Florida State Seminoles: nick o'leary

The image is now part of Florida State lore, etched into the history books for all time. Jameis Winston lofts a pass into the end zone in the final minute of the national championship game. As he’d done so often in 2013, Kelvin Benjamin -- all 6-foot-5, 240 pounds of him -- overwhelmed his defender and hauled it in for the score.

The touchdown was the capper in the Seminoles’ third national title, but it was also the finale to Benjamin’s career in Tallahassee. He’s off to the NFL, where he’s projected as a potential first-round selection.

Now, Florida State is left to find a replacement, and Jimbo Fisher has a sense of humor about the difficulty of the task, joking with reporters he’d simply stack two of his current receivers atop each other.

At least Fisher can laugh about it, but the truth is, Florida State simply doesn’t have an obvious replacement because, well, players like Benjamin don’t come around very often.

Benjamin wasn’t always the most refined route runner or sure-handed receiver, but his raw physical ability was unparalleled. He was a mismatch every time he was on the field. While Florida State retains its best receiver in Rashad Greene, has some developing talent in Kermit Whitfield, Jesus Wilson and Isaiah Jones, and has three prized prospects arriving this summer, none provide the same physically imposing target that Benjamin did last season.

So, who picks up the slack for the 89 targets Benjamin received from Winston last season (not to mention the 74 for Kenny Shaw or the 38 for FSU’s departed backs)?

Fisher’s answer is probably somewhat accurate. The young receivers will all play their part, but none are likely to replace Benjamin’s production on their own. It will have to be a combined effort, and the new arrivals will need some time to adjust to the college game.

Of the receivers that remain, Jones is the tallest at 6-4, but he’s 50 pounds lighter than Benjamin and perhaps the least refined of the Seminoles’ current receiving corps. No other receiver on the roster -- including the incoming freshmen -- measures taller than 6-2. And size does matter. Since Fisher took over as playcaller in 2007, FSU has always had at least one receiver 6-5 or taller catch at least 30 passes for at least 450 yards. That won’t happen in 2014.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean Florida State will be without a physical mismatch in the passing game. It’s just likely that mismatch will come from its tight end.

Last season, Nick O'Leary blossomed to the tune of 33 catches for 557 yards and seven touchdowns. It was a breakthrough campaign for the junior tight end widely considered among the best in the nation coming out of high school.

O’Leary’s big season was a necessity, too. Florida State had no other options at the position after Christo Kourtzidis transferred and Kevin Haplea went down with a knee injury. Giorgio Newberry was moved from defensive end to tight end, but he was targeted just twice all year, once resulting in an ugly interception when Winston attempted to force the ball to his makeshift tight end against Wake Forest.

Now, there is some depth. Haplea is healthy. So, too, is redshirt freshman Jeremy Kerr. Two more tight ends arrive this summer. None possess O’Leary’s skill set as a receiver, but all could fit as blockers should FSU decide to run a two-tight end set with any regularity.



But O’Leary (6-3, 245 pounds) again will be crucial this season. He was targeted 42 times last season. Aside from Greene, all other returning receivers were targeted a combined 18 times by Winston last year. Winston routinely referred to O’Leary as his favorite target. That O'Leary caught eight of nine passes thrown his way on third down and had five grabs in the end zone only reinforced Winston's faith in him.

Still, three of O’Leary’s red-zone catches came in Week 1. After hauling in five catches for 161 yards against Clemson, O’Leary didn’t have more than three catches or 55 yards in any game the remainder of the year. He scored just once in FSU’s last seven contests. He was shut out in the national title game.

So why did O’Leary disappear as the year went on? It was likely as much because of FSU’s needs for him to be a blocker and Benjamin’s emergence as the physically dominant downfield target as it was any regression by O’Leary. Neither will be an issue in 2014, and Fisher said he’d like to see O’Leary’s receptions reach the 45 to 50 range by year’s end.

“You can do a lot of different things with Nick,” Fisher said. “He’s grown into this offense. I think he will be critical."

No, Florida State won’t have another Kelvin Benjamin this season. The Seminoles would be lucky to get another receiver with that skill set and body type again this decade. But there is talent at the position, as Fisher has made clear, and there is still a player who can provide some brute force in the passing game. It’s just a matter of opening things up for O’Leary and seeing if he can take the next step in an already promising career.
Florida State opens spring practice next week, and there are plenty of big questions waiting to be answered. Before Jimbo Fisher gets his chance to weigh in on those discussions, however, we’re taking a crack at finding the answers.

So far, we’ve looked at Jameis Winston’s second act, Karlos Williams’ emergence, transitions on the defensive front and the spring’s breakout stars.

Last up: What will be the biggest question mark still lingering for Florida State once spring practice ends?

Jared Shanker says the potential for complacency could haunt FSU throughout the summer.

JS: There is no question Florida State has the talent to repeat. Barring anything unforeseen, the Seminoles will be the preseason No. 1 team, and quite possibly a unanimous selection. The Heisman winner returns and is in his third year in the program, and outside of mentor Nick Saban no coach has recruited better than Jimbo Fisher since 2010.

Sure the Noles lose key skill players on offense and arguably their best player at every level of the defense, but Florida State has established itself as a reload-not-rebuild type of program. Questions at receiver, defensive tackle and linebacker are not going to be completely settled by the end of spring practice, but the biggest question mark will be whether the Noles carry that same hunger into 2014 as they did a season ago.

[+] EnlargeFlorida State's Jimbo Fisher
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesThe talent is there for an FSU repeat, but can Jimbo Fisher keep his team pointed in the right direction?
Fisher coached under Saban while at LSU, and Saban has spent the last few seasons guarding his Alabama teams against complacency. Coming off an Orange Bowl win and an undefeated national championship season the last two years, there could be a tendency for younger players to take their foot off the proverbial pedal. When spring practice ends next month, Fisher will not be able to work with his players again until fall camp. He has to count on his leaders to keep the team motivated, but outside of Winston -- who's spending equal amount of time on the diamond -- the Noles have lost their most influential locker room presences.

