ACC: Travis Rudolph
Odds are a few names quickly come to mind, but before the debate can really begin, we probably need to decide on some parameters. After all, what exactly does it mean to be “explosive?" We could be talking about simply the fastest players in the conference, but even that gets tricky. Do we go by burst off the line, top-end speed, elusiveness on the run? Besides, what’s speed without a little football skill to go with it?
And, of course, explosiveness comes in all forms. Lamarcus Joyner and Vic Beasley and Aaron Donald certainly provided their share of big-play explosiveness on defense last year, but the impact of a big hit or a drive-stalling sack is a little tougher to measure. So, for the purposes of this discussion, we’re limiting the applicants to offensive and special-teams players.
To be clear though, one thing “explosive” doesn’t mean, for the sake of this discussion, is “best.” We’re strictly talking explosiveness, electricity and athleticism here — not just the guys who put up the best totals and not the QBs tasked with throwing from the pocket. They’re quite likely to land on any “best of” list (which we already did last week), but that’s not what we’re looking for here.
One way of determining explosiveness would obviously be the number of big plays made, so let’s start there. Five returning ACC players were responsible for at least four plays of 50 yards or more last season. Here’s the list:
Jamison Crowder (Duke), 7
Ryan Switzer (UNC), 6
Stacy Coley (Miami), 5
Tyler Boyd (Pitt), 4
Kermit Whitfield (FSU), 4
That list might already serve as a good top five for the ACC, but let’s dig a little more because big plays of 50 yards or more certainly are more apt to occur in the return game, and the above list reflects that.
So let’s look at the receivers, too. A big play in the receiving game probably needs to be defined a bit more liberally, so let’s lower the bar to 20 yards. Obviously some of the responsibility for a 20-yard catch goes to the QB, but it’s also a sign of a receiver’s ability to separate from DBs and get upfield. Of course, some teams also passed a good bit more than others, and a few offenses (Clemson, FSU, Pitt) were blessed with multiple talented receivers, so we’ll divide the number of 20-yard plays by the total touches from scrimmage for our receivers to come up with a more accurate representation of who creates big plays the highest percentage of the time.
Among returning ACC receivers, six recorded 20-yard plays on at least 20 percent of their touches. Here’s that list:
Quinshad Davis (UNC), 26.0%
Joshua Stanford (VT), 25.0%
Braxton Deaver (Duke), 23.9%
DeVante Parker (Lville), 23.6%
Demitri Knowles (VT), 20.4%
We can do the same exercise for runners, but again, we should probably lower our “big-play” standard a bit more. Running backs and quarterbacks gaining 10 yards on a rush probably suffices, and that metric provides us with five players who managed big plays at least 17 percent of the time (a good break point given that the list gets a lot longer if we lower it to a more round number like 15 percent or 10 percent).
Karlos Williams (FSU), 27.5%
Duke Johnson (Miami), 19.3%
Terrel Hunt (Syr), 18.7%
Myles Willis (BC), 18.3%
James Conner (Pitt), 17.1%
But beyond just the big plays, there’s some value to consistency, too, right? The occasional highlight-reel big-play threat isn’t really as valuable as the player who is routinely biting off sizable chunks of yards. If we also look at returning players who averaged at least 10 yards per all-purpose play last season (min. 50 touches), we get one last list of eight players.
Coley, 21.8 yards per play
Rashad Greene (FSU), 14.8
Darius Jennings (UVA), 13.3
Add it all up and we get a list of 17 ACC players who made the cut by at least one of these metrics, and odds are, we’re still probably leaving a couple “explosive” players out. And while we don’t expect to firmly settle this debate, 17 is probably too unwieldy a number to stick with, so let’s trim it down a bit.
A few names show up multiple times, so let’s keep them around for now: Coley, Knowles, Boyd, Switzer, Crowder and Willis.
