Florida State Seminoles: Josue Matias

From Florida State’s veteran line to Clemson’s fearsome defensive front, the ACC projects to have some of the country’s best position groups this fall, while a few other contenders will enter 2014 with some major question marks in key areas. With that in mind, we’re looking at the ACC’s best units, a few more that might surprise in 2014 and the top teams with holes that could keep them from an ACC title.

First up: Offensive line

Best of the best: Florida State

Yes, Jameis Winston returns, which alone makes Florida State’s offense frightening for the rest of the ACC. But what really figures to set the Seminoles apart are the big guys in front of the Heisman winner. FSU returns four of five starters from last season’s line and currently projects to start five seniors, with Cameron Erving, Josue Matias and Tre' Jackson all getting some preseason All-America buzz. It’s also one of the best run-blocking groups in the nation, with FSU averaging 5.6 yards-per-carry the past two years. One area where the Seminoles could improve, however, is pass blocking. FSU QBs have been sacked once every 15.8 drop-backs the past two years, which ranks 85th nationally.

Next up: Georgia Tech

FSU leads the ACC in yards-per-rush the past two seasons, but Georgia Tech is just a tick behind at 5.4 ypc. It’s just that, thanks to the Yellow Jackets’ option offense, the line doesn’t get quite the national acclaim the unit in Tallahassee does. Still, Tech’s line has been as consistently good as any in the conference, led this fall by guard Shaq Mason. The rest of the group also returns starters Trey Braun and Bryan Chamberlain, but there’s an obvious question mark at left tackle, where redshirt freshman Chris Griffin is currently penciled in as the starter. Beyond FSU and Georgia Tech, however, the ACC looks to have a number of solid O-line units this season, including Louisville, Duke and Syracuse.

Possible sleeper: Pittsburgh

Only five teams in the country allowed more sacks per game last season than Pitt, and those five teams finished with a combined record of 6-54. So, if four of the five starters from that unit return this fall, is that really a good thing for the Panthers? It’s probably not likely that Pitt suddenly blossoms into one of the best pass-protection teams in the country, but the unit also isn’t nearly as bad as the numbers indicated a year ago. Quarterback Tom Savage was a statue in the pocket, but Chad Voytik -- this season's starter at QB -- is far more mobile. The backfield has ample experience, too, and guard Matt Rotheram has started 25 of 26 games in the past two years to provide some veteran leadership on the line.

Potential problem: North Carolina

There’s a lot to like about North Carolina’s offense, from depth at quarterback to an impressive stable of runners to a receiving corps led by talented junior Quinshad Davis. But the O-line is a concern for coach Larry Fedora, who struggled to even piece together five healthy players throughout the spring. The loss of All-ACC tackle James Hurst hurts, but center Russell Bodine’s decision to leave for the NFL early was salt in the wound. The Heels may need to rely on a true freshman (Bentley Spain) at left tackle, which is never a good sign for a team looking to compete for a division crown.

ACC's lunchtime links

June, 27, 2014
Jun 27
12:00
PM ET
NFL.com put together a list of the 14 hottest names among coordinators in college football, with two ACC coaches making the cut.

Of course, seeing Bud Foster and Chad Morris on the list is no surprise. They have established themselves as among the most consistently good coordinators in the country. What is perhaps more interesting is who isn’t on the list: Namely, no one from the defending national champion. In fact, ex-Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt (now at Georgia) does make the cut, but that is as close as the Seminoles got to landing a name on the list.

Given that Jimbo Fisher doesn’t employ an offensive coordinator and is on his third defensive coordinator in as many years, it is probably not a surprise, but as our Travis Haney noted during a recent trip to a Texas coaching clinic, FSU’s Charles Kelly has made a really good early impression since taking over for Pruitt.

Pruitt, quite fairly, received a lot of credit for last year’s championship defense, so now there are concerns about what his loss will mean for Florida State. Those concerns, however, are probably a bit misplaced.

First off, remember the chaos that followed the 2012 season at FSU? Seven assistants left the staff for other jobs, including both coordinators. Mark Stoops had engineered a defense that ranked in the top three nationally in consecutive years and was widely regarded as one of the best assistants in the country. Fisher couldn’t possibly replace all that, right?

Even in the wake of Stoops’ departure, fans clamored for a big name -- Foster, perhaps, or someone with NFL experience -- but he hired an obscure secondary coach from Alabama with just three years of college coaching on his resume. But he knew Pruitt, knew what he was capable of doing, knew the system he wanted to run, and the hire proved a stroke of genius.

