Florida State Seminoles: P.J. Williams

Video: Florida State CB P.J. Williams

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
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video
Andrea Adelson talks with Florida State cornerback P.J. Williams about stepping into a leadership role this spring and the development of the secondary.

FSU spring spotlight: Tyler Hunter

February, 28, 2014
Feb 28
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Spring practice is just a few weeks away for Florida State, and while the defending national champs return plenty of talent to make another run at a title, there are still some big question marks looming as the Seminoles begin work on the 2014 season. With that in mind, we’re looking at the five most intriguing players to watch this spring and projecting how they might fit into Jimbo Fisher’s plans in the fall.

[+] EnlargeTyler Hunter
AP Photo/Steve CannonReturning from a season-ending neck injury has Tyler Hunter primed to return to his leadership role in FSU's secondary.
We’ve already discussed Nile Lawrence-Stample, Mario Pender, Christian Green and Reggie Northrup.

Last up: S Tyler Hunter

Credentials: In 2012, Hunter won the job as Florida State’s top nickel back, and he delivered solid results for a secondary that finished the year ranked as the country’s top pass defense. He was poised for even bigger things in 2013, winning the starting safety job in fall camp and getting off to a strong start on the field. In Week 3, however, Hunter suffered a potentially career-threatening neck injury making a tackle and he didn’t play again the rest of the season. Surgery repaired the damage, however, and Hunter insists he’s ready to get back on the field in 2014.

How he fits: Florida State lost perhaps its best defender in Lamarcus Joyner, but Hunter provides a perfect candidate to replace the All-American. Joyner moved from safety to corner in 2013, excelling in coverage at nickel and as a pass rusher, where he led Florida State with 5.5 sacks. Hunter lacks the top-end speed that Joyner had, but he’s still fast and would be comfortable at safety, corner or nickel (not to mention punt returner). Whether he fills a role similar to Joyner’s remains to be seen, but his combination of skills and experience gives FSU plenty of options.

Competition: Florida State’s secondary is jam-packed with talent, from young studs like Jalen Ramsey and Nate Andrews to established stars like Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams. What it’s potentially lacking -- and what the defense as a whole is missing without Joyner, Telvin Smith and Timmy Jernigan -- is an established veteran leader. Hunter set that tone last spring as the unquestioned leader of the defense, spending countless hours studying film of Jeremy Pruitt’s new scheme, then organizing seven-on-seven drills throughout the summer to ensure his teammates had the system down pat.

Outlook: For the past five years, Florida State’s defense has had the luxury of on-field leadership, courtesy of Lowndes County High. First it was Greg Reid. Then it was Telvin Smith. In 2014, Hunter is the heir apparent. He was integral in transitioning the Seminoles into Pruitt’s new defensive scheme last year, and he’ll play a similar key role as Charles Kelly takes over this spring. But more than just leadership, Hunter needs to provide impact on the field. With his neck injury behind him, he could easily slip into a hybrid role filled so nicely by Joyner last year, and he could establish himself as one of the ACC’s biggest impact players in what promises to be an exceptional secondary.

FSU depth chart breakdown: Defense

January, 31, 2014
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Last week, we previewed Florida State’s offensive depth chart for the spring. This week, we’ll dig into the defense.

The biggest question might be how similar the 2014 defensive scheme will look to 2013. Yes, promoting Charles Kelly certainly offers stability, but he’s also likely to want to put his own stamp on the unit rather than offering a shot-for-shot remake of Jeremy Pruitt’s system. With some significant transition in personnel and some major losses of talent, there’s room to tinker this spring. Here’s what we’ll be watching:

Defensive line

[+] EnlargeNick Marshall
Richard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsExpect Mario Edwards to have a bigger hand in things this fall on the Florida State defensive line.
Projected starters: Mario Edwards Jr. (Jr.), Nile Lawrence-Stample (RSJr.), Eddie Goldman (Jr.)
Backups: Desmond Hollin (Sr.), Chris Casher (RSSo.), DeMarcus Walker (So.), Derrick Mitchell (RSJr.), Keith Bryant (RSFr.), Justin Shanks (RSSo.)

Storylines: Replacing Timmy Jernigan is an impossible task, but expect plenty of hype for Lawrence-Stample this spring. He was one of Jimbo Fisher’s favorites last spring, and he’ll be counted on to step up even more this time around. The loss of Christian Jones as a hybrid rusher impacts the D line, too, and how Kelly plans to handle that role now should be interesting to watch. Edwards and Goldman are both five-star players with two years of experience under their belt, but now they’ll be looked to as leaders -- both on and off the field.

