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.