So now, it’s a lot easier to believe Fisher knew what he was doing when he promoted Kelly from linebackers coach to DC, and the transition promises to be much smoother this time. Pruitt’s biggest impact on the team last season was the scheme he put in place, but that doesn’t figure to change much under Kelly. The players already know what they are doing, there is no change in vocabulary and virtually no change in the Xs and Os. Moreover, Kelly is as well-liked and respected as any coach on the staff. He will do just fine.

But that doesn’t mean there is no room for worries for Florida State’s defense. It’s just that losing Pruitt probably shouldn’t be the primary concern. The biggest void is the leadership lost with the departures of Lamarcus Joyner, Terrence Brooks, Timmy Jernigan and Telvin Smith. That was a rare breed of leaders that had been through the battles and suffered the losses that taught tough lessons -- lessons they continually reminded their younger teammates about during last season’s championship run. Finding voices on defense that carry as much weight in the locker room this year won’t be easy.

“I think it’s feeling comfortable taking on the roles of the guys who have left, that you feel comfortable stepping up and taking that responsibility,” Fisher told me this month. “All of them play hard, but what you have to have is guys stepping up and taking on the leadership. There’s a responsibility of how you have to conduct yourself as a teammate to affect the other guys on the team. That’s where teams grow, and summer and fall camp is so important.”

Fisher reeled off a bunch of names on the offensive side of the ball who will fill that role -- Rashad Greene, Cameron Erving, Karlos Williams, Tre Jackson, Josue Matias and, of course, Jameis Winston -- but the candidates on defense weren’t quite so established.

Fisher said sophomore Jalen Ramsey has been perhaps the most vocal leader throughout the spring and early summer, and fellow defensive backs P.J. Williams and Tyler Hunter have shouldered some of the leadership burden, too. The rest of the unit, though, is still developing.

“Last year’s team wasn’t on a journey. They were on a mission,” Fisher said. “They understood what they really wanted. The trial-and-error they had, they learned from their mistakes over time.”

Terrance Smith learned under Telvin Smith last season, but he’s not nearly as vocal as his predecessor. Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman “are growing into the role,” Fisher said, but they haven’t proven they are as good at galvanizing a group around them as Jernigan did last year.

FSU has ample talent on defense, and it should again have an exceptional coordinator calling the shots, but it’s just really difficult to replace the battle scars and lessons learned that Joyner, Brooks, Smith and Co. used to such great effect in 2013.

More links:
Jameis Winston gets the bulk of the publicity (both good and bad) on Florida State’s offense for good reason, but as the Seminoles look ahead to 2014, it’s perhaps the offensive line that offers the biggest cause for optimism on that side of the ball.

While center Bryan Stork has moved on to the NFL, Florida State still projects to have five senior starters on the offensive line, all with prior starting experience. In fact, the depth chart on the line includes 114 career starts, led by Josue Matias' 29. Matias, Tre' Jackson and Cameron Erving have been fixtures for the past two seasons (during which FSU is 26-2 and has averaged 7.3 yards per play), while Bobby Hart started in both 2011 and 2013 and Austin Barron has seen consistent work behind Stork.

In fact, from 2010 through last season, only 13 teams (and just seven in a Power 5 conference) have returned more career starts on the offensive line than Florida State will this year.

So that’s reason to be optimistic, right?

Thanks to Phil Steele’s helpful accounting of returning starts on the offensive line over the years, we dug a little deeper into what exactly that experience has meant.

Since 2010, there have been 42 teams that returned at least 100 career starts on their offensive lines. The conventional wisdom would suggest all that experience would pay dividends, particularly in the running game, but in the aggregate, the numbers don’t tend to agree.

Of those 42 teams, 22 increased their yards per carry from the previous season, 19 saw decreased yards per carry and one (BYU in 2011) broke even. Overall, the teams with 100 career starts worth of experience on the line saw an average increase of just 0.07 yards per carry. In other words, it was roughly a 50/50 proposition on whether all that experience corresponded with an improved rushing offense.

Dig a little deeper, though, and it’s possible that Florida State’s circumstances are more nuanced. In fact, if we look only at teams that play in Power 5 conferences, the numbers change quite a bit.


Of the 42 teams we just looked at, 22 play in power conferences. Of those 22, a far more noteworthy 16 saw improved yards per carry, with that subset increasing its YPC by an average of 0.30 (a roughly 7 percent increase) and upping its national ranking by nearly seven spots.

What’s more, the six teams in that subset that failed to see an improvement in YPC also share some common concerns. In five cases, there was a change at quarterback. The lone exception was last year’s Georgia squad, which suffered a remarkable rash of injuries, including to its two star running backs, Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley.