Status: B
If you want to include Jones as a defensive lineman, FSU is set to lose seven DLs to the NFL in a two-year span -- including two first-rounders in Bjoern Werner and, likely, Jernigan. That’s sapped some depth from the position, but Goldman and Edwards are as good as any D-linemen in the ACC and there’s plenty of talent behind them, too.

Linebacker

Projected starters: Reggie Northrup (Jr.), Terrance Smith (RSJr.), Matthew Thomas (So.)
Backups: E.J. Levenberry (So.), Ro'Derrick Hoskins (RSFr.), Nigel Terrell (RSSr.), Ukeme Eligwe (RSSo.), Kain Daub (Fr.)

Storylines: Smith is the only lock for a starting job here -- and even that might depend on your definition of “lock.” But while the unit is short on experience, it’s high on talent. The battle to replace Jones in the hybrid LB/DE position should be an interesting one, with Thomas offering perhaps the most upside, but Casher and Eligwe certainly in the mix, too. Northrup is the most experienced option to replace Telvin Smith, and he’s certainly capable of blossoming into a disruptive force, but Fisher raved about Levenberry throughout 2013, and that figures to be one of the more intriguing battles of spring camp. Add Daub to the mix as an early enrollee, and Kelly’s biggest problem here might be figuring out how to get enough snaps for all his talented linebackers.

Status: B
There’s plenty of talent here, but it’s impossible to replace the veteran savvy of Smith and Jones. By year’s end, this should be a terrific group, but there’s lots to be learned this spring.

Safety

[+] EnlargeJalen Ramsey
Jeremy McKnight/Icon SMISafety Jalen Ramsey will play a big role in the Seminoles secondary, which will be among the best in the nation.
Projected starters: Jalen Ramsey (So.), Nate Andrews (So.), Tyler Hunter (RSJr.)
Backups: Lamarcus Brutus (RSJr.), Keelin Smith (RSJr.), Tyrell Lyons (RSFr.)

Storylines: Ramsey and Andrews were exceptional as true freshmen, but the job now is to build on that progress under a new position coach. There’s little reason to believe that won’t happen. The bigger question mark at the moment is the health of Hunter, who is recovering from a neck injury that nearly ended his career. He was the leader of the secondary last spring and summer, and his impact on a young group could be huge again in 2014.

Status: A
Terrence Brooks was always undervalued, and he’ll be missed, but Hunter, Ramsey and Andrews projects as potentially the best trio of safeties in the nation.

Cornerback

Projected starters: P.J. Williams (Jr.), Ronald Darby (Jr.)
Backups: Marquez White (So.), Nick Waisome (Sr.), Colin Blake (RSSo.)

Storylines: Losing Lamarcus Joyner is a big blow, but there’s little to be concerned with here. Williams and Darby are both exceptional and figure to get even better in 2014. Darby was limited all season with a groin injury, so some downtime may be the priority for him. Waisome saw a ton of action in 2012 but largely disappeared in 2013. How he responds this spring might tell a lot about his future.

Status: A
It says a lot about the work Fisher, Pruitt and Mark Stoops have done over the past few years that FSU can lose a player of Joyner’s caliber and still likely have the best secondary -- and best pair of starting corners -- in the country.

FSU's early 2014 power rankings

January, 21, 2014
Jan 21
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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
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
Jan 9
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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.
In a game as good as Monday’s Vizio BCS National Championship, there are countless storylines to dissect in the aftermath. And as Florida State soaks in its third national championship, we’re only beginning to fully appreciate the effort it took for the Seminoles to get here. So while the celebration in Tallahassee continues, here’s a brief look at some of the most underrated storylines from FSU’s absurd 34-31 win over Auburn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Auburn’s wide receivers: If there was ever a game for Auburn to stick to the run, this would be it. Quarterback Nick Marshall has struggled at times through the air and the Tigers are in for their most challenging test yet against a Florida State secondary that leads the nation in interceptions (25).

Expect a heavy dose of Marshall and Tre Mason running the read-option together like they’ve done all season.

Florida State still has to be wary of Auburn’s big-play ability. It starts with Sammie Coates who has emerged as a go-to wide receiver for the Tigers. He’s one of the fastest players in the SEC, if not the nation, and he leads the team with 38 catches for 841 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s second nationally in yards per catch (22.1) and all seven of his scores have come from more than 35 yards. It was his 39-yard touchdown grab in the final minute against Alabama that put Auburn in position to win that game.