Florida State has the talent to go 12-0, win another ACC title and go wire-to-wire as No. 1 through the regular season and playoffs. For the next nine months, the Noles will need to look in the mirror and honestly assess their effort, because what ultimately could derail FSU’s chances at a repeat is itself.

David Hale wonders how the receiving corps will fill out in fall camp.

DH: Entering spring practice, the biggest question in my mind is on the defensive line, where the absence of Timmy Jernigan means a major hole for Florida State to fill. But there are solid options in Nile Lawrence-Stample, Desmond Hollin, Keith Bryant, Justin Shanks and Derrick Mitchell -- all of whom will be competing for reps this spring. We may not have a definitive answer there when it’s all over, but we’ll have a better idea of what the Seminoles have to work with.

The second biggest question I have entering the spring is at receiver, where Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin are moving on to the NFL, taking 43 percent of Winston’s 2013 targets with them. Who’s going to fill that void? Unlike at defensive tackle, there’s virtually no chance we’ll have a definitive answer to that question by the time FSU wraps up its Garnet and Gold game.

Yes, we’ll get a better look at last year’s new arrivals. Kermit Whitfield has the speed to be a star (and after his kick return in the title game, he might already be one), but can he be as reliable in the slot as Shaw? Will Jesus Wilson or Isaiah Jones (five combined catches last season) step up as a reliable option on the outside? Can Christian Green or Jarred Haggins break through as seniors? Will Nick O'Leary play more of a role as a receiver as FSU employs more two-tight end sets? (For what it’s worth, Fisher said he’d like to see O’Leary get 40 to 50 catches in 2014.)

Even if Florida State finds answers to all those questions this spring, the most intriguing options in the receiving corps don’t arrive until the fall. FSU inked three ESPN 300 receivers on national signing day -- Ja'Von Harrison, Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph -- who will bring a massive talent influx to the depth chart. All are in the 6-foot-1 to 6-2 range, adding some height to a receiving corps that, for the first time since Fisher arrived, lacks a true big man. All have ample ability to blossom quickly, though receivers tend to have among the hardest times adjusting from high school to college. In other words, the big mystery at the position is tabled until the fall, which is why I expect it will be one of the hottest talking points among FSU fans throughout the summer.

FSU instant impacts: The receivers

February, 18, 2014
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This week, we’ll dig into the Class of 2014 to project which of the newest group of Seminoles project to make an instant impact on the field this season.

We’ve already looked at DT Demarcus Christmas.

Next up: Ermon Lane, Travis Rudolph and Ja'Von Harrison.

[+] EnlargeErmon Lane
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY SportsErmon Lane, the nation's No. 2 receiver, leads a trio of ESPN 300 pass catchers who signed with FSU.
The players: Florida State’s haul at wide receiver on signing day was a boon for Jameis Winston and the offense. Lane, Rudolph and Harrison are all ESPN 300 players, all with good speed, size and high school pedigree. Lane was the No. 2 receiver in the nation this year, and while he’s already big (6-foot-2, 196 pounds) he has room to grow. Rudolph was ESPN’s No. 6 receiver after racking up 1,237 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior at West Palm Beach (Fla.) Cardinal Newman. FSU swiped Harrison from Virginia Tech on signing day to complete the trifecta. At 6-2, 190, Harrison could benefit from some added bulk, but his versatility (he played defensive back and returned punts in high school) make him a good candidate to get on the field early at FSU.

The need: Winston benefited from a small but veteran group of receivers in 2013, connecting routinely with Rashad Greene, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw -- all of whom finished with at least 930 yards and 50 catches. In 2014, however, Greene is the only holdover of the group. Shaw was a wizard in the slot, averaging better than 17 yards per catch. Benjamin was a rare mix of size (6-5) and speed who was adept at grabbing jump balls and turning them into big plays.

The competition: FSU has two returning veteran receivers, but neither has done much in the past two seasons. Redshirt senior Jarred Haggins missed all of 2013 with a knee injury, and it remains to be seen how much he’ll participate in spring drills. Christian Green showed plenty of promise with 26 catches as a redshirt freshman in 2011, but he has just 16 receptions in the past two years combined. The real depth might come from last year’s signing class, led by speedster Kermit Whitfield. Tight end Nick O'Leary also figures to carry a larger load in the passing game in 2014.

The prediction: The expectations are immense for all three new members of FSU’s receiving corps, but it’s worth remembering that receivers often take time to develop, and there will be only so many balls to go around. Odds are at least one member of the trio finds a sizable role this season, while the others get their feet wet and, ideally, show good progress as the season continues. That’s how Fisher played it with last season's trio of receivers, but the needs figure to be bigger and the talent level better for this year’s incoming freshmen. None project to match Benjamin’s big-play ability, but if Lane, Rudolph and Harrison can combine to offer something close in Year 1, FSU will be pleased.
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.

FSU depth chart breakdown: Offense

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

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

Quarterback

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

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

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

Offensive line

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

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

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

Running backs/Fullbacks

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

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

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

Wide receivers

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

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

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

Tight end

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

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

Status: A
O’Leary figures to be among the top tight ends in the country this season, and getting the veteran Haplea back for blocking situations adds to the unit’s depth and versatility.
The news was hardly a surprise, but Florida State nevertheless could breathe an immense sigh of relief when Rashad Greene announced he’d be back for his senior season in 2014. There are more talented, more highly regarded players from the Seminoles’ national championship team departing for the NFL, but perhaps no one on the current FSU roster was more crucial in 2014 than Greene. He was practically irreplaceable.

[+] EnlargeRashad Greene
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsRashad Green had a team-high 76 catches in 2013, including 9 in the national title game.
The run-up to the start of the 2013 season was a disaster for Florida State’s receiver group. Greg Dent was expected to blossom into a consistent threat, but instead spent the year awaiting a trial for sexual assault. Willie Haulstead figured to return from more than two years saddled with the lingering effects of a concussion, but academics ended his season before it began. Jarred Haggins was poised for a far bigger role, but a knee injury relegated him to the sidelines.

