Florida State Seminoles: ej manuel

ACC Week 6: Did you know?

October, 4, 2013
Here a handful of statistical nuggets, with a tip of the cap, as always, to ESPN Stats & Info and sports information departments across the conference.

MARYLAND: Maryland leads the FBS in defensive expected points on passing plays (+69.5), and is one of two teams to allow just one passing touchdown. Defensive EPA is a measure of the expected points that a defense contributes to its net points in a game as a result of controlling field position, forcing turnovers and stopping its opponents.

FLORIDA STATE: Quarterback Jameis Winston has posted a Total QBR of 92.0, fourth highest among FBS quarterbacks. He has had at least two pass touchdowns in all four games and leads the ACC with 12. Winston has the fourth-best completion percentage (73.6 percent) and third-most yards per attempt (11.5) in the FBS. Last season, EJ Manuel had a Total QBR of 70.0, 26th among qualified quarterbacks.

VIRGINIA: The Cavaliers defense has posted back-to-back weeks of limiting opponents to less than 200 yards of offense for the first time since 1972. Virginia held VMI to 79 yards and Pitt to 199. When Virginia last accomplished this 41 years ago, it held Vanderbilt to 188 yards and VMI to 122. The Cavaliers area leading the nation in forcing three-and-outs, at 8.5 per game. Their third-down defense ranks No. 5 nationally, holding opponents to a .239 success rate.

NORTH CAROLINA: Quarterback Bryn Renner is one of six scholarship Tar Heels from Virginia, hailing from West Springfield. His father, Bill, was a Hokies punter from 1979-82 before playing for the Green Bay Packers. This will mark Renner's 30th career start. He leads the ACC and is 24th nationally in passing yards (279.3 ypg). His seven touchdown passes this year have given him 61 for his career, and he is seven away from Darian Durant's school record of 68.

VIRGINIA TECH: The Hokies picked off two passes in last week's upset win at Georgia Tech, giving them 11 for the season, the most in the nation. They had 13 all of last season. Since the start of the 200 season, however, they have tallied 251 interceptions, which are 20 more than any other FBS team during that time span. Not surprisingly, Virginia Tech's pass defense is tops in the ACC, surrendering just 138.2 yards per game through the air. Things may only get better for the Hokies if cornerback Antone Exum plays after being cleared to practice this week following his offseason knee injury.

BOSTON COLLEGE: The Eagles may just be the most disciplined team in the country under new head coach Steve Addazio. They have been penalized just eight times through four games, good for the nation's top mark (2.0 ppg). BC also leads the nation in fewest penalty yards per game (22.25).

NC STATE: The Wolfpack defense has been strong in the fourth quarter this season, giving up an average of 35.8 rushing yards, 38.5 passing yards and 74.3 yards of total offense over 60 total minutes of fourth-quarter action in 2013. NC State has forced five punts and five turnovers in 14 fourth-quarter possessions.

WAKE FOREST: Coach Jim Grobe is 31-10 for his career in games against fellow North Carolina schools, but he is just 6-6 against NC State, which has the best record against him among schools in-state. Grobe is three wins away from becoming the winningest coach in Demon Deacon history, as his 75 are two behind "Peahead" Walker.

CLEMSON: The Tigers are one of three FBS teams that have not thrown an interception yet. New Mexico and Oregon are the others. Of those three, Clemson has by far the most pass attempts (154). Oregon has 116, New Mexico has 54. Clemson has committed just two turnovers overall this season, tied for the fewest in FBS with Louisville and Oregon. Clemson also has 28 offensive touchdowns on plays of 25 yards or more since the start of last season, most in the ACC and tied for fourth-most in the FBS. The Tigers will be making their first trip to New York since Nov. 8, 1952, when they played Fordham to a 12-12 tie. Their only other game in the Empire State was an Oct. 2, 1937 loss to Army, 21-6.

SYRACUSE: The Orange are looking for their first win against an AP top-three team since 1984, when Dick MacPherson’s team knocked off Tom Osborne’s No. 1 Nebraska. Syracuse is 0-8 against AP top-three teams since then. Quarterback Terrel Hunt hasn’t exactly been tested yet, but he’s performed well in his limited action so far. Hunt has a 98.9 Total QBR on the year, but most of his participation came in two games: against Tulane and FCS school Wagner.

GEORGIA TECH: The Yellow Jackets will be playing their fourth conference game of the season, while Miami has yet to play its first ACC game. Georgia Tech is one of four schools in the FBS that has already played three or more conference games. The others: Pitt (2-1 ACC), Florida Atlantic (0-3 CUSA) and Air Force (0-4 MWC). To put it in perspective, there are 39 FBS teams that have yet to play a conference game this season (Note: This excludes schools transitioning to FBS).

MIAMI: Quarterback Stephen Morris has an 82.4 Total QBR in the first half and an ACC-low 10.3 Total QBR in the second half this season. The Hurricanes are 4-0 for the first time since 2004, when they started out 6-0 and climbed to No. 3 in the AP poll. They are also one of four schools to rank in the top 10 in the FBS in both scoring offense (ninth) and scoring defense (seventh).
Nearly four years ago, I sat in the press box at Wake Forest to watch a ballyhooed redshirt freshman quarterback make his first start for Florida State.

EJ Manuel did not have a fancy nickname, nor did he have the national spotlight on him. But he did have elite prep credentials as one of the top quarterback prospects in the class of 2008.

