Florida State vs. Clemson Preview: Why the Seminoles Will Win

Part 2 of Our Florida State-Clemson Preview Explains Why the 'Noles Will Win on Saturday

Part 2 of Our Florida State-Clemson Preview Explains Why the ‘Noles Will Win on Saturday

Saturday’s matchup between Florida State and Clemson is obviously a big deal. And since this is an ACC blog, it only makes sense that we discuss the game as much as possible. We’ve done so all week, but now it’s almost game day, and that means in-depth previews. I gave my short thoughts yesterday, but we want to dive in further. To help, I enlisted the assistance of none other than fellow ACC afficionado Hokie Mark — whom you know from his contributions here as well as his own site, ACCFootballRx. In this battle of ACC powers, he’ll be arguing in favor of Clemson, while I’ll present the reasons why Florida State should emerge victorious. Enjoy!

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Yes, Clemson’s got the big game experience, the battle-tested quarterback and the home-field advantage. Those things are undeniable. But Florida State brings plenty with them as well. For one, “Famous” Jameis Winston seems to be just a small step behind Clemson’s Tajh Boyd as just a true freshman, and he even makes up for that gap in talent with what can only be described as “swagger.” Two Heisman moments already, a ridiculous stat line and almost irrational confidence in his abilities are all important characteristics in situations like this. With pressure looming down, the weight of Heisman potential, ACC titles and BCS National Championships within sight — sometimes irrational confidence is the only thing that can buy you a win.

Even if confidence isn’t enough though, he’s also got an impressive cast of characters to help him out as well. The running game is a multi-headed monster, with a variety of different backs who can also do some serious damage to an aggressively-blitzing Clemson front. Devonta Freeman, Karlos Williams and James Wilder are a lethal combination, and resemble Syracuse’s attack enough (with a bit more talent too) to give the Tigers fits all day. The Orange ran for 323 yards vs. Clemson a couple weeks ago, and have supplied a blueprint for the ‘Noles to do the same. In the passing attack, Winston has the weapons to test Clemson’s secondary too, with Kenny Shaw and Rashad Greene prepped to burn them on the outside. All of this made possible by Winston and what’s arguably the conference’s top offensive line.

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ACC Preseason Top 50 Players of 2013: #15, James Wilder Jr.

Florida State’s James Wilder is #16 in Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

Florida State’s James Wilder is #15 in Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

Less than one week until college football kicks off! In the past, we’ve limited these lists to just the top 25 players, but this season, we’re upping our game to 50. So just about every day until the season starts, there will be a new player profile up here as we count down to the top ACC player for 2013.

Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus “completely bulletproof” — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.

No. 15, James Wilder Jr., RB/Florida State (Last Season: NR)

As discussed in our profile of fellow Florida State running back Devonta Freeman, last year almost didn’t happen. Both players were a couple spots down the depth chart to start the year, but injuries threw them into the forefront. And while for Freeman it appeared like a lucky break, for Wilder, it was simply an expansion of his predetermined role. Despite being a between-the-tackles runner, Wilder has a knack for big gains on minimal carries. In eight different contests he averaged five or more yards per carry, and manged 11 touchdowns on just 110 attempts — one score every 10 touches. He was also involved in the receiving game, picking up another two scores through the air on just 19 catches. His 13 touchdowns were tied for fourth in the conference. And if extrapolated out for a full season of around 200 touches, he would’ve been on pace to score 24 times. So no wonder Wilder is one of the most talked about players in the ACC this offseason…

Wilder is a bigger tailback (6’2″ and 229 pounds), so he obviously gets more carries in short yardage situations, which in turn leads to more scores. But it’s not as if he’s a bruiser. Take a look at these highlights. He’s simply a smart runner who takes advantage of blocks and knows how to find holes very quickly. He has strength, which certainly helps, but it’s his quickness that helps him pick up that type of yardage essentially running up the middle. Rushing the ball well leads to success, and with Wilder, Florida State can’t go wrong. They don’t really have a traditional “home run” runner in this backfield — a smaller, speedy player who can spring along the outside. However, with a guy like Wilder back there already, do you even need one?

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ACC Preseason Top 50 Players of 2013: #21, Devonta Freeman

Florida State’s Devonta Freeman is #21 in Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

Florida State’s Devonta Freeman is #21 in Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

Nine days until college football kicks off! In the past, we’ve limited these lists to just the top 25 players, but this season, we’re upping our game to 50. So just about every day until the season starts, there will be a new player profile up here as we count down to the top ACC player for 2013.

Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus “completely bulletproof” — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.

