Florida State Seminoles: cason beatty

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It was the first question Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher was asked after the game. He greeted it with a face worn and weathered, insight into a stressful week. His joy during a five-minute opening statement was tempered, drained from a volatile week of fluctuating punishments and constant character-questioning columns.

[+] EnlargeSean Maguire
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesWith a strong team effort, Sean Maguire and Florida State showed they're still No. 1 until somebody beats them.
Minutes earlier the fifth-year championship coach, in a rare moment of vulnerability, wept in front of his team, besieged with emotion while expressing the pride he felt watching FSU pull off what seemed unimaginable minutes earlier -- a win against ACC rival and No. 22 Clemson in overtime.

"Do you think Florida State should remain No. 1 after this performance?" the reporter asked.

It was a superfluous detail in a game with layers of juicy plotlines that easily filled the four-hour telecast. And frankly, Fisher's answer can be tossed into the circular file with the rest of the minutiae from Saturday's game, which includes every page of team statistics and numbers with the exception of the final score.

Florida State won. It did it without its best player, Jameis Winston, for the entire game, and arguably its second-best player, Mario Edwards Jr., for the final half.

The Seminoles were tested this weekend, but the grades from the coaches and AP pollsters don't matter. We learned more about them Saturday than what any poll with waning belief in the reigning national champions could ever indicate.

"We challenged our guys to find out who we are," an emotional Fisher said. "We're not where we want to be, but we do know who we are."

The Seminoles know they're a group with the fundamental resolve required to earn one of the four College Football Playoff bids. On Saturday, they looked like a pumpkin instead of the horse-drawn carriage driven by a Heisman winner, but this is the fall season, the time when carved, misshapen pumpkins are celebrated.

The team was distracted. After the game, Fisher and his players copped to falling victim to the unavoidable lapses in focus that accompany a suspension (and a second one) to the star player for standing on a table in the busiest intersection of campus and unloading an obscene and profane outburst.

The backup quarterback completed six passes in the first half. Yet in the fourth quarter, he unleashed a 74-yard pass to the tie the score. Hero might be a strong word to frame Sean Maguire's performance, but only in the sense that the word is incessantly used to overstate the contributions of a player in a glorified game. Considering the pressures dropped onto Maguire's shoulders days before potentially the biggest game of FSU's season, he exceeded expectations.

The defense that has been under fire for mediocre early returns and already deemed unfit to succeed 2013's No. 1 national unit allowed 249 first-half yards. Yet in the second half, they lined up inches from national irrelevance only to hold Clemson out of the end zone and scoreless on that drive. When the Tigers tested the defensive line on fourth-and-inches in overtime, the maligned unit disrupted the play in the backfield. The only reason they were in overtime was because defensive tackle Eddie Goldman stripped C.J. Davidson of the ball as the Tigers bled the clock before setting up for a game-winning score.

The running backs had 38 yards in regulation. Yet in overtime, Karlos Williams ran the final 25 yards to ignite the celebration.

The punter, who has received the harshest criticism from fans, had his first kick go 37 yards; that was a half yard longer than his season average entering Saturday. Yet over his final seven punts, Cason Beatty pinned four of them inside Clemson's 20-yard line.

This wasn't a rag-tag group of players -- the Seminoles have possibly the country's most talented roster -- but it was a rag-tag performance driven by star efforts rather than star ratings. Certainly Clemson punctuated its #Clemsoning trademark with a comedy of errors, but they were often forced by Florida State. Two goal-line tackles before the bad snap. Davidson didn't just drop the ball. Adam Choice didn't trip on the 16-yard line and fall inches short of the first-down marker.

Before the game, we wondered if the top-ranked Seminoles, which looked beatable in their first two games, were a suitable No. 1 or a product of the country's best player calling the shots under center and rising to the situation weekly.

But it was the definition of a team win, and a gutty one at that. It was something we did not see at all during the regular season from the Seminoles last year, if only because they rewrote the handbook on dominance. It might be the prettiest Florida State win over the last two seasons considering the pregame Winston malady.

Maybe Florida State didn't look like the No. 1 team Saturday. But they looked like a championship-caliber team, and an undefeated one at that, which means they can still lay claim to the No. 1 ranking.

"We ain't lost in 19 straight games," Fisher said, answering the reporter's question. "We're No. 1 until somebody beats us."
Players reported to Florida State for the beginning of preseason camp on Sunday. On Monday, the Seminoles take the practice field for the first time this season.

