (So.)
Backups: Isaiah Jones (So.), Jarred Haggins (RS-Sr.), Jesus Wilson (So.)

Storylines: FSU must replace Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin, who accounted for nearly 2,000 yards and 21 touchdowns between them. The current group, aside from Greene, has combined for just 34 catches, 441 yards and no touchdowns in the past two seasons. After a solid 2011 season, Green has virtually disappeared and must show he’s still capable of making an impact. Haggins returns from a knee injury and figures to be limited in spring practice, but he could provide a solid veteran influence. Whitfield is a budding star thanks to his blazing speed, but FSU will need to see marked improvement from both Jones and Wilson in order to make up for the depth this unit lost.

Status: C+
Without any established depth behind Greene, this is the one area of the offense where Florida State has a lot of work to do this spring.

Tight end

Projected starter: Nick O’Leary (Sr.)
Backups: Kevin Haplea (RS-Sr.), Giorgio Newberry (RS-Jr.), Jeremy Kerr (RS-Fr.)

Storylines: O’Leary had a breakthrough 2013, but with two of FSU’s top three receivers gone, he figures to see even more looks this year. Haplea returns from a knee injury that cost him all of 2013 and will likely take it slow entering spring practice. Newberry’s stint at tight end after moving from defensive end wasn’t entirely smooth, and he’s been vocal that he’s not enamored with staying at the position.

Status: A
O’Leary figures to be among the top tight ends in the country this season, and getting the veteran Haplea back for blocking situations adds to the unit’s depth and versatility.

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
It has been a season for the ages at Florida State, perhaps the best season in the program’s history. So filling out the end-of-year power rankings is no easy task. There’s a good case to be made for virtually any order -- well, any order after No. 1 — but this is what we came up with. (Previous rankings in parentheses.)

1. Jameis Winston, QB (1): Heisman Trophy, national champion, household name, media darling-turned-national scandal… so, what’s left for Year 2 for Winston? After everything that happened in 2013, however, that final drive in Pasadena was the highlight.

2. Timmy Jernigan, DT (3): It’s so easy to overlook Jernigan’s impact until he’s not in the lineup. That was never more clear than against Auburn. Now, FSU will have to find a replacement. It won’t be easy.

[+] EnlargeRashad Greene
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsRashad Green stepped up to play a major role in the title game.
3. Lamarcus Joyner, CB (2): Perhaps no player more epitomized the four-year rebuilding job under Jimbo Fisher, and no player deserved to have it end the way it did than Joyner. He was the star commit when no one knew what was next for Florida State, and he and Fisher helped will the program back to elite status.

4. Rashad Greene, WR (6): Others always seem to get the hype, but for three straight years, there has been no more consistent weapon on FSU’s offense than Greene. His catch and run for 49 yards on that final drive is the reason Florida State won the national championship. The funny thing is, if you watched the Virginia Tech game last year, it looked oh so familiar.

5. Telvin Smith, LB (5): He finished with 15 tackles and was exceptional in slowing one of the best running games in the country. But what Smith brought to FSU off the field this year is his lasting impact.

6. Kelvin Benjamin, WR (9): It was an ugly first half for Benjamin, and there were more miscues in the second half. But when he went up for that final pass from Winston, everyone knew exactly how that play would end. Now, Benjamin is a Sports Illustrated cover boy.

7. Devonta Freeman, RB (4): It’s a bit of a misnomer. It hasn’t really been a 17-year drought of 1,000-yard rushers. Plenty of FSU teams have rushed for far more than that, and plenty of players were more than capable. But fate or injury or bad luck managed to keep them from it eclipsing the mark individually. But perhaps it was destiny, so that someone as deserving as Freeman could finally be the one to end the streak.

8. Jalen Ramsey, S (NR): With so many key defensive players departing, Ramsey is one of the biggest reasons for optimism in 2014. His emergence this year was nothing short of spectacular. A secondary that has been the best in the nation the past two seasons is in good hands.

9. Mario Edwards Jr., DE (NR): Edwards really progressed as the season went along, and he was huge in the BCS title game. Next year, he’ll likely be playing to impress NFL scouts, and he’ll be the most crucial cog on a revamped D line.

