Florida State Seminoles: levonte whitfield

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State watched Oklahoma State’s safeties crash the line of scrimmage in the opener, but Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said that wasn’t unexpected from the Cowboys even though FSU is tasked with reshaping its passing game.

Moving forward, however, the Seminoles could see defenses make a concerted effort to test the passing attack as Florida State still searches for a playmaking target opposite Rashad Greene after losing two of its top three receivers from 2013.

“I can’t predict what teams are going to try to do but of course their main focus is going to be to try and stop Rashad and [tight end] Nick [O’Leary], and that’s why I say those younger guys are going to have to step up,” quarterback Jameis Winston said. “And that’s why I say [the passing game] is a work in progress because we’ve got to get those guys ready for the show.”

Fisher said there is no disappointment among his of receivers outside of Greene, but the group is relatively inexperienced, combining for 21 catches last season. Florida State lost 108 receptions and nearly 2,000 yards when Kelvin Benjamin, a first-round pick, and Kenny Shaw departed for the NFL.

On signing day in early February, there was the hope within the Florida State community that 2014 signees Ja’Vonn Harrison, Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph would contribute immediately to the Seminoles offense. Those three were all ranked among the top 117 recruits in the 2014 ESPN 300. The hype was only heightened during the summer and preseason camp as rave reviews from Fisher and the rest of the team poured in.

In the week leading up to the opener, Fisher spoke confidently that all three would avoid redshirts and factor into the offense, but Lane and Rudolph saw the field only sparingly against the Cowboys.

Florida State completed 25 passes for 370 yards in Week 1, but half that production came from Greene (11 catches, 203 yards), prompting the senior to tell the Tallahassee Democrat after the game that he feels Florida State has to “get back in the lab and balance this offense out. … I don’t want to be the one individual that has to put this thing on my back.” Fisher said it was his playcalling that dictated the passing offense run through Greene, and Winston added he felt the need to rely on Greene and O’Leary since it was the first game of the season.

Senior Christian Green started at receiver in the opener and began strong with two catches in the first quarter including a 62-yard completion, but he didn’t catch another pass the rest of the game. Excluding Rashad Greene, Florida State’s receivers combined for five catches Saturday.

“The receivers [need] to come in and get open and make plays as well,” Christian Green said, “so Jameis can feel comfortable with us.”

The onus to create big plays in the passing game could ironically fall to the two shortest scholarship players on Florida State’s roster: 5-foot-7 Levonte “Kermit” Whitfield and 5-foot-9 Jesus “Bobo” Wilson.

Whitfield saw his most extensive playing time at receiver in the opener and responded with three catches for 30 yards. More than the stats, Fisher and Winston said the biggest positive in Whitfield’s game was those receptions came on routes he had to cut short once he realized Winston was blitzed, which is a key role for a slot receiver.

Wilson was suspended for the first game of the season after he pled down to two misdemeanors in July. He was originally charged with third-degree grand grand theft, a felony, for taking another student’s scooter.

At 5-9 and 177 pounds, Wilson does not fit the mold of the prototypical receiver and doesn’t come anywhere close to Benjamin’s 6-5, 240-pound build. However, Wilson’s speed, agility and route running makes him a legitimate threat as an outside receiver, Fisher said, and during an open practice last month Wilson was seen beating cornerback P.J. Williams, a potential first-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft, on a deep touchdown.

“Bobo is strong. He’s cut up and he’s physical,” Winston said. “I promise people said the same thing about [5-8 Lamarcus] Joyner being short, but it won’t change the way they play on the field.

“…Once they get out there and get used to the atmosphere and how things go at Florida State, I believe we’ve got some real talented guys.”
For all the warts Florida State displayed on Saturday, there is something to be said that the top-ranked Seminoles still managed to win. The opener against a tougher-than-advertised opponent at a neutral site is in the rearview mirror, and now the Seminoles essentially have three weeks -- sorry to The Citadel -- to shore up any lapses in the armor before division rival Clemson visits Sept. 20.

Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said last week that opening games are always cause for concern as he truly never knows how his team will react in game situations. The opening week of the season naturally over-stimulates the reactionary portion of the brain, but it’s vital to remember that while 12 games does not sound like a lot, it is a long season and the Florida State team we saw Aug. 30 will look much different on Nov. 30.

But now that we have had 24 hours to digest the Seminoles’ 37-31 win and look ahead to Week 2, we will try to break down fact from fiction as to where the real concerns are for Florida State.

1. FICTION: Florida State is overrated.

With all Florida State returns, there is little reason to believe this team is overrated at this point. The Seminoles might be overhyped, but that is through no fault of their own. Collectively, we -- fans, media, Vegas -- expected perfection from a team that is rebuilding in some vital areas and hadn’t played a football game in nearly eight months. The Seminoles still might be the most talented team in the country, and the Oklahoma State challenge did nothing to change the roster outlook. Maybe the biggest positive to come from Saturday for Florida State is they still had the look of a team that understands what it takes to win a game, even when they’re not clicking on all cylinders.

“We still made critical plays when we had to make critical plays,” Fisher said, “and there is something to that.”

What Florida State did do was buy into their own hype a little bit and, when momentum flipped, didn’t handle the expectations as the preseason No. 1, as well as Fisher, would have liked. From the outside, it looks like an obvious wake-up call, and Florida State players are referring to it as such, with Jameis Winston calling it an “eye opener.” But it is only a wake-up call if it results in a change, and we’ll have to wait another few weeks to see any.