Whether 2014 is a title defense or a title chase is entirely exclusive from the 2013 season, and the fact remains Florida State enters the fall as the preseason No. 1 and with the best odds to win the inaugural College Football Playoff.

While it returns a Heisman quarterback, senior-laden offensive line and a talented secondary, coach Jimbo Fisher says he has concerns just like he does every year.

Here are three things to keep an eye on in fall camp during August that will impact the Seminoles’ season.

 1. How the defense jells over the course of camp. Elite players such as Ronald Darby, Mario Edwards Jr., Jalen Ramsey and P.J. Williams return, but the Seminoles also lost the cornerstones of a defense that ranked No. 1 nationally last season. The defensive leader at every level of the defense has moved on, including defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. Talent is not the issue, but how the defense meshes over the next few weeks could be. The vocal presence brought by the likes of Telvin Smith and Lamarcus Joyner are no longer on the field. Fisher has praised Ramsey throughout the spring and summer for stepping up as a leader, so will he be the one to make sure the defense is aligned correctly pre snap? Rather than the defense being gashed and giving up a significant amount of yards, the bigger concern could be miscommunications and defensive breakdowns that lead to big plays.

2. The emergence of a No. 2 receiver. That did not happen during the spring, but now the Seminoles have added three freshman receivers, including blue-chip prospects Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph. Fisher knows what he is getting out of Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O’Leary, but the offense is going to need a second threat opposite of Greene on the outside. Jesus “Bobo” Wilson has the look of a player built for the slot, and he is subject to team discipline after pleading no contest to two misdemeanors. Isaiah Jones is 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, but he has two career catches. Christian Green needs a bounce-back season after a junior season in which he caught only 13 passes. Levonte “Kermit” Whitfield is a terror with the ball in his hands, but is he consistent enough to be an every-down option? Rudolph had offseason foot surgery, but Fisher said July 11 that he should be ready for camp. Lane, the No. 2 receiver nationally in the 2014 class, could exit camp in the best position for a starting job. He has the size (6-3, 206) to physically compete with college cornerbacks right now. He’ll also wear No. 1 this season, taking over for Kelvin Benjamin. There’s a certain level of expectation when donning the No. 1.

3. Will the punting improve? It’s no secret the punting at Florida State has not been very good recently. It’s about the only facet of the team that has lagged. The good news is Florida State rarely punted the ball last season -- the Seminoles led the country in fewest punts per game -- as they set an NCAA record for points scored. In 2013, Florida State was 59th nationally in punting with a 41.1 average, a number Fisher would like to see increase. In July, Fisher said punter Cason Beatty was punting the ball better but still has to find better consistency. If he does not, Fisher isn’t averse to making a change, saying the competition is “open” and “the best player will play.” Jonathan Hernandez and Larry Lawson III are also listed as punters on the roster.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- In the past two seasons, Florida State has punted 91 times in 28 games. Nationally, only Navy has employed its punter less often since the start of 2012, which is why it’s understandable that the Seminoles’ most glaring weakness has largely flown beneath the radar.

In fact, as Florida State prepared for the national championship game last season, confident fans routinely chalked up the punting game as perhaps the only area where Auburn held a distinct advantage, and how much could punting matter in a game like that anyway?

Of course, the Tigers proved a bit more difficult an opponent than those projections assumed, and as fate would have it, punting mattered a lot.

Had Kermit Whitfield not returned a fourth-quarter kickoff for a score, had Jameis Winston not rallied his troops on the final drive, had Kelvin Benjamin not snagged the game-winning touchdown with just seconds to spare, the one area of Florida State’s championship team that wasn’t talked about all season -- the punting -- might have been the single biggest reason the Seminoles came up short in Pasadena.

With FSU ahead 3-0 in the first quarter, Auburn's Steven Clark came on to punt, booming a kick that the Auburn coverage team downed at the 2. The Seminoles went nowhere on the ensuing drive, and Cason Beatty’s resulting punt was a line drive that Auburn's Chris Davis returned 22 yards to the FSU 22. Auburn took advantage of the field position for a touchdown that started a 21-0 run.

In the game, Clark punted six times. Five were downed inside the 20, none resulted in a return by Florida State. Beatty, meanwhile, punted six times as well. Only one was downed inside the 20.



