Florida State Seminoles: ronald darby

Players reported to Florida State for the beginning of preseason camp on Sunday. On Monday, the Seminoles take the practice field for the first time this season.

Whether 2014 is a title defense or a title chase is entirely exclusive from the 2013 season, and the fact remains Florida State enters the fall as the preseason No. 1 and with the best odds to win the inaugural College Football Playoff.

While it returns a Heisman quarterback, senior-laden offensive line and a talented secondary, coach Jimbo Fisher says he has concerns just like he does every year.

Here are three things to keep an eye on in fall camp during August that will impact the Seminoles’ season.

 1. How the defense jells over the course of camp. Elite players such as Ronald Darby, Mario Edwards Jr., Jalen Ramsey and P.J. Williams return, but the Seminoles also lost the cornerstones of a defense that ranked No. 1 nationally last season. The defensive leader at every level of the defense has moved on, including defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. Talent is not the issue, but how the defense meshes over the next few weeks could be. The vocal presence brought by the likes of Telvin Smith and Lamarcus Joyner are no longer on the field. Fisher has praised Ramsey throughout the spring and summer for stepping up as a leader, so will he be the one to make sure the defense is aligned correctly pre snap? Rather than the defense being gashed and giving up a significant amount of yards, the bigger concern could be miscommunications and defensive breakdowns that lead to big plays.

2. The emergence of a No. 2 receiver. That did not happen during the spring, but now the Seminoles have added three freshman receivers, including blue-chip prospects Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph. Fisher knows what he is getting out of Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O’Leary, but the offense is going to need a second threat opposite of Greene on the outside. Jesus “Bobo” Wilson has the look of a player built for the slot, and he is subject to team discipline after pleading no contest to two misdemeanors. Isaiah Jones is 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, but he has two career catches. Christian Green needs a bounce-back season after a junior season in which he caught only 13 passes. Levonte “Kermit” Whitfield is a terror with the ball in his hands, but is he consistent enough to be an every-down option? Rudolph had offseason foot surgery, but Fisher said July 11 that he should be ready for camp. Lane, the No. 2 receiver nationally in the 2014 class, could exit camp in the best position for a starting job. He has the size (6-3, 206) to physically compete with college cornerbacks right now. He’ll also wear No. 1 this season, taking over for Kelvin Benjamin. There’s a certain level of expectation when donning the No. 1.

3. Will the punting improve? It’s no secret the punting at Florida State has not been very good recently. It’s about the only facet of the team that has lagged. The good news is Florida State rarely punted the ball last season -- the Seminoles led the country in fewest punts per game -- as they set an NCAA record for points scored. In 2013, Florida State was 59th nationally in punting with a 41.1 average, a number Fisher would like to see increase. In July, Fisher said punter Cason Beatty was punting the ball better but still has to find better consistency. If he does not, Fisher isn’t averse to making a change, saying the competition is “open” and “the best player will play.” Jonathan Hernandez and Larry Lawson III are also listed as punters on the roster.

ACC's lunchtime links

June, 24, 2014
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It’s that time of year when the preseason lists start appearing, and Athlon is out with its preseason All-America teams (four of them!), which include a healthy dose of the ACC.

The ACC has eight players on the first-team All-America squad, tied with the Pac-12 for most by any conference. In all, the ACC had 27 selections (26 players, as Duke’s Jamison Crowder was named as both a receiver and punt returner). Florida State, not surprisingly, led the way with a whopping 12 players named on the four lists, including Jameis Winston, Nick O'Leary, Tre Jackson, Cameron Erving, Jalen Ramsey and Roberto Aguayo as first-teamers.

Of course, these preseason lists are always a little subjective and a lot different from how the end-of-the-season results shake out. (Example: Just seven of last year’s Athlon preseason picks were also first-team selections at year’s end.)

With that in mind, here are a few ACC names that didn’t show up on any of Athlon’s four preseason All-America teams that could well be first-teamers by the time 2014 draws to a close.

CB Ronald Darby (FSU): The forgotten man in Florida State’s incredibly talented secondary, Darby nursed a nagging groin injury, but still was as good a shut-down cornerback as there was in the conference a year ago. He has flown under the radar nationally, but he has the talent to be a star if QBs decided to test him just a bit more often this season.

DT Grady Jarrett (Clemson): The 2014 season promises to be a pick-your-poison scenario for teams hoping to slow down Clemson’s immensely talented pass rush. Vic Beasley gets most of the hype (for good reason), but he is also going to get a lot of the attention from offensive linemen. That opens the door for Jarrett (10.5 tackles for loss last season), along with a host of others to make some noise, too.