There’s also the case of Florida State’s 2011 squad. That team returned 115 career starts on its line (one more than this year’s unit) but turned out to be absolutely abysmal in the trenches. The 2011 Seminoles rushed for just 3.34 yards per carry -- a decline of 1.45 YPC from the previous year. A combination of injuries and inconsistency on the line, at quarterback and at tailback all played a role. It’s a reminder that experience is great, but it also has to be quality experience for healthy players if it’s to matter at all.

Of course, Florida State’s line has been remarkably healthy the past two years, and there’s a good chance that at least four of the current starters will be selected by NFL teams in next spring’s draft, so there’s every reason to believe the Seminoles will be among the best rushing teams in the country yet again in 2014.

The running game is only part of the equation, however. While the ground attack has been consistently excellent during the past two years behind Erving, Jackson and Matias, the pass protection has been a bit more of a concern.


During the past two seasons (2013 with Winston at QB, 2012 with EJ Manuel), Florida State allowed a sack every 15.75 drop-backs (i.e., attempts plus sacks) -- good for 79th nationally. Manuel was widely criticized by FSU fans for his methodical approach that often led to some drive-killing sacks at crucial times (see Virginia in 2011, NC State in 2012), but that 2012 team actually averaged nearly three more drop-backs per sack than last year’s squad.

Part of that blame certainly falls to Winston, who often looked a bit too long for the big plays to open up downfield and took a sack as a result. (Note: While Manuel and Winston’s sack numbers look similar, it’s to Winston’s credit that he also averaged nearly two more yards per attempt than Manuel.) But some of the onus falls on the offensive line, too, and the Seminoles should hope that with so much experience returning in front of Winston in 2014, that pass protection can improve to meet the lofty standard the ground game has already set.
The 2014 NFL draft might have just wrapped up four days ago, and college football’s regular season may still be 3 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.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State returns the best quarterback in the nation. But what cannot go unnoticed is that Florida State returns the best offensive line in the nation, too.

Four starters are back -- all of them projected NFL draft picks. The new face on the line, center Austin Barron, has starting and game experience himself. As if that was not advantage enough, the Seminoles will field an all-senior offensive line, a rarity in college football. No other ACC team projects a starting offensive line with all seniors.

[+] EnlargeCameron Erving
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaLeft tackle Cameron Erving is one of five Florida State senior starting offensive linemen with NFL aspirations.
Indeed, this could be one of the best offensive lines Jimbo Fisher has ever coached -- potentially even better than the group last season that had center Bryan Stork, who won the Rimington Trophy as the best center in America. Another year should make all these players wiser and better, with 113 combined starts between them -- and a chance to make at least 70 more in 2014.

When asked for some perspective, Fisher pointed to the offensive line LSU had for its 2003 national championship season, when he served as offensive coordinator. Two of those players were drafted, and all five ended up on an NFL roster.

“But this group here’s a pretty good group now,” Fisher said recently. “It lets you sleep better, I know that much.”

Left tackle Cameron Erving and right guard Tre' Jackson each turned down opportunities to leave school early for the NFL. Erving already was recognized last season as the best offensive lineman in the ACC -- winning the Jacobs Blocking Trophy -- and should go into the season as a preseason All-American.

He and Jackson made the All-ACC coaches first team. Guard Josue Matias made the second team. Matias and Jackson are among the top four rated guards for the 2015 draft, and Fisher believes each player on this line will play in the NFL.

Returning so many experienced players gives the Seminoles a luxury that not many other programs have, especially when you return the Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Jameis Winston.

“What you’re able to do at the line of scrimmage, protection wise, run wise, and then you’ve got a quarterback to process it and get you into the right plays all the time -- it gives you a huge advantage,” Fisher said. “The confidence, on the road, the noise that can hurt your communication issues, you don’t have to worry about.”

What’s more, the players on the line are versatile. This spring, Fisher experimented a little bit. Where there is experience among the starters, there is hardly any among the backups. So to make up for some of the depth concerns, Fisher had Erving play some center and Matias play at left tackle.

He raved about both players in the different spots. Matias came into Florida State as a tackle, so he was a natural fit there. Fisher said Erving had “big-time capabilities” at center.

“The versatility of how you can mismatch those guys in there? It’s the best we’ve had for a long time,” Fisher said.

For their part, players on the line believe they have an opportunity to improve on what was already a fantastic line a year ago.

“I feel like we had a pretty stout line last year, but there’s always room for improvement,” Jackson said. “There’s no telling where this line can go.”