A few other numbers really stand out: Williams and Johnson were head-and-shoulders above the other tailbacks, and both have been electric return men in their careers, too. Hunt, by virtue of being the only QB listed probably deserves a nod. And lastly, Whitfield didn’t have many touches last year (just 25), but 11 of them went for 30 yards or more — an astonishing 44 percent. (Of returning ACC players with at least 25 touches, the next closest was Coley, at 23 percent).
That leaves us with a top-10 list that probably works pretty well. How you might order that list is obviously a far tougher call, but for the sake of debate, here’s how mine would look.
Yes, Greene or Parker or Davis could easily make the list, too. And if you wanted to put Crowder or Williams atop the list, I could see the logic. And by year's end, we wouldn't be surprised if, with a bit more experience, Taquan Mizzell or Travis Rudolph or Wayne Gallman crack the list, too. For now, this is the list we’re sticking with. But we’re all for some debate in the comments section, too.
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Previewing the 2014 season for Florida State Seminoles, the reigning ACC and national champions.
Key losses: RB Devonta Freeman, WR Kelvin Benjamin, WR Kenny Shaw, OC Bryan Stork, DT Timmy Jernigan, LB Telvin Smith, CB Lamarcus Joyner, S Terrence Brooks.
Most important 2014 games: Aug. 30 versus Oklahoma State (neutral site), Sept. 20 versus Clemson, Oct. 18 versus Notre Dame, Oct. 30 at Louisville, Nov. 15 at Miami and Nov. 29 vs. Florida.
Projected win percentage: 93.5 percent.
Over/under Vegas odds: 11.5 wins
Instant impact newcomers: There has been a lot of hype surrounding the freshmen in Florida State camp, and Jimbo Fisher is not doing much to lower expectations. Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph, two of the top six receivers in the 2014 recruiting class nationally, could start at some point this season. Defensive tackles Demarcus Christmas, Derrick Nnadi and Arthur Williams are impressing the coaches and offensive linemen, and the Seminoles need depth along the D-Line.
Best NFL prospects: The over/under for how many first-round picks the Seminoles have in the 2015 draft should be set at five. If he remains healthy and declares following his redshirt sophomore season, Winston could be the No. 1 pick. Two of his linemen, Ervin and Jackson, could be first-round selections, too. Defensively, Edwards could move into the top 10, and Darby and Williams are competing to be the No. 1 cornerback taken in next spring’s draft.
Best-case scenario for 2014: It’s rather simple -- the 2013 scenario plays out a second time in 2014. Florida State has the talent to become the first team to go 15-0 and win the inaugural College Football Playoff. Las Vegas expects the Seminoles to finish the regular season undefeated, and Florida State should be able to dispose of its opponent in the ACC championship game. Florida State 2014 might be competing against Florida State 2013 as one of the greatest teams in school history.
Worst-case scenario: Any season that does not end with Florida State in the College Football Playoff has to be considered a disappointment. The Seminoles could probably survive one regular-season loss and still advance to the playoff, but two losses would almost certainly eliminate them from the conversation. With Winston likely off to the NFL following this season, the Seminoles could take a lengthy step back in 2015 as they reload offensively.
Budding superstar: Ramsey is already regarded as one of the best defensive backs in the country, and he should be squarely in the Thorpe Award conversation this fall. He’s not quite a national name yet, though, and he was not even named to the preseason All-ACC team. Fisher has said repeatedly that as a sophomore Ramsey is the vocal leader of the defense. In a secondary that possibly houses four first-round picks, if not more, Ramsey could go the highest when he’s eligible in 2016.
They said it: “People ask me, ‘When did I know Florida State was the team that they are?’ You never believe it until you get out there on the field, but in warm-ups, I was looking at their kids warming up, and I said, 'Who the heck is that guy? Who is that guy?' I'm looking at them and, oh, they're getting redshirted. And they're a foot taller than our guys and can run, too.” -- Syracuse coach Scott Shafer.
A lack of consistency drew the ire of Fisher in March, but through three practices this fall, Fisher has been much more measured and complimentary of the receivers. However, consistency is still a concern during preseason practices for a unit that, outside of Greene, combined for 23 catches in 2013.