LB Steven Daniels (Boston College): It is a bit surprising that Miami’s Denzel Perryman is the only ACC linebacker to make Athlon’s cut since there is clearly a lot of talent at the position, including Clemson’s Stephone Anthony, Duke’s Kelby Brown and David Helton and Syracuse’s Dyshawn Davis. But we all know the history of linebackers at Boston College, and Daniels could be next in line. He still has room to improve, but his 88 tackles last season are the seventh-most by a returning player in the ACC, and that number figures to grow in 2014.

RB Dominique Brown (Louisville): He had 825 yards and eight touchdowns last season in a more buttoned-down offensive system with a highly touted QB on the field. Now the Cardinals turn to a novice at quarterback and an offensive guru at head coach, which could promise big production out of the backfield for Brown. Or, perhaps we will all be talking about Michael Dyer here by season's end.

DE Eli Harold (Virginia): As bad as the Hoos have been, it makes sense that they are not getting much preseason love, but Mike London is quietly assembling a heck of a defensive line at UVA, and Harold might be the best of the bunch. His 15 tackles for loss last season trail only Beasley among returning ACC defenders.

That is my list. Who else do you think could make a push for All-America honors by season's end?

More links:
  • Charges could be dropped against one of the key figures in the UNC academic fraud scandal, according to the Charlotte Observer.
  • Miami picked up a commitment from a QB for 2016, writes the Sun-Sentinel.
  • Syracuse is shelling out big bucks to play Central Michigan in 2015, reports The Post-Standard. With new scheduling guidelines and the College Football Playoff in place, this is going to become the norm for signing games against mid-level opponents.
  • Former Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe is battling Parkinson’s Disease, but he is back in college football as a special assistant at LSU, writes The Courier-Journal.
  • Tomahawk Nation goes searching for Florida State’s flaws. Not to spoil the ending, but there aren’t many.
There were practices last year when Florida State’s secondary would surrender so many big plays that then-defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt would slump into Jimbo Fisher’s office and wonder whether he had a group ready to compete at a championship level.

The concerns lasted only as long as it took to put the film together, however. Once coaches got a second look at the busted plays and blown coverages, it became clear: It wasn’t about the secondary’s struggles. It was about how good Jameis Winston, Kelvin Benjamin, Rashad Greene and the offense were.

“You go look at film and there’s nobody going to make that throw but Jameis,” Fisher said. “Nobody’s going to make that catch but KB, Rashad.”

[+] EnlargeLevonte Whitfield
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsSophomore Kermit Whitfield is a candidate to get the starting nod as Florida State's slot receiver.
As it turned out, Florida State had the nation’s best secondary last season. It also had arguably the country’s top passing attack, with a Heisman winner and two 1,000-yard receivers. The spring struggles on either side of the ball were a matter of that double-edged sword that comes from practicing against each other.

This spring, the situation was the same, but the struggles tended to appear more often on offense. Benjamin and Kenny Shaw are gone, taking 108 catches and 21 touchdowns with them, and it’s a relatively inexperienced group now taking the first-team reps. There’s a learning curve, but on the other side of the ball, FSU’s defensive backs haven’t pulled their punches.

Fisher raved about Jalen Ramsey and P.J. Williams, who have both developed into dominant DBs and core leaders of FSU’s 2014 defense. Tyler Hunter’s return from a neck injury has added a spark to summer drills, which began this week. Add in Nate Andrews, Ronald Darby, Marquez White -- Fisher said the depth of talent in the secondary is immense -- and it makes it that much tougher for the receivers to strut their stuff.

“Those guys came out and threw and caught the ball in the spring going against as good people as there is out there, consistently, daily,” Fisher said. “That’s the thing I’ve got to remember when I don’t think we’re doing as well.”

Still, it won’t be easy for Florida State to replace its departed offensive stars.

Jesus Wilson and Kermit Whitfield each developed nicely this spring, Fisher said. They’ll likely jockey for reps in the slot, where Shaw was so consistently good a year ago.

On the outside, the Seminoles are in search of a physical presence that can pick up the slack left by the 6-foot-5 Benjamin. The top options are likely the two newest faces. Ermon Lane (6-2) and Travis Rudolph (6-0) took their first reps in seven-on-seven drills this week, showcasing an already advanced skill set. It was in the weight room, however, that Fisher said they’ve really shined. Both arrived on campus bigger and stronger than Fisher had expected, and he’s optimistic both can play a role on offense for FSU immediately.