Some of the depth questions should be answered in the fall. Florida State signed the best offensive line class in the ACC in February. Fisher praised junior college transfer Kareem Are for his performance this spring. He also said another junior college transfer, Chad Mavety, “may be more talented than anybody we’ve got.”

It is clear Fisher knows how to develop talent. Florida State has had offensive linemen taken in three straight drafts, and Stork is a projected mid-to-late round draft pick next week. Several, if not all, of these seniors will be drafted in 2015.

For now, the focus is on just how good this group can be by the time the season ends.

“We’ve all played, been in the system for three years now,” Matias said. “This is going to be a big year for us to reach our full potential.”
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Three years ago, Jimbo Fisher was out of options. Injuries and ineffectiveness had rendered his offensive line a sieve, and as the 2011 season drew to a close, Fisher threw his hands in the air and sent four true freshmen onto the field to start Florida State’s bowl game against Notre Dame.

The last resort proved to be a stroke of genius. The group gelled and by the time the Seminoles secured the 2013 national championship, the offensive line was a strength. With five seniors projected as starters for 2014, the line promises to be the backbone of Florida State’s offense again.

[+] EnlargeRoderick Johnson
Cliff Welch/Icon SMIESPN 300 offensive tackle Roderick Johnson is the Seminoles' top-ranked offensive line signee for the 2014 class.
The problem, however, is the incredibly uncertain future after Tre' Jackson, Cameron Erving, Josue Matias and the rest of this veteran line wave goodbye.

Fisher clearly remembers the struggles of 2011, and he’s not eager to relive them again in 2015 and beyond. So while rebuilding the line is still a year away, the groundwork for that massive overhaul began in earnest Wednesday.

Florida State inked an impressive class on national signing day, reeling in 28 new Seminoles -- including five early enrollees -- and one quarter of that group is offensive linemen. It is one of the largest recruiting scores at the position in school history, Fisher said, and it’s a group with significant upside.

“We got size on the edges, in the middle and that can snap the football,” Fisher said. “From that standpoint, it’s a great group, and guys are just getting bigger and faster.”

There might not be room for the seven linemen FSU inked to get much bigger. The group already averages 6-foot-6 and 313 pounds, including juco transfers Kareem Are (6-6, 350) and Chad Mavety (6-5, 315), who Fisher believes can step in and play immediately.

Of course, finding reps for the fresh faces won’t be easy given the veterans already in place atop the depth chart, but Fisher understands it’s necessary if Florida State wants to avoid another season of linemen learning on the job in 2015.

“If those guys play well, there will be a lot of playing time,” Fisher said. “They’ll get a lot of playing time, and that’s why it was critical we got two junior college guys.”

If game-ready talent was necessary, developmental projects were significant for Florida State, too.

Fisher has racked up big recruiting wins in virtually every segment of the roster since his arrival in 2010, but the offensive line has remained a concern throughout. Part of the struggles to recruit top talent on the line lies with position coach Rick Trickett, who is far less interested in recruiting rankings than finding players malleable enough for him to build up from scratch.

Since Trickett took over the line in 2007, Florida State has signed just three offensive linemen ranked among the top 150 recruits. Jordan Prestwood left shortly after arriving. Ira Denson, last year’s prize recruit, could be on his way out, too. (Fisher said Wednesday that Denson was “still in school,” but didn’t elaborate on his status with the team.) Of FSU’s best line recruits in the Trickett era, only Bobby Hart remains embedded on the depth chart.

In fact, if Denson leaves, FSU will have just two scholarship linemen to show for its recruiting efforts in 2012 and 2013 combined and, before Wednesday’s haul, had just three linemen on the current roster set to still be with the team in 2015. Fisher praised the potential of redshirt freshman Wilson Bell and redshirt junior Ruben Carter, but there’s no doubt Wednesday’s new additions were a necessary influx of bodies.

“The guys who put their hands in the dirt on the offensive line, that controls the game,” Fisher said. “You can have all the skills in the world you want but you’ve got to win those battles up front and protect. Getting great offensive linemen is critical.”

Just how great this group ends up remains to be seen. Strong bodies with weak constitutions have a tendency to crumble under Trickett’s demanding approach. But the potential for this group is obvious.

Roderick Johnson is 6-7, 330 pounds and ranked as one of ESPN’s top prospects at tackle. FSU snagged him out of Missouri as one of Wednesday’s late additions to the class.

"Big Rod is a very athletic guy -- bends tremendously well for a guy 6-7 and 330 pounds,” Fisher said. “Great length and can bend his lower body, great flexibility and very intelligent. Very smart guy. Works very hard. I think the sky is the limit for the guy.”