The problem for the Tigers is that nobody has emerged opposite Coates. Freshman Marcus Davis had his moments early in the season, making key catches in critical situations. Ricardo Louis, who hauled in the 73-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass to beat Georgia, might be the most dangerous athlete on the team. But neither has been consistent.

When Auburn plays Florida State, it’s going to need a play in the passing game from somebody other than Coates. Whether it’s Davis, Louis or even tight end C.J. Uzomah, who’s healthy again, somebody is going to have to step up and make a play when their number is called. Nothing will come easy, though, against a talented Seminoles’ secondary.

Florida State’s secondary: Only five teams threw less often this season than Auburn, which runs the ball on 72 percent of its plays. When the Tigers do throw, however, they’ve mustered some big plays -- averaging 14 yards per completion.

The recipe for Auburn is pretty simple -- run, run, run, then go deep. It’s a plan that may run into some trouble against Florida State, however. The Seminoles’ secondary is the nation’s best for the second straight season. Lamarcus Joyner leads a deep and talented group that leads the nation in fewest yards per attempt (4.9), most interceptions (25) and lowest QBR allowed (18.1). Opponents have completed just 6 of 36 passes thrown 20 yards or more against them this year, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Coates and Louis both have good size to win some battles downfield, but Florida State can match that physicality with P.J. Williams (6-0, 190) and Ronald Darby (5-11, 190), who have both been exceptional this year. Darby has allowed just seven completions this year and allows the fifth-lowest completion percentage among AQ-conference defensive backs in the nation.

Marshall can keep some plays alive with his legs, giving his receivers a chance to get open downfield, but Florida State hasn’t been burned often this year. Sammy Watkins, Allen Hurns and Devin Street all found some success this season, which should provide a bit of optimism for Coates, but no QB has managed better than 7 yards per attempt against FSU’s secondary all year. In its last eight games, Florida State’s secondary is allowing just 4.5 yards per attempt with 6 TDs and 19 INTs.

Ostendorf: Edge Florida State

Hale: Edge Florida State
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State fans will be tearing the wrapping paper off presents tonight and tomorrow, but the Seminoles have already unwrapped a handful of surprises this year. Here’s a look at five of the biggest gifts Florida State got in 2013 en route to a berth in the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game:

[+] EnlargeKelvin Benjamin
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneKelvin Benjamin has finally lived up to his hype.
Joyner, Jones return: OK, so this was more of a late Christmas present from 2012, but when Lamarcus Joyner and Christian Jones announced in January they’d return for their senior seasons, it set the tone for what this year’s defense would be. Florida State lost all four of its starting D-linemen in the draft, taking 28.5 of the 36 sacks the Seminoles had in 2012 with them. The big question entering 2013 was who would provide the pass rush, and it turned out, Joyner and Jones were up to the task. Joyner switched from safety to corner and has wreaked havoc on corner blitzes this season. Jones moved from weakside linebacker to edge rusher and has provided a spark to a defensive line in transition. Together, they have seven sacks this season -- matching their combined career totals from their first three years in Tallahassee.

Winston is a star: This wasn’t a surprise, of course. Jameis Winston was pegged for stardom from the moment he arrived at Florida State. But who could’ve predicted just how good he’d be? From his astonishing debut against Pitt to his four-TD performance in the ACC championship game, Winston was a dynamic playmaker, mature passer and locker room leader. In August, his name was a trendy pick as a dark horse Heisman contender. By December, he was the runaway winner. Winston replaced a quarterback who went in the first round of the NFL draft, and he’s exceeded EJ Manuel’s production in every facet -- something we didn’t exactly anticipate before the season began.

Benjamin emerges: The long wait for Kelvin Benjamin to blossom into a star finally came to an end this year, thanks to the redshirt sophomore’s improved maturity. Benjamin always had the tools, of course. He made so many miraculous plays in practice that teammates spoke about his exploits as the stuff of legend. But on Saturdays, he hadn’t done much in his first two years at Florida State. Down the stretch in 2012, Benjamin was almost a non-factor -- catching just seven passes for 52 yards and no touchdowns in his final five games. This year, however, he’s gotten better each week, and he’s become perhaps the most dangerous receiver in the nation in the final weeks of the season. In his last five games this year, he’s caught 25 passes for 481 yards and nine TDs, including at least one in each game.