And before the Seminoles’ passing game is knocked for having too much youth complementing Greene, Fisher is quick to point out that seniors Jarred Haggins and Christian Green return, along with tight end Nick O'Leary, who is back to 100 percent after an offseason motorcycle accident.

It’s true, the passing game is more of a work in progress than it was a year ago, according to Fisher. But even as his receivers were crushing the spirits of an equally talented defense last spring, there was still more growth to come. Greg Dent was last spring’s MVP, and he never took a snap in the fall thanks to off-field issues. Benjamin was inconsistent and hadn’t approached his potential. By season’s end, he was a star and Winston’s favorite weapon.

Things change, Fisher said. Players learn and develop and get better, and he’s got a group he believes will do all those things. And just as importantly, he has a Heisman quarterback to push them along.

“Skill guys can get much better over a summer if they really apply themselves because they can throw and catch and do things,” Fisher said. “And [Winston] knows what he’s doing, and he sets the tone in what goes on without a doubt.”
Todd McShay's early 2015 mock draft last week provided a glimpse of just how talented Florida State is, as he had six Seminoles in the first round.

Mel Kiper Jr. released his initial 2015 Big Board on Wednesday Insider, and his list further validates the pro potential Jimbo Fisher will have to work with this season.

Jameis Winston tops Kiper's 25-man Big Board, the first of four Florida State players on the list. Kiper sees lots of room for improvement following Winston's 2013 Heisman Trophy-winning campaign, but he, like many, is troubled by the character concerns that have followed Winston in the headlines -- so much so that Kiper thinks Winston may be better served to come back to school following his 2014 season.

Further down the list are three of Winston's teammates: guard Tre' Jackson at No. 15, cornerback P.J. Williams at No. 17 and defensive end Mario Edwards at No. 23. Kiper thinks Jackson is a monster, says Williams has ideal size to be a solid prospect at corner and sees massive potential in Edwards, whom he said is big enough to raise questions about his ultimate pro position.

Every player but Jackson is an underclassmen, as Kiper included anyone who will be draft eligible in 2013.

The only other ACC player to make the early Big Board is Clemson's Vic Beasley, slotted at No. 13, with Kiper saying he could have gone in the first round two weeks ago had he declared early.

Kiper also lists -- in no particular order -- five players he considered for the Big Board, leaving room for two more Seminoles: tackle Cameron Erving and cornerback Ronald Darby.

That's six Florida State players among 30 for Kiper. McShay had six among 32 last week, though neither had the same six, with McShay putting receiver Rashad Greene in the first round, while Kiper had Darby under consideration for his Big Board.

It's also worth noting that McShay's list, unlike Kiper's, was a true mock, with team-by-team selections, which can affect where players end up. Still, the big takeaway from both is that this is a truly talented group in Tallahassee this year, one that will see no shortage of its stars playing on Sundays in the near future.

The ACC (seven players) came in second on Kiper's Big Board, trailing only the Pac-12 (nine.) The Big Ten (six), SEC (five), Big 12 (two) and Mountain West (one) made up the rest of the list.
The 2014 NFL draft might have just wrapped up four days ago, and college football’s regular season may still be 3½ months away, but Todd McShay still managed to churn out a preliminary look at what next year’s draft might look like.

Sure, a ton will change between now and the moment when Roger Goodell announces the first pick of 2015, but McShay’s projections underscore just how loaded the defending national champs will be this season.

Of the 32 players McShay has currently projected as first-round selections in 2015, six are playing for Florida State.

No surprise that Heisman winner Jameis Winston is the first quarterback off the board, projected as the No. 5 overall selection by the New York Jets.

Following Winston are teammates Mario Edwards Jr., P.J. Williams, Rashad Greene, Cameron Erving and Tre' Jackson. Winston, Edwards and Williams are all underclassmen, and Winston has previously stated he intends to return for 2015.

If all six Florida State players did end up in the first round, it would match the six first-round selections Miami produced in 2004.

Beyond the six Seminoles, only Clemson’s Vic Beasley turns up on McShay’s first-round projections among other ACC stars.

Of course, there could be other hot commodities in the conference, including Miami running back Duke Johnson, Louisville receiver DeVante Parker, Clemson defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and potentially more Seminoles in Eddie Goldman, Ronald Darby, Karlos Williams and Josue Matias.

