Florida State Seminoles: Jacob Coker

1. Back to football on Michael Sam for a moment. Even as SEC Defensive Player of the Year, the Missouri defensive end is projected as a middle-round pick because he hasn’t shown the flexibility or the lateral movement that NFL scouts want at that position. From what I am told of his work at the Senior Bowl, he had trouble changing direction. Sam’s strengths: good hands, which are critical to his demonstrated ability to get off blocks.

2. What a year the California Golden Bears have had: a new coach and a new coaching staff, a 1-11 record, with the victory coming against an FCS team, an average losing margin of 28 points in the Pac-12, a revamped coaching staff, massive debt, dwindling crowds, and all of that pales in comparison to the death of defensive end Ted Agu after he collapsed during conditioning on Friday. It simply has to start getting better.

3. The graduate-and-transfer rule that Jacob Coker (Florida State to Alabama) and Max Wittek (USC to …?) are using is eight years old, and it seems to me that football coaches are finally accepting it. I like what North Carolina State head coach Dave Doeren said when graduate quarterback Pete Thomas decided to transfer. “I have really enjoyed coaching him and want him to be successful as a player and in life. Going forward I will do anything I can to help him through his transition as a transfer.” Here’s hoping Thomas has as much success as the last Wolfpack quarterback to use the rule: Russell Wilson.
It was an off-hand comment from Jimbo Fisher on national signing day that first drew the attention of Florida State fans, but Jameis Winston added validity to the notion on Thursday, saying he planned to play two more years in Tallahassee before heading to the NFL.

The plan comes as a surprise to many outsiders, given Winston’s status as a likely first round pick in the 2015 draft -- and, perhaps, the first selection overall. But for Winston, it’s not entirely unreasonable.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesIf Jameis Winston sticks to his plan to play two more years at FSU, the ramification could be far-reaching.
The Heisman Trophy winner doesn’t mind going against conventional wisdom, with his return to the baseball team this spring providing the perfect context. Since his recruitment, Winston has insisted he wants to be a two-sport star, playing both football and baseball professionally before his career is over. That’s part of what brought him to Florida State in the first place. After his exceptional 2013 football season, it seemed reasonable he’d shift his focus entirely toward football and avoid the risk of injury on the baseball field. For Winston, however, that was never a consideration.

Winston will take a similar approach toward his decision regarding the NFL draft. Baseball remains a priority for him, and if staying through the 2015 football season allows him to continue to develop on the diamond, it’s entirely possible he’ll stick around. And for now, that appears to be the plan.

But what would it mean for FSU to have Winston in garnet and gold for an extra year? A few key points to keep in mind:

The depth chart

If Winston planned to leave for the NFL as soon as he’s eligible, that would’ve meant a chance for Jacob Coker to start for Florida State in 2015, but clearly that possibility wasn’t enough to keep him in Tallahassee. Coker plans to transfer to Alabama at the end of this semester, and given Winston’s plans to stick around for two more years, Fisher understood Coker’s rationale.

"He wants to graduate and he wants to play. He's got two years left and he's a year behind Jameis. Could he battle again? Yes. But I understand,” Fisher said. “I’m very supportive of it. I think the guy is a good player. I think he's going to be a good quarterback and we had a great conversation about it.”

Should Winston stay, it also makes FSU’s one-quarterback haul on signing day a little easier to tolerate. Treon Harris, a longtime FSU commit, flipped to Florida on Wednesday, leaving J.J. Cosentino as Florida State’s lone QB signing. That might be a concern if Winston departs following the 2014 season, but another year for the Heisman winner allows FSU to pad its QB depth with next year’s recruiting class, too.

While Sean Maguire likely will be the No. 2 for Florida State in 2014 and 2015, Cosentino also gets an extra year to develop his skills, too, and Fisher said the QB from Western Pennsylvania has ample upside when his time finally arrives.

The recruiting buzz

Winston’s plans to stay through 2015 actually might have hurt Florida State’s hopes of inking two quarterbacks in this year’s signing class, but just the notion that the star QB will be in Tallahassee for two more seasons is certainly a big selling point for other offensive talent.

FSU already inked three top receivers this year in Ermon Lane, Travis Rudolph and Ja'Von Harrison, along with highly touted running back Dalvin Cook. The opportunity to spend two years playing with Winston was certainly alluring.