10. Bryan Stork, C (NR): To truly appreciate all Stork has done, go back and watch the film from the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl, when the line was a mess. Stork has been the veteran who managed that transition and eased the development for the guys around him, and his impact on the FSU offense has been immense.

Honorable mentions: WR Kenny Shaw, LT Cameron Erving, DE Christian Jones, CB Ronald Darby, KR Kermit Whitfield, Red Lightning.
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.

ACC underclassmen watch

January, 8, 2014
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The deadline to declare for the NFL draft is one week from today. Let us take a quick look at who has already announced their intentions, and who is still mulling over their decision.

Turning pro

Also, a source told ESPN's Joe Schad that Florida State running back James Wilder Jr. will enter for the draft. Of these players who have already declared, only Watkins and Ebron are listed on the latest Mel Kiper Big Board. Watkins and Ebron are near locks to go early in the draft. But the prospects are less certain for the others who have already declared.

Still waiting on

Jernigan, Benjamin and Beasley are all listed on the Kiper Big Board. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said Tuesday at his post-championship news conference he expects only a few players to leave early for the draft.

Also of note, Virginia Tech safety Kyshoen Jarrett announced on Twitter that he will return to school for his senior season.
It was the fourth quarter of a game Florida State already had well in hand over its in-state rival, Florida, in late November, but Jameis Winston was angry.

The Seminoles had flubbed the clock management, and when a timeout was called, Winston retreated to the sideline, barking at the coaching staff. Jimbo Fisher responded by grabbing Winston’s face mask, shouting back at his quarterback.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston, Jimbo Fisher
AP Photo/Phil SearsFSU coach Jimbo Fisher and QB Jameis Winston make an unlikely pairing, but the two are surprisingly similar.
It was a rare, public glimpse of an adversarial side to the relationship between Winston and Jimbo Fisher, but it was hardly uncommon.

“I’ll argue just to make it seem like I’m right a little bit, but he’s always right,” Winston said. “Sometimes we’ll get into an argument where we’re both right -- but he’s righter.”

The dynamic might actually have been explained better by Fisher earlier in the game. As he marched to the locker room at the end of the first half, Fisher was stopped by a TV reporter who asked about his quarterback. Fisher rattled off his usual responses at his usual frenetic pace, but he capped his answer with a bit of insight into their chemistry: Winston and Fisher are extremely similar, the coach said, and sometimes that’s not a good thing.

“It’s how we communicate,” Fisher said of the on-field argument. “It’s normal.”

Winston’s teammates have seen it happen often on the practice field, away from the cameras or the prying eyes of fans. Fisher insists on perfection, and Winston does, too. They just don’t always see eye to eye on exactly how perfection will be defined.

The practice-field barking is nothing new. Fisher is famous for it among his players. But what’s unique about his rapport with Winston is they match each other’s passion.

“They’ve had their arguments, but they’ve always understood each other,” left tackle Cameron Erving said. “I don’t know if Coach Fisher and guys like EJ [Manuel] and [Christian] Ponder, I don’t know if they related on the same level. I feel like that’s what makes Jameis and Coach Fisher so compatible. It’s always passion, wanting to do right.”

It seems an unlikely pairing, really. The unabashedly goofy 19-year-old with the cocky swagger and the throwback coach with the fiercely demanding bravado -- it might be easy to miss how similar they really are.

Winston jokes on the practice field, teasing teammates, singing and dancing in the huddle. But he’s as frustrated by failure as his coach is, and he’s as quick to get in the face of a teammate who needs to step up his game.

“But Jameis really isn’t mean,” Kelvin Benjamin said. “At least not to the receivers.”

Fisher is a no-nonsense drill sergeant. He presides over practice with a stern resolve that has, at times, rattled players with a lesser tolerance for criticism. But he also laughs often and pals around with players, filled with the same childlike enthusiasm about the sport he loves that his quarterback exudes so routinely.

“Coach Fisher likes to crack jokes just as much as Jameis does,” Erving said. “It’s just different ages, different sensibilities.”

That common ground has been a key to this season’s success, Fisher said. He can be hard on Winston because Winston understands why he’s being critiqued. He can bark orders at his quarterback but realizes Winston is already working to correct the mistake.