Florida State spring wrap

April, 29, 2014
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Three things we learned in the spring about the Florida State Seminoles:

1. Jalen Ramsey is a star in the making. Last season, Ramsey was overshadowed on his own defense with the likes of Timmy Jernigan, Lamarcus Joyner and Telvin Smith demanding the headlines, but Ramsey was only a freshman. As a sophomore, several players point to Ramsey as being the defense’s leader, and he could be the best player on a defense that could have a half-dozen first-round picks in the next few seasons. He will move around to several positions in the secondary this fall.

2. Florida State’s secondary might be the best in the country. While FSU’s talent in the defensive backfield begins with Ramsey it certainly does not end there. P.J. Williams was dominant in the spring game against No. 1 receiver Rashad Greene and is an elite college corner. Opposite him are Ramsey and Ronald Darby, who missed the entire spring. All three could be first-round picks. Nate Andrew is a up-and-coming star and also just a sophomore, and Tyler Hunter returns after a neck injury in 2013.

3. Sean Maguire is a capable backup for the Noles. The disclaimer certainly is that it came against the No. 2 defense in the spring game, but Maguire showed the type of tools to be an efficient quarterback should he be called upon this fall. As the unquestioned No. 2 quarterback for the first time in his college career, Maguire said he made his biggest strides to date this spring.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Will the wide receivers step up? Coach Jimbo Fisher is not leaving spring practice with a great feeling about his receivers. He expressed his frustration in the unit on multiple occasions, and the receivers struggled in the spring game. Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw are off to the NFL, and Greene will need some help from the younger receivers. Elite high school talents Ermon Lane, Travis Rudolph and Ja'Von Harrison will enroll in the summer.

2. Can the running backs stay on the field? It was a similar feeling last spring for Fisher as he did not have any healthy running backs for the Garnet and Gold game in 2013 either. Karlos Williams was held for precautionary reasons, but backups Dalvin Cook, Ryan Green and Mario Pender all suffered injuries. Cook and Green are out until fall camp with shoulder injuries, and Pender missed his first two seasons with injury and academic issues.

3. What will the linebacker rotation look like? It will be very interesting to see how new defensive coordinator Charles Kelly pairs his linebackers with a fairly inexperienced group. Terrance Smith is a given as a starter, but who will flank him? Matthew Thomas might be too good to keep off the field, which could leave one remaining spot for a very talented unit.

One way-too-early prediction:

The Noles were an offensive juggernaut in 2013, but the offense will sputter some against quality defenses. The issue at receiver is one that will not be settled in the near future, and it could cost Florida State a game.

ACC lunchtime links

April, 4, 2014
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Lots of news out of Tallahassee ...

FSU spring spotlight: Tyler Hunter

February, 28, 2014
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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.
Just a week remains until national signing day, and Florida State is on pace to add one of its deepest classes in years. Throughout Jimbo Fisher’s first four years on the job, he has managed to reel in plenty of talent. Here’s a look back at the top 10 signees who had the biggest immediate impact.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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
It has been a season for the ages at Florida State, perhaps the best season in the program’s history. So filling out the end-of-year power rankings is no easy task. There’s a good case to be made for virtually any order -- well, any order after No. 1 — but this is what we came up with. (Previous rankings in parentheses.)

1. Jameis Winston, QB (1): Heisman Trophy, national champion, household name, media darling-turned-national scandal… so, what’s left for Year 2 for Winston? After everything that happened in 2013, however, that final drive in Pasadena was the highlight.

2. Timmy Jernigan, DT (3): It’s so easy to overlook Jernigan’s impact until he’s not in the lineup. That was never more clear than against Auburn. Now, FSU will have to find a replacement. It won’t be easy.

[+] EnlargeRashad Greene
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsRashad Green stepped up to play a major role in the title game.
3. Lamarcus Joyner, CB (2): Perhaps no player more epitomized the four-year rebuilding job under Jimbo Fisher, and no player deserved to have it end the way it did than Joyner. He was the star commit when no one knew what was next for Florida State, and he and Fisher helped will the program back to elite status.

4. Rashad Greene, WR (6): Others always seem to get the hype, but for three straight years, there has been no more consistent weapon on FSU’s offense than Greene. His catch and run for 49 yards on that final drive is the reason Florida State won the national championship. The funny thing is, if you watched the Virginia Tech game last year, it looked oh so familiar.

5. Telvin Smith, LB (5): He finished with 15 tackles and was exceptional in slowing one of the best running games in the country. But what Smith brought to FSU off the field this year is his lasting impact.