Corey Martinez ranked just a tick behind Johnson as an ESPN 300 member, too. It’s the first time FSU landed multiple ESPN 300 linemen in the same class since Prestwood and Hart came aboard in 2011.

At 6-9, Brock Ruble is one of the tallest recruits in the nation, while Are and Movety were both among the top junior college linemen in the country. The Seminoles also added three-star center Alec Eberle.

Replacing the five seniors projected to start in 2014 will be no small task, but the first step in the process was providing Fisher and Trickett with some building blocks. Wednesday’s recruiting haul did that, and Fisher hopes that means there won’t be another season like 2011 on the horizon.

“Those guys will get a lot of playing time this year, and we’ll develop them,” he said. “They’ll have been able to play, and they’ll all be sophomores and juniors [in 2015] and they’ll fit in.”

FSU depth chart breakdown: Offense

January, 24, 2014
Jan 24
10:00
AM ET
A lot has changed for Florida State in the few weeks since Jimbo Fisher hoisted that crystal trophy above his head in Pasadena, Calif. Stars have departed, several incoming freshmen have arrived and the Seminoles are already at work with an eye toward repeating in 2014.

With that in mind, we’re taking a quick run through the depth chart to see where Florida State stands in advance of spring practice. Up first, the offense.

Quarterback

Projected starter: Jameis Winston (RS-So.)
Backups: Sean Maguire (RS-So.) and John Franklin III (RS-Fr.)

[+] EnlargeWinston Sacked
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesKeeping Jameis Winston upright will be a key for Florida State, especially with Jacob Coker transferring.
Storylines: Winston plans to play baseball again this spring, which means at least some concerns about injury. Jacob Coker is transferring, leaving Maguire as Winston’s top backup. He had only limited playing time in 2013 and will need to continue to improve this spring. Franklin has great athleticism, but questions linger about whether he’ll stick at QB for the long haul.

Status: A
Returning the Heisman winner makes life easy for FSU’s offense, but Winston’s health will be watched closely.

Offensive line

Projected starters: Cameron Erving (RS-Sr.), Tre Jackson (Sr.), Austin Barron (Sr.), Josue Matias (Sr.), Bobby Hart (Sr.)
Backups: Sterling Lovelady (Sr.), Ira Denson (RS-Fr.), Ruben Carter (RS-Jr.), Wilson Bell (RS-Fr.), Ryan Hoefeld (RS-Fr.), Kareem Are (Fr.), Stephen Gabbard (Fr.)

Storylines: Barron steps in for Stork in the only noteworthy departure from the line. Barron has starting experience, and if he wins the job, FSU will have five senior starters -- meaning lofty expectations for the unit. Erving and Bell played well on the edges last year, but both could make further strides. The improvement for youngsters such as Bell, Hoefeld and Are will be crucial for both depth in 2014 and managing a massive overhaul in 2015.

Status: A
The starting lineup might be the best in the country, but developing depth for the future will be crucial this spring.

Running backs/Fullbacks

Projected starters: Karlos Williams (Sr.) and Freddie Stevenson (So.)
Backups: Mario Pender (RS-So.), Ryan Green (So.), Dalvin Cook (Fr.), Cameron Ponder (Sr.)

Storylines: Williams was a revelation in his first season as a tailback, but for all his success, 70 of his 91 carries came in late-game, blowout situations. Pender returns after sitting out two years because of injuries and academics, but he provides ample speed and a knowledge of the system. Green showed flashes of potential as a freshman but must improve his blocking and decision-making this spring. Cook could be the wild card. He’s an immense talent, and by enrolling early, he’ll have a leg up on getting touches in the fall.

Status: B
With a ton of talent, this group could easily turn this grade to an A by the end of the spring.

Wide receivers

Projected starters: Rashad Greene (Sr.), Christian Green (RS-Sr.), Kermit Whitfield (So.)
Backups: Isaiah Jones (So.), Jarred Haggins (RS-Sr.), Jesus Wilson (So.)

Storylines: FSU must replace Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin, who accounted for nearly 2,000 yards and 21 touchdowns between them. The current group, aside from Greene, has combined for just 34 catches, 441 yards and no touchdowns in the past two seasons. After a solid 2011 season, Green has virtually disappeared and must show he’s still capable of making an impact. Haggins returns from a knee injury and figures to be limited in spring practice, but he could provide a solid veteran influence. Whitfield is a budding star thanks to his blazing speed, but FSU will need to see marked improvement from both Jones and Wilson in order to make up for the depth this unit lost.

Status: C+
Without any established depth behind Greene, this is the one area of the offense where Florida State has a lot of work to do this spring.