What was left for Jameis Winston and the Florida State offense was essentially a three-man show: Greene, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw. Of Winston’s 384 pass attempts in 2013, he targeted his big three receivers 279 times (73 percent), according to ESPN Stats & Info.

The tight rotation actually proved to be a benefit. Greene, Benjamin and Shaw all enjoyed breakout seasons, with the former two topping 1,000 yards for the season. But as Florida State looks to 2014, the lack of established depth at the position means a massive rebuilding project must begin, with Greene providing the foundation.

Shaw is graduating. Benjamin departed early for the NFL. Winston’s top three targets out of the backfield all moved on as well. Aside from Greene, the current Florida State roster accounts for just 44 of Winston’s completions, the bulk of those to tight end Nick O’Leary.

So as the enthusiasm builds for a repeat performance by the Seminoles’ high-flying offense thanks to the return of the Heisman Trophy winner and four-fifths of his offensive line, the obvious question is: Who will be catching all of those throws?

Greene’s 76 catches last season were the second-most in Florida State history. It seems likely that number will increase in 2014. Even with tempting options in Shaw, O’Leary and Benjamin, Winston targeted Greene on more than 30 percent of his throws last year.

Greene was fond of telling the story of Florida State’s receivers meeting last summer to discuss the new quarterback running the offense. It would be up to them, Greene said, to make Winston comfortable, to do their jobs so well it made his job easy. In 2014, Greene’s role will be similar, except he’ll now be mentoring a young group of receivers around him, too.

Kermit Whitfield is electric with the ball in his hands, one of college football’s fastest players. He figures to be a nice fit to replace Shaw as the team’s top slot receiver, but he caught just five passes in 2013 -- none from Winston.

Benjamin’s loss provides an even bigger hole. Receivers who are 6-foot-5, 235 pounds and can run and jump effortlessly are rare gems. Still, tall receivers have been a cornerstone of Florida State’s offense, from Greg Carr to Rodney Smith to Benjamin. The last time the Seminoles didn’t have a receiver taller than 6-4 record at least 30 catches and 400 yards was 2005. That role in 2014 figures to fall to 6-4 Isaiah Jones, who caught just two passes for 31 yards as a freshman last season. And while he offers height similar to Benjamin, he checks in almost 40 pounds lighter and is hardly the same matchup nightmare as his predecessor.

Teammates raved about Jesus Wilson’s work on the practice field in 2013, and he’ll get his share of reps, too. Christian Green will be back again, but after a solid freshman campaign in 2011, he’s all but disappeared in the past two seasons. Haggins returns from the knee injury, too, but since Oct. 13, 2012, his combined stat line looks like this: 1 catch, 1 yard.

All of that is simply to underscore the importance of Greene in FSU’s 2014 passing game. His fellow receivers have potential, but Greene is the established weapon. And while the losses of Shaw and Benjamin are big, it’s worth remembering that Winston’s favorite weapon remains.

On third down last season, Winston targeted Greene 27 times -- nearly twice as often as any other receiver on the team. His 18 third-down catches doubled the next closest receiver, and all 18 went for first downs. Winston’s other returning star, O’Leary, converted 8 of 9 third-down targets, too.

In the red zone in 2013, Greene was again Winston’s top target (14 throws) and receiver (eight catches), and he and O’Leary accounted for nearly half of Winston’s red-zone targets.

In short, few receivers made more catches when it mattered most. Fifty of Greene’s receptions went for a first down, tied for third among ACC receivers. And no player on Florida State’s offense has been as consistent. Greene has led the team in receiving in each of his first three seasons in Tallahassee. He needs 41 more catches and 1,133 more yards in 2014 to match FSU’s career receiving marks.

Of course, as good as Greene has been, the onus will still fall to his emerging teammates to draw the attention of safeties away from him and provide Winston with a wider variety of weapons at his disposal. That development remains a work in progress for the next seven months, but Greene’s ability to handle double coverage, to make the big plays when it matters most, to set the standard for game day on the practice field during the week -- that makes the jobs of everyone around him much easier.

For an offense that returns so many stars in 2014, Greene will again be the cornerstone.

FSU's early 2014 power rankings

January, 21, 2014
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In the days after Florida State wrapped up its BCS National Championship run, we ran through our final Seminoles power rankings of 2013. But, of course, the football world moves quickly, and fans are already looking ahead to what could be in store for 2014. With that in mind, we’re taking an early crack at our preliminary power rankings for next season, with departing stars nixed from the countdown and emerging ones projected for 2014.

(Final 2013 ranking in parentheses.)

1. QB Jameis Winston (1): OK, this one was easy. Winston won the Heisman in his first season on the field, but expectations will be even higher for 2014. So what will he do for an encore? Having four-fifths of his offensive line back certainly makes the job a bit easier.

[+] EnlargeRonald Darby
AP Photo/Richard ShiroRonald Darby was excellent in 2013 despite being slowed by an injury. The 2014 season could be even better if he's healthy.
2. CB Ronald Darby (NR): Quietly, Darby was among the most dominant corners in the ACC in 2013, with quarterbacks avoiding him at all costs in spite of a groin injury that never completely healed. He figures to be 100 percent in 2014, meaning FSU could pair Darby and P.J. Williams in the secondary for arguably the best set of starting corners in the country -- even without Lamarcus Joyner in the mix.

3. WR Rashad Greene (4): Winston attempted 384 passes in 2013, and Greene was on the receiving end of more than 30 percent of those targets. He led FSU in receiving for the third straight season, catching 76 balls for 1,128 yards and nine touchdowns. More importantly, the receivers responsible for 206 of Winston’s other targets are gone, putting Greene at the forefront of a revamped receiving corps.

4. RB Karlos Williams (NR): Among AQ-conference tailbacks with at least 90 carries in 2013, none rushed for more yards per carry (8.0) or scored with more frequency (one TD per 8.3 rushes) than Williams. With Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. gone, Williams is in prime position to become FSU’s second straight 1,000-yard rusher.