“This year it hit us right off the bat,” cornerback P.J. Williams said, “and that’s a good thing.”

2. FICTION: Winston’s performance is indicative of a Heisman hangover.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesJameis Winston had a dazzling run, but made a few mistakes in the season opener.
At least not yet. Winston was equal parts brilliant and baffling at times, but the mistakes seemingly are correctable. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner forced a few passes into tight coverage at critical times in the game -- in the red zone and before halftime -- but if those drives had resulted in points instead of turnovers, Winston acknowledged after the game that the victory might have been sealed at halftime. Winston still has the type of arm that NFL teams will covet, and he put that on display. Few quarterbacks in the country can make the throws Winston can, and even fewer defensive backs can defend them. And when his team needed him most, Winston again rose to the occasion, sprinting 28 yards on a touchdown run that will be replayed dozens of time this week.

The real issue for the passing game is who is going to emerge opposite Rashad Greene?

3. FACT: Florida State needs a No. 2 receiver to emerge.

There is a very good chance Greene will leave Florida State as the most prolific receiver in school history, and he showed why Saturday. But the passing game was out of sorts for stretches, and that is due in part to the lack of a playmaker other than Greene.

“They were … forcing us to throw the football,” Fisher said.

How many teams would have dared Florida State do that last season with Greene, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw? Fisher said Winston kept relying on Greene, who had 11 catches for 203 yards, because Fisher called for plays to Greene. There just isn’t the same confidence in the other receiving options at this point, and maybe that changes once Jesus Wilson returns from suspension, which is still labeled as indefinite but figures to end sooner rather than later. The freshman receivers that earned so much attention during preseason camp didn’t catch a single pass. The trio of Ja’Vonn Harrison, Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph still figures to be a great one in Tallahassee, but expectations from fans were far too high early on. Levonte Whitfield had some nice plays, but he is limited to a slot role.

The offensive line protected Winston extremely well, however, which in the future should give him enough time to start finding those No. 2 candidates. If defenses start fearing the pass it again, it should open up more holes for running back Karlos Williams.

4. (PARTIAL) FACT: The defensive tackles need to play better.

I watched Oklahoma State’s offensive drives beginning from the second quarter, and the Seminoles’ defensive tackles played well at times and looked shaky at times. If anything, the interior needs to play more consistently, and that could happen if Fisher elects to rotate more bodies in the future. Much of the burden was on Eddie Goldman, Nile Lawrence-Stample and Derrick Mitchell.

There was a mix of good and bad from the tackles on just about every defensive drive. The interior would get penetration one play and then get pushed a few yards off the ball on the next. A lot of it was simply Oklahoma State’s speed, too. A few times the defensive tackles were in position to make a tackle behind the line of scrimmage, but Tyreek Hill just took away the angle. Goldman played well for much of the game, I thought, and if the linemen make those tackles for loss, their play might not be as widely discussed.
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State is not deviating from company line that the Seminoles have moved on from 2013, but forgive FSU fans if they’re still reveling in the past.

Levonte Whitfield gave Florida State its first lead of the national championship game with a 100-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter, and, seven months later, it’s still a talking point for Seminoles fans when interacting with the player affectionately known as Kermit.

“It’s like every day, I get a lot of [Twitter] mentions about it,” Whitfield said. “I try not to think about it. They can’t take it away from me but I try not to think about it. It’s time to move on.”

Whitfield still has the play burned in his memory, though. With the Seminoles trailing 24-20 with 4:42 left in the game, the then-true freshman fielded the kickoff from about two yards deep in the end zone. Eleven seconds later, he was in the end zone.

“As soon as I got the ball I see Chad Abram kicked out, got his block and Karlos [Williams] made a cut and I see a big hole and I see nothing but daylight,” Whitfield said.

With his sophomore season on the horizon, though, Whitfield wants to be remembered as more than just the kick returner from the national championship. The 5-foot-7, 183-pound receiver said he is working with the first-team offense in practice, and he could be relied upon in the passing game more often this season as a slot receiver, especially with fellow diminutive receiver Jesus Wilson (5-9, 177) indefinitely suspended.

Whitfield is one of the fastest players in the country, but Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said Whitfield needs to display that speed even when the ball is not in his hands. Whitfield said he is working on his route running, too.

“I want to be an All-American,” Whitfield said, “and do what I need to do to help the team win."
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It’s the double-edged sword of having a wildly talented team but with nearly a month's worth of practices still standing in the way of the season opener. There are not many question marks in the starting lineup for Florida State, which means the uncertainties at those few positions are squarely under the microscope.

[+] EnlargeDoak Campbell, Christian Green
Phil Ellsworth/ESPN ImagesSenior Christian Green is among a group of Florida State wide receivers looking to complement Rashad Greene.
That’s why Jimbo Fisher, Rashad Greene, the offensive line and even the Seminoles’ secondary are being asked about the inexperienced group of receivers. It’s understandable why the receiver corps has been a debated and scrutinized, and it is a legitimate question to ask which receivers will step up to complement the senior Greene, the team’s leading receiver. Especially when considering Fisher’s frustration with the receivers boiled over this spring.

A lack of consistency drew the ire of Fisher in March, but through three practices this fall, Fisher has been much more measured and complimentary of the receivers. However, consistency is still a concern during preseason practices for a unit that, outside of Greene, combined for 23 catches in 2013.