“Consistency, guys knowing what to do, where to be when that ball is thrown to you,” Fisher said when asked what will separate the jumble behind Greene. “I’ve been pleased with the younger and older receivers.”
The younger receivers, for only practicing three days and none with full pads on, have been the stars among the corps so far. At this point, though, that is more a product of the vast hype and media and fan intrigue rather than on-field performance.
Ermon Lane was the No. 2 receiver nationally in the ESPN 300 and stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 206 pounds. Travis Rudolph was not far off in the recruiting rankings, registering as the sixth-best receiver in the 2014 class. Four-star Ja'Vonn Harrison rounds out the highly regarded freshman trio.
“Travis and Ja’Vonn, those two really do have good routes. Ermon is more of a physical type guy, he can go up, get off the jam. That’s what separates those guys,” senior receiver Jarred Haggins said. “By the time they all take their role, they’re going to be awesome."
Haggins missed the entire 2013 season with a stress fracture in his knee but is healthy and competing for the No. 2 spot. With Kermit Whitfield and Jesus Wilson -- who is still indefinitely suspended -- likely filling the slot receiver role, Haggins, Christian Green and Isaiah Jones are competing with the freshmen for the starting outside receiver position.
The 6-foot-2, 204-pound Green caught 13 passes last season, second most among returning receivers, but he caught more passes as a redshirt freshman (26) than he has the rest of his career combined. A member of the 2010 recruiting class, Green arrived in Tallahassee with the same national acclaim as the current freshmen, as he ranked No. 53 in the ESPN 150.
Despite the limited action and attention he has received the first four years of his career, Green is determined to make a senior jump similar to the departed Kenny Shaw, Green’s freshman roommate and a receiver who caught nearly as many passes a senior (54) as he did his first three seasons (70).
“It’s something I’ve been waiting for,” Green said. “I’ve been patient and playing my role and doing whatever they asked me to do. Now is the time.”
Green said he is doing his best balancing his own ambitions with mentoring the younger receivers, but this offseason they were all under the tutelage of Jameis Winston. Last summer, Winston was still embroiled in a quarterback competition. During summer 7-on-7 workouts and throwing sessions that coaches couldn’t watch, it was Winston who took the lead role of developing his young receivers.
“Jameis really understands what he wants and how he wants it,” Fisher said. “It’s something he picked up this summer from Peyton Manning. I always talk to him about taking two routes a day and running it 100 times. Make those guys understand how to do it.”
New linebackers coach Bill Miller was already adjusted to head coach Jimbo Fisher's "attitude of domination" standard at the onset of the Seminoles' first practice of fall camp. When a freshman linebacker didn't perform a warm-up drill correctly, Miller sent him back to the front of a line with a not-so-subtle message to do it better next time.
"I liked the intensity of practice. It was very good competition, guys getting after each other, competing with each other, for the most part knowing what to do," Fisher said.
Although players were not in pads Monday, Fisher was encouraged by what he saw. With the mandated restriction on pads -- Florida State's first two-a-day will be Saturday -- the first day of practice was an opportunity for the Seminoles to work on alignments, assignments and execution.
Fisher expressed a little disappointment in how the passing game performed -- he called the quarterbacks' execution "very average" -- but he acknowledged it was the first time the group had a defensive line charging at them in four months. And when you return Jameis Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, there is little reason for long-term concern.
Once baseball season ended, Fisher forced Winston to take a couple of weeks off to ease the demands on his star player's body. The result was a Winston who is much fresher than he was entering the 2013 season and a smarter player under center. When Winston was kept from the field, he used it as an opportunity to fine-tune his mechanics.
"He was very anxious to get better fundamentally. He did a lot of film study with his footwork and working on his release and quickening things up," Fisher said.
Coupled with an energized Winston, the first few days of practice should go smoother this season because of the lack of roster turnover on the offense line and a defensive scheme that remains largely unchanged. The offensive line has five seniors and more than 100 starts among them, and new defensive coordinator Charles Kelly is executing the same defensive scheme as predecessor Jeremy Pruitt. Kelly was the Seminoles' linebackers coach in 2013. While Florida State has to replace defensive leaders Timmy Jernigan, Lamarcus Joyner and Telvin Smith, there is a knowledge that should allow the new starters to transition quickly to their roles.