5. S Jalen Ramsey (8): In Week 1 of 2013, Ramsey became the first true freshman to start at corner for the Seminoles since Deion Sanders. Three weeks later, he moved to safety and didn’t miss a beat. Ramsey started every game and racked up 49 tackles while anchoring the nation’s top pass defense. With a year of experience under his belt, 2014 could be even better.

6. LT Cameron Erving (NR): The expectations have been monumental for Erving since he first switched from the D-line to left tackle, and while he hasn't exactly reached star status -- hence, his decision to return for his senior year -- he’s made significant strides each season. He’ll be the anchor of a veteran O-line in 2014 and potentially one of the best left tackles in the nation.

7. DE Mario Edwards Jr. (9): He tended to get overlooked a bit in 2013 because of Florida State’s myriad of defensive stars, but Edwards was exceptional in his first season as a full-time starter. He tied for second on the team with 9.5 tackles for loss (the most among returning players) and had 3.5 sacks, an interception and a forced fumble. Perhaps as noteworthy, in the two games Edwards missed last season, opponents averaged 191 yards on the ground against FSU. In the 12 games he started, they averaged 113.

8. TE Nick O'Leary (NR): In 2013, O’Leary was FSU’s most reliable receiving target, catching 76 percent of the balls thrown his way while setting career highs in catches (33), yards (557) and touchdowns (seven). But O’Leary also only scored once after Nov. 1, and following his astonishing performance against Clemson (five catches, 161 yards), he didn’t have more than three grabs or 55 yards in a game the rest of the season -- including being held without a catch in the BCS title game. There’s room for O’Leary to improve, and with so much transition among FSU’s receivers, he figures to get plenty of chances to do it.

9. KR Kermit Whitfield (NR): He touched the ball just 25 times in 2013 and still racked up a whopping 818 all-purpose yards while scoring four touchdowns. Whitfield’s eight offensive touches figure to increase markedly next season as he steps in for Kenny Shaw as FSU’s top slot receiver, and his speed makes him a threat to score every time the ball is in his hands.

10. LB Matthew Thomas (NR): An injury cut Thomas’ 2013 season short after just five games of limited action as a true freshman, but he flashed the potential that made him a five-star recruit. Now, with Telvin Smith and Christian Jones gone, Thomas figures to land a starting job and blossom into a legitimate star.

Honorable mentions: DT Eddie Goldman, G Josue Matias, G Tre' Jackson, LB Terrance Smith, S Nate Andrews, CB P.J. Williams, K Roberto Aguayo
Jimbo Fisher was still on the podium, gazing into the crystal trophy that comes with winning a national championship, when it was suggested that once the team returned to Tallahassee, it was back to work preparing for 2014.

First on the docket for FSU will be identifying which star players will be returning for next season. Running back James Wilder Jr. is entering the draft, according to a source, and more decisions will trickle in before the Jan. 15 deadline. Here are our best guesses at what’s to come — and who might step in for departing underclassmen.

Likely going

[+] EnlargeTimmy Jernigan
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsFSU nose tackle Timmy Jernigan is a force inside, and how well the Tigers do against him could determine how well they run the ball.
DT Timmy Jernigan (junior)

Why he’d leave: Entering the season, Jernigan was Florida State’s top-rated underclassman by most draft experts, and that standing never changed. Jernigan was dominant all season, and his impact was never more noticeable than in the national title game. When he was on the field, Auburn found no running room between the tackles. When he was out of the game, the Tigers moved the ball with ease on the ground.

Next up: Nile Lawrence-Stample took a big step forward this season, gaining valuable playing time in the defensive line rotation. He started six games and finished with 15 tackles. Florida State has five current defensive tackle commitments, so it’s certainly possible one of the incoming freshmen could make a big impact early — as Jernigan did in 2011 — but Lawrence-Stample is the safest bet to step in full time.

WR Kelvin Benjamin (redshirt sophomore)

Why he’d leave: Benjamin was projected as a star from the moment he arrived on campus, but it took him a while to get acclimated. He enjoyed a breakthrough 2013 season, finishing with 1,011 yards and 15 touchdowns, including the game-winner in the VIZIO BCS National Championship. Some of his game could still use some refinement — as evidenced by two big drops vs. Auburn — but his physical skills already peg him as a likely first-rounder.

Next up: Kermit Whitfield certainly projects as Florida State’s next big-play receiver after an electric season as a freshman, but he fits more in the slot. Replacing Benjamin’s size and physicality isn’t an easy task, but 6-4 freshman Isaiah Jones figures to have the best chance. He saw limited playing time this year, catching two balls for 31 yards.

Possibly going

RB Devonta Freeman (junior)

[+] EnlargeDevonta Freeman
AP Photo/David J. PhillipDevonta Freeman became the first Seminoles tailback to gain 1,000 yards in a season since Warrick Dunn in 1996.
Why he'd leave: Freeman has been the steadying force for FSU’s running game for three years, and on Monday, he became the first Seminoles tailback to top 1,000 yards in 17 years. Wilder’s role was smaller this year as injuries hampered his production, but that could also have served as a reminder why it’s better to take the big hits with an NFL paycheck. Neither has a ton of early draft buzz which could convince them to return, but both could show out at the combine and work their way into the top three rounds.

Next up: Karlos Williams showed plenty of promise this season after moving from safety in Week 2, finishing with 748 rushing yards in reserve duty. He’s largely a straight-ahead runner, but his combination of size and speed makes him a weapon. FSU will still need to develop depth, likely with Mario Pender or Ryan Green, but could get a boost from four-star commit Dalvin Cook.

LT Cameron Erving (redshirt junior)

Why he’d leave: Erving has hovered near the top of the offensive tackle draft boards since the end of 2012, and in his second season since moving from the defensive line, he showed significant progress. Still, it’s a deep draft at the position, and there were moments — including against Auburn’s impressive defensive front Monday — when he showed some flaws.