Jameis Winston
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesJameis Winston was sensational in his first career start for FSU and gets to build off that in his home debut against Nevada.
He did not disappoint in that first start, showing poise, promise and confidence filling in for an injured Christian Ponder, running the Noles offense to near perfection in a 41-28 victory.

After the game, somebody joked to Ponder, "You finally got a real quarterback."

"Finally!" Ponder replied. "That was obviously a big difference."

I was reminded of that moment last week, when I watched Jameis Winston make his first career start for Florida State. Manuel impressed me on that game day in November; Winston blew me away with his performance against Pitt, leaving me shaking my head at times over some of the plays he made in his very first game.

Manuel, on the other hand, had played mop-up duty before making his first career start. While it is a stretch to say Manuel had extensive playing experience, he at least did have a few snaps under him before he started his first game. He had nearly an entire season as the backup to Ponder before making his first start, too.

Winston had more hype surrounding him, more pressure on him, and a national television audience watching his first collegiate snaps on a Monday night. And yet, Winston was better, going 25-of-27 for 356 yards with five total touchdowns. Compare that to Manuel, excellent in his own right against Wake: 15-of-20 for 220 yards with two total touchdowns and one interception.

Florida State scored 41 points in both victories, by the way. Unlike Manuel, however, Winston has turned into a national sensation in just one game. The two, however, are more alike in one key area: their ability to elevate Florida State.

When I watched Manuel, I believed he could take Florida State to the next level. At that time, the next level meant making the Seminoles ACC champions again. When Manuel stepped in for Ponder, Florida State was 4-5. Bobby Bowden was on the way out. And the program was in disarray.

But Manuel went 3-1 to close out the season, and was selected MVP of the Gator Bowl, sending Bowden out with a win in the final game of his career.

Florida State was a mess. But in a few years' time, the Noles became ACC champions again and got back to a BCS game -- with Manuel leading the way. While it is true Manuel took his fair share of criticism for coming up small in the biggest games, he did take the program further than any Florida State quarterback in the last 10 years.

He also became a first-round pick in Buffalo and an NFL starter as a rookie, nearly engineering an upset of New England in Week 1 -- going 18-of-27 for 150 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

Manuel deserves heaps of credit. Because now, Florida State has what it takes to elevate itself to the next level and become a national contender again.

Enter Winston.

Anybody who watched his debut realizes the Noles have a special player running the offense. As Bowden told colleague Mark Schlabach, "A great quarterback can overcome your weaknesses and deficiencies, but an average quarterback can't."

It appears Florida State has a great quarterback, already earning Heisman consideration after one game and comparisons to Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, who won the award as a redshirt freshman. Winston seems to be the total package, with the physical talent and necessary intangibles star quarterbacks possess.

He has a long way to go, but the reasons for optimism are understandable. Manuel got Florida State to the point where someone like Winston can put them over the top.

The Big Board: Winston vs. the blitz

September, 5, 2013
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The conventional wisdom before Jameis Winston took the field Monday was both simple and self-evident.

This was a redshirt freshman, taking the field for the first time in his college career. Those first snaps would come in an NFL stadium, jam-packed with hostile fans and on national television as the lone game on a Monday night. The conventional wisdom said Winston should be rattled, and the smart play for Pittsburgh would be to rattle him a little more.

The conventional wisdom after Monday's game looks much different. Yes, it's just one game, but it certainly appears that Florida State's freshman quarterback doesn't get rattled easily.

For the game Winston was an astounding 25-of-27 passing for 356 yards and four TDs (adding a fifth on the ground), but what's really astounding is the more pressure Winston faced in the game, the better he was.

Pitt brought an extra pass rusher on seven of Winston's 29 pass plays Monday, according to ESPN Stats & Information. And Winston thrived.

There are plenty of other numbers to underscore Winston's impressive performance. He was 6-of-7 with a touchdown on third-down passes, converting five of those plays for first downs. He was an impressive 16-of-17 for 307 yards and three touchdowns on passes of six yards or farther. His Total QBR was markedly better than any other freshman vs. a BCS-automatic qualifier team in the past decade.

But why compare a performance like that to other freshmen? What's perhaps most interesting about how Winston handled the pressure is to compare his game to his predecessor, EJ Manuel -- a fifth-year senior who went on to become the first quarterback taken in the NFL draft -- managed to do against the blitz.

(*Note: Against four pass-rushers, Manuel completed 71 percent of his throws and had a 14-to-6 TD:INT ratio, averaging 9.2 YPA.)

Yes, it's one game. But in that one game, Winston has already thrown one-third of the total touchdowns Manuel threw against the blitz in all of 2012.

After Monday's game, Winston was pushed to find flaws in his performance. There weren't many, but he noted that he was sacked twice. He doesn't like to be sacked, he said.

But both of those sacks came when Pitt rushed just four defenders, and neither were instances in which Winston obviously missed a chance to turn nothing into something. Instead, there was one play after another in which a Winston's pocket presence proved to be the difference in keeping a play alive and turning it into yards downfield.

When Winston was being recruited, numerous coaches and scouts wanted to peg him as an "athletic quarterback" -- insofar as he had the ability to run so they assumed he'd rely heavily on that option. Winston bristled at the notion. He was just a quarterback, as good a pocket passer as anyone else, in spite of his ability to pull the ball down and run.

So he worked on his pocket presence, again and again, refusing to run until he absolutely had to.