[+] EnlargeFlorida State
AP Photo/Nell RedmondFreshman DB Nate Andrews is FSU's leader in interceptions.
Freshmen in the secondary: Florida State had the best secondary in the nation last year, and the depth figured to be even better this season. With stars like Joyner, Ronald Darby and Terrence Brooks and emerging talent like Tyler Hunter and P.J. Williams, there didn’t figure to be much room for the true freshmen to make much of an impact. As it turned out, Jalen Ramsey and Nate Andrews performed too well to keep off the field. Ramsey became the first true freshman to start at corner for Florida State since Deion Sanders in Week 1, then when Hunter went down with a neck injury against Bethune-Cookman, Ramsey switched to safety and has started each of the final 10 games. Andrews emerged as FSU’s top DB off the bench and has turned his limited playing time into big rewards, leading the Seminoles in interceptions. For the season, FSU’s true freshmen have a combined for seven interceptions, five forced fumbles and 13 passes defended.

The other Smith: For the past two seasons, Telvin Smith had been the most vocal player on the field for Florida State’s defense. Meanwhile, the more reserved Terrance Smith flew beneath the radar. In 2013, both Smiths emerged as impact defenders. Telvin Smith, a senior, leads Florida State in tackles and has continued to be the emotional leader of the group, but when Jones moved to the defensive line midway through the season, Terrance Smith got his chance to shine, too. He’s now third on the team in tackles (55), has an INT, four passes defended and two sacks. Since Terrance Smith became a full-time starter, Florida State has allowed just 2.8 yards per rush.

Stocking stuffers: Karlos Williams moved from safety to tailback in Week 2, and while he’s only had 14 first-half carries this year, he’s been dominant when he’s touched the ball, racking up 705 yards and 11 TDs; Roberto Aguayo hasn’t had to make a big kick all season thanks to an average margin of victory of 43 points for FSU, but he’s missed just one this season en route to All-America status; Kermit Whitfield’s role hasn’t been huge, but he’s averaging 31 yards per touch.

FSU's Darby dominates without hype

December, 23, 2013
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Ronald Darby might be a household name if his name was mentioned a bit more often.

The sophomore cornerback is rarely discussed during games. Florida State’s secondary has been dominant all season, but Darby’s work tends to fly beneath the radar. Darby doesn’t show up too often in the box score, either. His 12 tackles are tied for 24th on the team.

The anonymity isn’t a knock on Darby’s talent, though. The problem is, opposing quarterbacks are terrified to test him.

“Sometimes,” Darby said, “I get a little bored.”

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins, Ronald Darby
AP Photo/Richard ShiroSophomore CB Ronald Darby is so good in coverage that opponents rarely test him.
Darby has started eight games this season and has been on the field for the vast majority of Florida State’s defensive snaps, but only a handful of balls have come his way.

According to Stats LLC, Darby has been targeted just 22 times this season -- 29 times fewer than Florida State’s other starting corner, P.J. Williams. It’s a casual workload that illustrates the ample respect he receives around the ACC.

“They watch the film,” Lamarcus Joyner said when asked why teams shy away from testing Darby. “You see his size, you see his speed, his strength. He has everything you look for in a cornerback.”

Darby’s natural talent was obvious from his first days in Tallahassee last year. He wowed teammates immediately, and while he didn’t start a game as a true freshman, he was on the field regularly, recording eight pass breakups and 22 tackles en route to freshman All-America honors. He was named the ACC’s freshman defensive player of the year.

But all the momentum from his sterling debut season came to a grinding halt this spring when a groin injury required surgery and kept him on the sidelines well into the start of fall camp. Even once the injury was healed, the effects lingered. Darby’s blazing speed was diminished a tad, and in the early going, he was reluctant to test it.

Even now, nearly a full year after the surgery, Darby says he isn’t quite right.

“I’m still not 100 percent yet,” Darby said. “I’m still trying to get back. ... I got a lot better from the offseason until now. I run a lot better, cut a lot better.”

The improved fundamentals have more than made up for the marginal dip in pure speed.

Of those 22 passes thrown Darby’s way, two were picked off and just seven resulted in completions. According to Stats LLC, that’s the fifth-lowest completion rate allowed by any defensive back from an AQ conference. Of the four players ahead of him, three were first-team all-conference. Darby didn’t even get an honorable mention.

“He’s been locking it down,” safety Terrence Brooks said. “That’s all he can do.”

And if that effort hasn’t been enough to garner much national attention thus far, that could change on Jan. 6, when Florida State takes on Auburn in the VIZIO BCS National Championship. The Tigers don’t throw often, but they’ve got one of the country’s top big-play threats in receiver Sammie Coates.

In fact, Coates and the Auburn offense might be a perfect test for Darby. The Tigers run and run and run, and just when a cornerback appears to be getting a bit bored with the heavy dose of the ground game, the deep ball takes them by surprise. But Florida State just so happens to employ a cornerback who’s used to battling the boredom and pouncing on those rare chances to make a play.