“Consistency, guys knowing what to do, where to be when that ball is thrown to you,” Fisher said when asked what will separate the jumble behind Greene. “I’ve been pleased with the younger and older receivers.”

The younger receivers, for only practicing three days and none with full pads on, have been the stars among the corps so far. At this point, though, that is more a product of the vast hype and media and fan intrigue rather than on-field performance.

Ermon Lane was the No. 2 receiver nationally in the ESPN 300 and stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 206 pounds. Travis Rudolph was not far off in the recruiting rankings, registering as the sixth-best receiver in the 2014 class. Four-star Ja'Vonn Harrison rounds out the highly regarded freshman trio.

“Travis and Ja’Vonn, those two really do have good routes. Ermon is more of a physical type guy, he can go up, get off the jam. That’s what separates those guys,” senior receiver Jarred Haggins said. “By the time they all take their role, they’re going to be awesome."

Haggins missed the entire 2013 season with a stress fracture in his knee but is healthy and competing for the No. 2 spot. With Kermit Whitfield and Jesus Wilson -- who is still indefinitely suspended -- likely filling the slot receiver role, Haggins, Christian Green and Isaiah Jones are competing with the freshmen for the starting outside receiver position.

The 6-foot-2, 204-pound Green caught 13 passes last season, second most among returning receivers, but he caught more passes as a redshirt freshman (26) than he has the rest of his career combined. A member of the 2010 recruiting class, Green arrived in Tallahassee with the same national acclaim as the current freshmen, as he ranked No. 53 in the ESPN 150.

Despite the limited action and attention he has received the first four years of his career, Green is determined to make a senior jump similar to the departed Kenny Shaw, Green’s freshman roommate and a receiver who caught nearly as many passes a senior (54) as he did his first three seasons (70).

“It’s something I’ve been waiting for,” Green said. “I’ve been patient and playing my role and doing whatever they asked me to do. Now is the time.”

Green said he is doing his best balancing his own ambitions with mentoring the younger receivers, but this offseason they were all under the tutelage of Jameis Winston. Last summer, Winston was still embroiled in a quarterback competition. During summer 7-on-7 workouts and throwing sessions that coaches couldn’t watch, it was Winston who took the lead role of developing his young receivers.

“Jameis really understands what he wants and how he wants it,” Fisher said. “It’s something he picked up this summer from Peyton Manning. I always talk to him about taking two routes a day and running it 100 times. Make those guys understand how to do it.”
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.

FSU spring: What we learned

April, 14, 2014
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Florida State’s spring camp came to a close on Saturday with the annual Garnet and Gold game, and now the Seminoles are prepping for a second straight national title.

The game is secondary compared to the rest of spring practices, so with that in mind, here are some of the biggest answers the 15 spring sessions presented.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Don Juan Moore/Getty ImagesFlorida State coach Jimbo Fisher escaped the spring with a healthy roster.
1. FSU will be at full strength this fall.
In early March, Noles coach Jimbo Fisher noted how healthy his team was and how rare it is to have a squad almost entirely intact for spring practice. As the practices mounted, though, so did the injuries. The silver lining is that none of the injuries are expected to linger into preseason camp. Running backs Dalvin Cook and Ryan Green had shoulder surgery but will be 100 percent by around July. Nick O’Leary missed the final half of spring practices with a second motorcycle accident, but he avoided any serious injuries. There were a few concussions in camp, but Terrance Smith, who suffered one of them, was back for the spring game. The lone setback that could impact fall camp is the foot injury Ukeme Eligwe sustained, which Fisher hinted could be the dreaded Lisfranc injury, which has a tendency to persist for quite some time. The thought is he should be fine for August, though.

2. The secondary is among the best in the country.
Quarterback Jameis Winston said after the spring game that “we got the best [defensive] backs in the country.” He should know, having thrown against the unit for much of the spring and the entire Garnet and Gold game. The secondary of P.J. Williams, Jalen Ramsey, Nick Waisome and Tyler Hunter shut down the No. 1 offense’s passing attack the entire first half, and the unit was without sophomore Nate Andrews. Fisher said throughout the spring that Ramsey is a star-in-the-making and should become a nationally recognized name replacing Lamarcus Joyner. Ramsey showcased his skills by moving around at cornerback, safety and nickel during the game. Fisher and Winston are raving about freshman Trey Marshall, too. Williams is a star in his own right, shutting down No. 1 receiver Rashad Greene.

3. The receivers need to step up.
Speaking of Greene and the receivers, that position is probably the biggest weakness heading into the season. Fisher was upset with the production and consistency his receivers showcased through much of the spring, and the starting unit did not get any separation from the Noles’ secondary. Jesus Wilson has the potential to be a playmaker from the slot, but can he replace Kenny Shaw’s production? Isaiah Jones is 6-foot-4, but his production did not match that of departed 6-foot-5 receiver Kelvin Benjamin. Levonte Whitfield announced himself to the world in the national title game, but he is still needs some refinement as a receiver. The coaches can spend two hours a week breaking down film with players during the offseason, and Fisher said that will be a critical step in Florida State’s development at receiver.