"He really wanted to be known as a pocket passer," said Mark Stephens, the defensive coordinator at Hueytown High during Winston's tenure. "A lot of kids that have that ability to run, that's first instinct is to take off and go, but Jameis made you play defense, and he's not a quarterback you can just pin your ears back and go at. He knew where his hots were. He knew where the secondary was positioned. If you're rolling your secondary, he could see that stuff. He kept you really honest. He's not a guy you can go out and go after down in and down out. He's going to burn you. He knew enough football ... he knew where people were going to be once the ball was snapped. That was the thing about defending him. He really made you play honest on defense and made you defend all 11 players, defend the entire field."

It's a lesson Pittsburgh learned on Monday, and it's likely a lesson that will be noticed by every defense that Florida State sees going forward.

Florida State season preview

August, 20, 2013
Today, we're checking in on Florida State, where Jimbo Fisher looks to build on his first ACC title and Orange Bowl win while breaking in a new quarterback and a slew of new assistant coaches.

Florida State Seminoles

Coach: Jimbo Fisher (31-10 overall, 31-10 at FSU)

2012 record: 12-2 (7-1 ACC)

Key losses: QB EJ Manuel, RB Chris Thompson, FB Lonnie Pryor, DE Cornellius Carradine, DE Bjoern Werner, CB Xavier Rhodes

Key returnees: WR Rashad Greene, RB James Wilder Jr., RB Devonta Freeman, CB Lamarcus Joyner, LB Christian Jones, DT Timmy Jernigan

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJameis Winston's intelligence might be as impressive as his physical tools, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said.
Newcomer to watch: QB Jameis Winston. The redshirt freshman hasn't officially been tabbed as the starter yet, but fans have already anointed him the second coming of Charlie Ward. That's not a fair comparison, of course -- Ward won a Heisman and a national title, Winston has yet to take a snap. But it's also possible Winston could blossom into an even more prodigious quarterback. He's got a big arm, good mobility and a football IQ that Fisher says is off the charts. Expecations are huge for the Hueytown, Ala., native, but that doesn't mean he won't live up to them.

Biggest games in 2013: at Pittsburgh, Sept. 2; at Clemson, Oct. 19; vs. Miami, Nov. 2; at Florida, Nov. 30

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Fisher suggested earlier this month that he liked his defensive line this year better than last, but that's something of a tough sell. Florida State lost three former All-ACC defensive ends to the NFL draft along with both of its starting tackles. Yes, there's ample talent waiting in the wings, led by Jernigan and Mario Edwards Jr., but replacing Werner, Carradine and Co. won't be an easy task.

Forecast: This is the rare season in which Florida State appears to be sliding beneath the radar. Clemson is the odds-on favorite, the Seminoles are in transition, and the usual preseason buzz that surrounds the program has been little more than a murmur.

That's exactly how Florida State wants it.

Certainly there are question marks, as Fisher had to replace six assistant coaches, his starting quarterback and a slew of top defenders, but there's also a lot of talent. Florida State lost 11 players to the NFL draft, but cupboard isn't bare. Winston brings immense potential to an offense still stacked with experienced veterans, while Jernigan, Jones, Joyner and others on defense have All-American potential.

Whether it all coalesces into a second straight ACC title is a bigger question. The schedule won't do Florida State any favors, from the opener at Pittsburgh to the regular-season finale at Florida, the toughest games are away from home. And none will be bigger than the Oct. 19 date with Clemson, an emerging rivalry in which the winner has taken the division in each of the past four years.

There is time, of course, for Winston to get his feet wet and for the defense to master new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's system before the Clemson game arrives. If they can, the conference won't be as cut-and-dry as the preseason prognosticators have promised, and the Seminoles won't fly under the radar for long.

Fisher unlikely to overhaul offense

July, 31, 2013
Jameis WinstonStacy Revere/Getty ImagesDon't expect Jimbo Fisher to change his play-calling from what has worked in the past despite the presence of redshirt freshman phenom Jameis Winston.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The calls for innovation began in ernest after Florida State's unconscionable loss to NC State last October, when the Seminoles went scoreless in the second half. Still, Jimbo Fisher held his ground. He's the mastermind behind the Seminoles' attack, and he's going to do things the way he wants.

In the 10 months since, much has changed. Florida State waved goodbye to four different offensive assistants in a two-month stretch, including its offensive coordinator -- a title withheld from anyone on the new staff. Fisher's last quarterback became the first one drafted in this year's NFL draft, and EJ Manuel's presumptive replacement is already being hailed as a future Heisman winner. The power structure has shifted dramatically, except, of course, for Fisher.

So, how much does Fisher plan to change the offense in 2013?

"Nothing has changed in any way, shape or form," he said.

According to Fisher, the new assistants will script practices the same way the old ones did. The new starting quarterback -- whom Fisher still hasn't named officially -- will run the same system Manuel did in 2012. And when it comes to creating enthusiasm, he's not pointing the spotlight at Jameis Winston. He's pointing to the supporting cast.

"The system's not going to change," Fisher said. "If you change that for him, then you change for everybody else. The one thing you have as a constant is they've been through it so long and been so productive in it. When you change it for him, you change it for them, and that's not always a good thing."

That's not necessarily what a vocal contingent of the fanbase wants to hear, even after a season in which Florida State won 12 games, an ACC title and an Orange Bowl. After offensive struggles against NC State, Virginia Tech, Florida and Georgia Tech, there was some hope that Fisher would hand off play-calling duties to a new assistant or open up the offense to accommodate Winston's prodigious ability.

Neither scenario appears likely, and Fisher has ample evidence to support staying the course.