“That’s why I just practice hard really,” Darby said. “So we can be perfect on game day.”

And perfection on the biggest stage might finally earn Darby some of the attention he has deserved all season. Add in a few more weeks for Darby to strengthen that groin injury and rebuild his speed, and Jameis Winston -- Darby’s roommate and practice-field nemesis -- has a good idea of what might be in store.

“I honestly think Darby could be the best cornerback in the country,” Winston said.

FSU's Benjamin a matchup nightmare

December, 3, 2013
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It’s sort of a running joke among the Florida State defensive backs. It’s a confident group -- ranked No. 1 in the nation two years running -- so no one admits when they’re overmatched, but they know covering Kelvin Benjamin is a tough job, and so they can’t help but laugh when someone else tries to do it.

Lamarcus Joyner, all 5-foot-8 of him, has battled Benjamin for jump balls in practice, but how many corners can combat a 6-foot-5 frame?

[+] EnlargeBenjamin
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsKelvin Benjamin's 12 touchdowns leads Florida State's receiving corps.
P.J. Williams is tall enough to at least pose a threat on those plays, but then, he has to account for Benjamin’s surprising burst of speed, too. How may 6-5 receivers get used on end-arounds, after all?

Terrence Brooks plays with a unique blend of speed and physicality, but mixing it up with Benjamin isn’t exactly fun. A receiver with size and quickness that still likes to hit, to block downfield -- how many players in the country do that?

“It’s like it’s easy for him,” Brooks said. “I don’t think they make him anymore in the factories.”

This is how it’s been since Benjamin arrived at Florida State in 2011, a physical freak of nature who performed such astonishing feats of athleticism and strength on the practice field that the accounts from teammates were often met with skepticism from those who hadn’t seen it firsthand. But making it look easy was actually what made life hard for Benjamin.

His first year was a waste. He was overweight, unprepared and redshirted.

The 2012 season represented a big step forward, but still a disappointment. His focus wandered, and his production waned. He caught 30 balls, but he had just 52 receiving yards in the final five games of the season.

This season, however, Benjamin is blossoming into the player his teammates always knew he could be -- a monster few defensive backs are capable of taming.

“Anybody can make mistakes and have a season like [2012] and throw excuses out there,” Benjamin said. “I felt like the season just improved me as a player.”

Benjamin’s improvements began in the weight room. He shed some excess pounds and got into the best shape of his life. He hit the film room, studying the playbook with renewed vigor, knowing a new quarterback was taking the reins of the offense, and he’d have a fresh start and a bigger role. He talked with Rashad Greene and Kenny Shaw, the veterans of the receiving corps, about finally showing the rest of the world what had so often been confined to the practice field.

“He’s a lot more focused mentally than anything,” Greene said. “He’s always had the ability, the skill, the talent. But the way he’s been locked in and just been all in for the team -- he can tell you, he’s really focused compared to what he was last year. And it’s showing all around.”

It’s helped, too, that Benjamin’s role has increased dramatically.

A year ago, the receiving corps was deep -- a solid mix of veterans and younger players all eager for their share of throws. For Benjamin, however, there simply weren’t enough footballs to go around. He’d be on the sideline for long stretches, then his head wasn’t in the game when he took the field.

But this offseason, Florida State lost three seniors for the season before fall camp concluded, and that’s meant a tight rotation on game days and plenty of throws for Greene, Shaw and Benjamin, who are now all within reach of 1,000 yards.

“A receiver wants to touch the ball as many times as you touch it in practice, and my first season, I wasn’t doing that,” Benjamin said. “I let that get to me, wanting the ball more and the rotation. This year, we stay on the field until we finish the game. It’s just staying in there and having that feeling that consistently you’re in the game and you’re warm and can go out there and do it.”

In last week’s win over Florida, Benjamin was constantly in quarterback Jameis Winston’s sights. He had a career-high nine catches for 212 yards and three touchdowns. It was the first time a Florida State receiver topped the 200-yard mark in 11 years. It was the eighth-best single-game total in school history, and Winston had predicted it earlier in the week.

"I said, 'KB, you are an unstoppable force. If you go out there and do what you're supposed to do, no one can cover you,'" Winston recalled after the win.

None of it comes as a surprise, of course. Just look at Benjamin, and it’s always been obvious he would become a star. There simply aren’t other receivers who do what he can do.

Duke corner Ross Cockrell said the key is to challenge Benjamin at the line of scrimmage, play physical with him. But really, Cockrell is grasping at straws. Benjamin has five inches and 50 pounds on the Duke corner.