4. The talent is there at linebacker.
The Noles lose beloved figure Telvin Smith and consistent producer Christian Jones, but the depth at linebacker is there so those losses might not be felt all that much. Matthew Thomas is a budding star, and the former five-star recruit will not be kept off the field this fall. Terrance Smith is the leader of the unit and could be a viable replacement for Telvin Smith. Before Eligwe’s injury, Fisher voiced his opinion that Eligwe was having as good of a spring as any player. Reggie Northrup and E.J. Levenberry should each see significant snaps in the rotation, and Ro’Derrick Hoskins could be a dangerous third-down specialist from the position.

5. Sean Maguire is a quality backup for Noles.
Earlier this spring, Winston missed a practice to travel to Clemson with the baseball team, putting the pressure squarely on No. 2 quarterback Maguire to perform at a competent level. Following the practice, the third of the spring, Fisher was lukewarm on Maguire’s performance. But Maguire looked the part of a quality No. 2 option for Florida State during the spring game. The Noles got him in rhythm with three straight passes to the flats to open the game, and then Maguire dropped in a 26-yard touchdown on a post route over the defender. Maguire, a redshirt sophomore, said he made the most progress this spring than he’s ever made at any point in his college career.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Most coaches keep practices behind closed doors. They don’t want any important information finding its way to opponents.

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, however, graciously tipped his hand Wednesday when asked about what new formations and which underclassman receivers could mitigate the departure of potential first-round NFL draft pick Kelvin Benjamin, all 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds of him.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsKermit Whitfield isn't going to do the same things Kelvin Benjamin did in the Florida State passing game, but his speed could be every bit as dangerous to defenses.
“I’ll stack Bobo (Jesus Wilson) and Kermit (Levonte Whitfield) on top of each other,” quipped Fisher, clearly armed in anticipation of a question on his receivers’ height. Wilson stands 5-foot-9 and Whitfield is 5-7.

The humor could be a deflection as Fisher masks any possible concerns about replacing Benjamin, who at Tuesday’s pro day showcased a rare catching radius and leaping ability that no player on the Seminoles’ current roster has illustrated. Senior Rashad Greene's presence is vital, as he led the team with 76 catches last season, but no other returning receiver had more than 13 catches in 2013, which leaves mostly a unit with little to no in-game seasoning.

But while Benjamin’s size and strength combination won’t be replaced by anyone on the roster in its current form, his Tallahassee exit doesn’t necessarily mean a step in the wrong direction for the Seminoles offense. Whitfield and Wilson are small packages of instant offense. Whitfield initially trumpeted his speed for Florida State fans with touchdowns of 31 and 74 yards the first two times he rushed the ball, and then for a national audience with a 100-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter of the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

“You can jump or you can run there -- there are two different avenues [to catch the ball],” Fisher said. “Bobo and Kermit, those guys get the ball short and it’s hard to get them on the ground.”

Quarterback Jameis Winston knows receivers like Benjamin do not come around often, but he said neither do players with the acceleration and speed of Whitfield and Wilson.

“Kermit and Bobo, they’re going to catch the ball and you’re not going to tackle them,” Winston said. “Bobo is as electric as Kermit, but Kermit is special. And those guys can jump, and I’m pretty sure they can dunk.”

Expecting the talented but inexperienced Whitfield, Wilson, Jarred Haggins and 6-4 sophomore Isaiah Jones to quickly jell with Winston in the passing game is oversimplifying an issue that requires a quarterback and receiver to connect on an innate level. Official practice time is in short supply this spring in Tallahassee as Winston bounces between football and baseball, which will cost him Saturday’s practice.

Yet as foolish as it would be to assume Benjamin and Kenny Shaw won’t be missed, at this point it would be equally ill-advised to doubt any aspect of the team Winston touches.

“We trust all the guys we got. That’s why we come to Florida State, to win championships, and we've got great players,” Winston said. “It’s going to be a fast adjustment with timing, and we’re going to get this thing rolling.”
Just a week remains until national signing day, and Florida State is on pace to add one of its deepest classes in years. Throughout Jimbo Fisher’s first four years on the job, he has managed to reel in plenty of talent. Here’s a look back at the top 10 signees who had the biggest immediate impact.

10. Christian Jones (LB, 2010): Played in all 14 games as a freshman, racking up 18 tackles with three sacks and added a forced fumble in a Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over South Carolina.

9. Lamarcus Joyner (DB, 2010): Played a limited role on defense but still accounted for 23 tackles and three passes defended. Blossomed into a weapon on special teams, racking up 329 yards on 16 kick returns.

8. Bjöern Werner (DE, 2010): Showed flashes of his brilliant future in a more limited role. Werner appeared in all 14 games, racking up 20 tackles, including six for a loss. He finished with 3.5 sacks.

[+] EnlargeLevonte Whitfield
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsKermit Whitfield wasn't a full-time player as a freshman, but he certainly made the most of his opportunities.
7. Nate Andrews (S, 2013): He started just one game for Florida State as a freshman, but his impact on defense was immense, leading the Seminoles with seven takeaways (four interceptions, three forced fumbles). He also racked up 35 tackles.

6. Kermit Whitfield (KR, 2013): Whitfield touched the ball just 25 times as a freshman, but he made the most of his opportunities. He racked up 818 all-purpose yards (32.7 yards per play) and scored four times, including a dramatic kickoff return for a go-ahead touchdown in the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

5. Ronald Darby (CB, 2012): Splitting time at corner, Darby tied for the team lead with eight pass breakups, recorded 22 tackles and forced a fumble en route to becoming a Freshman All-America selection.