"We were 10th in scoring in the country, [fourth] in yards per play in the country," Fisher said. "How much better are you going to do than 7 yards a play and 39 points per game? The key is being consistent in every game."

Indeed, Florida State's offense was among the most efficient in the country last season, with only Georgia, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State averaging more yards per play. But dig a little deeper, and the news wasn't all so upbeat.

FSU ranked 10th overall in scoring, but 33rd against FBS teams with a winning record. The Seminoles moved the ball efficiently, but in an age of up-tempo offenses, they ranked 91st nationally in plays per game. And while the overall numbers look good, the offense clearly sputtered down the stretch, finishing 59th nationally in yards per play from Nov. 1 through the end of bowl season.

Those numbers don't necessarily undermine Fisher's impressive track record throughout his career, but it puts a slightly different spin on the situation Winston -- or, perhaps, Jacob Coker -- will step into when the season begins at Pittsburgh on Sept. 2.

For most fans, it's Winston that offers hope for a more consistent attack in 2013. He comes highly touted, the top quarterback recruit in the 2012 signing class. He comes with a big arm, quick feet, and strong enough grasp on the nuance of the game than most players his age.

"He studies the game, and that's a process at quarterback you have to learn to do," Fisher said. "For a young guy coming in, he's done a great job of studying the game and the why's of it, not just, 'I'll throw a ball in there because I have a better arm' or 'I'll make this play because I'll scramble and I'm a better athlete.' He takes a lot of pride in what he's doing mentally, which is a very key component."

Indeed, Fisher's offense likely will go only as far as Winston is ready to take it.

It's entirely possible Fisher will scale back the passing attack in the early going this year, choosing instead to rely on his veteran runners and offensive line while Winston gets acclimated. FSU ran the ball 54.5 percent of the time last season -- a tick below Fisher's average of 57 percent since arriving as FSU's offensive coordinator in 2007.

And all those up-tempo teams haven't exactly swayed Fisher's approach to play-calling either. He believes the quick-strike attack puts added pressure on a team's defense, and Florida State's defensive unit is also in a state of flux after losing seven starters to the NFL from last season and, like the offense, changing three assistants, including the coordinator.

Fisher admits there is room for tweaks along the way, but there's little reason to assume Florida State's offense will look much different in 2013 than it did in 2012. Fisher will call his game, and Winston will be responsible for maximizing his potential under those constraints.

"Depending on what he's capable of handling, what he's capable of doing, how the guys around him are playing, and what we think will work in that game," Fisher said, "that's what we'll base it off of."
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. 3 Jameis Winston

Position/Class: QB/RFr.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesAfter months of hype, Florida State's Jameis Winston is set for his Monday night debut at Pittsburgh.
What he's done: The list of accomplishments for Winston thus far are impressive. He's garnered immense attention as a high school quarterback. He's been the top-recruited quarterback in the country. He's garnered a massive cult following after video surfaced of him throwing footballs over fraternity houses. He's been praised as perhaps FSU's top cheerleader throughout the 2012 season -- home and away. He's generated buzz from teammates for his impressive practice performances. He's battled two more veteran quarterbacks throughout spring practice and come out on top. He's starred in this year's spring game, throwing a touchdown past two-time All-ACC defender Lamarcus Joyner on his first throw. He's touched 100 mph on the radar gun in baseball games as one of FSU's top relief aces. In fact, the only thing Winston hasn't done so far is actually throw a pass in a college game.

Where he's at: Jimbo Fisher's final evaluation is the only one that matters, and he has yet to officially name Winston his starter, but for all intents and purposes, that seems a done deal. Winston was the clear winner during spring practice, and his biggest competition, junior Clint Trickett, transferred to West Virginia soon after practice concluded. Jacob Coker will still push Winston for the job -- a competition that actually figures to be better than what Coker mustered this spring with an injured foot -- but at this point, it would take a major upset for anyone other than Winston to be taking the first snaps of the season. The bigger question for most fans at this point is what Winston will do with those snaps, and the expectations are immense. While Fisher has cautioned restraint, more than a few fans are already dreaming of Heisman trophies and national titles.

What's to come: Winston doesn't seem particularly concerned about the high bar of expectations. Heck, he's put them on himself. He's already balanced football and baseball and compared his longterm ambitions to that of Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson. But whether he's ready to step in and star as a freshman remains to be seen. Just last year, a redshirt freshman QB won the Heisman, and Johnny Manziel might be the comparison Winston will hear the most. But the more appropriate measure might be that of EJ Manuel, who had an strong season in 2012 but was marked by inconsistency along the way. Winston figures to hit a few bumps in the road, too, as he learns on the job, but his confidence and talent are virtually unmatched, and he's got a strong supporting cast around him. If he can approach Manuel's production from last year, it will have been a successful debut. If he can exceed them, Florida State just might end up being a bigger contender for a conference and national championship than many are currently projecting.
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. 8 Cameron Erving

Position/Class: LT/RSJr.

[+] EnlargeCameron Erving
AP Photo/Phil SearsCameron Erving's steady improvement helped Florida State make great strides on the offensive line.
What he's done: After two years at defensive tackle, Erving jumped to the other side of the line in 2012, and it was a fortuitous move for Florida State. While the 6-foot-6, 310-pound tackle adjusted to some growing pains, he made consistent progress throughout the season. After wowing coaching and players in spring practice, he upped his game each week throughout the season -- going from inconsistent newcomer early on to stalwart blocker by season's end. Erving graded out at 73.6 percent over his final six games of the regular season. His impact on the overall success of the line is hard to overstate. FSU trimmed nearly 1.5 sacks per game from 2011 and upped its rushing total by 94 yards per game. Most importantly, Erving helped keep QB EJ Manuel healthy and in the lineup all season.