In the end, punting didn’t cost FSU a national championship, and as the Seminoles get set to open spring practice in 2014, Beatty’s performance is again likely to fade into the background as bigger concerns on offense and defense grab the headlines. And, again, Jimbo Fisher has no obvious alternatives to his two-year incumbent punter in spite of a now-substantive track record of struggles. But as the quest to replace Timmy Jernigan or develop young receivers takes center stage, it's worth keeping an eye on how tied Fisher remains to Beatty and whether the Seminoles might start looking at giving some work to a walk-on.

On national signing day, Fisher was asked about the punting potential of quarterback recruit J.J. Cosentino, who has a big leg to go with his strong arm. Fisher didn’t laugh off the idea, and while it’s unlikely Cosentino’s redshirt would be burned for punting purposes, it’s a telling statement that fans -- let alone Fisher -- would even consider it.

So why should punting be a focus for Florida State in 2014? The numbers are gruesome.

First, in Beatty’s first two seasons as the Seminoles' punter, FSU has averaged 38.9 yards, which is the worst in the ACC and seventh-worst among AQ teams.

But more than simply the short kicks, FSU has looked awful trying to cover Beatty’s boots. Despite fielding a punt coverage unit with as many standout athletes as any team in the nation -- including several veterans -- Florida State allows 14.7 yards per punt return behind Beatty, the fourth-worst average in the nation. The Seminoles are netting just 35.3 yards per punt during Beatty’s tenure, easily the worst by any BCS-qualifying schools. (It's perhaps worth noting that Alabama leads the country in punting and net punting, while also averaging the fifth fewest punts per game.)

Two numbers have kept the Seminoles' punting shortcomings from being a serious issue -- first, FSU has punted so rarely; and second, that a relatively low percentage of Beatty’s (usually short) punts have been returned (24 percent, 20th nationally). But, as Florida State saw in both the NC State game in 2012 and the national championship game in January, a few bad kicks can dramatically change the outcome of a game and, in turn, the outcome of a season.

Beatty did show some improvement as a sophomore, adding roughly 3 yards per punt to his average, but at the same time, FSU’s coverage team surrendered nearly 7 more yards per return. In other words, the added distance on punts likely came at the expense of hang time. Meanwhile, just 28.5 percent of his punts were downed inside the 20 -- nearly half the rate he enjoyed in 2012.

Beatty’s struggles were a minor blemish on an otherwise sterling season in 2013, but the schedule gets tougher this season, and it’s unlikely Florida State will win all its games by an average of 40 points again. And, as last year’s national title game proved, it doesn’t take a season’s worth of bad punts to torpedo a team’s goals. Sometimes, it can come down to one bad kick.

FSU room to improve: Special teams

February, 14, 2014
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The celebration of a BCS championship victory is in the rearview mirror for Florida State, and Jimbo Fisher, Jameis Winston and Co. have already turned their attention toward adding another trophy in 2014. So as Florida State preps for spring practice, we’re digging into the biggest questions, position battles and storylines facing the defending national champs.

This week, we’ll look at the five position groups with the biggest question marks looming in advance of spring practice.

Previously, we reviewed the defensive line, running backs, linebackers and wide receivers.

Last up: Special teams

Projected starters: Roberto Aguayo (K/RS So.), Cason Beatty (P/Jr.), Kermit Whitfield (KR/So.), Jesus Wilson (PR/So.)

[+] EnlargeRoberto Aguayo
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsFlorida State kicker Roberto Aguayo was nearly perfect on field goals (21 of 22), converted on all 94 PATs and could force touchbacks with his kickoffs.
Special teams are something of a broad category, and in several areas, Florida State was a monster in 2013. Whitfield was a revelation in the kick return game, racking up 36.4 yards per return, including two touchdowns. Aguayo was just as impressive in his first year as the team’s kicker, connecting on 21 of 22 field goals. But in other areas, there was an obvious shortcoming. Kenny Shaw handled the bulk of punt return duties, and while he was consistent, he was rarely great. He averaged 9.7 yards per return -- down about 5 yards from the team’s average in 2012. Meanwhile, Beatty continued to struggle in his second year as the team’s punter, finishing last in the ACC in net punting (35.4 yards/punt) in 2013, with his struggles particularly exposed in the BCS title game.

Strength in numbers: Karlos Williams (Sr.), Ryan Green (So.), Rashad Greene (Sr.)