4. Timmy Jernigan (DT, 2011): Despite coming off the bench all season in 2011, Jernigan was a force in the middle of a talented defensive line. He recorded 30 tackles, tops among FSU’s interior linemen, including six for a loss. He had 2.5 sacks and his three QB hurries ranked third on the team.

3. Jalen Ramsey (DB, 2013): The first true freshman to start at cornerback for Florida State since Deion Sanders, Ramsey made an about-face four games into the season, taking over at safety when Tyler Hunter went down with an injury. He finished third among DBs with 49 tackles (two for a loss), recorded a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and an interception for the nation’s top secondary.

2. Devonta Freeman (RB, 2011): Injuries on the offensive line stymied FSU’s running game and injuries in the backfield thinned the depth chart, but Freeman still stepped up to rack up a team-high 579 rushing yards with eight touchdowns in 12 games. He went on to lead Florida State in rushing in all three seasons he spent in Tallahassee.

1. Rashad Greene (WR, 2011): Because of a midseason injury he appeared in just nine games, but Greene led FSU in catches (38), receiving yards (596) and receiving touchdowns (7). He was at his best when FSU needed him the most, hauling in a 56-yard TD against Oklahoma, racking up 98 yards and a score against Clemson and catching 12 passes for 163 yards against Wake Forest. He was named MVP of the Champs Sports Bowl after recording 99 yards against Notre Dame.

Season wrap: Florida State

January, 15, 2014
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The season ended with Jimbo Fisher hugging the national championship trophy, a finale that seemed nearly inevitable as Florida State thundered through its schedule, even if that final win over Auburn in the VIZIO BCS National Championship was filled with drama. The Seminoles finished the year 14-0 and won every game (except the championship game) by 14 or more points. Florida State led the nation in scoring defense, finished second in scoring offense and featured some of the best individual performances in school history. The Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback grabbed the bulk of the headlines, but the defense was exceptional in its first season under coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. Kick returner Kermit Whitfield was electric, saving his biggest run for Pasadena, and the offense featured a trifecta of 1,000-yard players, with Devonta Freeman, Kelvin Benjamin and Rashad Greene each cracking that threshold.

Offensive MVP: Jameis Winston (redshirt freshman, QB)

Who else could it be? Winston won the Heisman, set the team record for touchdown passes and blossomed into the emotional leader of a national championship team. From his dynamic debut against Pitt (when he completed 25 of 27 passes for 356 yards and accounted for five touchdowns) to his final, game-winning drive in the BCS title game against Auburn (when he was 6-of-7 for 77 yards) Winston was spectacular. Now he just needs to do it again in 2014.

Defensive MVP: Lamarcus Joyner (senior, CB)

Joyner nearly left for the NFL after the 2012 season, but Florida State is thrilled he decided to stick around. He moved from safety to corner during the spring, and the new role fit perfectly in Pruitt’s scheme. Joyner was a crucial cog in a secondary that finished No. 1 in the country in passing defense and interceptions, and he excelled as a blitzer, leading FSU with 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.

Best moment: Benjamin’s final TD grab

It was a season filled with special moments for Florida State, from Winston’s big debut to Kenny Shaw’s Hail Mary grab to end the first half against Boston College to Joyner’s forced fumble that set the tone in a dominant win over Clemson. But of course, it was the final moment that will be remembered most fondly. After trailing nearly the entire game in Pasadena, Benjamin came down with a 2-yard touchdown pass with 13 seconds left to play, giving Florida State its third national title.

Worst moment: the investigation

There weren’t many bad moments on the field for Florida State this season. The Seminoles trailed in the first half against Boston College, then didn’t trail again until the national title game. But off the field, it was an extraordinarily challenging season, beginning when reports first surfaced of an open investigation surrounding Winston. For nearly a month, the quarterback faced questions about his role in a rape case, and while charges were never filed, the threat of a civil lawsuit continues to keep the case in the news.
Florida State's performance in its 34-31 win over Auburn gave the Seminoles their first national title since 1999 -- and also landed four players on ESPN.com's All-Bowl team.

The ACC delivered when it mattered most this year -- in its two BCS bowls. Duke also had some outstanding performances in spite of its loss to Texas A&M. The ACC fared particularly well at the wide receiver and return positions. Here's a look at some of the ACC's top performers on the All-Bowl team:
David Hale and Matt Fortuna handled the ACC's All-Bowl team for ESPN.com, and there were a few differences. Colleague Ivan Maisel and I also recognized a few unsung heroes from bowl season in this video. Congrats to all of ACC's top performers this year.

ACC all-bowl team

January, 9, 2014
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Bowl season was kind to the ACC in a few games (Florida State and Clemson won BCS games), not-so-kind in a few others (Miami, Virginia Tech, we're looking at you) and at least one was a little of both (can we get Texas A&M and Duke every year?). But now that it's all over, we're honoring the best individual performances in the ACC with our all-bowl team.

OFFENSE

QB: Tajh Boyd, Clemson: The big stage hadn't been kind to Boyd through most of 2013, but on the first day of 2014, he was exceptional. Boyd accounted for 505 yards and six touchdowns in a Discover Orange Bowl win over Ohio State, giving the ACC two BCS bowl game victors.