Where he's at: A year ago, there were high hopes for Erving, but he was clearly a wild card. FSU sent out a starting offensive line that had just 16 starts among them -- 14 of which belonged to one player, Bryan Stork. This year, things are completely different. FSU has among the most experienced groups in the country, and Erving is clearly at the forefront -- both in terms of talent and responsibility. He'll be protecting the blind side of a freshman QB, and given the hopes pinned on Jameis Winston's future, that's as significant a task as any player on the roster will be undertake in 2013.

What's to come: Erving's consistent progress throughout the season last year helped create even loftier expectations for 2013. He now has a year of experience under his belt, a veteran group around him, and many are projecting he could blossom into a potential NFL first-round pick by year's end. That may still be a bit of optimistic thinking given Erving's limited workload thus far, but it's certainly not a point out of reach. He's grown by leaps and bounds, and he's eager to continue that trajectory. With a first-year starter at QB and a new starter on the opposite end of the line, the pressure will be on Erving from the outset this season, but if he lives up to expectations, the rewards should be great.
This week, Nole Nation 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: The quarterback

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsJameis Winston seems like he's ready to handle big expectations from Day 1.
Fact or Fiction: With talented freshman Jameis Winston at quarterback, Florida State's offense can be even more dynamic than it was under EJ Manuel.

The case for: Even before he has taken a snap in a college game, there's little need to make a case for why fans should be excited about Winston. The redshirt freshman already has the college football world buzzing after entering the spring third on the depth chart and ending it as a niche choice for a Heisman.

Winston has a big arm, good speed, a strong physique and obvious leadership skills. In other words, he's everything a coach like Jimbo Fisher could want in a quarterback. He sizzled during FSU's spring game, completing 12 of 15 passes against a first-string defense while throwing two touchdown passes. In the aftermath, Fisher was asked to compare Winston to his old quarterback, and the answer was intriguing.

"Jameis is a very talented young man," Fisher said. "He and EJ are different. EJ might run a little better and be a hair bigger. I think Jameis throws the ball a little better overall."

In other words, from Day 1, Winston might be a better pure passer than his predecessor, who just so happened to be the first quarterback taken in this year's NFL draft. It's no wonder fans are already so excited.

Of course, there was plenty of hype surrounding Manuel when he arrived at Florida State, but he ended his career amid a reasonable amount of criticism, because he so frequently failed to come up with the big play when FSU needed it most. He won a lot more than he lost, but he never threw more than 23 touchdown passes in a season, and he had only four career 300-yard passing games against FBS opponents.

But as Fisher said, Winston is different. He's more accurate already, and while Manuel's confidence appeared shaken at times under the weight of a demanding head coach, Winston seems to relish the expectations. And more importantly, Winston might have a better supporting cast in 2013 than Manuel ever did. A veteran, healthy offensive line and a cast of skill-position players that includes Rashad Greene, Nick O'Leary, Kelvin Benjamin, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. should make the job a lot easier.

The case against: The obvious concern in 2013 is that, for as much talent and potential as Winston clearly has, the bottom line remains that he's still a freshman. There's a big difference between chucking a few long passes in a spring game and doing the same against Florida's defense in November, and even last season's Heisman-winning freshman, Johnny Manziel, had a few growing pains along the way (against Florida, for example).

Moreover, expanding the offense isn't so much about Winston's ability as it is about Fisher's play calling. For all the criticism of Manuel at times, only three other teams in the country averaged more yards per play last season than Florida State. The reason the results weren't more impressive overall is because the Seminoles ran just 67 plays per game offensively -- nearly 12 fewer plays per game than Texas A&M. That's Fisher's game plan -- a pro-style, methodical approach -- and it's not likely to change regardless of who is under center.

And while the talent surrounding Winston is impressive, the versatility of FSU's offense has taken a hit this offseason. Tight end Kevin Haplea will miss the year with an ACL tear. Speedster Marvin Bracy left to pursue a track career. Veteran receiver Greg Dent is suspended indefinitely while facing sexual assault charges. Those losses will only make the offense less dynamic.

In the end, Manuel was among the top 15 quarterbacks in the country in completion percentage, yards per attempt and QB rating in 2012, and that's an awfully high bar to exceed.

Verdict: Fiction

There's no denying Winston's star potential, but projecting he'll exceed Manuel in Year 1 is a bold call. Manuel was very good, and while Winston eventually might be great, there's a learning curve to the game.

More importantly, perhaps, is this is Fisher's offense, no matter who is under center. He's going to call his game, and while Winston's skill set may allow Fisher to dig deeper into the playbook occasionally, it's unlikely he's planning to rewrite any of it. And perhaps as significant, in every other instance that Fisher has had a new starter at quarterback since he's been at FSU, the team has run the ball more and thrown less. Comparing Winston to Manziel might be fair when it comes to talent, but the systems in which they'll work are completely different.

It would be a surprise if Winston does't end the season with an impressive highlight reel -- but compiling one that's even better than Manuel's 2012 performance would be a huge accomplishment.
Jimbo Fisher's recruitment of quarterbacks has nearly reached a point where they come to him and not the other way around.