But even the notion that Winston might be back for 2015 provides Fisher with another selling point on the recruiting trail this coming year. If Class of 2015 recruits believe he’ll be around for their freshman season, it’s one more reason to think FSU is a great landing spot.

“I also think getting them here and getting them to play with him is tremendous, especially when we have a need at that position,” Fisher said of his wide receiver recruiting. “Those guys have a chance to make an impact and be able to play with him.”

The 2015 season

Winston’s return for his redshirt junior campaign would mean a lot to a Florida State offense that figures to endure a massive overhaul in 2015. Of the 10 other projected offensive starters this season, as many as nine figure to be gone in 2015, including the entirety of the offensive line.

That’s perhaps a reason for Winston to reconsider his plan moving forward. While his talent and football acumen certainly won’t diminish with an extra year in college, the risk of injury is a real concern, and with five new starters on the offensive line in 2015, the potential for an injury diminishing his draft stock becomes all the more likely.

But if Winston does come back in 2015, it allows for some stability for an offense that will be saying goodbye to Rashad Greene, Nick O'Leary and Karlos Williams, among others.

The reality

The problem with all this supposition about Winston’s future is that he’s still 11 months away from having to commit to any definitive decision, and a lot can happen in that time. While Winston might be completely sincere in his plan to stay through 2015 now, the lure of first round money in the NFL and the risk of spending another year playing two sports in college could certainly change his mind. If he does, FSU is still in good shape with Maguire and Cosentino. If he doesn't, the Seminoles fans get an extra year with a once-in-a-lifetime player.

At this point, there’s no reason for Winston to offer any possibility other than his stated commitment to remain at Florida State. But what Winston and Fisher believe today doesn’t matter all that much. If his plans haven’t changed by January 2015, however, it’s an enormous boon for Florida State.

ACC's lunch links

January, 28, 2014
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Can't play much better than Duke did Monday.

ACC's lunchtime links

January, 27, 2014
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Didn't watch the Grammys. Can we still be friends?

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

January, 27, 2014
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Less than two weeks remain until national signing day, and this was the second-to-last official visit weekend before Feb. 5. There were a couple of big decommitments, a few commitments and several key official visits. Here’s a closer look at all the latest recruiting news around the SEC.


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3-point stance: Super Bowl coaches

January, 23, 2014
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1. In four consecutive seasons, from 1992-95, the Super Bowl featured a coach who had won a college football national championship. Jimmy Johnson won Super Bowls XXVII and XXVIII (1992-93) with Dallas. Barry Switzer won Super Bowl XXX with the Cowboys, too. Between Jimmy and Barry, Bobby Ross lost SB XXIX with San Diego. No national championship winners before Johnson, and none after Ross -- until this season. Pete Carroll gets his shot with Seattle next week.

2. Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher almost sounded frustrated over the course of last season as he would tell reporters that Jacob Coker almost beat out Jameis Winston to be the Seminoles’ starting quarterback. Yeah, right. But Fisher continued to say it all the way through the BCS Championship Game. Now it seems Coker, who followed AJ McCarron at St. Paul’s in Mobile, now will follow him at Alabama, once he graduates from FSU this spring. He will be a godsend for the Crimson Tide.

3. The ACC released its 2014 schedule Wednesday, and Florida State got the NFL treatment. The defending national champion’s schedule is harder. Pittsburgh and Maryland are gone. In come new members Louisville and Notre Dame, which begins its ACC semi-schedule. The Cardinals have quite the league initiation. They are the only ACC team to play four road games in five weeks. That doesn’t include playing in the two northernmost ACC outdoor stadiums, Boston College and Notre Dame, in November.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The rumors have swirled for months, and on Wednesday, Florida State made it official: Quarterback Jacob Coker is leaving.

The redshirt sophomore pushed Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston for the starting job until the final week of fall camp, but he spent all of 2013 as a backup before injuring his knee and missing the final five games of the season.

Coker was a three-star recruit out of high school, but his combination of athleticism and a strong arm have already generated buzz about his pro potential. What was missing was playing time. He figures to find that elsewhere, with numerous reports suggesting Alabama as his most likely destination.