Williams was a fixture in the kick return game throughout the past three seasons, but with his new role as the starting tailback (and only RB with much experience), it remains a question how much Fisher will utilize him on special teams. Greene was a playmaker as a punt returner in 2012 but muffs forced him to the bench. With Shaw gone, he could get another look this year. While there’s a plethora of speed throughout FSU’s roster that could find a role in the return game, Green is among the top options among the younger players.

New on the scene: Ja'Von Harrison (Fr.), Trey Marshall (Fr.)

Fisher’s focus on recruiting speed at the skill positions means there are plenty of options in the return game both on the current roster and among the new faces inked in the Class of 2014. Harrison and Marshall are among the top choices and both figure to get a look on scrimmage downs and coverage teams as well, adding some incentive to forego a redshirt.

What to watch: The battle to replace Shaw as punt returner should make for some interesting battles both in spring and fall camp, but Florida State has so much talent on the roster that the options are plentiful. The bigger question is how much Fisher will rely on veterans in those jobs -- particularly Williams and Greene -- given their significant roles on scrimmage downs. The one area where Florida State has a real concern and, likely, no clear alternative on special teams is at punter, where Beatty showed only minimal improvement in his second full year as the starter. It’s possible Fisher could give a look to a walk-on, and he at least gave some lip service to QB J.J. Cosentino's history punting (a highly unlikely scenario for myriad reasons), but odds are it’s Beatty’s job still, regardless of his previous struggles. In 2013, the punting woes were easily overcome by an avalanche of blowout wins (FSU averaged 3.0 punts per game, fewest in the nation), but as the schedule improves in 2014, that’s a luxury the Seminoles can’t assume they’ll have again this season.
In a game as good as Monday’s Vizio BCS National Championship, there are countless storylines to dissect in the aftermath. And as Florida State soaks in its third national championship, we’re only beginning to fully appreciate the effort it took for the Seminoles to get here. So while the celebration in Tallahassee continues, here’s a brief look at some of the most underrated storylines from FSU’s absurd 34-31 win over Auburn.

[+] EnlargeDevonta Freeman
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsFlorida State RB Devonta Freeman became the first 1,000-yard rusher for the Seminoles since 1996.
Quest for 1,000, Part I: It was an otherwise uninteresting 4-yard rumble on first down late in the third quarter, but it was one of the most statistically significant rushes in Florida State history. The run put Devonta Freeman at exactly 1,000 yards for the season, making him the first FSU back to reach that mark since Warrick Dunn in 1996 and ending the longest active 1,000-yard rusher drought in college football. Freeman finished the season with 1,016 yards and 14 touchdowns. More importantly, he was a crucial part of the offense when Jameis Winston struggled early Monday, finishing with 94 all-purpose yards and a touchdown.

Quest for 1,000, Part II: Freeman’s 1,000th yard came late. Rashad Greene's came early. The junior wide receiver cracked the mark with the second of his nine catches in the title game, finishing the season with 1,128 receiving yards. He’s the first FSU receiver to crack 1,000 since Anquan Boldin did it in 2002. Greene’s impact Monday was huge. He was the only FSU receiver to catch a pass for positive yardage in the first half, and he was responsible for 40 percent of Winston’s targets in the game. Most significant: He had 57 yards on two catches on the winning drive.

Quest for 1,000, Part III: And if Freeman and Greene weren’t enough, sophomore receiver Kelvin Benjamin became the third FSU player to join the 1,000-yard club with his penultimate grab, a crucial 21-yard catch early in the fourth quarter that set up Florida State’s second touchdown. Benjamin ends the season with 1,011 yards. It was a frustrating game at times for Benjamin, who was shut out in the first half and had two crucial second-half drops that ended drives. His final two catches, however, were essential, including the winning touchdown grab.

Special teams was big: Kermit Whitfield's kick return for a score was obviously a turning point in the game, but it was hardly the only crucial play on special teams. The first half, in many ways, was defined by two momentum-shifting punts. The first, by Auburn’s Steven Clark, pinned FSU at its own 2-yard line. Cason Beatty's punt on the ensuing drive netted just 22 yards, and Auburn scored easily to take a 7-3 lead. Tack on three lucky saves in a row for Auburn after muffed punts, the 15-yard penalty that kept FSU from going for two early in the fourth quarter and, perhaps most significant, a missed 33-yard field goal by Auburn's Cody Parkey early in the second quarter and special teams swung the momentum of the game in either direction again and again. As for Whitfield, the true freshman touched the ball just 25 times in 2013 but racked up 818 yards and four touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeP.J. Williams
AP Photo/Gregory BullP.J. Williams' interception led to a touchdown that pulled the Seminoles within one point.
FSU’s young stars: The three biggest plays in the game for Florida State came from Winston (game-winning TD drive), P.J. Williams (game-saving interception) and Whitfield (game-changing kick return). That trio’s total accomplishments prior to this season: 14 tackles by Williams, largely on special teams. In other words, this veteran team that Jimbo Fisher has been slowly building for years won the national title in large part because of the contributions of three players who’d barely seen the field before the start of 2013. That’s a good sign for 2014 at Florida State, too.