Fisher was Winston’s protector during the sexual-assault investigation that hung over Winston in November like a black cloud. Winston has been Fisher’s best asset in the locker room, offering the same rhetoric his coach has espoused for years, but with a sales pitch more appealing to the team.

When Winston gave his Heisman Trophy acceptance speech, it’s no surprise the words echoed Fisher’s favorite mantras about process and focus and maturity, or that Fisher wept as he listened to the words.

“Just having somebody that I can relate to, somebody he can relate to, that just makes the situation more genuine,” Winston said. “That’s how you have a successful team, when the head coach and the quarterback get along.”
Editor’s note: Each day this week, Florida State reporter David M. Hale and Auburn reporter Greg Ostendorf will preview a position battle in next Monday’s VIZIO BCS National Championship. The first matchup is between Florida State’s offensive line and Auburn’s defensive line.

Florida State’s offensive line: The five starters on the line for Florida State are all NFL prospects. The group is led by senior center Bryan Stork, a first-team AP All-America selection. Tackle Cameron Erving and guard Tre' Jackson were first-team All-ACC selections.

The group excels at run-blocking, and Florida State topped 2,600 yards and 40 touchdowns on the ground for a second consecutive season. Factoring out yards lost to sacks, FSU is rushing for more yards per carry against FBS teams this season than Auburn.

The question — if there is one — for Floirida State is in its pass protection. The Seminoles have allowed a sack on 6.7 percent of passing attempts, which ranks 83rd nationally, and 13 of the 29 sacks allowed have came in the last five games.

While those numbers might be a cause for concern against an stout Auburn defensive front (28 sacks, tied for third in SEC), two factors mitigate any perceived struggles.

For one, teams have blitzed Florida State often in hopes of rattling quarterback Jameis Winston, as 36 percent of his throws come against the blitz. Occasionally they’ve gotten to him, with 12 sacks when rushing five or more defenders, according to ESPN Stats & Info. More often, however, he burns them. Winston is completing 71 percent of his passes against the blitz, with 20 TDs and three interceptions.

The second issue is Winston’s desire to complete the deep ball. The redshirt freshman won the Heisman Trophy by being aggressive, but he admits there are times he needs to check down and get rid of the ball quicker rather than asking his line to hold blocks for a few extra seconds. The payoff to the approach, however, has been an array of big plays. Winston leads the nation in yards per attempt (10.9) and only LSU’s Zach Mettenberger has a higher percentage of completions gain 15 yards or more than Winston (43 percent). Winston is tough against pressure, completing 62 percent of his throws when hit or hurried — nearly double the average for a quarterback from a BCS automatic-qualifying conference. Even getting him into third-and-long situations doesn’t help much; he’s an absurd 16-of-21 with 15 first downs on third-and-10 or longer.

Auburn’s defensive line: When Auburn last won the national championship in 2010, it had an above-average defense, but it was a defense that featured a dominant front line with All-American defensive tackle Nick Fairley and veterans Antoine Carter, Zach Clayton and Mike Blanc. The 2010 Tigers also had highly-touted freshman defensive end Corey Lemonier, who is now a rookie with the San Francisco 49ers.

[+] EnlargeCarl Lawson
AP Photo/Todd J. Van EmstAuburn freshman Carl Lawson had four sacks this season.
This year’s Auburn team is similar. The defense has struggled at times this season, but its strength is up front on the defensive line.

The star is defensive end Dee Ford, who leads the team with 8.5 sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss and 17 quarterback hurries. A senior, Ford missed the first two games with an injury but has since recorded a sack in seven of Auburn’s last 11 games. He’s a different type of animal than Fairley, but an animal nonetheless.

The rest of the line also has its share of veterans with senior Nosa Eguae and juniors Gabe Wright, LaDarius Owens and Ben Bradley. Eguae, who moved inside to tackle midway through the season, started in the 2010 BCS title game.

And then there are the freshmen. The trio of Carl Lawson, Montravius Adams and Elijah Daniel is as good a collection of young defensive linemen as there is in college football. Lawson, the nation’s No. 2 player coming out of high school in the 2013 recruiting class, leads the group with four sacks.

Fairley was dominant in the 2010 game as Auburn’s defensive line controlled the line against a smaller, quicker Oregon team. That likely won’t be the case this time around against a Florida State offensive line that’s much stronger and much more impressive, but the key to stopping the Seminoles will still begin and end with the front four. Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson will rely on his line to get pressure on Winston, knowing how good the Heisman Trophy winner has been against the blitz this season.