No. 21, Devonta Freeman, RB/Florida State (Last Season: NR)

After two seasons splitting carries in a crowded Florida State backfield, Devonta Freeman appears ready to shine for the ‘Noles. Of course, he’s still splitting carries — but now as one of two primary ball carriers in the ACC’s top backfield. And that should be an advantage to both Freeman and his counterpart, James Wilder, too. Without getting overworked, both players will be able to grab a healthy amount of carries (I’d bet between 15-18 per game) and even make gains on their productivity from last season, when Freeman especially got to average 5.9 yards on 111 carries. Plus, as a runner first and foremost, and not much of a pass-catcher, he may even be able to differentiate himself as the team’s top rusher (even if not the top overall player) this season.

Of course, last year could’ve gone very differently. Further down the depth chart, he’d only grabbed 23 carries for 147 yards through the first six games — not at all premier back material. But then injuries struck, and suddenly Freeman was thrust into a feature role, proving himself as a standout playmaker, even if not feature runner material. In his first three contests with an increased workload, he tallied 244 total yards with four touchdowns. A couple weeks later, against Maryland, he grabbed another 148 yards and two touchdowns. All of this on 16 or less carries per game. And again, inconsistent playing time that would stunt the abilities of most backs. So can he repeat the performance in 2013?

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ACC Football 2013 Season Preview: Florida State Seminoles

Can Florida State Repeat as ACC Champs, Or Will They Take a Small Step Back?

Can Florida State Repeat as ACC Champs, Or Will They Take a Small Step Back Under Jameis Winston?

Team: Florida State Seminoles

2012 W-L: 12-2 (7-1)

Head Coach: Jimbo Fisher (31-10; fourth season)

Returning Starters: 10 (6 Offense, 4 Defense)

Is Florida State “back?” Depends on your definition. After a bit of a tailspin (by their standards) toward the end of the Bobby Bowden era, the Seminoles have since rebounded pretty well under Jimbo Fisher, winning a division title in two of the last three years and a conference championship last season (their first since 2005). SB Nation’s Bill Connelly has a lot more to say about the progression since Fisher’s hire, and rather than simply repeat him, it’s probably much easier to just head there for the full scope of improvement. Based on recruiting rankings and the glut of talent on this roster, I’d say Florida State is “back” in the sense they’re a top-15 program. But we’ll see if they can return to the national title conversation.

For the large majority of the 2012 season, the ‘Noles offense was an absolute force. And while they lose plenty — including quarterback EJ Manuel, halfback Chris Thompson and wide receiver Rodney Smith — there’s still plenty left over for another superb effort. Jameis Winston appears to be the real deal as the new starting passer, and he’ll have a very experienced, big offensive line in front of him to help with the transition. Bryan Stork and Tre’ Jackson in particular are two of the best linemen in the conference, and will play key roles in protecting Winston, who also has plenty of mobility. There’s much talk about the impact of tackle Menelik Watson’s departure to the pros (as there should be), but so long as everyone stays healthy, I don’t see a ton of drop-off. With the little depth they have across the offensive line, however, it’s something to watch out for.

At the skill positions, last year’s top target Rashad Greene is back, and prepared to take on a larger role in the passing game — but there’s a long, talented depth chart of pass-catchers behind him as well. No matter Winston’s ability to throw though, it’s likely Fisher will be calling for a run-heavy offensive attack, which he also has ample personnel for. Neither Devonta Freeman or James Wilder Jr. started the 2012 season atop the depth chart, but both managed over 100 carries apiece for a combined 1,295 yards and 19 scores. Last year, injuries limited every FSU running backs’ carries. In 2013, so long as they can stay healthy, there’s a good chance both of the ‘Noles featured rushers top the 1,000-yard mark.

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ACC Preseason Top 50 Players of 2013: #30, Tre’ Jackson

Florida State’s Tre' Jackson is #30 on Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

Florida State’s Tre’ Jackson is #30 on Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

Less than three weeks until college football kicks off! In the past, we’ve limited these lists to just the top 25 players, but this season, we’re upping our game to 50. So just about every day until the season starts, there will be a new player profile up here as we count down to the top ACC player for 2013.

Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus completely bulletproof — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.

No. 30, Tre’ Jackson, OG/Florida State (Last Season: NR)

With a young quarterback at the helm, and the looks of what could be an elite running game, Florida State will be relying heavily on the offensive line this season — especially as the fall starts off. They’ll be favored in the opener against Pittsburgh, however, it’s worth noting the FSU line will also have its hands full with the Panthers’ strong front four. Lucky for the ‘Noles, they’ve also got one of the ACC’s best (if not the best) offensive lines, led by guard Tre’ Jackson.