If you look at, it makes sense. Just during his time at Florida State, he has produced back-to-back first-round selections in the NFL draft in Christian Ponder (Vikings, 2011) and EJ Manuel (Bills, 2013).

But it didn't start there. And it probably won't end there, either.

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

Next up: No. 37 Jacob Coker
Position/class: Quarterback/redshirt sophomore

[+] EnlargeJacob Coker
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreJacob Coker is the likely second-string quarterback in 2013.
What he's done: For two years, Coker has bided his time on the sidelines, backing up starter EJ Manuel. As a redshirt freshman in 2012, the strong-armed Coker saw his first playing time, but it was extremely limited. He threw five passes, all in FSU's first three games. He completed three, one for a touchdown against Savannah State. Coker was part of a four-man competition for the starting quarterback job this spring, but he was hampered by a broken bone in his foot.

Where he's at: Everyone except Jimbo Fisher seems to have tabbed Jameis Winston as Florida State's starter, which again leaves Coker destined for a job on the bench. Fisher insists the competition remains open, but Winston clearly outplayed Coker this spring and it likely would take a miracle (or an injury) for Coker to win the job in time for the season opener. Still, Coker figures to be completely past the foot injury when fall camp begins, and a little healthy competition can only make both quarterbacks better.

What's to come: Coker's future seemed like the biggest question of the spring once Winston took hold of the top spot on the depth chart, but when Clint Trickett transferred to West Virginia, the picture cleared a bit. Winston is immensely talented, but he likes to run and his arm already has some mileage thanks to a season on the baseball diamond. Add a long history of injuries to the starting quarterbacks at Florida State, and it wouldn't be a surprise if Coker is pressed into action. If he gets on the field, he's more than capable of impressing. In truth, however, Coker's best hope for landing the big job is for Winston to be so successful that he leaves for the NFL after 2014.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It's Rankings Week at Nole Nation, and each day we'll be counting down the top teams, players and matchups of the 2013 season. First up, a look at FSU's schedule.

1. Clemson Tigers (Oct. 19 in Clemson, S.C.): There are 11 other games on the schedule, and Florida State can't afford to overlook anyone. But for most fans and prognosticators, the 2013 season comes down to this one. FSU and Clemson figure to be playing for the division title, and Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and an improved Tigers defense will offer plenty of concerns for Jimbo Fisher's crew. The winner of this game has won the Atlantic Division in each of the last four seasons.

2. Florida Gators (Nov. 30 in Gainesville, Fla.): Last year's debacle in Tallahassee might have been FSU's ugliest game of the year, and the task won't get any easier this time around when the Seminoles close out the season on the road in Gainesville. If FSU can protect the football better than it did a year ago it has a chance, but that tough Gators defense might be the biggest test Jameis Winston will face all year.

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Each season brings with it new expectations, and a handful of Seminoles will bear the brunt of the pressure to perform in 2013. We're counting down the top 10 FSU players being counted on the most to help the Seminoles live up to expectations.

No. 1: QB Jameis Winston

2012 performance: Winston's first season in Tallahassee was all about building the hype. The prized recruit from the 2012 class redshirted, but he still managed to generate plenty of excitement. The video of him throwing a football over a fraternity house, the images of him enthusiastically celebrating touchdowns on the sideline during games, his impressive turn on the baseball field, the hype from analysts projecting him as a future No. 1 overall draft pick -- Winston had about as much buzz as a player can command while not actually playing.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsJameis Winston is already a campus star and he hasn't even taken a snap in a varsity game.
Pressure point: Recruiting stud with immense hype takes over a veteran offense on a contending team -- that's pretty much a perfect recipe for pressure in the college game. Of course, Winston hasn't seemed to mind much. He already managed to shine during the pressure-packed QB competition this spring while concurrently playing on the baseball team, but the spotlight will only get brighter as the season approaches. And for good measure, Winston's likely first start will come in a hostile road environment, on national TV, against ACC newcomer Pittsburgh.

If he succeeds: All the muted enthusiasm currently swirling around FSU becomes unabashed excitement, and the Seminoles would quickly vault back into the national title conversation. Clemson has been the early favorite in the ACC for good reason, but Florida State has every bit as much talent and experience on offense. The X-factor is at quarterback, where Clemson has a Heisman hopeful and FSU has the newcomer. But there are plenty of fans already pegging Winston as the next Johnny Manziel, and if he even comes close to the Texas A&M star's 2012 performance, Florida State could be in for a special season.

If he fails: It's hard to even define what failure would be for Winston, given the immense hype he's received already. If he turns in a typical season for a redshirt freshman -- an inconsistent learning experience -- many fans will view it as a massive disappointment. Even if he matches the statistics posted last year by fifth-year senior EJ Manuel, it might not be enough to satisfy the buzz. And that could be the biggest issue for Winston to overcome. With a veteran offense around him, he needs to be consistent, if unspectacular. If he worries about living up to the expectations and, in turn, makes too many poorly timed miscues, it could significantly damage his growth as a quarterback and FSU's hopes for an ACC title.

Projection: All that hype surrounding Winston is there for a reason. He's special. His talent is obvious, his football smarts were on display this spring and his personality -- fun, enthusiastic and immensely competitive -- perfectly arms him for the spotlight he's going to be playing under. Still, the bar Manziel set a year ago is an awfully high standard, and one made even tougher in Jimbo Fisher's more restrained system. Winston will find success in 2013, but even Manziel had his struggles in the early going. The highs for Winston this season could well eclipse Manuel's work a year ago, but there will be a few ugly moments, too. The key will be ensuring progress each week, with an eye toward the Oct. 19 date with Clemson to have him clicking on all cylinders.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Jimbo Fisher is worried about his quarterback.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsJameis Winston's legend includes his two-TD performance in FSU's spring game that was followed by a performance in a baseball game.
Actually, that's not entirely right. Jameis Winston has inspired nothing but confidence -- from teammates, from fans and from his coach. And that's the problem.