"It's the second year on defense of exactly the [same] system we're running, so I think the knowledge is increased," Fisher said. "The young guys will know more because the older guys can help them. Last year early, the older guys couldn't help them because they were learning it for the first time, too."
There is a belief those younger players will crack the rotation and make an impact at some point in 2014, possibly for the Aug. 30 opener against Oklahoma State. Freshman receivers Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph, recovered from offseason foot surgery, look physically impressive, and there is an opportunity for playing time on the defensive line; the Seminoles have seven freshmen defensive linemen, and Fisher said "there's not one you'd throw back."
Linebacker Terrance Smith smiled when asked about the big bodies accompanying their new faces.
"This is probably the biggest group of freshmen we've had in a long time," he said. "Me as a linebacker, I'm not complaining because we got some big D-Linemen in front of me."
Notes: Sophomore receiver Jesus "Bobo" Wilson remains indefinitely suspended following a Monday meeting with Fisher. Wilson is practicing and should return during the season, but Fisher sounded as if Wilson will not play in the opener. ... Linebacker Ukeme Eligwe (Lisfranc injury) is not practicing, but Fisher said Eligwe is ahead of schedule. Nile Lawrence-Stample (shoulder surgery) is practicing but will be eased back into contact. ... A few players wrote on Twitter that Sunday would be their last day tweeting until the season ends. Fisher said it was a team initiative and he did not ask his team to quit social media until the season ended. However, Fisher did say Florida State does monitor what its players and the athletes it is recruiting say on social media.
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.”
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.”
Griffin brings up a terrific point. Last season was supposed to be a rebuilding year, but Florida State blew the doors off that notion. Are the Seminoles going to go unbeaten again? ACC reporter Andrea Adelson and Florida State reporter Jared Shanker debate the odds.
AA gives Florida State a 25 percent chance of going undefeated.
First, strength of schedule. Florida State trades in Nevada and Idaho (combined 5-19 last season) for Oklahoma State and Notre Dame (combined 19-7 a year ago). Not to mention trading Atlantic Division teams Maryland (7-6) for Louisville (12-1). Not only are the teams better, but there will be a cumulative effect of playing much tougher competition.
With the exception of the BC game, Florida State never had reason to play its starters for a full game during the regular season last fall. But that is not going to be the case in 2014. More playing time means more wear and tear on the starters, and more wear and tear on the starters means you need to rely on your backups to play many more meaningful minutes.
This leads to my second point. Florida State lacks depth on its offensive and defensive lines, and that could be a problem. The biggest concern should rest with the defensive front, where the Seminoles lost a ton of talent early to the NFL and was therefore low on players in the spring. Depth is vital, most especially late in games, when the big guys up front start to get gassed. What happens against high-tempo teams such as Oklahoma State and Louisville if the depth is lacking and the game is on the line?
Finally, what will Winston do for an encore with the spotlight shining even brighter than last season? Florida State needs a much more mature, much more focused Winston in 2014. He doesn’t have a Kelvin Benjamin to bail him out in the end zone. He has no 1,000-yard back returning. There are terrific players around him, and Winston has to learn how to trust them all from the outset while the media dissects every move he makes.
We saw what a focused Winston can do under that glare of the end of the BCS national championship game. But we also saw what do-it-all-myself Winston can do under that glare in the first three quarters of that game, too.
I still believe Florida State has as good a shot as any team in America to make the College Football Playoff. I just don’t think the Seminoles make it there unscathed.
Jared Shanker gives Florida State a 35 percent chance of going undefeated.
Florida State is looking to become the first team in college football history to go 15-0 and to win the inaugural College Football Playoff. The good news for the Seminoles is, unlike in previous seasons, going undefeated is not required to win the 2014 national championship.