For Florida State, Coker’s decision doesn’t really change much on the depth chart, but it does put a bigger spotlight on Winston’s decision to continue his baseball career this spring.

Winston opens practice with Florida State’s baseball team Friday, and he’s expected to compete for a job as the team’s closer. He was solid in a relief role last year -- 17 appearances with a 3.00 ERA and 21 strikeouts -- but that was before he had a national championship and a Heisman Trophy under his belt.

A potential injury on the baseball field certainly makes Winston’s decision risky, and with Coker out of the picture, there’s not a substantial safety net for the Seminoles football team.

FSU will open spring practice with Sean Maguire second on the depth chart. A redshirt freshman in 2013, Maguire appeared in seven games, completing 13 of 21 passes for 116 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

At the moment, there are no other scholarship quarterbacks with playing experience on the roster, though Class of 2014 QBs J.J. Cosentino (Pittsburgh/Central Catholic) and Treon Harris (Miami/Booker T. Washington) are both committed to FSU and John Franklin III worked on the scout team for the Seminoles in 2013. Franklin's future at quarterback, however, has been a topic of debate since his recruitment.

If all goes smoothly and Winston stays healthy, however, it’s a moot point. But Coker is the second quarterback to transfer from Florida State in less than a year -- Clint Trickett is now at West Virginia -- meaning a position once loaded with depth is now a bit more precarious moving forward.

ACC's lunchtime links

January, 6, 2014
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Well, here we are. I’m thinking Florida State 35, Auburn 24. Who ya got?

ACC's lunch links

December, 4, 2013
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R.I.P. to a lunchtime hero, as one of the creators of the Doritos Locos Taco has died. And if you’ve ever wondered how the idea came to be (possibly while chowing down on one at 2 a.m.), it’s actually an interesting story.

A trio of Florida State receivers are poised to make history, writes the Tallahassee Democrat.

FSU backup quarterback Jacob Coker earned a standing ovation at Tuesday’s practice -- the first he’d attended since knee surgery, writes the Orlando Sentinel.

A run of good health has played a pivotal role in Duke’s dream season, writes the Raleigh News & Observer.

The Blue Devils say they’re ready to shock the world in Saturday’s ACC Championship Game, writes the Charlotte Observer.

The Winston-Salem Journal sees plenty of parallels between Wake Forest’s all-time best coaches in football and basketball.

Clemson’s Chad Morris is being mentioned as a possible successor to Jim Grobe at Wake Forest, writes The State.

The Hyundai Sun Bowl looks like the logical destination for Virginia Tech, writes the Roanoke Times.

Meanwhile, Kendall Fuller became the first Virginia Tech player to win ACC defensive rookie-of-the-year honors, writes the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Boston College great Doug Flutie puts Auburn’s shocking Iron Bowl win into historic context, writes the Boston Herald.

Miami will open practice to the public as it preps for bowl season, writes the Sun-Sentinel.

Syracuse is already making its pitch for a bowl bid in what could be an overcrowded ACC field, writes The Post-Standard.

Georgia Tech looks to be the frontrunner to land a transfer from Notre Dame, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

 

Five things: FSU vs. Syracuse

November, 16, 2013
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Florida State officially wraps up its ACC slate today when it hosts Syracuse. The Seminoles have already locked up their spot in the ACC championship game, but with the 1993 title team on hand, they’ll look to take another step toward a berth in the BCS National Championship Game. The Orange, meanwhile, are a win away from bowl eligibility. There’s plenty on the line for both sides, and these could be the five keys to the game.

1. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers: In last week’s win over Wake Forest, Florida State’s defense forced a whopping seven turnovers, including six interceptions of Deacons’ QBs. That doesn’t bode well for a Syracuse passing attack that has been horrific this season. In seven games against BCS automatic qualifier schools, Orange quarterbacks have thrown just two touchdowns (tied for fewest in the nation among AQ teams) and 15 interceptions (third-most among AQ teams). Syracuse is already fighting an uphill battle against the stout Seminoles defense, and turnovers would likely shut the door on any upset chances.