Next up: Florida State brought in two potentially strong replacements last year in Ira Denson and Wilson Bell. Injuries hampered the progress for both during the season, however, which makes Erving’s decision potentially crucial for the stability of the line going into 2014.

Likely staying

G Tre Jackson and G Josue Matias (juniors)

Why they’d leave: Matias and Jackson might be among the top underclassmen at the position, but both could benefit from another year working with line coach Rick Trickett.

Next up: Florida State has struggled to recruit on the line the past few years, which makes depth — particularly on the interior — a significant concern. The Seminoles have a solid class coming in for 2014, but the loss of more than one of their underclassmen on the line would be a serious concern.

TE Nick O’Leary (junior)

Why he’d leave: O’Leary made huge strides this season, developing into one of Jameis Winston’s favorite targets and a legitimate red-zone threat. He’s an adept route-runner, a sure-handed receiver and his blocking game has developed nicely. But with Florida State's receiving corps in transition, O’Leary could be in a position to post huge numbers in 2014 if he sticks around.

Next up: Kevin Haplea returns from a knee injury next year, but he’s more of a blocking tight end than a true replacement.

WR Rashad Greene (Jr./WR)

Why he’d leave: What more can Greene accomplish at Florida State? He’s been the team’s most reliable receiver for three consecutive seasons. He became the Seminoles’ first 1,000-yard receiver since Anquan Boldin this year. He’s quick, a great route-runner, and he has good hands. He does everything well, and his quarterbacks have taken notice. The problem for Greene is that he lacks the obvious physical skills that make scouts drool, so his draft value might not reflect his on-field contributions.

Next up: It would be a surprise if Greene left, but it would also be a huge blow to Florida State’s offense. Winston was a star this season in part because of an exceptional group of receivers, but the group will get a major makeover in 2014. The Seminoles need Greene to help ease the transition.
Editor’s note: Each day this week Florida State reporter David M. Hale and Auburn reporter Greg Ostendorf will preview a position battle in Monday’s VIZIO BCS National Championship Game. Today’s matchup is between Florida State’s wide receivers and Auburn’s secondary.

Florida State’s wide receivers: It’s not a deep group, but there may not be a more dynamic set of receivers in the country than what Jameis Winston has at his disposal at Florida State.

[+] EnlargeBenjamin
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsFSU WR Kelvin Benjamin is a physical presence who can also break free and make big plays.
Rashad Greene, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw are all within striking distance of 1,000 yards. Greene is one of the nation’s most consistent threats, and while he’s not imposing physically, he runs precise routes and rarely drops a pass. Shaw is the lone senior in the group, and he’s averaging 18 yards a catch and has topped 89 yards receiving seven times. But it’s Benjamin who should keep Auburn defenders awake at night.

At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, Benjamin is as physical a receiving threat as there is in college football. He excels at jump balls, is physical at the line of scrimmage, and loves blocking downfield. His career has been marked by inconsistency, but he was red hot to end the regular season, with 17 catches for 458 yards and eight TDs in his last four games.

Even if Auburn manages to corral all of Florida State’s deep threats, tight end Nick O’Leary is a wild card. O’Leary has 33 catches for 557 yards and seven touchdowns this season and is one of Winston’s favorite targets. As the big three receivers draw attention downfield, O’Leary provides a dangerous weapon underneath and is capable of picking up big chunks of yards after the catch.

And, of course, the key to all of it is Winston, the Heisman winner and one of the country’s most aggressive quarterbacks. Winston completes 55.8 percent of his passes of 15 yards or more (second only to Baylor’s Bryce Petty among AQ QBs) and has 19 TDs without an INT in the red zone this season.

Auburn’s secondary: In the last three games, Auburn has had a difficult time defending the pass. Aaron Murray threw for 415 yards and two touchdowns. AJ McCarron threw for 277 yards and three touchdowns. And in the SEC championship game, James Franklin threw for 303 yards and three touchdowns. Now, the Tigers are about to face the Heisman Trophy winner and the nation’s leader in opponent-adjusted QBR (90.8).

It’s a group that remains confident in their ability, but they know they have a steep challenge ahead of them.

The most notable name is cornerback Chris Davis, but that’s more because of his field-goal return to beat Alabama than his pass coverage. Still, he’s the No. 1 cornerback and the team’s best chance of shutting down an opposing wide receiver. It’s the cornerback opposite Davis, Jonathon Mincy, who teams have been able to pick on this season.

Mincy was defending Amari Cooper when the Alabama wide receiver hauled in a 99-yard touchdown pass in the Iron Bowl. He also had no answer for Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, who finished with six catches for 144 yards and two touchdowns against Auburn. If he draws the assignment of defending Benjamin, which is what he wants, it could be a long day for the Tigers.

The X-factor could be Robenson Therezie who plays the Star position in Ellis Johnson’s 4-2-5 defense. He leads the team in interceptions (four) and is fourth in tackles (55). He’ll primarily focus on covering the slot receiver, but he might also be asked to cover O’Leary at times or even blitz from time to time. Auburn isn’t going to stop Winston, but Therezie could make life a little more difficult for the Florida State quarterback.

Hale: Big edge Florida State

Ostendorf: Edge Florida State
North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron is the only ACC player to declare for the NFL draft so far. Chances are, he will not be the only one leaving school early. Here is a look at the top ACC players facing tough decisions about whether to stay in school or turn pro.

The deadline to declare is Jan. 15.

Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson. Though Beasley plays defensive end, he projects as a linebacker in the NFL. ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper has Beasley as his No. 1 non-senior prospect among outside linebackers. Beasley ranks No. 15 on the latest Kiper Big Board and has hinted that he will leave school early. Beasley told local reporters last weekend that he is leaning toward coming out but has not made a final decision yet.

[+] EnlargeKelvin Benjamin
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneFSU WR Kelvin Benjamin is one of many talented ACC underclassmen who must decide if they will enter the NFL draft.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State. Benjamin, a redshirt sophomore, has risen up draft boards after his performance in the final month of the season. Kiper lists him as the No. 3 non-senior at receiver, and says Benjamin will have a chance to go in the first round if he runs well.

Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State. Erving could end up becoming a first-round pick if he decides to leave school early. Kiper has him as the No. 4 non-senior offensive tackle.

Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State. Freeman needs 57 yards to become the first 1,000-yard rusher at Florida State since 1996. The All-ACC first team selection is not listed among the top non-senior running back prospects, but he has had a terrific season by all measures.

Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State. Greene might still be one of the more underrated receivers in America but it is tough to question his production after another great season. Kiper lists Greene as the No. 10 non-senior at receiver. He will have a tough decision to make.

Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State. Kiper has Jernigan as the No. 2 non-senior among defensive tackles, and just moved up him to No. 12 on the Big Board. Kiper writes that Jernigan is "not out of the mix" to land in the top 10. Given his domination this year, most observers expect him to enter the draft.

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson. Kiper has Watkins ranked as the No. 1 non-senior receiver. Kevin Weidl of ESPN’s Scouts Inc., lists Watkins as the No. 2 prospect among players he saw in person this fall. Watkins is currently listed No. 6 on the latest Kiper Big Board. Though Watkins has been non-committal about his future in recent interviews, it would be a shock if he decides to return to school.

James Wilder Jr., RB, Florida State. Wilder had an injury-plagued season but made headlines last month when he reportedly told a recruit he would be turning pro. Wilder denied the reports but has not definitively said what he plans to do after the national championship game.

Others to watch

Here are a few other players to keep an eye on as the draft deadline looms:

Russell Bodine, C, North Carolina

Tre' Jackson, OG, Florida State

Kyshoen Jarrett, S, Virginia Tech

Nick O'Leary, TE, Florida State

Luther Maddy, DT, Virginia Tech

Josue Matias, OG, Florida State

Denzel Perryman, LB, Miami

One more post to check out. Todd McShay unveiled his first mock draft earlier Wednesday. He has Watkins as the first ACC player off the board, at No. 13 to the Jets. McShay also projects Ebron, Jernigan and Benjamin as first-rounders.

FSU in position to reload for 2014

December, 18, 2013
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For the past four seasons, Florida State’s seniors have worked to rebuild a program that was mired in mediocrity when they arrived. The project was a resounding success, but after the VIZIO BCS National Championship on Jan. 6, they’ll be gone. If 2013 gave the seniors a chance to take that final step toward a title, it also offered a glimpse at what’s to come, and Florida State appears well stocked to weather the inevitable losses.

Out: Lamarcus Joyner, CB

[+] EnlargeTyler Hunter
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsTyler Hunter could replace cornerback Lamarcus Joyner for the Seminoles in 2014.
After moving from safety to corner, Joyner proved he was one of the nation’s top defenders, leading FSU in sacks and finishing second in tackles.

In: Tyler Hunter, DB

Joyner is a huge loss, but Hunter is well prepared to step into the vacancy. His 2013 season was cut short by a neck injury, but he knows the defense well and his combination of size and speed allows him to fit well at safety, corner and nickel. Replacing Joyner is impossible, but Hunter could be in for a huge 2014.

Out: Terrence Brooks, S

He has been an under-the-radar performer since he arrived at FSU as a three-star recruit, but Brooks has been consistently good at safety for two years.

In: Nate Andrews, S

Brooks found a perfect protégé in the similarly underrated Andrews, and the relationship has already paid dividends. Andrews started just one game, but he leads the Seminoles with seven takeaways (four INTs, three forced fumbles) and is second on the team with eight passes defended.

Out: Telvin Smith, LB

For the past two years, there has been no louder voice in the locker room than Smith, and in 2013, he blossomed on the field, too, leading FSU in tackles.

In: Reggie Northrup, LB

Northrup hasn’t started a game in his two seasons at Florida State, but when he’s been on the field, he has proven to be a big-play defender. He has 46 tackles this season, and he has a skill set to both play the run and in coverage. Terrance Smith is FSU’s only returning linebacker with starting experience, but there’s ample depth at the position, led by Northrup.

Out: Christian Jones, OLB

Jones' move from traditional linebacker to edge rusher was a turning point for Florida State’s defense, helping to seal the edge and add another dynamic pass rusher to the D line.

In: Matthew Thomas, OLB

An injury ended Thomas’ season after just five games, but his potential is immense. He had two tackles for loss in his limited playing time, and his athleticism and strength could make for a smooth transition into the role Jones defined so well in 2013.

Out: Kenny Shaw, WR

Always a reliable option in the slot, Shaw blossomed as a senior and is on pace for 1,000-yard season while also handling punt return duties.

In: Levonte Whitfield, WR

Whitfield may lack Shaw’s consistency, but his big-play potential is through the roof. He racked up 646 total yards and three TDs on just 21 touches (an average of 31 yards per touch) as a runner, receiver and kick returner. It was valuable experience as a freshman, and Whitfield should be an excellent fit in the slot in 2014.

Out: Bryan Stork, C

As Florida State’s line developed from disaster in 2011 to dominant in 2013, Stork was the centerpiece. The veteran leader of the group has been the foundation for the unit’s growth.

In: Austin Barron, C

Losing Stork is big, but Barron is no rookie. He has six career starts already under his belt, and he has worked routinely with the first-team line during practices this season while Stork has nursed a foot injury.

Out: The underclassmen

No one has made it official that they’re leaving, and with so much talent on the roster, plenty of Florida State’s draft-eligible underclassmen could decide to come back for what figures to be another big season in 2014. Of the group, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan -- widely considered a first-round selection -- is the most likely to depart. Beyond that, tailbacks Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr., receiver Kelvin Benjamin, tight end Nick O’Leary, and lineman Cameron Erving will all have big decisions to make.

In: The next regime

Replacing Jernigan will be a tough task, but Nile Lawrence-Stample (14 tackles, 2 QB hurries) took some big steps in 2013. Karlos Williams (705 yards, 11 touchdowns) is ready to pick up the slack if either tailback leaves, while Jesus Wilson and Isaiah Jones will see their workload at receiver increase in 2014. Kevin Haplea returns from a knee injury, though he’s unlikely to match O’Leary’s productivity in the passing game. Wilson Bell earned rave reviews before an injury ended his season, but he could step into a vacancy at tackle should one arise in 2014.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The scene unfolds in roughly the same fashion each time one of his teammates is asked about the real Nick O’Leary.