Tight end

Projected starter: Nick O’Leary (Sr.)
Backups: Kevin Haplea (RS-Sr.), Giorgio Newberry (RS-Jr.), Jeremy Kerr (RS-Fr.)

Storylines: O’Leary had a breakthrough 2013, but with two of FSU’s top three receivers gone, he figures to see even more looks this year. Haplea returns from a knee injury that cost him all of 2013 and will likely take it slow entering spring practice. Newberry’s stint at tight end after moving from defensive end wasn’t entirely smooth, and he’s been vocal that he’s not enamored with staying at the position.

Status: A
O’Leary figures to be among the top tight ends in the country this season, and getting the veteran Haplea back for blocking situations adds to the unit’s depth and versatility.

FSU's early 2014 power rankings

January, 21, 2014
Jan 21
1:30
PM ET
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
Jimbo Fisher was still on the podium, gazing into the crystal trophy that comes with winning a national championship, when it was suggested that once the team returned to Tallahassee, it was back to work preparing for 2014.

First on the docket for FSU will be identifying which star players will be returning for next season. Running back James Wilder Jr. is entering the draft, according to a source, and more decisions will trickle in before the Jan. 15 deadline. Here are our best guesses at what’s to come — and who might step in for departing underclassmen.

Likely going

[+] EnlargeTimmy Jernigan
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsFSU nose tackle Timmy Jernigan is a force inside, and how well the Tigers do against him could determine how well they run the ball.
DT Timmy Jernigan (junior)

Why he’d leave: Entering the season, Jernigan was Florida State’s top-rated underclassman by most draft experts, and that standing never changed. Jernigan was dominant all season, and his impact was never more noticeable than in the national title game. When he was on the field, Auburn found no running room between the tackles. When he was out of the game, the Tigers moved the ball with ease on the ground.

Next up: Nile Lawrence-Stample took a big step forward this season, gaining valuable playing time in the defensive line rotation. He started six games and finished with 15 tackles. Florida State has five current defensive tackle commitments, so it’s certainly possible one of the incoming freshmen could make a big impact early — as Jernigan did in 2011 — but Lawrence-Stample is the safest bet to step in full time.

WR Kelvin Benjamin (redshirt sophomore)

Why he’d leave: Benjamin was projected as a star from the moment he arrived on campus, but it took him a while to get acclimated. He enjoyed a breakthrough 2013 season, finishing with 1,011 yards and 15 touchdowns, including the game-winner in the VIZIO BCS National Championship. Some of his game could still use some refinement — as evidenced by two big drops vs. Auburn — but his physical skills already peg him as a likely first-rounder.

Next up: Kermit Whitfield certainly projects as Florida State’s next big-play receiver after an electric season as a freshman, but he fits more in the slot. Replacing Benjamin’s size and physicality isn’t an easy task, but 6-4 freshman Isaiah Jones figures to have the best chance. He saw limited playing time this year, catching two balls for 31 yards.

Possibly going

RB Devonta Freeman (junior)

[+] EnlargeDevonta Freeman
AP Photo/David J. PhillipDevonta Freeman became the first Seminoles tailback to gain 1,000 yards in a season since Warrick Dunn in 1996.
Why he'd leave: Freeman has been the steadying force for FSU’s running game for three years, and on Monday, he became the first Seminoles tailback to top 1,000 yards in 17 years. Wilder’s role was smaller this year as injuries hampered his production, but that could also have served as a reminder why it’s better to take the big hits with an NFL paycheck. Neither has a ton of early draft buzz which could convince them to return, but both could show out at the combine and work their way into the top three rounds.

Next up: Karlos Williams showed plenty of promise this season after moving from safety in Week 2, finishing with 748 rushing yards in reserve duty. He’s largely a straight-ahead runner, but his combination of size and speed makes him a weapon. FSU will still need to develop depth, likely with Mario Pender or Ryan Green, but could get a boost from four-star commit Dalvin Cook.

LT Cameron Erving (redshirt junior)

Why he’d leave: Erving has hovered near the top of the offensive tackle draft boards since the end of 2012, and in his second season since moving from the defensive line, he showed significant progress. Still, it’s a deep draft at the position, and there were moments — including against Auburn’s impressive defensive front Monday — when he showed some flaws.

Next up: Florida State brought in two potentially strong replacements last year in Ira Denson and Wilson Bell. Injuries hampered the progress for both during the season, however, which makes Erving’s decision potentially crucial for the stability of the line going into 2014.

Likely staying

G Tre Jackson and G Josue Matias (juniors)

Why they’d leave: Matias and Jackson might be among the top underclassmen at the position, but both could benefit from another year working with line coach Rick Trickett.