The Noles, as a potentially unanimous preseason No. 1, will have the most leeway when it comes to suffering a loss and still being in the discussion for one of the four playoff seeds. Looking at the 2014 schedule, its roster and trying to account for the multitude of unknowns every season presents, it is hard to see Florida State going through another season undefeated.
As AA pointed out first, the schedule is tougher this fall. While Oklahoma State is rebuilding, coach Mike Gundy has that program in good enough shape that an upset of the defending champions in Week 1 would not be a total shock. The Fighting Irish are on the schedule, and whether it is Everett Golson or Malik Zaire taking snaps, both look capable of leading an offense and the Irish into a playoff berth. Bobby Petrino is tearing Louisville down and rebuilding it in his own image, but any Thursday night road game presents unique challenges.
Injuries are also the great unknown for every team, and Florida State remained relatively healthy throughout the 2013 season. Winston avoided significant injury last season, and with arguably the country’s best starting offensive line in front of him, he again could go the entire season without any major bumps. However, the nature of the position often leaves quarterbacks vulnerable, and there is no telling how FSU would fare if it is without Winston for any amount of time.
Even a healthy Winston could see a decline in production this fall with new faces throughout his receiver corps. Rashad Greene returns, but no longer is Benjamin or Kenny Shaw around to redirect double teams. The revamped unit showed some flashes during the spring game, but there is reason to worry about whether the receivers will step up in the fall. Several talented freshmen enter the fold this summer, and while freshmen across the country are making earlier impacts than ever before, it is still premature to expect Ermon Lane, Ja’Von Harrison or Travis Rudolph to replicate Benjamin’s or Shaw’s numbers immediately.
What Florida State does have is as much talent as just about any team in the country. Only Alabama has recruited better the past few years, and the Noles are loaded with talent from top to bottom. However, a decent portion of that talent is inexperienced. Certainly those new faces could exceed their predecessors' production, but it will not happen overnight. Defensively, breaking in coordinator Charles Kelly could add to the early-season learning curve as that side of the ball adjusts to a handful of new starters and is without vocal leaders Timmy Jernigan, Lamarcus Joyner and Telvin Smith.
The odds of going undefeated being at 35 percent are still the highest in the country potentially, but that is not where I would put my money if I was a betting man. I’m much more inclined to believe Florida State enters the playoff as a one-loss team.
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.
The plan comes as a surprise to many outsiders, given Winston’s status as a likely first round pick in the 2015 draft -- and, perhaps, the first selection overall. But for Winston, it’s not entirely unreasonable.
Winston will take a similar approach toward his decision regarding the NFL draft. Baseball remains a priority for him, and if staying through the 2015 football season allows him to continue to develop on the diamond, it’s entirely possible he’ll stick around. And for now, that appears to be the plan.
But what would it mean for FSU to have Winston in garnet and gold for an extra year? A few key points to keep in mind:
The depth chart
If Winston planned to leave for the NFL as soon as he’s eligible, that would’ve meant a chance for Jacob Coker to start for Florida State in 2015, but clearly that possibility wasn’t enough to keep him in Tallahassee. Coker plans to transfer to Alabama at the end of this semester, and given Winston’s plans to stick around for two more years, Fisher understood Coker’s rationale.
"He wants to graduate and he wants to play. He's got two years left and he's a year behind Jameis. Could he battle again? Yes. But I understand,” Fisher said. “I’m very supportive of it. I think the guy is a good player. I think he's going to be a good quarterback and we had a great conversation about it.”
Should Winston stay, it also makes FSU’s one-quarterback haul on signing day a little easier to tolerate. Treon Harris, a longtime FSU commit, flipped to Florida on Wednesday, leaving J.J. Cosentino as Florida State’s lone QB signing. That might be a concern if Winston departs following the 2014 season, but another year for the Heisman winner allows FSU to pad its QB depth with next year’s recruiting class, too.
While Sean Maguire likely will be the No. 2 for Florida State in 2014 and 2015, Cosentino also gets an extra year to develop his skills, too, and Fisher said the QB from Western Pennsylvania has ample upside when his time finally arrives.