First, there’s the subtle smirk. There’s a story there, some amusing anecdote that springs to mind immediately. The smirk evolves into a wry grin, followed by a shake of the head when the teammate remembers that O’Leary only lets the curtain be pulled back so far. Then the answer arrives, bland and boring, as if O’Leary had scripted it himself.

Nick’s cool.

Nick’s funny.

Nick’s just a normal guy.

[+] EnlargeNick O'Leary
Jeanine Leech/Icon SMIFSU tight end Nick O'Leary might be quiet off the field, but his play speak volumes about how hard he's worked to get better and better this season.
Nothing to see here, folks. Just the typical grandson of a world famous golfer who arrived as the most significant recruit at his position Florida State has ever signed, who blossomed into a star and served as his quarterback’s favorite red-zone target on an offense absolutely bursting with weapons.

If that’s a story worth telling, it won’t be O’Leary gushing details.

“He’s not in to being out there,” said QB Sean Maguire, O’Leary’s roommate. “That’s just his personality.”

Among strangers, O’Leary’s personality might best be compared to a bouncer at a biker bar. He’s a brooding behemoth, masked in a scraggly red beard and hair spiked with sweat. He’s not much of a talker, but he’s a mammoth presence.

What’s best known is O’Leary’s pedigree. He’s the grandson of Jack Nicklaus, a tidbit offered with all the subtlety of a jackhammer by virtually every broadcaster who’s called one of his games. O’Leary says he doesn’t mind the constant reminders, but he’s not interested in living off grandpa’s reflected spotlight.

A better window into O’Leary’s psyche is the motorcycle accident, when he did battle with a Lexus and won. The daredevil act was caught on a bus’ security camera and is replayed routinely as further evidence of O’Leary’s toughness. And he is tough.

On the field, the 6-foot-3, 250-pound O’Leary means business -- like the game against Clemson when he hauled in a short pass from Jameis Winston, steamrolled the Tigers’ safety, then rumbled another 15 yards to set up a touchdown.

In his third year as FSU’s starting tight end, he’s made enormous strides in his blocking. He’s racked up more yards and touchdowns in 11 games in 2013 than he had in his previous two seasons combined. He’s picked up a first down on 65 percent of his targets this year, tied for the best rate among tight ends in the country.

“He’s like a silent assassin,” Jimbo Fisher said.

But what about those sly grins from teammates? Surely they know something the rest of the world doesn’t. There must be something more there, some depth of character that rarely shines through the surly public persona, right?

“He’s a simple guy, and he enjoys simple things,” said Jack Daniels, O’Leary’s high school coach. “He loves football. He loves to be outdoors. He loves to be around his friends. There’s just not much more to him.”

O’Leary joined Daniels’ team at Dwyer High School in West Palm Beach midway through his high school career. He’d transferred from a much smaller school, looking to showcase his skills against stiffer competition.

Daniels remembers the day he met O’Leary -- this big kid from a famous family, carrying himself with a self-assured swagger that could easily rub you the wrong way if you didn’t really know him.

“He struck me as being pretty cocky,” Daniels said.

But the coach soon understood that it wasn’t arrogance. It was determination. No one wanted success more than O’Leary. The kid could’ve had anything he wanted by virtue of his grandfather’s fame, but O’Leary didn’t want anything he hadn’t worked for. Practice was a constant competition.

“We pushed each other,” said Gerald Christian, O’Leary’s teammate at Dwyer, who now plays at Louisville. “We’d go all practice without a drop.”

Still, the drops happened. Daniels remembers a game O’Leary dropped three passes in a row. The next morning -- a Saturday --O’Leary was back at the school, out on the practice field, catching balls. He had to get better.

That’s what made life so tough at Florida State. In high school, he could flub a play then get another shot on the next snap. At FSU, his mistakes lingered.

In last year’s win over Miami, O’Leary caught the first pass of the game, attempted to hurdle a defender, and fumbled the ball away. He didn’t catch another pass for two weeks.

“The most disappointing thing for him,” Daniels said. “All he wanted was another chance to make up for the fumble.”

O’Leary learned from the mistakes though. He’s been as sure-handed as anyone on Florida State’s roster this year. He’s caught a team-leading 79 percent of his targets, and he hasn’t fumbled once. Mistakes happen, but O’Leary never backs down.

“When a fight breaks out in practice, if it’s his fight, I’ll run over and help him,” center Bryan Stork said. “If it’s mine, he’ll run over and help me. It’s good to have him on my side. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

But really, O’Leary’s not a fighter. He just wants people to think he is. He was born into privilege, so he’s developed a hard shell, a tough-as-nails, country-boy air so no one can accuse him of being soft.

Beneath the hardscrabble exterior, though, there’s a gentle side. Maybe.

“Nick is like a little teddy bear,” Kelvin Benjamin said. “Everybody thinks Nick’s mean because he’s got that ‘Duck Dynasty’ beard going. You get to know him, and he’s a very cool cat.”

Getting to know O’Leary isn’t easy though. He’s not particularly interested in letting the rest of the world into the sanctuary he’s created, but he knows the spotlight is getting brighter.

“I guess it comes with winning,” he said.

With each win, O’Leary’s legend grows. He set the school’s all-time record for career touchdown receptions by a tight end two weeks ago. Winston slathers him with praise often. The quarterback also let slip that O’Leary booted a 53-yard field goal in practice last week. There’s really nothing O’Leary can’t do.

Well, almost nothing. He’s still not much of a talker.

Quizzed on his improvement this season, O’Leary suggested his rapport with new tight ends coach Tim Brewster has been a key.

“It was tough at the beginning,” he said, “but once we got to know each other and know how people like to be treated and all that, we grew a great relationship where we can talk about anything.”