Next up: Florida State has struggled to recruit on the line the past few years, which makes depth — particularly on the interior — a significant concern. The Seminoles have a solid class coming in for 2014, but the loss of more than one of their underclassmen on the line would be a serious concern.

TE Nick O’Leary (junior)

Why he’d leave: O’Leary made huge strides this season, developing into one of Jameis Winston’s favorite targets and a legitimate red-zone threat. He’s an adept route-runner, a sure-handed receiver and his blocking game has developed nicely. But with Florida State's receiving corps in transition, O’Leary could be in a position to post huge numbers in 2014 if he sticks around.

Next up: Kevin Haplea returns from a knee injury next year, but he’s more of a blocking tight end than a true replacement.

WR Rashad Greene (Jr./WR)

Why he’d leave: What more can Greene accomplish at Florida State? He’s been the team’s most reliable receiver for three consecutive seasons. He became the Seminoles’ first 1,000-yard receiver since Anquan Boldin this year. He’s quick, a great route-runner, and he has good hands. He does everything well, and his quarterbacks have taken notice. The problem for Greene is that he lacks the obvious physical skills that make scouts drool, so his draft value might not reflect his on-field contributions.

Next up: It would be a surprise if Greene left, but it would also be a huge blow to Florida State’s offense. Winston was a star this season in part because of an exceptional group of receivers, but the group will get a major makeover in 2014. The Seminoles need Greene to help ease the transition.
North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron is the only ACC player to declare for the NFL draft so far. Chances are, he will not be the only one leaving school early. Here is a look at the top ACC players facing tough decisions about whether to stay in school or turn pro.

The deadline to declare is Jan. 15.

Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson. Though Beasley plays defensive end, he projects as a linebacker in the NFL. ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper has Beasley as his No. 1 non-senior prospect among outside linebackers. Beasley ranks No. 15 on the latest Kiper Big Board and has hinted that he will leave school early. Beasley told local reporters last weekend that he is leaning toward coming out but has not made a final decision yet.

[+] EnlargeKelvin Benjamin
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneFSU WR Kelvin Benjamin is one of many talented ACC underclassmen who must decide if they will enter the NFL draft.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State. Benjamin, a redshirt sophomore, has risen up draft boards after his performance in the final month of the season. Kiper lists him as the No. 3 non-senior at receiver, and says Benjamin will have a chance to go in the first round if he runs well.

Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State. Erving could end up becoming a first-round pick if he decides to leave school early. Kiper has him as the No. 4 non-senior offensive tackle.

Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State. Freeman needs 57 yards to become the first 1,000-yard rusher at Florida State since 1996. The All-ACC first team selection is not listed among the top non-senior running back prospects, but he has had a terrific season by all measures.

Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State. Greene might still be one of the more underrated receivers in America but it is tough to question his production after another great season. Kiper lists Greene as the No. 10 non-senior at receiver. He will have a tough decision to make.

Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State. Kiper has Jernigan as the No. 2 non-senior among defensive tackles, and just moved up him to No. 12 on the Big Board. Kiper writes that Jernigan is "not out of the mix" to land in the top 10. Given his domination this year, most observers expect him to enter the draft.

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson. Kiper has Watkins ranked as the No. 1 non-senior receiver. Kevin Weidl of ESPN’s Scouts Inc., lists Watkins as the No. 2 prospect among players he saw in person this fall. Watkins is currently listed No. 6 on the latest Kiper Big Board. Though Watkins has been non-committal about his future in recent interviews, it would be a shock if he decides to return to school.

James Wilder Jr., RB, Florida State. Wilder had an injury-plagued season but made headlines last month when he reportedly told a recruit he would be turning pro. Wilder denied the reports but has not definitively said what he plans to do after the national championship game.

Others to watch

Here are a few other players to keep an eye on as the draft deadline looms:

Russell Bodine, C, North Carolina

Tre' Jackson, OG, Florida State

Kyshoen Jarrett, S, Virginia Tech

Nick O'Leary, TE, Florida State

Luther Maddy, DT, Virginia Tech

Josue Matias, OG, Florida State

Denzel Perryman, LB, Miami

One more post to check out. Todd McShay unveiled his first mock draft earlier Wednesday. He has Watkins as the first ACC player off the board, at No. 13 to the Jets. McShay also projects Ebron, Jernigan and Benjamin as first-rounders.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The conventional wisdom a year ago was that Florida State had everything it would take to win a championship except for a decent offensive line. The refrain was repeated again and again among fans and media: If the line doesn't screw it up, the Seminoles should be pretty good.