“We'll be working all week on that answer,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said of defending Benjamin. “We don't have anybody that can line up and match up physically with him. He's just a monster and with great skills.”

Benjamin has always been a monster, but after three years, Jimbo Fisher has finally convinced him to prepare as if he were a mere mortal. Now those skills are well refined, and Benjamin presents a matchup as perplexing for defenders as any in college football.

And that’s when Florida State’s own defensive backs can break character and admit, covering the monster can’t be done. They know. They’ve tried.

“Seeing him go against other guys,” Brooks said, “we sit there and laugh about it.”

Joyner impressing in new role for FSU

October, 23, 2013
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State was fresh off a dominant win in Death Valley. The defense shut down Clemson’s offensive juggernaut, and Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd turned in one of the worst performances of his career.

Lamarcus Joyner was jubilant, pronouncing FSU’s secondary the best in the country. His rationale, he said, was simple.

[+] EnlargeLamarcus Joyner
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesCornerback Lamarcus Joyner has seven interceptions in his Florida State career.
“We have a bunch of physical specimens in the secondary,” Joyner said, pointing out P.J. Williams, Jalen Ramsey and Ronald Darby before turning his attention inward. “Not myself though. I’m only 5-8.”

The self-deprecation was intended as a joke, but Joyner knows his height is a weapon used against him by the opposition and talent evaluators in the NFL. That’s why he was pegged as a mid-round selection had he entered the draft following the 2012 season, and that’s why he switched from safety to corner this year.

Joyner’s height sets him apart from his more imposing counterparts, but he’s using this season to showcase a plethora of skills that more than make up for his stature.

In Saturday’s win over Clemson, Joyner was the catalyst. He finished the game with eight tackles, while creating three turnovers. Each one underscored Joyner’s versatility.

On Clemson’s first play from scrimmage, Boyd completed a short pass to slot receiver Stanton Seckinger. Joyner closed quickly, walloped the receiver and stripped away the football. The forced fumble shocked even Joyner’s teammates.

“I had to do a double take,” said safety Terrence Brooks, who recovered the fumble. “I looked at it one time and said, ‘OK, that can’t be the ball.’ ”

Joyner’s second takeaway came on a corner blitz. It’s a new role for the senior this season. He had just one sack in his career prior to this season, but his speed makes him a weapon off the edge, and on Saturday, he pounced on Boyd with such instantaneous fury, the Clemson quarterback had no chance to prepare for impact. The ball tumbled away, and Mario Edwards Jr. scooped it up and rumbled into the end zone for a score.

The final addition to Joyner’s turnover hat trick came on a play he’d flubbed all week in practice.

All those corner blitzes had gotten the attention of the opposition, and coordinator Jeremy Pruitt knew Clemson would be looking for it. The plan was for Joyner to show blitz, then drop into coverage and hope Boyd would fall for the trick. Over and over in practice last week, Joyner failed to execute the play, but Pruitt told him to keep at it.

On Saturday, things hardly went according to plan. A miscommunication on the sideline meant only 10 players were on the field, but Joyner sold the blitz so effectively that it didn’t matter. Boyd’s pass found Joyner’s hands, and the misery for Clemson’s quarterback continued.

“I dropped into my zone and on that particular night I just seemed to do what I was coached to do,” Joyner said. “I was able to bait Tajh into throwing an interception.”

The first play was a product of Joyner’s strength. The second, his speed. The third, his smarts. It was precisely the type of showcase he’d hoped for when he decided to return for his senior season.

“I’m at nickel, I'm at corner, I get to blitz, I get to play man-to-man,” Joyner said. “I get to do all those things I wanted to do coming back for my senior year. When he sold the defense to me, I just committed myself to it."

The expanded role has meant more measurable production. Joyner is second on the team with 33 tackles and is on pace to shatter his previous career high. His three sacks and four takeaways leads the team. NFL scouts are taking notice.

"He's got tremendous range and ball skills and brings the right kind of mentality to support the run,” said Phil Savage, a longtime NFL talent evaluator and current executive director for the Senior Bowl. “The way the league is now, everybody's looking for three and four corners at least. There's going to be a bigger market for him at that position than there would've been at safety most likely. The big question is going to remain his height, going against the Calvin Johnsons and Andre Johnsons and the guys that are out there that have just that overwhelming size. But hey, they make 6-foot corners look bad at times."

Of course, by the time the 2014 draft comes around, the Clemson game will be ancient history and Joyner will still be 5-8. That much, he can’t change.