Pruitt’s big adjustment: To open the game, FSU defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt brought pressure on Nick Marshall often, and it wasn’t entirely successful. The Tigers’ QB burned the Seminoles deep on several big plays. But Pruitt adjusted, was more conservative down the stretch, and it worked. Marshall was just 7-of-17 passing with an interception when Florida State brought four or fewer pass-rushers, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Jernigan’s impact: The stat sheet shows just nine tackles, but anyone who watched Monday’s game knows Timmy Jernigan meant so much more for Florida State’s defense. He was a beast up the middle, shutting down Auburn’s vaunted run game for long stretches and offering next to nothing between the tackles. He clogged gaps and allowed linebacker Telvin Smith to step up and record a game-high 15 tackles. He flushed Marshall out of the pocket repeatedly. Of course, Jernigan was also completely gassed by the end, relegated to the sideline for much of Auburn’s final two scoring drives, and the Tigers’ success without Jernigan in the game was the ultimate proof of what an impact FSU’s under-the-radar defensive tackle actually made.

Winston’s rebound: There were two resounding narratives regarding Florida State entering the game. The first was that Winston, the Heisman Trophy winner, would have a field day against an overmatched Auburn secondary. The second was that the untested Seminoles wouldn’t know how to handle a close game in the fourth quarter. It just goes to show that the pregame predictions often don’t amount to much. Winston’s unwavering confidence this season -- particularly on the prime-time stage -- has been Florida State’s hallmark. The “do it big” speech has been played again and again, but Winston was hardly that guy during the first three quarters Monday. His footwork was a mess. He was off target on throws. He was hesitant to release the ball, choosing again and again to tuck and run. He rarely looked downfield in spite of those supposed mismatches for his receiving corps. And yet, when the game was on the line, the QB who’d thrown just 25 fourth-quarter passes all season rebounded by completing 9 of 11 for 117 yards and two touchdowns in the game’s final quarter.

It really was about his teammates: If there was a mantra Winston stuck to this season throughout all the highs and lows, it was that the season -- and his success -- was built on the backs of his teammates. Monday’s national championship proved him right. While Winston struggled early, so many others stepped up. Freeman moved the ball on the ground. Greene provided a reliable target. Fisher called a brilliant fake punt that Karlos Williams managed to execute perfectly. Whitfield returned a kick for a score. The defense held Auburn scoreless on five straight drives -- forcing a turnover along the way -- while Winston slowly chipped away at a 21-3 deficit. Yes, it was the Heisman winner who delivered the winning drive with 1:19 to play, but it was Greene’s spectacular run after a catch and Benjamin’s unparalleled ability to go up for a ball in the end zone that made the difference. For Florida State, 2013 really was about team, no matter how good (or, in Monday’s case, shaky) Winston was along the way.

What we learned: Week 5

September, 29, 2013
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If nothing else, Saturday's 48-34 win over Boston College proved to be a good test of just where Florida State is and how much still needs to be done before the Seminoles take on undefeated Maryland next week. Here's what we learned in Week 5.

Jameis Winston is a miracle worker: There might come a time when Winston has a truly bad game. There might be an obstacle he can't overcome, a contest when mistakes around him put him in a hole he can't climb out of. But Winston sure hasn't shown any signs that will happen just yet. Four minutes into the second quarter, FSU was in a 17-3 hole, and then Winston took over. The FSU QB finished 17-of-27 for 330 yards and four touchdowns, and his 55-yard Hail Mary throw to Kenny Shaw as time expired in the first half drove the biggest dagger of the night through Boston College's heart. Winston was no one-trick pony either. Subtract sacks, and Winston had 10 rushes for 96 yards, both career highs. Through four weeks, Winston has accounted for 14 touchdowns. EJ Manuel didn't reach that mark in 2012 until the eighth game of the season.