2. Stop the run: If the Syracuse passing game has been an eyesore, the running game has been its lifeline. The Orange ranks second in the ACC in rushing (203.3 yards per game) and have two talented tailbacks capable of busting a big run. Jerome Smith is in search of his second 100-yard rushing season, while Prince-Tyson Gulley is eighth in the ACC in yards-per-carry (5.7). Syracuse doesn’t hide what it wants to do, FSU’s Mario Edwards Jr. said, but FSU will be ready. The Noles are allowing just 3.7 yards-per-rush the past five games (not including sacks), despite the second-team defense being on the field for large stretches.

3. Find a rhythm: Florida State’s offense looked out of sync for much of last week’s win over Wake Forest, largely due to the long stretches when the defense dominated the game, keeping Jameis Winston and Co. on the sideline. For one 10-minute stretch in the first half, FSU’s offense ran just four plays. It was a reasonable explanation for some of the struggles and lapses in concentration (two turnovers, three key drops), but as Winston explained afterward, the unit still needs to perform better. Given the 38-point spread for Saturday’s game, they figure to get another shot at playing with a big lead.

4. Put on a show: With Oregon’s loss last week, Florida State is in prime position to make the BCS title game if it wins out. But the schedule down the stretch doesn’t come with many headliners, so the Seminoles would still be wise to put on an impressive showing to remind voters that, even if the competition isn’t stout, they’re still playing hard. FSU is the only team in the nation to have won all of its games by at least 14 points, and it would be smart to continue that streak.

5. Keep Winston healthy: Winston hasn’t played much in the second half this season, and Jimbo Fisher would be fine if that trend carried over this week. Balancing the need to keep Winston sharp with the desire to keep him healthy will require some delicate decision-making for Fisher, particularly now that backup quarterback Jacob Coker will miss the remainder of the season following knee surgery.

3-point stance: Rallying behind Muschamp

November, 14, 2013
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1. Florida fans are taking their frustrations out on head coach Will Muschamp when it’s plain to see that the Gators have suffered as many injuries as any team in recent memory. Athletic director Jeremy Foley and university president Bernie Machen went to bat for Muschamp on Wednesday. Even Steve Spurrier, whose No. 10 South Carolina team plays his alma mater on Saturday, endorsed Muschamp. They stated the obvious, as I am doing here. But the fans haven’t grasped it yet.

2. According to the reporting of Mark Schlabach and David Hale, Tallahassee police waited nine months to send to the state attorney a complaint of sexual assault that involves Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. The complaint lists the offender as being between 5-foot-9 and 5-11. Winston is 6-4. Skepticism is justified. But here’s why it matters to the No. 2 Seminoles football team. University policy dictates that a student-athlete charged with a felony is suspended. Backup quarterback Jacob Coker isn’t available. He underwent knee surgery this week.

3. One ugly streak will end in the Pac-12 this week when Colorado, which has lost 14 consecutive conference games, welcomes California, which has lost 12 league games in a row. Both teams’ last Pac-12 victory came against Washington State last season. Both teams have first-year head coaches. This season, Cal came within a touchdown of one Pac-12 team (Arizona); every Colorado conference loss has been by at least three touchdowns. I still see a spark in Boulder that injuries have prevented in Berkeley.

Injury hurts Seminoles' QB depth

November, 11, 2013
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State is a 38-point favorite this week against Syracuse, but if another blowout win is in the future for the Seminoles, Jacob Coker won't be taking the second-half snaps.

Florida State’s backup quarterback suffered a meniscus injury in his knee during last week’s 59-3 win over Wake Forest, and he’s scheduled for surgery Tuesday, Jimbo Fisher announced. A timetable for his return won’t be decided until after the procedure.

The injury doesn’t figure to be a huge blow to the Seminoles, who have a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback in Jameis Winston. But FSU has won a majority of its games by such a wide margin that Coker has seen plenty of work this season. In two of FSU’s last three victories, Winston has played just one series in the second half, and Coker has actually thrown one more fourth-quarter pass than Winston this year.

Coker couldn’t wrestle the starting job from Winston this spring, though he’s widely considered an NFL prospect by evaluators. With Coker sidelined, there’s little experience behind Winston. New No. 2 Sean Maguire has thrown just two passes in his career.