But while the behemoth receivers at the NFL level figure to have a distinct advantage, the guys who go up against Joyner every day know it won’t be so simple.

“It don’t matter how big he is,” said 6-5 receiver Kelvin Benjamin. “He is going to compete. He is like a dog. If you got that bone in your hand, he’s coming to get you.”

There are some skills that aren’t measurable, Jimbo Fisher said. So much of what sets Joyner apart isn’t his size or speed or smarts.

“He’s short, he’s not little,” Fisher said. “He packs a big punch, and his heart’s as big as the world.”

Trash talking spices up FSU-Clemson

October, 16, 2013
10/16/13
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In his weekly news conference, Jimbo Fisher was asked about the challenges presented by Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins. The Florida State coach shrugged and smiled.

"You got about an hour?" Fisher laughed before reeling off a string of compliments that actually lasted about a minute.

The praise for Watkins is nearly unanimous among Florida State's players, too, with all of the Seminoles' top defenders offering one platitude after another during the past two weeks.

[+] EnlargeTelvin Smith
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsTelvin Smith (22) and the FSU defense must their physical play with their strong words against Clemson.
But all of that figures to end once the teams take the field on Saturday because, as good as Watkins is with his legs and his hands, he might be even better with his mouth.

"It just comes out, whether it’s a profanity or just nice words," Watkins said of his on-field conversations with Florida State players. "It just happens."

Watkins isn't alone. In a rivalry game with so many implications on both the conference and national levels. The intensity is always high, and that leads to ample trash talk.

It also just so happens that Florida State and Clemson are experts in that area.

"We get into it with a lot of teams. I don't know why us," FSU receiver Kenny Shaw said. "That's something [that happens] when you've got two big teams playing each other."

Shaw and Watkins are actually close friends, which adds some extra juice to the rivalry.

A South Florida native, Watkins knows many of Florida State's players well, which allows for a more intimate dialogue on game days. Watkins knows what gets under their skin; Florida State's defenders know how to dish it back.

"It's no secret we know who he is and what he is," FSU corner Lamarcus Joyner said. "He's a great football player."

All those great players on the field add up to some great trash talking once the game begins.

"That’s one of the biggest trash-talking games I’ve ever played in," Watkins said. "Even if they tackle you and you get 10 yards, they’re still going to say something. It’s about keeping your poise during the game. The game is about talking trash. I like it, and it keeps me going and it keeps the offense going."

Ferns A lot of the rules that we have in college football can help offenses that are willing to try and take advantage of them.

-- Nick Saban
Florida State linebacker Telvin Smith can appreciate that stance. Few players are as adept at talking trash as he is -- whether it's taunting his opposition on game days or his own offense on the practice field.

Smith already has offered a few choice barbs for Clemson. Asked if he had any friends on the Tigers' roster, Smith said he didn't care about anyone who wasn't on his team. Asked if FSU might struggle to keep pace with Clemson's offense, Smith offered that three-and-outs don't wear down the defense.

The way Smith sees it, the trash talk is actually a sign of respect. When two teams are jawing, it's usually because the play on the field is so intense. It's just how he likes to set the stage for a great game.

"[People] are always comparing us that we're the two teams that lead the ACC," Smith said. "We want to say we're the best team, and there's no better way to say that you're the best than be tougher than that guy, to impose your will on that guy. We go out there to be physical and make it a hard-nosed football game."

Clemson figures to do the same -- and that goes beyond just the players on the field.

If the Tigers do their share of talking, the fans in Death Valley follow that lead. The barbs flying from the stands can be far more derisive as anything exchanged between players, and FSU receiver Rashad Greene said he'd be lying if he didn't take notice.

"The fans are -- I would say rude," Greene said. "They're very rude -- being on the sideline, just getting a taste of what they say."

For as heated as the rivalry might be, however, there's actually little bad blood. Greene and Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd actually exchanged phone numbers while getting to know each other during the ACC's preseason kickoff event and have stayed in touch. Greene said Boyd asked him to drop a few balls in this year's game, but he politely declined.

Boyd and former FSU quarterback EJ Manuel grew up near each other in Virginia, too, and Manuel's fondness for his rival was passed along to this year's quarterback at Florida State.

"EJ told me he was a great person," Jameis Winston said of Boyd. "I see him on TV, and I like the way he presents himself. He's always dressed nice. And he's a great quarterback."

And that's really what injects the most life into the rivalry.

For all the talk going on between players, it's the respect they have for one another's games that sets the stage. Watkins said he's inspired by what's at stake against the ACC's other elite team. FSU corner P.J. Williams said he's eager to test his mettle against a player he considers the best receiver in the conference.