The recruiting buzz
Winston’s plans to stay through 2015 actually might have hurt Florida State’s hopes of inking two quarterbacks in this year’s signing class, but just the notion that the star QB will be in Tallahassee for two more seasons is certainly a big selling point for other offensive talent.
FSU already inked three top receivers this year in Ermon Lane, Travis Rudolph and Ja'Von Harrison, along with highly touted running back Dalvin Cook. The opportunity to spend two years playing with Winston was certainly alluring.
But even the notion that Winston might be back for 2015 provides Fisher with another selling point on the recruiting trail this coming year. If Class of 2015 recruits believe he’ll be around for their freshman season, it’s one more reason to think FSU is a great landing spot.
“I also think getting them here and getting them to play with him is tremendous, especially when we have a need at that position,” Fisher said of his wide receiver recruiting. “Those guys have a chance to make an impact and be able to play with him.”
The 2015 season
Winston’s return for his redshirt junior campaign would mean a lot to a Florida State offense that figures to endure a massive overhaul in 2015. Of the 10 other projected offensive starters this season, as many as nine figure to be gone in 2015, including the entirety of the offensive line.
That’s perhaps a reason for Winston to reconsider his plan moving forward. While his talent and football acumen certainly won’t diminish with an extra year in college, the risk of injury is a real concern, and with five new starters on the offensive line in 2015, the potential for an injury diminishing his draft stock becomes all the more likely.
But if Winston does come back in 2015, it allows for some stability for an offense that will be saying goodbye to Rashad Greene, Nick O'Leary and Karlos Williams, among others.
The problem with all this supposition about Winston’s future is that he’s still 11 months away from having to commit to any definitive decision, and a lot can happen in that time. While Winston might be completely sincere in his plan to stay through 2015 now, the lure of first round money in the NFL and the risk of spending another year playing two sports in college could certainly change his mind. If he does, FSU is still in good shape with Maguire and Cosentino. If he doesn't, the Seminoles fans get an extra year with a once-in-a-lifetime player.
At this point, there’s no reason for Winston to offer any possibility other than his stated commitment to remain at Florida State. But what Winston and Fisher believe today doesn’t matter all that much. If his plans haven’t changed by January 2015, however, it’s an enormous boon for Florida State.
Beyond that, however, Fisher talked about the promise of the future. Four years after Joyner and Smith and Shaw inked their names to a letter of intent at Florida State, the Seminoles now have a national championship trophy, and Fisher has a recruiting pitch that can both underscore the present and showcase a far more vivid plan for the future.
“We want to build a program,” Fisher said. “We’re not worried about a team; we’re building a program. And I think we can be very good again.”
Fisher did an exceptional job selling Florida State to recruits even when there wasn’t much to sell. His 2010 class was ranked sixth by ESPN. In 2011, FSU was tops, and in 2012, the Seminoles ranked second. Last year’s class was ranked No. 9, but immediately produced a trio of impact players on a national championship team.
Now, with that trophy providing an easy sales tool, Florida State heads into national signing day with the No. 3 class in the country and a chance to snag a few more big names before it’s over.
The wins aren’t the only catalyst for such strong classes. When Fisher took over in 2010, the Seminoles had a dearth of NFL talent, but last year, a record 11 Seminoles were drafted. As many as a dozen more could be selected this year. That has allowed recruits to see a clear path to the NFL, but it also has opened up opportunities for immediate playing time.
Last year, 14 of FSU’s 21 signees saw action, with three getting starting nods throughout the season. There figures to be even more room for new recruits this season.
With Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin departing, FSU’s receiving corps lacks much experience, but Florida State remains in on four receivers in the ESPN 300, including Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla.) and Travis Rudolph (West Palm Beach, Fla./Cardinal Newman).
The same is true on the offensive line, where all five projected 2014 starters are set to graduate at year’s end. The line has been one of the few areas FSU has struggled to land top recruits in past seasons, but the Seminoles already have commitments from six linemen heading into signing day.