6. Kelvin Benjamin, WR (9): It was an ugly first half for Benjamin, and there were more miscues in the second half. But when he went up for that final pass from Winston, everyone knew exactly how that play would end. Now, Benjamin is a Sports Illustrated cover boy.

7. Devonta Freeman, RB (4): It’s a bit of a misnomer. It hasn’t really been a 17-year drought of 1,000-yard rushers. Plenty of FSU teams have rushed for far more than that, and plenty of players were more than capable. But fate or injury or bad luck managed to keep them from it eclipsing the mark individually. But perhaps it was destiny, so that someone as deserving as Freeman could finally be the one to end the streak.

8. Jalen Ramsey, S (NR): With so many key defensive players departing, Ramsey is one of the biggest reasons for optimism in 2014. His emergence this year was nothing short of spectacular. A secondary that has been the best in the nation the past two seasons is in good hands.

9. Mario Edwards Jr., DE (NR): Edwards really progressed as the season went along, and he was huge in the BCS title game. Next year, he’ll likely be playing to impress NFL scouts, and he’ll be the most crucial cog on a revamped D line.

10. Bryan Stork, C (NR): To truly appreciate all Stork has done, go back and watch the film from the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl, when the line was a mess. Stork has been the veteran who managed that transition and eased the development for the guys around him, and his impact on the FSU offense has been immense.

Honorable mentions: WR Kenny Shaw, LT Cameron Erving, DE Christian Jones, CB Ronald Darby, KR Kermit Whitfield, Red Lightning.
Florida State finished off a spectacular season with a national championship, and with Jameis Winston, Rashad Greene, Jalen Ramsey and a host of other stars returning for 2014, the expectations for next season are already sky high.

So if FSU is going to repeat as national champs, what are the big stumbling blocks on the road ahead? We take a look at the top five.

1. Rebuilding the defensive line.

[+] EnlargeTimmy Jernigan
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsWith Timmy Jernigan heading to the NFL, Florida State will have a big hole to fill in the middle of its line.
With Timmy Jernigan leaving early for the NFL draft -- he’s widely considered a top-15 pick — Florida State will have a huge hole in the middle of the line. But the Seminoles also need to find someone to rush off the edge, as Christian Jones did throughout the season and develop some depth after waving goodbye to Demonte McAllister and Dan Hicks. Nile Lawrence-Stample, Matthew Thomas and others could fill those voids, but it will be incumbent on emerging stars Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman to step up their games, too.

2. Developing new receivers.

It wasn’t a huge surprise, but it was nevertheless a relief when Greene decided to return for his senior season. Florida State’s receiving corps was exceptional in 2013, but it wasn’t deep. Kenny Shaw is moving on, and Kelvin Benjamin could follow. That leaves Greene as FSU’s only established, consistent receiver. Isaiah Jones, Jesus Wilson and Kermit Whitfield all got a taste of playing time in 2013, but they’ll need to do a lot more next season.

3. Finding new leaders on defense.

This might be the toughest task for Florida State. Telvin Smith, Lamarcus Joyner, Terrence Brooks, Jones and Jernigan weren’t simply the defensive standouts on the field, they were the heart and soul of the unit in the locker room. There’s still plenty of talent remaining on the unit, but no one who has had to step up and galvanize a locker room or push the younger players to work harder. Finding leaders on that side of the ball — Edwards, Goldman, Terrance Smith and Ronald Darby, perhaps — will be crucial to maintaining the unit’s immense production in 2014.

4. Managing the schedule.

If the knock on Florida State this season was that it wasn’t tested until the title game, the concern for 2014 might be that there are simply too many big tests. The Seminoles open in Dallas against Oklahoma State, but also have Clemson, Louisville, Notre Dame, Miami and Florida before the season is out. If this title was a victory for the ACC’s legitimacy on a national stage, the 2014 slate for Florida State only underscores how much tougher winning the league will be going forward.

5. Handling the hype.

It’s one thing to win when no one is expecting it. Winning when everyone has you pegged as No. 1 is a whole other challenge. Florida State will enjoy its national championship now, but in 2014, everyone will be gunning for the Seminoles, and the media scrutiny will be immense. Can Winston go a full offseason as a Heisman winner and national champion and not waver from his commitment to getting better? Can the coaching staff maintain that same level of dedication from a group that already has a title on its résumé? There’s a reason so few teams repeat as champions. It’s really hard to do.
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.

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