The defense has some major holes: Let's start with the positives. With Tyler Hunter out, the new-look secondary looked decent enough. Jalen Ramsey looked good once again in his first start at safety, and P.J. Williams and Nate Andrews each recorded interceptions. Lamarcus Joyner made a handful of big tackles after the front seven had let a ball carrier get deep into the secondary. But that only underscores the bad news. The defensive front struggled mightily. FSU knew Boston College planned to run early and often, and still, it had few answers for Andre Williams, who tallied 149 yards -- the most by a single rusher vs. the Seminoles since 2010. Overall, BC racked up 397 yards of offense, averaging 5.4 yards per play. FSU did record three sacks, but Chase Rettig was also able to escape pressure a number of times. Most troubling, the D opened the game completely flat once again, with BC jumping out to a 17-3 lead.

The special teams could use some work, too: Through the first three games, FSU had won so easily, there was little focus on the special teams. Kicker Roberto Aguayo still hasn't missed a kick, but the rest of the special teams looked bad on Saturday. FSU had surrendered just one punt return all season entering the game but coughed up two long returns to Spiffy Evans. Myles Willis added 114 yards on kick returns, including a 71-yarder. Cason Beatty's first punt was a disaster. BC's average starting field position was its own 34, and it began just two drives inside its own 20.
This week, NoleNation is digging into the most hotly debated topics of the summer at Florida State in an effort to separate fact from fiction as the Seminoles get set for the 2013 season.

Next up: Special teams.

Fact or Fiction: With Dustin Hopkins gone, Florida State can expect to regress on special teams in 2013.

The case for: It's not that a kicker makes or breaks a special teams unit, but if any program understands the significance of the position, it's Florida State -- a school with several seasons defined by kicks, both made and missed.

[+] EnlargeDustin Hopkins
AP Photo/Phil SearsIt would be tough for any kicker to replace Dustin Hopkins at Florida State.
Replacing Hopkins is a nearly impossible task. The four-year starter left FSU as the most prolific kicker in NCAA history, rewriting the record book for the school, the conference and the nation. And Hopkins' senior season was no doubt his finest. Only six kickers in the country with at least 20 tries connected on a higher percentage of field-goal attempts than Hopkins (83.3 percent), and he made the sixth-most attempts as well (30). His 25 made field goals were the second-most in the country.

Stepping into the role will be freshman Roberto Aguayo, who certainly has an impressive enough leg -- he drilled three kicks of longer than 50 yards in the spring game -- but no experience. And even Hopkins wasn't a star as a freshman, converting 70 percent of his tries. The pressure will be high for Aguayo, and that's hardly an ideal situation for a freshman.

Beyond the kicking game, last year's special teams units set an awfully high standard. FSU ranked 16th nationally in kick return average (24.65 yards) and led the nation in total punt return yards (536). The Seminoles were one of just five teams with three punt-return TDs, and their coverage unit allowed the seventh-fewest returned punts in the country.

The case against: From Hopkins' big season to big returns by Lamarcus Joyner or Rashad Greene to the strong coverage units all around, it's easy to applaud the work of FSU's special teams in 2012. But for all the success, there were some glaring failures, too.

Freshman punter Cason Beatty struggled mightily at times, and FSU finished with the 11th-worst net punting average of any team in the country. Worse yet, two of Beatty's kicks were blocked, including a disastrous boot late in the game against NC State that directly contributed to an FSU loss. Beatty showed progress late in the season, however, and it stands to reason that he'll improve dramatically in Year 2. Simply moving to the middle of the pack in the ACC would be a vast improvement.

Those impressive returns in 2012 were nearly offset by some ugly plays, too, including three special-teams turnovers that led to a yearlong carousel of punt returners. Greene lost his job, replaced by Tyler Hunter, who flubbed the gig and was replaced by Kenny Shaw. Add in an astonishing 18 special-teams penalties last season and there were simply too many mental miscues that should be easily corrected in 2013.

Perhaps the best reason for optimism this year, however, is the sheer quantity of talent. All of last year's top return men are back, and speedy freshman Levonte Whitfield will be added to the mix. New special teams coordinator Charles Kelly has top athletes playing on the return and coverage units. After a year of mental breakdowns, special teams will be a focus across the board.

Verdict: Fact

Really, the success and failure of FSU's special teams in 2013 might be a matter of perspective. There's a strong chance that, on the whole, the unit will be more consistent than it was a year ago, with better performances from Beatty and fewer costly mental breakdowns.

