- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
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This week, Nole Nation is digging into the most hotly debated topics of the summer at Florida State in an effort to separate fact from fiction as the Seminoles get set for the 2013 season.
Next up: The running game
Fact or Fiction: After a 16-season dry spell, Florida State will finally produce a 1,000-yard runner in 2013.
The case for: No, FSU did not snap its 1,000-yard drought last season, but that's hardly an indication that the ground game wasn't effective. In fact, only twice in program history (1984, 1987) has Florida State rushed for more yards than it did last in 2012 (2,882), and its 40 rushing touchdowns ranked ninth nationally.
So why didn't any member of the Florida State backfield sniff the 1,000-yard mark? The easiest answer is that there was simply too much talent.
Subtracting yardage lost to sacks, the Seminoles had five players with at least 47 touches average at least 5.8 yards per carry. The problem is that no member of the offense earned a majority of the touches. In fact, Devonta Freeman's 111 carries accounted for a team-high 23 percent of all rushing plays, and as such, FSU had three players finish with more than 600 yards but none managed more than 700.
Chris Thompson, of course, was well on his way to cracking 1,000 before an injury ended his season after eight games, and that's perhaps the template for how it can be done in 2013.
Both Freeman (5.9 ypc) and James Wilder Jr. (5.8 ypc) were successful last year; they just needed more touches. Well, in 2013, Thompson and fullback Lonnie Pryor are gone, and while Mario Pender could steal a few touches, the odds are that both of FSU's junior tailbacks will see an increased workload. And the interesting thing is, it doesn't need to increase all that much for Freeman or Wilder -- or both -- to reach 1,000.
Since Jimbo Fisher took over play calling in 2007, Florida State has averaged 467 rushing plays per year. If Freeman maintains his per-carry average from 2012 this season, he'd need 170 carries to reach 1,000. Wilder would need 173. In either case, it would mean they'd only need to get about 40 percent of the total carries (assuming FSU matches Fisher's average rushing attempts this year) to end the streak. So, it's certainly possible that both Wilder and Freeman could split carries, both top 1,000 yards and still leave a quarter of the rushes for Pender, Jameis Winston and Chad Abram.
The case against: If you see the sun come up every day for 16 years, it's understandable to expect it'll rise again tomorrow. That's sort of how the feeling goes for FSU fans eager to see the streak come to an end.
The last tailback at Florida State to crack 1,000 was Warrick Dunn in 1996. In the years since, plenty have come close -- including a handful that were every bit as talented and successful as Wilder and Freeman -- but none have cracked that elusive barrier.
The reasons are plentiful: Injuries, inconsistent offensive lines, pass-heavy play calling, simple bad luck. The list of reasons it hasn't happened goes on and on, and many seem utterly inexplicable. That's what FSU's current running backs are up against.
It's one thing to argue the logic: these runners are good, the O line is experienced, and the math says 1,000 is within reach. But logic should've dictated a 1,000-yard season long before now, as Leon Washington, Greg Jones and Travis Minor can all attest.
Perhaps it's zealous optimism, but this is the year it all comes together for FSU's backfield. There's simply too many reasons to think it'll happen.
For one, last year's high rushing total was no anomaly. Fisher actually called fewer runs last year than he did in all but two of his previous seasons at FSU. And with a freshman starting at QB, it only stands to reason he'll be more run-heavy this year -- meaning more opportunity for Wilder and Freeman.
Moreover, even if the injury bug bites one of FSU's runners, there's just as good a chance the other can reach 1,000. Both players figure to see a relatively even split on carries early in the year (something that didn't happen last year when Thompson got the lion's share through seven weeks), and both are capable of piling up big numbers even without getting a majority of the touches.
Then add an offensive line that returns four starters (and a fifth with starting experience) from a group that was so immensely successful last season, and the time is right for one of college football's most inexplicable streaks to finally come to an end.