Assuming Winston stays healthy, however, Coker’s absence could give Maguire valuable playing time in low-pressure situations. Keeping Winston upright remains Florida State’s biggest worry. He suffered a minor knee injury against Wake Forest on a hit by Nikita Whitlock that Fisher deemed “clean” Monday. Although Winston was limping after the play, he wasn’t immediately pulled from the game, and Fisher said Monday that there were no lingering effects from the hit.

In other injury news, FSU safety Terrence Brooks and receiver Kelvin Benjamin (concussions) are set to return to full practice Monday. Center Bryan Stork, who missed Saturday’s game with an ankle injury, will be brought along more slowly. The senior was a game-time decision against Wake Forest, but Fisher said Stork experienced soreness in his Achilles and the team doesn't wish to risk a more severe injury.

Five things: FSU vs. Bethune-Cookman

September, 21, 2013
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After two straight big wins, Florida State hosts FCS foe Bethune-Cookman in what's likely to be another one-sided affair. If the Seminoles are to burn up the scoreboard again, though, these are a few things to be watching for.

[+] EnlargeJacob Coker
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreBackup QB Jacob Coker saw action in the blowout of Nevada and could be in line for more this weekend.
Winston ... then Coker: Jameis Winston's follow-up performance after a mesmerizing debut wasn't quite as precise. He threw three incompletions, one of which was an interception. But he rebounded nicely after the pick, completing his final 13 passes and leading six straight scoring drives in a rout of Nevada. That meant playing time for backup Jacob Coker, and FSU hopes the same routine will play out again this week. Coker has NFL talent, but with Winston playing so well to open the season, reps for the backup might be scarce. Jimbo Fisher wants to keep Coker happy, and Coker wants to showcase his skills. An overmatched FCS opponent should be the perfect solution.

First-quarter defense: Any criticism of Florida State's defense thus far is nitpicking, but that doesn't mean concerns don't exist, and the slow starts in each of the first two games are primary causes for pessimism. On the first four drives in each of their first two games, the Seminoles have allowed an average of 5.7 yards per play. After that, the average dips to just 3.1 yards per play. Bethune-Cookman might not have FBS talent, but in its three previous games against FBS foes, it scored first. That should give some extra incentive to the FSU defense to come out ready to play.

Keeping the streak alive: Through two games, Florida State's passing game has been stellar. Much of the credit goes to Winston, who is off to a remarkable start. But the players at the other end of those passes shouldn't be forgotten either. FSU receivers have yet to drop a pass -- in fact, they've hauled in two of Winston's five incompletions just barely out of bounds -- while corralling a handful of circus catches in big moments.

Freshman impact: Fisher was able to get significant reps for a number of freshmen in last week's win, including Ryan Green, Freddie Stevenson and Levonte Whitfield. That trend should continue against Bethune-Cookman, particularly if Florida State can build a big lead quickly. Thirteen true freshmen have seen action already, but Fisher said there has been some regression among the youngsters on the practice field. A little more game-day work might be just what they need to get their legs back under them.

A milestone win: Last week's win over Nevada boosted Fisher's record to 33-10 at Florida State, giving him the highest winning percentage in ACC history -- just ahead of Bobby Bowden's .764 mark. A win this week would add more history, giving Florida State its 500th win. Of course, the math is a bit tricky. Thanks to NCAA sanctions, only 488 of those count in the official record books, but nevertheless, a win against Bethune-Cookman would mark the 500th victory celebration for the school.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- When it was over, Jacob Coker got a slew of texts and phone calls from home. Friends and family offered support, and that helped.

Still, there's not much that can diminish the sting of losing out on a hotly contested quarterback competition, and no amount of commiserating was going to change Coker's role as the backup to one of the most talked-about players in the country.

"It was tough getting used to it, because nobody wants to sit the bench if you're any kind of competitor," Coker said. "It was a hard thing."

[+] EnlargeJacob Coker
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsJacob Coker might be the backup quarterback, but he plays like he's still competing to be No. 1.
It's an odd dynamic at Florida State. A month ago, Jimbo Fisher insisted the race for the starting job was too close to call, with Coker and Jameis Winston trading blows on the practice field, two QBs with NFL skill sets going toe to toe, again and again, hidden from the prying eyes of a desperate fan base.

Today, Coker is something of a footnote in a story that has taken on a life of its own. Through two games, Winston has dominated the opposition, thrown more touchdowns than incompletions, and become a household name throughout the college football landscape. Coker has seen action, but only because Winston has played so well, not because he has struggled.