But the story of last year's special teams group wasn't about the handful of flubs but the numerous highlights, and FSU will be hard pressed to repeat that success. Hopkins was as reliable as anyone in the country -- he connected on 21 of 22 kicks at one point -- and his ability to successfully kickoff directionally, rather than simply boot touchbacks, was a distinct advantage for FSU.

In the end, the drop-off in production probably won't be overwhelming, but there's little chance the Seminoles will go the whole season without missing Hopkins in one or two crucial moments. Given that the offense will be trotting out a freshman quarterback as well, odds are those special teams plays will loom even larger than they did in 2012.

FSU Countdown: No. 33 Cason Beatty 

June, 19, 2013
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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. 33 Cason Beatty

Position/Class: P/So.

What he's done: Beatty had big shoes to fill when he took over for All-American Shawn Powell last season as a true freshman, so it's probably not surprising that he struggled noticeably at times. For the season, Beatty's punting average of 38.3 was the worst in the ACC, and his blocked kick against NC State was integral in one of the worst FSU losses in recent years. By season's end though, there were signs of progress. Beatty averaged nearly three more yards per kick in his final three games (40.5) than in his first 11 (37.6).

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The 2012 signing class brought 16 new faces to Florida State, but after a full year on campus, fans have seen only a glimpse of what the group, ranked as the No. 2 class in the nation, can do.

Nine members of the 2012 class saw action last season, and only defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. earned a start. But even Edwards' progress comes with an asterisk. He was slated to redshirt when the season began, and he only worked his way onto the field -- and later, into the starting lineup -- thanks to a series of injuries.

[+] EnlargeRonald Darby
Geoff Burke/Getty ImagesCornerback Ronald Darby got considerable playing time as a freshman and will compete for a starting position next season.
After a year largely spent on the sidelines, the Class of 2012 is poised to make an impact this season. Here's how we see things shaping up.

The wild card

Marvin Bracy, WR

Bracy skipped spring practice to focus on track, and now it seems entirely possible that decision could be permanent. Bracy has world-class speed, and if he chooses to go pro as a sprinter, he'd wave goodbye to his FSU football career. A decision could come any day.

Waiting their turn

Justin Shanks, DT

Despite FSU losing its two starting tackles, the position is still chock full of talent, which has managed to overshadow Shanks -- something that's awfully hard to do to a player pushing 320 pounds.

Colin Blake, CB

Blake battled injuries early in 2012 and ended up redshirting. He might have had a chance to earn a regular role this season, but Lamarcus Joyner's move to corner likely makes the field a bit too crowded. Blake will see work on special teams, but he'll need a few starters to go down with injuries before regular playing time is available in a crowded secondary.

Sean Maguire, QB

To Maguire's credit, he conceded nothing during FSU's quarterback competition this spring. Still, the writing was on the wall. Maguire has a good arm and solid long-term potential, but the job isn't likely to be his for at least a few more years.


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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- For all the buzz about new schemes and aggressive tweaks to the defense, odds are Saturday's Garnet and Gold game will feature a relatively vanilla approach as Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt winds down the spring.

The quarterback battle has been the hottest topic in years among Florida State fans, but coach Jimbo Fisher has yet to draw any lines of demarcation on the depth chart, and he insists the four men vying for the job will again rotate reps Saturday.

Kelvin Benjamin
Melina Vastola/US PresswireKelvin Benjamin could be the player to produce the big plays in Saturday's Garnet and Gold game.
And after four weeks of intensity, the battle scars are showing. As many as a dozen key members of the 2013 Seminoles team won't be available for the spring game due to injuries.

So, what's there to be excited about as Florida State's spring practice comes to a somewhat anticlimactic conclusion? Actually, there's still plenty worth watching, even if some of the biggest curiosities will remain just that until fall camp begins in August. Here's a rundown of some of the most noteworthy items of intrigue on display Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium.

The QBs, of course

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Tim Brewster is excited to be at Florida State, and he's not interested in tempering his enthusiasm -- particularly on the recruiting trail.

Just days after taking over as FSU's new tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator, Brewster took to Twitter to lay the groundwork with some top targets.

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AP Photo/Carolyn KasterFormer Minnesota coach Tim Brewster wasted no time introducing himself to recruits in the state of Florida after joining the Seminoles.
"All the ballers in Miami just know I'm coming to getcha," Brewster tweeted as part of a flurry of excitement aimed at south Florida recruits.