But even in areas with ample competition, FSU is making headway. Fisher has commitments from two ESPN 300 quarterbacks, despite having the Heisman winner at the position already. He has been able to land that talent with a far different sales pitch today than the one he offered five years ago.
Florida State is no longer a place where recruits can come to rebuild a once-mighty program. It’s a place where the program can build recruits into stars.
“It’s way different,” Shaw said. “This year, it’s like, if you don’t want to be a part of this organization, it’s either you don’t want to compete or you don’t want to be a champion. We’ve set the bar to the limit.”
Of course, with the 2014 class waiting only for its finishing touches, Fisher isn’t easing up on his sales pitch.
The benefits of a national championship on the recruiting trail, he said, are only beginning.
“A lot of these relationships were built before the championship was won,” Fisher said. “It definitely helped cement where we’re going, where the program is going. But you’ll see this even more in the future.”
With senior seasons and all-star games complete, prospects jumped all over the ESPN 300 with several making their first appearance on the list.
Here are the five biggest movers in the updated ESPN 300 among ACC commitments and targets:
Recent FSU commit rising up the ranks
Travis Rudolph (West Palm Beach, Fla./Cardinal Newman) jumped 21 spots in the updated list and he can thank his dominant Under Armour All-America Game performance for it. The talented receiver hauled in a handful of passes in the game including a solid catch and run against No. 1 cornerback Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic). Later in the game, Rudolph added a nice touchdown grab to complete one of the better performances of the game. Rudolph also committed to Florida State at the game, and Rudolph could see the field early with Kelvin Benjamin off to the NFL. If the Noles can also sign Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla./Homestead), it would be one of the best receiver classes in 2014 -- and maybe the No. 1 overall receiver tandem of this cycle.
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Wake Forest is still in the process of identifying and hiring a new coach as its 2014 recruiting class remains in flux. The Seminoles are heading to the national championship game and could be in for a big recruiting finish.
Meanwhile, a couple of very important visits and new offers to younger recruits went out in the ACC over the past week.
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Biggest offer: Miami got back in the win column and back on the recruiting trail over the last couple of days. Calvin Ridley (Coconut Creek, Fla./Monarch) was the newest Hurricane offer issued. Ridley is thought of highly by ESPN's scouts, is ranked as a four-star prospect and No. 32 overall in the country for the Class of 2015. Alabama, Cincinnati, FAU, Florida State, LSU, Marshall, USF, Tennessee and West Virginia are some of Ridley's other offers early on. Miami should have an edge with proximity, if that be is an important factor in Ridley's recruitment. The wide receiver target checks in at 6-foot-1, 170 pounds.
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Elsewhere, North Carolina and Wake Forest add commitments from the state of Florida, and Maryland might be out in front for Adam McLean .
Clemson hosting a top group
While the country's eyes will be on the top-five matchup between Clemson and Florida State Saturday night, a group of elite national prospects will be on hand to see it in person.
Five-star linebacker Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County) headlines the group. He's a guy Clemson has work to do in order to get, but a big win during his official visit could propel the Tigers forward.
Other big names expected to attend include D.J. Smith, Trevion Thompson, Mitch Hyatt, Taj Griffin and possibly Andrew Williams.
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Top Georgia linebacker Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County) was at Death Valley last weekend to see Clemson's top-10 win over long-time rival Georgia.
As expected, the Tigers rolled out the red carpet to their visitors, McMillan included, to make the best possible impression. A win certainly helped in that regard. Clemson now joins Ohio State and Alabama at the top of the list for the top inside linebacker in the country. ESPN ranks McMillan as a five-star prospect.
Miami preparing for big weekend
Florida and Miami don't play on a regular basis these days. So when the two schools meet, there is obvious excitement and interest on both the local and national level. Among the most well-known visitors are the Miami Central running back pair of Joseph Yearby and Dalvin Cook, four-star receiver Travis Rudolph (West Palm Beach, Fla./Cardinal Newman) and Anthony Moten (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla./Saint Thomas Aquinas). Of the majority of uncommitted recruits who will be in attendance, Florida and Miami are top contenders for getting their commitments.
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