That juxtaposition created an enormous bit of speculation and supposition that doesn't necessary match what has happened behind the scenes.

Take that quarterback competition, for example. Given Winston's immense hype, sterling spring game and ferocious debut this fall, Fisher's insistence that the job wasn't won until the waning days of camp has largely been brushed aside as coachspeak.

"Not at all," said receiver Christian Green, who worked extensively with both quarterbacks during fall camp. "Both guys can definitely play at this level. It was something that, when Jameis came out and had a great Week 1, everybody kind of was like, 'Oh.' But it was a great competition between those guys."

Then there's the assumption that Coker's days in Tallahassee are numbered. Phil Savage, a former NFL GM and scout for the Senior Bowl suggested Coker might be the best backup in the country. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. wondered if Coker might be a future first-round NFL pick should he transfer for a starting job elsewhere. And so the story goes that Coker simply is biding his time until he can leave for greener pastures.

If that's the case, Coker's teammates say, he sure hasn't shown any hint of frustration.

"You should see us, just come to practice and watch us," Winston said. "Nothing is different. It's still like fall camp to us. We're still out there having fun."

It's not that Coker doesn't understand the situation. And it's not that he doesn't appreciate the assumption that he's too good to sit the bench. It's just that he is too much of a competitor simply to shrug off a lost battle and jump at the first consolation prize he finds.

"I've got to do my thing on the field," Coker said. "I appreciate what they say. It means a lot -- it really does. But I've still got to go out there and work just as hard as I did when nobody knew who I was."

And it's not just talk.

In a game marked by highlight-reel passes last Saturday, it might have been Coker who delivered the most remarkable throw. On a second-and-7 late in the third quarter, Coker took the snap and faked a handoff. When he turned to survey the field, two Nevada defenders lunged toward him. He darted out of the pocket, escaped a trio of pass rushers and, just before he was pummeled, unleashed a 20-yard bullet down the sideline and into the hands of freshman receiver Levonte Whitfield.

The play underscored everything Coker does so well -- the mobility, the decision making, the cannon arm. It was the first time the public has seen why the competition was so close this fall.

"He's a great player, and he's got a big arm," cornerback P.J. Williams said. "He throws the hardest out of anyone out there."

Coker largely shrugged off the throw. While Winston has enjoyed and, at times, endured the early limelight, Coker is every bit the quiet southern kid from Mobile, Ala., without much in the way of an ego.

"We won the game, and I got to go in and play a little bit," he said. "That's always fun."

The hope, Coker said, is that he'll play a little more this week. With FCS foe Bethune-Cookman on the docket, it's a game any backup quarterback would have circled on his calendar. Winston builds a big lead, Coker enters in the second half and gets a taste of the spotlight, too.

It's not the way he hoped it would play out, but Coker's impressive fall camp might have a lot to do with why he's getting a chance to play now. He pushed Winston, Winston got better, and through two games Florida State is reaping the rewards.

"Jacob could go anywhere and be their quarterback," Winston said. "By having him here, that's the kind of push that you need. I can never get complacent, because I know someone can come right there and fill in and do the same thing."

It's nice to hear, and Coker's not above taking a few compliments. But all the platitudes don't change reality. He'll play Saturday against Bethune-Cookman, and maybe a few more snaps the next week at Boston College. But as the games get bigger and the snaps more significant, it is Winston who will be under center when it matters most.

That's a tough pill to swallow for a quarterback everyone says could be great, but Coker is playing the role with class.

"It was a tough decision, but [Fisher] felt like Jameis is the guy who could win the most games," Coker said. "He's the boss, and I'm going to support him. He obviously knows way more than I do about football and the team. Whatever helps us win, I'm all behind it."

ACC QB battles in final rounds

August, 27, 2013
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Jimbo Fisher said the decision was agonizing, but the truth is, the Florida State coach had it easy.

Fisher may have debated the merits of both of his quarterback prospects for months before finally tabbing redshirt freshman Jameis Winston over sophomore Jacob Coker as FSU's starter, but any ambivalence was a result of the Seminoles having two strong options. Fisher couldn't go wrong.