It might have been an ostentatious opening salvo in the recruiting battles with his in-state rivals, but Brewster is making no apologies. That's how he does business.

"I'm not bashful, and I'm extremely proud of the university I represent," Brewster said. "I just want to make sure that people understand, we're going to take an extremely aggressive approach to getting the best players in the state of Florida to come to Tallahassee. We're going to recruit relentlessly."

It's an infectious enthusiasm, and it's a big part of what caught Jimbo Fisher's attention after former FSU recruiting coordinator -- and south Florida expert -- James Coley departed to join the Miami Hurricanes.

Still, Brewster knows that all his in-person excitement doesn't always translate well to social media. It's just that when he's excited about something, he just can't help himself.

"If you're not using social media, you're missing the boat. It's a tremendous way to reach out, because young people today, that's how they communicate," Brewster said. "I try not to go overboard, but it's hard sometimes, because I enjoy it."

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State of the Noles: Special teams 

February, 21, 2013
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When it comes to recruiting, coaches need to be thinking long-term. It's not just about which holes must be filled immediately, but rather where the needs might be in two or three more years.

With that in mind, NoleNation writers David Hale and Corey Dowlar are going position by position, looking at what FSU has on its roster now, and who might provide reinforcements down the line, projecting starters and evaluating the depth through 2015.

Up next, we take a look at the key contributors on special teams.


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2013 spring preview: Special teams

February, 15, 2013
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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 the 2013 season.

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 spring practice.

Previously: Cornerbacks, wide receivers/tight ends, defensive tackles, and running backs can be found HERE.

Next up: Special teams

2012 recap: Special teams is a pretty broad term, so it's tough to look back on last season and call it a success or a failure for Florida State when, the truth is, it was a little of both. On the plus side, kicker Dustin Hopkins turned in the best season of his remarkable career, setting the NCAA scoring mark for kickers in the process. Lamarcus Joyner and Karlos Williams both were exceptional on kick returns once again, and FSU even accounted for three punt-return touchdowns in its first season without Greg Reid. Of course, the flip side of that was the significant struggles by freshman punter Cason Beatty, including a block against NC State that likely cost FSU the game, a bevy of turnovers on punt returns that resulted in a revolving door at the position, and a truly ridiculous number of special teams penalties (with Williams responsible for a season's worth by himself).

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The Big Board: Few immediate impacts 

January, 31, 2013
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The final push to add to the incoming Class of 2013 is on, and Jimbo Fisher and his plethora of new assistant coaches have been hard at work trying to hold on to the commitments they already have while adding a few late surprises, too.

The final results should all be known Wednesday. But really, that's just the beginning.

Once national signing day is over, the focus again turns to the field. Since Fisher took the helm at FSU in 2010, there haven't been too many incoming freshmen to make a particularly big impact on game days.

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Top 5 moments: Late collapse

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With 2012 winding to a close, we're counting down the five biggest moments of the past season for Florida State -- those plays that defined 2012. Coming in at No. 4: Bryan Underwood's game-winning touchdown that ended FSU's hopes for a national title.

Perfection ended for Florida State in the most painful way possible.

In early October, the Seminoles left for Raleigh, N.C., with a sterling 5-0 record, but their only road test had been a short trip to USF, where nearly half the stadium was packed with FSU fans. The trip to NC State would be different -- far more hostile. But few players were concerned.

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Ethan Hyman/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT via Getty Images Bryan Underwood's game-winning TD reception with 16 seconds left was the last of countless tiny cuts FSU suffered against the Wolfpack.
Just a year earlier, the Wolfpack were routed by Florida State at Doak Campbell Stadium, and just a week earlier, NC State's secondary was torched by Miami to the tune of 566 passing yards. With EJ Manuel under center and the Seminoles' explosive offense ready for a road show, even a somewhat sluggish first half, which left FSU with a 16-0 lead, did little to dampen anyone's enthusiasm.

But if the first 22 quarters of football in 2012 had been an emphatic confirmation of all the preseason expectations, the next two would erode months of good will, reignite a decade's worth of frustrations and, most importantly, add nothing to that 16-point lead that slowly disappeared amid an endless array of dinks and dunks by the NC State offense that ultimately led to Bryan Underwood's 2-yard touchdown reception that sent the Seminoles to their first loss of the season.

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