RB: James Conner, Pittsburgh: The freshman tailback carried 26 times against Bowling Green, blowing past Tony Dorsett for the Pitt bowl game record with 229 yards on the ground. For good measure, Conner chipped in on the defensive line for a few snaps, too.

RB: Devonta Freeman, Florida State: It wasn't the most spectacular performance of bowl season -- Freeman wasn't even the best running back on the field in the BCS title game -- but his hard running early kept FSU from falling too far behind, and his final tally -- 11 carries for 73 yards and a TD -- helped Freeman become the first FSU running back since Warrick Dunn to top 1,000 yards on the season.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesOhio State wasn't able to catch Sammy Watkins, as the Clemson WR set multiple Orange Bowl receiving records.
WR: Sammy Watkins, Clemson: Watkins made his last game in a Clemson uniform one to remember, catching an Orange Bowl record 16 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns despite battling an injury for half the game.

WR: Jamison Crowder, Duke: Ho-hum, another 12 catches for 163 yards and a touchdown for Crowder, who turned in one last stellar performance to cap an exceptional season for the Blue Devils.

WR: Rashad Greene, Florida State: The Seminoles' dramatic comeback against Auburn in the BCS championship game wouldn't have been possible without Greene's big day. He was the only FSU receiver with positive yardage in the first half of the game, and his 49-yard reception -- he dodged two tacklers and picked up most of that yardage after the catch -- was the key play on FSU's dramatic last-minute, game-winning drive.

TE: Braxton Deaver, Duke: The junior had six catches for 116 yards, including three grabs that went for 25 yards or more and five that went for first downs.

OL: Dorian Johnson, Pitt: The Panthers simply overwhelmed Bowling Green's defensive front in the Little Caesars Bowl, racking up 487 yards of offense, including 255 on the ground. (Ed. note: We mistakenly included Matt Rotherham here in an initial post. Johnson slid from tackle to guard for the game, replacing Rotherham, and the Pitt line didn't miss a beat. We apologize for the error.)

OL: Jon Heck, North Carolina: Cincinnati entered the Belk Bowl second in the AAC in sacks with 35, but the Bearcats couldn't get to UNC QB Marquise Williams, as the Tar Heels' offense racked up 39 points -- the second-most Cincinnati gave up all season.

OL: Laken Tomlinson, Duke: The Blue Devils racked up 661 yards of total offense and 29 first downs against Texas A&M, with the offensive line -- led by Tomlinson -- paving the way for a 300-yard passer and a 100-yard rusher.

OL: Tre' Jackson, Florida State: Yes, the Seminoles' line allowed four sacks in the game, but Jackson and Co. also helped FSU run for more yards per carry (4.8) than the vaunted Auburn ground game and provided Jameis Winston with plenty of time to throw on a dramatic game-winning drive in the final minute.

C: Macky MacPherson, Syracuse: The Orange rushed for 208 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner with 1:14 left, to knock off Minnesota in the Texas Bowl. The physically dominant performance on the line was a fitting conclusion to MacPherson's Syracuse career.

DEFENSE

DE: Mario Edwards Jr., FSU: Edwards had one sack and three tackles for loss among his six total tackles for a Seminoles front that turned it up a notch in the second half, allowing the offense to catch up and ultimately escape with the win.

DT: Andre Monroe, Maryland: The Terrapins' finale as an ACC member ended on a sour note with a 31-20 loss to Marshall in the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman. Monroe tied for a game-high with 10 total tackles, three of which went for a loss, one of which was a sack. Monroe added a quarterback hurry as well.

DT: Aaron Donald, Pitt: With one more game to go in a historic season, Donald did not disappoint. The senior closed out his career with two tackles for loss, including one sack, to go with a pass break-up in the Panthers' 30-27 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl win over Bowling Green. Donald's sack came on second down of the Falcons' final drive, all but sealing the win.

DE: Vic Beasley, Clemson: Beasley was part of a Tigers front that made life extremely difficult for Braxton Miller and the rest of the Ohio State backfield. Beasley recorded four tackles for loss and a sack among his five total tackles, and in the end Clemson's defense proved to be the difference in a shootout win.

LB: Norkeithus Otis, UNC: The Tar Heels capped their strong second half with a bang, routing Cincinnati 39-17 in the Belk Bowl to make them 6-1 over their last seven games. Otis tallied seven total tackles -- two for loss and one sack among them -- to go with two quarterback hurries.

LB: Jack Tyler, Virginia Tech: UCLA proved to be too much for the Hokies in a 42-12 win in the Hyundai Sun Bowl, but Tyler played well, totaling seven tackles, including half of a sack, to go with one pass break-up and one quarterback hurry.

[+] EnlargeP.J. Williams
AP Photo/Gregory BullP.J. Williams' interception was the big break Florida State needed to create in its come-from-behind victory over Auburn in the BCS title game.
LB: Cameron Lynch, Syracuse: The Orange finished a successful first season in the ACC by topping Minnesota 21-17 in the Texas Bowl. Lynch, a junior, tied for a team-high with eight stops, with most of his big plays coming behind the line of scrimmage. He had two tackles for loss, one sack and a forced fumble to help Syracuse go 7-4 after an 0-2 start in coach Scott Shafer's first year.

DB: P.J. Williams, FSU: The defensive MVP from the Vizio BCS National Championship came up huge when it mattered most, picking off Auburn's Nick Marshall early in the fourth quarter to set up a touchdown that cut the Tigers' lead to one. Williams finished with seven total tackles and 0.5 tackles for loss.