For a guard, Jackson’s athleticism is off the charts, as the former basketball player has quick feet and a ton of agility — made even more impressive when you realize he’s 6’4″ and a whopping 327 pounds. He’s a physical force in the middle of the line, and only a junior now, there’s still plenty of room for him to continue honing his skill set. At the same time, Jackson possesses a ton of experience already, giving him a veteran presence for a line whose experience mostly lies in its starters alone. A staunch run-blocker, his greatest skill set is his initial move off the snap, beating slower defensive linemen just by being a hell of a lot quicker than they are.

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ACC Football Positional Rankings 2013: Running Backs

Devonta Freeman and Florida State Headline the ACC's Running Backs for the 2013 Season

Devonta Freeman and Florida State Headline the ACC’s Running Backs for the 2013 Season

While we’re still over two months away from the season, it does indeed seem to be that time of year — when college football blogs like this one and so many others start churning out season preview materials. We’ll be holding off till July and August for the team-by-team season previews, but in the meantime, there’s nothing wrong with taking a look at each position on the field and evaluating ACC squads’ respective strengths and weaknesses.

This week, we’re on to the running backs (you can check out last week’s feature on quarterbacks, too). Though there’s not a whole lot of experience at the position — just one returning back (Syracuse’s Jerome Smith) rushed for 1,000 yards last year — this group makes up for a lot of that in potential. Many of the most talented runners this year will be sophomores or juniors, so that aforementioned experience will come with time. As for those who are seniors, many possess a significant leg-up, which you’ll find reflected here as well.

Keep in mind that these are full unit rankings — not just one player — so just because one individual quarterback is better than another, it doesn’t necessarily mean the team’s entire crop of passers is. Still, disagree with any of these picks? Share your own selections below.

ACC Positional Rankings 2013: Running Backs

1. Florida State Seminoles: Injuries ravaged the Florida State backfield in 2012. But because of that, the team’s top two returning rushers, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr., actually have quite a bit of experience under their respective belts (221 carries between them last year). They’re both vertical runners for the most part, doing most of their work in the middle of the line, but Wilder, in particular, also has some pass-catching ability out of the backfield (19 catches for 136 yards and two scores last year). Expect that role to expand this year, while also incorporating Mario Pender, who’s the quickest back on the roster and anxious to contribute after red-shirting last season.

2. Miami Hurricanes: Miami’s ranking here is purely on the strength of sophomore Duke Johnson, and his success is likely to decide how far the ‘Canes go this season. Despite splitting carries with Mike James last year, Johnson still ran for 947 yards and 10 scores, while tacking on another 1,133 yards from receiving and kick returns. With that on his resume in just one season, he’s now being listed among the most dynamic players in the country and will be the focal point of every gameplan against Miami. He won’t be acting alone in the backfield, but there’s no telling what to expect from backups Dallas Crawford or Eduardo Clements either.

3. Syracuse Orange: SU’s offense was largely seen as a pass-first attack in 2012, but its success in the season’s second half was heavily reliant on the running game. The Orange bring back everybody this year, and arguably have one of the deepest backfields in the country. The group will be guided by Jerome Smith (1,171 yards last year), but this will be a multi-back, run-first system. Expect Prince-Tyson Gulley to approach the 200-carry mark as well, while the team gets additional contributions from short-yardage specialist Adonis Ameen-Moore and jack-of-all-trades Ashton Broyld in hybrid WR/RB slot role.

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Phil Steele’s 2013 Preseason All-ACC Team

Clemson QB Tajh Boyd Headlines Phil Steele's Preseason All-ACC Team

Clemson QB Tajh Boyd Headlines Phil Steele’s Preseason All-ACC Team

As part of Phil Steele’s extensive 2013 season preview activities, today he released his picks for the All-ACC team. Not an overwhelming number of surprises to be found, but that said, there’s certainly some switches partisan fans might make here and there between first- and second-teams or third- and fourth-teams. Most notably, I’d probably move up UNC‘s Bryn Renner to the second team, while moving Virginia Tech‘s Logan Thomas down to the third — but the difference is negligible, really.

We won’t lay out the entire list for you here, but below we’ve included the first-team offense and defense, plus a school-by-school count of all players included on all four teams compiled by Steele. Regarding the latter, Florida State led the way with 19 players out of the 112 named, while Maryland had the least, with just three.

First Team All-ACC: Offense

QB: Tajh Boyd, Clemson

RB: Duke Johnson, Miami

RB: Devonta Freeman, Florida State

WR: Sammy Watkins, Clemson

WR: Rashad Greene, Florida State

WR: Stefon Diggs, Maryland

TE: Eric Ebron, North Carolina

C: Bryan Stork, Florida State

OG: Tre’ Jackson, Florida State

OG: Brandon Linder, Miami

OT: Morgan Moses, Virginia

OT: James Hurst, North Carolina

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