"You’re splitting hairs when you really get down to it," Fisher said. "That’s not coach talk or anything else. That’s the truth. That was a great competition."

If Fisher reveled in the quarterback drama, however, he wasn't alone. More than half the ACC's coaches are getting used to life with a first-year starter at QB, and not everyone has enjoyed the same luxury as Florida State when it comes to picking a winner.

While the preseason favorites -- Clemson and Miami -- share the common thread of stable quarterbacking situations, there's no shortage of question marks across the ACC. Look no further than NC State and Syracuse. Both schools are looking to replace immensely successful quarterbacks, and neither has officially tabbed a starter for the season opener yet.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Mitchell
Nelson Chenault/US PresswireIs Arkansas transfer Brandon Mitchell the answer for NC State at QB? We won't know until game day.
This spring, NC State coach Dave Doeren wasn't entirely satisfied with his options, so when fifth-year senior Brandon Mitchell transferred from Arkansas, the Wolfpack's quarterback carousel took get another turn. Mitchell is a versatile athlete who probably fits Doeren's offense better than Pete Thomas, but that doesn't mean it's an open-and-shut case. Doeren said he's not planning to announce a starter until game day.

At Syracuse, new coach Scott Shafer is planning to let the drama simmer a bit longer, too. Drew Allen and Terrel Hunt have been battling for the starter's job throughout camp as the Orange look to replace Ryan Nassib, and Shafer won't announce a decision until Saturday when Syracuse takes on Penn State.

Life is a bit simpler at Pittsburgh, where Tom Savage officially won the job last week. He'll get an up-close look at Winston when the Panthers host Florida State on Labor Day, making the job of preparing a bit more challenging on both sides.

“You know there’s some stuff you won’t be prepared for, but you try to do the best you can,” Pitt coach Paul Chryst said. “As a coach you try to prepare for the unknown — but how do you do that? I don’t know.”

At Duke and Georgia Tech, there isn't nearly so much mystery. Yes, Sean Renfree and Tevin Washington are gone, but their replacements have already offered extended sneak peeks.

The Blue Devils turn their offense over to Anthony Boone, who appeared in 12 games last season and made one start against Virginia when Renfree was sidelined. Replacing Renfree's big numbers from 2012 won't be an easy task, but the athletic Boone figures to slide into the new role with ease. The same is true for Vad Lee at Georgia Tech. Washington was a key contributor in 2012, rushing for an ACC-best 20 touchdowns, but Lee may be an even better fit in Paul Johnson's triple-option offense. The sophomore appeared in 12 games last season, racking up over 100 yards on the ground against both Presbyterian and North Carolina.

Virginia is excited about its quarterbacking situation, too, which comes as something of a surprise after months of drama. Last season saw a two-man QB battle play out throughout the year, with both Michael Rocco and Phillip Sims getting turns as the starter, and when the season ended, both left the program. But this summer, sophomore David Watford emerged as the clear favorite, and coach Mike London made it official just two weeks into fall camp.

And if Virginia is happy to have a stable starter for the first time in a long time, Maryland is downright elated just to have a cache of healthy bodies. The Terps' 2012 campaign was sunk by a rash of injuries to its quarterbacks, with four different players lost for the year. Eventually, coach Randy Edsall was forced to turn to linebacker Shawn Petty as his only remaining option.

Things are looking much better for Maryland now, where C.J. Brown is finally healthy. Brown tore his ACL during fall camp last year, but the injury is completely healed and the athletic senior is eager to get back to work.

Of course, the Terps' trials and tribulations last season offer an easy reminder that even the most settled quarterback situations can unravel quickly. That's a big reason why Fisher was so pleased to see FSU's QB battle remain so close throughout fall camp.

“No matter what you say, you’ve got to have two guys ready to play,” Fisher said. “And I think both guys have shown they can go in and play.”

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Scene and Heard: Top 10 Predictions
In a conversation with ESPN's Antonietta Collins, national recruiting reporter Gerry Hamilton breaks down the recruiting momentum building at Auburn and offers predictions for where the top 10 recruits will commit.Tags: Trenton Thompson, Kerryon Johnson, Jeffery Holland, Martez Ivey, Torrance Gibson, Cece Jefferson, ESPN 300, RecruitingNation, high school football recruiting, Gerry Hamilton
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