DB: Jemea Thomas, Georgia Tech: Thomas ended his college career with a bang, totaling a game-high 15 tackles. Three of those stops were behind the line of scrimmage, including one sack.

DB: D.J. White, GT: The Yellow Jackets get two more years of White, a future that looked all the brighter in the 25-17 loss to Ole Miss in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. White finished with 13 total tackles, two forced fumbles, one interception and three pass break-ups.

DB: Bryce Jones, Boston College: The Eagles' turnaround campaign under Steve Addazio ended on a down note, falling to Arizona 42-19 in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl, but Jones was a bright spot, with the sophomore notching a team-high 12 tackles, including one for loss.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Chris Blewitt, Pitt: Blewitt went 3-for-4 for the Panthers in Detroit, connecting from 25, 28 and, most important, 39 yards with the game-winning kick with 1:17 left in Pitt's 30-27 win.

P: Tommy Hibbard, UNC: Hibbard was phenomenal for the Tar Heels, punting four times for an average of 44.2 yards per boot. He pinned Cincinnati inside its own 20 three different times, and he had a long of 59 yards in the win.

KR: Levonte Whitfield, FSU: At the time, Whitfield's 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown seemed as if it would go down as one of the greatest returns in BCS championship game history. The touchdown gave Florida State a 27-24 lead with 4:31 to play -- but the lead would change twice more before it was over. Whitfield finished the game with 172 return yards.

PR: Ryan Switzer, UNC: The Tar Heels had a huge day on special teams in a Belk Bowl win over Cincinnati, with Switzer -- an All-American -- leading the way, returning his fifth punt of the season for a touchdown.
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Love it or hate it, the BCS delivered a dramatic and fitting ending on Monday night, as No. 1 FSU rallied from from a late four-point deficit in the final two minutes to defeat No. 2 Auburn 34-31 in the final VIZIO BCS National Championship at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. The Seminoles won their third national championship and ended the SEC's reign of seven consecutive BCS national championships.

Play of the game: Trailing 31-27 with about one minute to go, Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston threw a 49-yard pass to Rashad Greene to move to Auburn's 23-yard line with 56 seconds to play. Six players later, after Auburn was penalized for pass interference in the end zone, Winston threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin to go ahead for good with 13 seconds to play. FSU's extra point gave it a 34-31 lead.

Turning point: After Auburn took a 24-20 lead with about 4:42 to go, FSU's Levonte Whitfield returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, giving the Seminoles a 27-24 lead with 4:31 left. Whitfield, a 5-foot-7 freshman known as "Kermit," returned a kickoff for a touchdown for the second time this season.

Early turning point: With Auburn holding a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter, Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall lofted a 50-yard touchdown pass to Melvin Ray to stake the Tigers to a 14-3 lead with 13:48 to go in the first half. Ray, a sophomore from Tallahassee, Fla., had four catches for 58 yards this season before hauling in the long touchdown catch against the hometown Seminoles. FSU, which hadn't trailed since falling behind Boston College on Sept. 28 and had led for more than 571 minutes of football before falling behind the Tigers, suddenly trailed by two scores. The Seminoles played catch-up the rest of the night but finally caught the Tigers in the end.

Player of the game: Winston, a redshirt freshman from Bessemer, Ala., got off to a slow start against Auburn's defense, getting sacked four times and fumbling once in the first half. But in the end, Winston broke the Heisman Trophy jinx, throwing the winning touchdown with 13 seconds to play. He completed 20 of 35 passes for 237 yards with two touchdowns.

What it means: The controversial BCS era ends with the SEC being denied its eighth consecutive national championship, which should sit well with college football fans outside of the SEC. In a game in which the SEC seemed most vulnerable during its championship streak, the Tigers jumped out to a 21-3 lead but couldn't hold on for a victory. The Tigers were denied their second BCS national championship since the 2010 season, when they defeated Oregon 22-19 in the BCS National Championship behind quarterback Cam Newton. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn missed becoming only the second coach -- Miami's Larry Coker was the first -- to lead his team to the national title in his first season since the BCS began in 1998.

Stat that matters: 2-for-12: Florida State won despite going 2-for-12 on third down.

What's next: Florida State will probably be a popular choice to be the No. 1 team in preseason polls heading into the 2014 season. FSU will have to replace several key pieces on defense, including linebackers Christian Jones and Telvin Smith and cornerback Lamarcus Joyner. But the Seminoles will bring back Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, along with several of their most important players on offense. Auburn, which reached the BCS national championship in Malzahn's first season, will be among the SEC West favorites in 2014, along with Alabama and LSU. The Tigers will bring back Marshall, but they'll have to wait to see if junior tailback Tre Mason returns to school or enters next spring's NFL draft. Auburn's very young defense will be a lot wiser in coordinator Ellis Johnson's second season, too.

Winston shines in spite of scandal

November, 16, 2013
11/16/13
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- He started with 11 straight completions, an answer to anyone who wondered if this chaos would finally unravel the unflappable focus of Jameis Winston.

He lounged on the sideline throughout the entirety of the second half of yet another blowout win, joking with former Heisman winner and Florida State great Charlie Ward. If Winston was worried that an off-field scandal might squash his hopes of following in Ward’s footsteps, his wide smile and relaxed demeanor didn’t show it Saturday.