In the end, Shaw said, that respect means the best jabs between the two sides are left unspoken.

"Make some catches and look over to the sideline," Shaw said. "But just watch out. There's going to be a lot of smack talk and little jabs going out."

FSU power rankings: Week 6

October, 7, 2013
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There's no question who tops the power rankings yet again. Instead, it's really a matter of where he shows up on the Heisman watch list.

Last week's rankings in parentheses.

1. QB Jameis Winston (1): Seven more touchdowns, another acrobatic escape act turned highlight-reel TD, and another big win. Ho-hum. But how about these numbers: This season, on the final drive of the first half and first drive of the second half, Winston is 26-of-30 for 493 yards and seven touchdowns. FSU has scored on all 10 drives, including nine TDs.

2. RB Devonta Freeman (5): It has been 17 years since an FSU runner went over 1,000 yards. Freeman is currently on pace for 1,001.

[+] EnlargeTelvin Smith
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsTelvin Smith (22) and the Seminoles held Maryland to 33 rushing yards.
3. DT Timmy Jernigan (8): The big mover in this week's power rankings, he set the tone for a major turnaround on the D line, which held Maryland to just 33 yards one week after giving up 200 to Boston College.

4. WR Rashad Greene (3): There may not be another player in the country who so easily floats under the radar after putting up 108 yards on four catches.

5. CB Lamarcus Joyner (2): Just one tackle, but he got solid pressure on Maryland quarterbacks throughout and forced a fumble.

6. LB Telvin Smith (6): The success from the D line opened things up for Smith, who created significant chaos in the Maryland backfield. He finished with five tackles and a PBU.

7. WR Kenny Shaw (4): What's a guy have to do to get a 100-yard game? Shaw has been between 89 and 96 each time out this year.

8. S Terrence Brooks (8): No one played with more ferocity Saturday than Brooks, who has come into his own as a force in the FSU secondary.

9. DB Jalen Ramsey (7): Another strong performance from the freshman in his new role at safety. Given the concerns about Tyler Hunter's neck injury, Ramsey's presence looms large with Clemson on the horizon.

10. WR Kelvin Benjamin (10): Fisher pushed Benjamin to do the little things better this year. He has responded, as evidenced by his five-catches, 60 yards and two TDs against Maryland.

Honorable mentions: Tackles Cameron Erving and Bobby Hart, DTs Jacobbi McDaniel and Eddie Goldman, DE Chris Casher, RB Karlos Williams, K Roberto Aguayo, CB P.J. Williams.

FSU power rankings: Game 4

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
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Let's face it: There's Jameis Winston, and then there's everyone else. Nevertheless, after four games, the power rankings still go all the way to 10.

(Last week's ranking in parentheses)

1. Winston (1): Four more touchdown passes, ho-hum. Just to prove he's not a one-trick pony, however, Winston also ran for 96 yards (not counting yardage lost to sacks).

2. CB Lamarcus Joyner (2): Six tackles for Joyner, who played well and cleaned up a few of the messes the run defense made.

3. WR Rashad Greene (4): Four catches, 90 yards, two touchdowns. Greene has now touched the ball 147 times in his career and has racked up 21 touchdowns.

4. WR Kenny Shaw (5): Can someone get this guy a 100-yard game? In all four of his games this season, Shaw has finished between 89 and 94 yards. Something to be said for consistency.

5. RB Devonta Freeman (3): The tailbacks finished with just 21 carries between them, so it was hardly a banner day for the running game. Freeman finished with 49 yards, averaging 5.4 per carry. Not terrible, but it's worth noting that in his two ACC games, he's got 101 yards and no TDs. In his two games vs. lower-tier foes, he has 221 yards and two TDs.

6. LB Telvin Smith (6): Tough to account for the number of missed assignments and missed tackles on the defense -- a few of which Smith had a hand in -- but the senior at least finished with 10 tackles, including two for a loss.

7. DB Jalen Ramsey (NR): Six tackles in his first game at safety. Ramsey is a natural regardless of where Jeremy Pruitt puts him.

8. DT Timmy Jernigan (7): The rest of the D line was shaky, but Jernigan played well enough. He finished with seven tackles.

9. S Terrence Brooks (8): He had one ugly penalty -- a late hit on the QB that extended a drive -- but beyond that he played well, finishing with seven tackles, including two for a loss.

10. Kelvin Benjamin (NR): After a rough start, Benjamin responded with his first 100-yard game.

Honorable mentions: RB Karlos Williams; LB Christian Jones; K Roberto Aguayo; CB P.J. Williams

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