Winston has yet to take a snap in a college game, but that's little more than a footnote to a mythology that has fans dreaming of Heisman trophies and national championships. The standards by which Winston is already being judged are immeasurably high, and that's where Fisher sees a need to intervene.

"You keep him realistic, tell him what's real and not real," Fisher said. "You let everybody else be legends and hype."

If only it were that simple.

Winston's career is still in its infancy, but the legend is ubiquitously fully grown. Fisher has tried to temper enthusiasm, but that's only served to provide an air of mystery that has made Winston into something of a cult hero.

He tossed a football over a fraternity house from 30 yards away, with accompanying viral video. He's wowed teammates and analysts who've gotten a behind-the-scenes look at his arm, with some already pegging him as a future No. 1 overall draft pick. After passing on a baseball contract out of high school, he's played a key role on Florida State's baseball team, blossoming into one of the Seminoles' best bullpen arms, touching 97 on the radar gun. He's split his attention between two sports, but still came out on top during this spring's quarterback competition, delivering his closing statement by tossing a 58-yard touchdown past All-ACC defensive back Lamarcus Joyner on his first pass in FSU's spring game.

And so the legend grows, with virtually no expectation too high for the redshirt freshman. Winston is Superman, and fans aren't fooled by the Clark Kent persona Fisher is so intent on creating.

"It's great to write, but you have to be so great that you can't live up to it and you just build disappointment for the guy," Fisher said. "Let's be careful, let him play."

So what happens when Winston actually does take the field?

History offers little precedent for instant success, and Winston is all too aware of the potential pitfalls.

"It's easy to ignore [the hype] because last year I sat the bench for a whole year and didn't see the field," Winston said. "That was the easiest thing to get over. I came on the Florida State campus, and it's like, 'Oh yeah, Jameis, you're going to have to sit the bench.' All that hype and all that other stuff, you've got to prove that."

Instead, Winston spent much of last season proving to his teammates that he was ready for the job.

Despite the redshirt, Winston was a fixture on the sideline for every road trip. Fisher wanted to give him a taste of a hostile environment early, and Winston loved it. He was the Seminoles' biggest cheerleader, sprinting up and down the sidelines and barking praise after every big play.

At practice, he worked largely with the scout team, mimicking FSU's best offensive opponents each week. He'd play the role of Tajh Boyd or Logan Thomas to great fanfare, and slowly his teammates began to see the potential firsthand.

"You could see on the scout team last year, so much confidence, making completions you see guys like EJ [Manuel] make," Joyner said. "You have no choice but to see the talent and the uniqueness that kid has."

It's Winston's confidence that might be the X-factor.

Fisher is right to preach temperance at this point. He's heard the comparisons to Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, who won a Heisman last season as a redshirt freshman, and he's seen the exuberance of fans eager to see Winston follow that same path. That's a high bar to exceed.

But if Fisher's role is to curb the enthusiasm, Winston is happy to add fuel to the fire.

"Jameis is always smiling, like he never has a doubt in his mind that his pass will never hit the ground," receiver Kelvin Benjamin said.

He'll dance during stretching, crack jokes on the sideline, laugh in the huddle.

"He's got energy, always likes to joke around, and guys take to that," linebacker Christian Jones said. "They like to be around a guy like that. He's always in a good mood, always happy, and guys just gravitate to that."

In fact, those comparisons to Manziel might be too conservative. After all, the Texas A&M quarterback isn't playing baseball, too.

Ask Winston for an archetype he hopes to emulate and the responses include Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson. They didn't simply excel on one field, but transcended multiple sports.

"Their mind didn't get pushed in either direction," Winston said. "So that's what I'm thinking."

So as Winston prepares for his maiden voyage with Florida State's offense, perhaps it's not the legend being created by his legions of fans that matters, and perhaps Fisher's pleas for patience don't matter at all.

Winston isn't overly concerned with stardom, but he's immensely confident that he'll get where he wants to be. And if that happens, the legend will only grow, and the hype will become reality.

"Jameis is going to be a great player," Manuel said. "He has the want to to want to be great. It's a difference between a guy who just kind of talks the talk, but Jameis will be one of those guys who actually goes out there and does it."

100-days checklist: ACC

May, 21, 2013
As of today, there are 100 days until the start of the college football season.

You bet we’re counting.

If you’re Scot Loeffler, Virginia Tech's new offensive coordinator, 100 days must feel like a nanosecond. The Hokies aren’t the only ones, though, with plenty of work to do before the season begins. Here’s a checklist of five things the ACC and its teams must accomplish before the opening kickoff:

1. Name starting quarterbacks. Syracuse can’t even talk about Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen yet because he’s not on campus and won’t enroll until next month, but the Orange are just one of several teams in the ACC that still have an ongoing quarterback competition. Virginia’s quarterback controversy has seemingly gone on for years, and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher has yet to officially anoint Jameis Winston as EJ Manuel’s successor. Pitt is also still searching for a dependable leader, along with NC State.