Once the 59-3 shellacking of Syracuse was over, Winston lingered on the field for a few extra moments, then darted toward the tunnel, stopping behind the end zone when he found coach Jimbo Fisher’s young son. He shared high-fives with a contingent of kids, then exited the field through a cadre of fans reaching out their hands and shouting his name, disappearing into the locker room that is his sanctuary.

This was Florida State’s first mantra this week: Everything stays the same.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
AP Photo/Phil SearsJameis Winston threw for for 277 yards and two touchdowns.
“It’s the same Jameis,” receiver Kenny Shaw said. “Practice was the same, everything was the same. Same schedule. Nothing changed.”

Eventually, Winston emerged to face the cameras and the reporters. During his five-minute news conference, he faced a slew of questions about his focus, but not one about his potential involvement in a sexual-assault case being investigated by the state attorney’s office. Media had been instructed that Winston would discuss football only, but those unanswered questions tinged every aspect of Florida State’s victory on Saturday.

That is the other mantra at Florida State until there is some resolution to this case: No comment.

“One thing about Florida State, we’re a big family,” Winston said, “and we stay inside the family.”

A sexual assault was alleged to have occurred last December, and at some point after that, Winston became entangled in the investigation. On Wednesday, that information became public, but few other details of the story have emerged since.

Fisher skillfully dodged questions during a postgame media session that was, at times, more like a chess match between those who wanted details and a man who might have some.

Winston turned the focus onto his teammates, just as he had all season. Florida State’s defense once again was dominant. The offense scored touchdowns on its first five drives. There was too much love to go around to belabor the ugly story that overshadowed everything else for the previous four days.

The rest of the Seminoles were subjected to similar scrutiny, but they were careful not to provide any spark that might further ignite this growing media firestorm. It was, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan said, the closest thing possible to business as usual.

“The guy, he’s had a lot going on around him from the start of the season,” Jernigan said of Winston, a redshirt freshman. “When you play like he plays, a lot’s going to come with it, whether it’s in a good way or a bad way. He’s just going out and playing his game. Nothing’s going to bother him.”

Indeed, Winston hardly seemed flustered by the off-field distractions. He finished the game completing 19 of 21 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns. He delivered a devastating block 40 yards downfield on a 74-yard touchdown run by freshman Levonte Whitfield. He nearly drew a flag sprinting onto the field to celebrate a defensive touchdown. He beamed after his backup, Sean Maguire, threw the first touchdown pass of his career in the third quarter, a beautiful lob to tight end Nick O'Leary in the end zone that may offer some hope for Florida State’s offense should this scandal derail Winston’s season.

“Nothing’s going to hold Jaboo back,” tailback James Wilder Jr. said of his QB. “He’s always happy, always cheering. He was tuned in, locked in.”

Before the game, the 1993 national championship team was honored, and even Seminoles 20 years removed from their playing days faced questions. Ward offered support for Winston. After an 11-month delay in investigating the incident, Ward suggested the timing of Tallahassee police’s decision to send the case to the state attorney was curious.

Derrick Brooks, a defensive star on that 1993 team, said this year’s Seminoles would rally around Winston. Championship teams, he said, always face adversity, and the cure was to step back onto the field.

But adversity seems like the wrong word. Fans cheered his name, and reporters studied Winston’s face for signs that the cloud of suspicion would finally crack his unflinchingly upbeat facade. But the alleged victim in the case remains nameless and faceless to the public, another in the stream of details still unknown.

Saturday’s game did little to part the clouds of the growing storm surrounding the program. It simply proved once again that, with Winston at quarterback, Florida State is a team more than capable of playing for a national championship.

“When you have great veterans around you and great people you trust,” Winston said, “you want to go out on that battlefield and play your heart out for them.”

Helmet stickers: Week 9

October, 27, 2013
10/27/13
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The starters weren’t in the game for more than a few snaps after halftime, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some impressive performances in Florida State’s 49-17 win.

WR Rashad Greene: The junior from Albany, Ga., continues to slide under the radar, but Jimbo Fisher said Greene is playing as well as anyone on Florida State’s roster. On Saturday, Greene caught eight passes for 132 yards, including a 42-yard TD. It was Greene’s fourth 100-yard game of the season and his eighth touchdown. Seven of his eight catches Saturday went for first downs.

S Terrence Brooks: For the second straight game, Florida State’s defense set the tone early by forcing a turnover on the opposition’s first drive. This time it was Brooks, who picked off Brandon Mitchell’s first throw, setting up an FSU touchdown. On NC State’s fourth drive, Brooks was back at it, forcing a fumble -- the second of Florida State’s three takeaways. He added two tackles -- one for a loss -- for good measure.

RB Devonta Freeman: Like Greene, Freeman hasn’t basked in the spotlight much this season, but he’s delivering significant results. He carried 12 times Saturday for 92 yards and two touchdowns, pacing an FSU ground game that averaged nearly 8 yards per carry (not counting sacks) and scored four times. Freeman is on pace to become Florida State’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 1996.

Hat tips to: Ronald Darby appears fully healthy and picked off a pass for the second straight game; Jameis Winston wasn’t at his best, but he threw for 292 yards and three TDs, Levonte Whitfield racked up 99 all-purpose yards in the second half, including a nifty 31-yard touchdown run on a reverse in the fourth quarter.

Five things: FSU vs. Bethune-Cookman

September, 21, 2013
9/21/13
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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.

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