Hale: Edge to Florida State

Ostendorf: Toss-up
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.

ESPN.com's All-ACC team

December, 16, 2013
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Florida State’s undefeated season is reflected in the Seminoles’ 10 all-conference selections by ESPN.com. Quarterback Jameis Winston was the highlight of the group, along with Boston College running back Andre Williams, who was also a Heisman candidate this year. This list differs just slightly from the choices of the coaches and writers, with the toughest decisions coming on defense.

Offense
Defense
Special Teams

Winston had many 'Heisman moments'

December, 13, 2013
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Jameis Winston was on a recruiting trip to Alabama during his junior year of high school. He watched practice alongside his Hueytown High coach, Matt Scott, and toured facilities. Eventually, they came across the Heisman Trophy, won a year earlier by Crimson Tide running back Mark Ingram.

Winston studied the trophy and considered his future. Without a hint of doubt, he turned to his coach and made a promise: “I’m going to be the next one at Alabama to win this,” Winston said.

Of course, that’s not exactly how things played out. Winston didn’t end up at Alabama, but he will be in New York this weekend, the heavy favorite to win this year’s Heisman Trophy for Florida State.

In the buildup to the trophy presentation, there will be ample discussion of “Heisman moments” — those images that define a player’s march toward the award. For Winston, this was his. Once he decided he wanted to win it, it was an inevitability.

“When he says things like that, people don’t understand -- he’s not kidding,” Scott said. “He believes it.”

Since Winston arrived in Tallahassee, he's been busy convincing everyone else, too.

From the outset, teammates noticed Winston's outgoing personality -- dancing and joking during practice -- but also his competitiveness.

“He has an edge that you don't see often,” left tackle Cameron Erving said. “He's one of the most competitive individuals I've ever met.

Erving served as a mentor to Winston during his redshirt season, and he worried that the quarterback’s goofball persona might undermine his leadership skills. He was quickly proven wrong.

During one summer practice, Erving pulled Winston aside. He needed to take the drills more seriously, Erving told him, and Winston understood. What shocked Erving wasn’t Winston’s response, but that once the freshman changed his demeanor, so did everyone else around him. He was a natural leader.

“I haven't seen that type of leadership ability in anybody I've been around,” Erving said.

Winston's skill with the football only solidified his stature. Winston ran scout team in 2012, and Lamarcus Joyner marveled at what the freshman could do surrounded by a group of walk-ons.

“EJ [Manuel] wasn’t making throws like that,” Joyner said. “And I said to myself, this guy’s going to be special.”

It should’ve come as no surprise then that, in this year’s spring game, Winston’s first career throw in front of Florida State fans was a long pass over Joyner’s head to the waiting hands of a walk-on receiver for a touchdown.

Winston’s impressive spring game didn’t immediately secure him the starting job, but it felt inevitable. What was less certain was how he’d handle his first career start — a road game against Pitt on a Monday night, a debut in front of a national TV audience in a hostile environment.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Lane Turner/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesJameis Winston's touchdown pass to end the first half at Boston College opened many eyes.
“We’d seen flashes of him in practice,” safety Terrence Brooks said. “But it’s in the game you can really tell when someone turns it on. Seeing that Pitt game, we knew.”

Winston was nearly flawless. He completed 25 of 27 passes for 356 yards and accounted for five touchdowns. The first 11 passes of his career were completions. The bright smile that has become his trademark never left his face.

“I saw him making those tremendous plays and I was like, ‘He’s got it,’” running back Devonta Freeman said. “He’s got the look, making great plays, big smile on his face — that’s what a Heisman candidate is supposed to have.”

Pittsburgh was only the start, though.

Winston racked up a dizzying array of highlights in the next few weeks, dodging defenders to make big throws downfield. Against Bethune-Cookman, Winston shrugged off two sack attempts to find a baffled Kelvin Benjamin in the end zone.

“I thought it was a sack and I was jogging,” Benjamin said. “He got rid of the first one and rolled it, and I sped up. We made eye contact, and I knew he was going to throw it."