2. Find an offense in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech has become one of the ACC’s brand-name programs, a consistent winner and a representative in the Top 25 and BCS standings. That changed last season when the Hokies bumbled their way through their most disappointing season in 20 years. Coach Frank Beamer made sweeping changes to his offensive staff, but little improvement was seen in the spring game. Loeffler said it wasn’t a true indication of the progress that was made in the other 13 practices, but also conceded there is still a lot of work to be done. With Alabama looming in the season opener, all eyes will be on the ACC in Week 1. When the Hokies are good, the ACC is better.

3. Improve defensively. With the exception of Florida State, which finished the season ranked No. 6 in the country in scoring defense, 2012 wasn’t a banner year for ACC defenses. The conference usually has some of the nation’s best defenses -- including Boston College -- but there was no Luke Kuechly and no identity for the Eagles last fall. Miami beat Duke 52-45. Georgia Tech beat North Carolina 68-50. Clemson beat NC State 62-48. Clemson took a major step forward defensively with its bowl win against LSU, but the defense must become elite in its second season under coordinator Brent Venables if Clemson is going to be a national-title contender.

4. Minimize the turnovers. Virginia Tech was No. 86 in turnover margin last year, and quarterback Logan Thomas threw three picks in the spring game. Boston College was No. 88 in the country in turnover margin, FSU No. 93, NC State No. 99, Maryland No. 104, Virginia No. 110. That’s almost half the league ranked among the worst in the country in turnover margin. The Hokies play Alabama. Virginia plays Oregon. BC plays at USC. FSU is at Florida, and the Seminoles turned it over five times versus the Gators in FSU's 37-26 loss last year. The Gators scored 10 points off turnovers in that game. If the ACC is going to stand a chance, it can’t give away freebies.

5. Stay out of the trainer’s room. Virginia Tech standout corner Antone Exum is still rehabbing from the torn ACL he suffered in a pickup basketball game. The bulk of Wake Forest’s offensive line was walking wounded all spring, and that group will make or break the Deacons' season. Clemson backup quarterback Chad Kelly and starting tight end Sam Cooper both tore their ACLs this spring. If the ACC is going to beat the best this fall, it needs its best players on the field. For some programs, like Boston College, the depth isn’t there to afford injuries.
2012 record: 12-2
2012 conference record: 7-1
Returning starters: Offense 6, Defense 5, Kicker/Punter 1

Top returners

WR Rashad Greene, LT Cameron Erving, C Bryan Stork, LB Christian Jones, LB Telvin Smith, DB Lamarcus Joyner, DT Timmy Jernigan

Key losses

QB EJ Manuel, RT Menelik Watson, RB Chris Thompson, DE Bjoern Werner, DE Cornellius Carradine, CB Xavier Rhodes, K Dustin Hopkins

2012 statistical leaders (*returning)

Rushing: Chris Thompson (687 yards)
Passing: EJ Manuel (3,392 yards)
Receiving: Rashad Greene* (741 yards)
Tackles: Christian Jones* (95)
Sacks: Bjoern Werner (13)
Interceptions: Xavier Rhodes, Tyler Hunter* (3)

Spring answers:

1. Changes on D: New coordinator Jeremy Pruitt brought a slew of new schemes with him from Alabama, meaning the FSU defense won't look all that much like the one that finished second in the nation in 2012. With the loss of five former starters from the defensive line, that's probably a good thing. Pruitt's scheme will be more aggressive and bring a lot more blitzes, allowing FSU to get pressure from other areas.

2. Beating Hart: When right tackle Menelik Watson made the somewhat surprising decision to leave FSU after just a year to enter the NFL draft, all eyes turned to junior Bobby Hart, whose turbulent career with the Seminoles was already well documented. Hart started as a 17-year-old freshman in 2011, but problems with his work ethic derailed his sophomore season and he found himself on the bench. He appeared to work his way back into line coach Rick Trickett's good graces by the end of the spring, however, and he'll be crucial to maintaining the continuity of the line without Watson.

3. Famous Jameis: Jimbo Fisher still isn't calling the contest over, but it certainly looks like redshirt freshman Jameis Winston is in the driver's seat to take over for Manuel as FSU's new starting quarterback. Winston shined throughout the spring and delivered a monster performance in the Seminoles' Garnet and Gold game, completing 13 of 15 passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns. A week later, junior QB Clint Trickett announced he was transferring.

Fall questions:

1. Winston, Part II: Yes, the spring was impressive for Winston, but as Fisher was quick to point out, he'll need to pick up right where he left off in the fall if FSU is going to make a smooth transition at a position that's been remarkably stable for the past five years. Jacob Coker remains in competition -- and he should be fully healed after breaking a bone in his foot that limited this spring -- but the loss of Trickett puts a lot of pressure on Winston to step up, particularly with a daunting road contest at new ACC member Pittsburgh looming in the season opener.

2. New-look secondary: Lamarcus Joyner appeared to make a relatively smooth transition from safety to corner, but FSU didn't get much of a look at what will constitute the secondary in 2013. Key players such as Tyler Hunter, Nick Waisome and Ronald Darby were all hurt, while promising freshman Jalen Ramsey had yet to arrive. The group will finally all work together during fall camp.

3. Just for kicks: Redshirt freshman Roberto Aguayo showed off his powerful leg during FSU's spring game, connecting on three long field goals, including a 58-yarder to close out the game. Still, replacing the NCAA's all-time leading scorer among kickers won't be an easy task. Dustin Hopkins was as reliable as it gets for FSU, and Aguayo still needs to show he can handle the pressure of making a big kick with the game on the line.


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