Suddenly O’Leary realizes he’s said too much. His relationship with his coach is for insiders, not for the masses.

So he found common ground with his outspoken coach?

“Yeah,” O’Leary says.

And the relationship has been rewarding?

“We’re good,” he says.

And now that he’s having so much success, perhaps those broadcasters won’t need to mention his grandfather?

“I don’t care,” O’Leary said. “I don’t listen to the game.”

Finalists for annual awards revealed

November, 25, 2013
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The finalists for the Home Depot College Football Awards were revealed on Monday with strong representation from the ACC. Here is a look at the ACC players up for the major awards to be handed out Dec. 12 in Orlando and shown at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Chuck Bednarik Award, defensive player of the year: Aaron Donald, Pitt

Biletnikoff award, most outstanding receiver: Sammy Watkins, Clemson

Lou Groza Award, most outstanding kicker: Roberto Aguayo, Florida State

Maxwell Award, college player of the year: Jameis Winston, Florida State

Davey O'Brien Award, best quarterback: Jameis Winston, Florida State

Outland Trophy, most outstanding interior lineman: Aaron Donald, Pitt

Jim Thorpe Award, best defensive back: Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State

Doak Walker Award, best running back: Andre Williams, Boston College

John Mackey Award, outstanding tight end: Eric Ebron, North Carolina; Nick O'Leary Florida State

Only one award does not have an ACC finalist: Ray Guy Award, which goes to the best punter in the nation.

For a complete list of finalists, click here.

FSU power rankings: Week 13

November, 25, 2013
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Florida State is likely to be hurt a bit in a lot of the All-America and All-ACC balloting because so few of the starters have been able to stay on the field thanks to a number of blowout wins. But in the power rankings, credit where it’s due.

(Last week’s rankings in parentheses)

1. Jameis Winston (1): With Johnny Manziel and Bryce Petty both losing Saturday, the Heisman race is pretty much over, as long as Winston’s legal difficulties don’t scare voters away.

[+] EnlargeTimmy Jernigan
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsFlorida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan has 4.5 sacks this season.
2. Lamarcus Joyner (2): Four tackles in the game, but one was worth noting. Joyner came on a blitz but couldn’t get to QB Taylor Davis in time. Davis completed a pass to Dezmon Epps, who raced for a 68-yard gain. The only reason it wasn’t a touchdown is because Joyner ran nearly the entire length of the field to chase him down.

3. Timmy Jernigan (3): If Jernigan was the only player on the field for FSU’s defense, he still would have won a majority of the battles. He dominated Idaho’s O-line, racking up six tackles, 4.5 for a loss and 2.5 sacks in less than a half of action.

4. Devonta Freeman (4): His chase for 1,000 yards is back on after a stellar 11-carry, 129-yard day against the Vandals.

5. Telvin Smith (6): Four tackles and a pick-six. A fitting send off in front of the home crowd for one of FSU’s most vocal leaders.

6. Rashad Greene (5): Another quiet day for Greene, who had just two catches for 29 yards. But while teams focus on him, his counterparts are racking up a myriad of big plays.

7. Jalen Ramsey (8): If you ranked the five biggest hits delivered by FSU defenders Saturday, Ramsey would’ve had at least three of them.

8. Kenny Shaw (NR): Finally hit the 100-yard mark, catching five passes for 107 yards and two scores. Shaw, like Greene, is on pace to top 1,000 receiving yards this year, but he’s already over 1,000 all-purpose yards.

9. Christian Jones (7): Relatively quiet day for Jones, but that’s to be expected given how little time the first-team D spent on the field.

10. Nick O’Leary (9): Just one catch for 13 yards, but O’Leary continues to be a huge weapon over the middle.

Honorable mentions: S Terrence Brooks, WR Kelvin Benjamin, RB Karlos Williams

Florida State power rankings: Week 12

November, 18, 2013
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Eventually, Florida State’s starters will get more than two quarters to pad their stats, right? Right? OK, so the Seminoles are a 56-point favorite against Idaho, so that probably won’t happen soon.

(Last week’s rankings in parentheses.)

1. QB Jameis Winston (1): Here’s the list of quarterbacks since 2000 to have two games in the same season with at least 15 completions in which they completed at least 90 percent of their throws: Winston. That’s it. That’s the list.

2. CB Lamarcus Joyner (2): Four more tackles, 1.5 more sacks. Joyner is making a strong case to be named the ACC’s defensive player of the year.

3. DT Timmy Jernigan (5): Of course, if Joyner’s not the ACC’s top defender, maybe Jernigan deserves the honor. He had six tackles (one for a loss) all in the first half, and he now has 37 tackles on the season. While he was in the game, Syracuse had five yards rushing on 18 carries.

4. RB Devonta Freeman (3): A few weeks ago, Freeman’s quest for 1,000 yards looked like a sure thing. After two blowouts in which he’s carried just 10 times, he now needs to average 75 yards a game to make 1,000.

5. WR Rashad Greene (4): He’s suffering a similar fate as Freeman. He’s had just 87 receiving yards in his last two games -- a total he’s topped in a single game five times this season. Still, Greene is just 140 yards shy of 1,000 for the year.

6. LB Telvin Smith (6): Four tackles, one for a loss, and a pass break-up -- Smith’s draft stock is rising by the week.

7. DE Christian Jones (10): His move to the line has been huge, and he finished with four tackles (one for a loss) against Syracuse.

8. S Jalen Ramsey (7): Three tackles, a QB hurry, and another terrific performance from one of the country’s most consistent true freshmen.

9. TE Nick O’Leary (NR): His third-quarter touchdown reception from Sean Maguire made O’Leary Florida State’s record holder for career TDs by a tight end.

10. S Terrence Brooks (9): He returned from a concussion with four tackles as FSU’s secondary was once again dominant.

Honorable mentions: DB Nate Andrews, WR Kermit Whitfield, RB James Wilder Jr., WR Kelvin Benjamin, WR Kenny Shaw, RB Karlos Williams, DT Eddie Goldman

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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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