Of course, that was nothing compared with Winston’s long pass against Boston College in the final seconds of the half. The BC game was the only time this season when Florida State’s perfect record seemed in danger, but Winston’s 55-yard touchdown to Kenny Shaw as time expired on the first half alleviated any doubts.

"The stadium was turned up, every play was loud, and they really thought they had a shot,” Shaw said. “Then you get the touchdown, and you could hear a pin drop.”

A replay of that touchdown was shown on the big screen during the ACC championship game. A handful of Florida State players stopped to watch. It still amazes them.

“He wiggled out of the sack and throws it, a 50-yard strike to Kenny down the field. I was like, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen a freshman make a play like that,’” Christian Jones said. “We’d seen him make throws like that last year on scout team. We had no doubt what he could do, but the records and all that, it’s crazy.”

The early season was for highlights. The Clemson game was what solidified Winston as a winner.

Before the game, Winston rallied his team with a speech caught on camera and broadcast during the game. “Put a smile on your faces,” Winston said. He then led the Seminoles to a blowout victory over a team that was ranked No. 3 in the country.

“You don't expect a guy, especially that young, to be that confident,” Erving said. “Especially going into an environment that was so hostile. When he's confident, it's a trickle-down effect. Everybody else feeds off of him.”

Winston’s Heisman Trophy campaign only grew from there. He set the school record for touchdowns, then the ACC mark, then the record for all FBS freshmen. For nearly a month straight, he spent the latter halves of games on the bench thanks to blowout margins. He wrapped up the regular season by torching Florida’s No. 2-ranked passing defense, then headed to Charlotte, N.C., to secure Florida State an ACC title and a berth in the national championship game. Even with the dark cloud of a sexual-assault investigation hanging over his head, Winston played superbly, and he said the adversity actually made him — and his team — better.

“I learn from my mistakes,” Winston said. “I’ve got to keep getting better.”

Winston has been exceptional all season, and now he’s poised to accept that trophy he promised to win four years ago. He has learned from mistakes, Joyner said, and he has gotten better. But he hasn’t changed, and that’s what his teammates will remember most.

“It's very rare in this culture to have someone that's genuine at heart like that, so we respect it,” Joyner said. “Guys walk around all serious, and you see Jameis all goofy before a big-time game. It's like, 'OK, let's do this.’ ”

ACC wins big at awards show

December, 13, 2013
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It was a big night for the ACC at the Home Depot College Football Awards show.

Five different players picked up awards on Thursday night, putting an exclamation point on some of the most outstanding seasons in college football for 2013. Here is a look at the winners:

Roberto Aguayo, Florida State. Aguayo took home the Lou Groza Award as the top kicker in the nation, becoming the third Seminoles player to win the award. Aguayo made 19 of 20 field goal attempts for the Seminoles and all 90 extra point attempts.

Aaron Donald, Pitt. Donald cemented his standing as the top defensive player in college football with two more awards: the Outland Trophy as the nation’s most outstanding interior lineman and the Chuck Bednarik Award as defensive player of the year. Earlier in the week, Donald also picked up the Lombardi and Nagurski Trophy. Donald becomes the first Panthers player to win four major awards in one season.

Bryan Stork, Florida State. Stork won the Rimington Award as the top center in college football. Stork is the first Rimington Trophy winner from Florida State and first winner from the ACC.

Andre Williams, Boston College. Williams became the first player in Boston College history to win the Doak Walker Award as the top running back in the nation. He ran for 2,102 yards and 17 touchdowns, becoming the first player to hit the 2,000-yard mark since Donald Brown in 2008. Williams will join Jameis Winston in New York this weekend as the second Heisman finalist in BC history.

Jameis Winston, Florida State. Winston took home the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award and the Davey O'Brien Award as the top quarterback in the nation. Winston, also a Heisman Trophy finalist, set FBS freshman records for passing yards with 3,820 and touchdown passes with 38, and said afterward he was "overwhelmed" with his honors.

Also on Thursday night, the Walter Camp All-America team was announced. Williams, Donald, Aguayo, Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley, and Florida State cornerback Lamarcus Joyner made the first team. Winston, Stork, Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins, North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron, Florida State offensive tackle Cameron Erving, Virginia safety Anthony Harris, Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller and Duke kick returner DeVon Edwards made the second team.

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