The mantra was repeated so often, in fact, that line coach Rick Trickett adopted it as the unit's rallying cry. Before each game, Trickett would gather his troops and remind them where they stood.

"He'd come up and be like, 'What are we not going to do?'" guard Tre' Jackson said. "And we'd be like, 'We're not going to mess it up.' We used it as motivation."

Bryan Stork
Sean Meyers/Icon SMIBryan Stork returns to anchor Florida State's line.
The motivation worked, and not only did the line avoid catastrophe, it developed into one of the more productive units in the country.

After a dismal 2011 campaign in which Florida State ranked 105th in the nation in rushing and 110th in sacks allowed, the unit blossomed with new personnel, cutting its sack total nearly in half and opening up running lanes to the tune of 5.62 yards per rush -- the fourth-best mark in the country.

Now, just a year after being labeled the black sheep of the position groups, Florida State's offensive line is a strength.

"That's as good a group as we've had," Jimbo Fisher said. "I've been around a long time, and that's a very good group up front."

It's essentially the same group that worked together throughout the 2012 season, save the right tackle spot, where junior Bobby Hart steps in to replace the departed Menelik Watson.

When that group took the field against Murray State for FSU's opener last season, the starters had just 16 career starts between them -- 14 of which belonged to center Bryan Stork. With Hart, who started nine games as a freshman in 2011, this season's starting five will open the year with 80 starts under their belt. Overall, the FSU depth chart at offensive line has more career starts than all but nine other teams in the country.

Perhaps the most surprising part about the progress made by the line is that, of the five projected starters, Hart is the only member who was highly recruited out of high school. Jackson and Stork were both three-star recruits. Left tackle Cameron Erving was a two-star player who was offered late by FSU and ignored by virtually everyone else. Now, all three -- along with guard Josue Matias -- are working their way up NFL draft boards.

"I think our starting five, athletically and ability-wise, yes, we're probably the most talented we've been since we've been here," Trickett said.

A few injuries have thinned the ranks, but Trickett said he's narrowing in on a depth chart with eight reliable options on the line, and the starting group looks to be firmly established after Hart's strong spring.

Still, there are some concerns.

Florida State ran for a whopping 2,882 yards last season, but critics are quick to point out that the bulk of that total came against severely overmatched opponents. Florida State's offensive line averages 317 pounds, and manhandling undersized defenders was easy. Against more formidable defenses, however, the yards were tougher to find.

In the eight games FSU played against teams with run defenses ranked 60th or worse nationally, the Seminoles averaged 6.5 yards per carry and scored 31 rushing touchdowns. In their other six games against better run defenses -- NC State, USF, Virginia Tech, Maryland, Florida and Northern Illinois -- that average dropped to just 4.3 yards per rush and the Seminoles scored just nine times on the ground.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, in the six games against better defensive fronts, FSU had 64 rushes that resulted in no gain or lost yardage. In the other eight games, it had just 50.

Set aside mid-major Northern Illinois and exclude a 22-yard scamper by EJ Manuel on FSU's final play against Florida, and the Seminoles averaged just 1.6 yards before contact against the five best run defenses they faced last season. Against everyone else, that number jumps to 3.6 yards before contact.

None of those numbers are particularly damning, but they serve as a reminder that there's still something for the unit to prove.

"We have the potential to be one of the best O-lines in the country," Stork said, "but that's only going to happen if we put the team on our backs and get yards for our running backs."

Running the ball will be a top priority with a new quarterback taking the snaps, and Jackson said coaches have made it a point of emphasis to run early and often. But protecting a first-year starting quarterback will be key, too, and that's where losing Watson might hurt. In the 10 quarters Florida State played without him last season it allowed 10 sacks. The Seminoles gave up just 16 sacks the rest of the season.

But Hart's emergence this spring after a year in Trickett's doghouse has been one of the bright spots for FSU, and even the irascible line coach is pleased with the results.

"[Hart] still has a tendency to do some things his way technique-wise ... but he's progressed a great deal from last year," Trickett said.

Watson went from a juco transfer with virtually no experience to a top NFL draft pick in just nine months at Florida State, but he wasn't alone in his rapid ascent throughout the 2012 season.

A year ago, even the optimists among Florida State's fanbase recognized the weakness. Now, the offensive line is leading the charge. But if expectations have changed markedly, the mindset of the group hasn't.

"We still get motivated the same way," Matias said. "Last year, we were the group that was supposed to mess it up. That was our motivation. This year's the same. We're going to have the spotlight on us the first time we make a mistake, so we're trying to do the same thing."
Timmy JerniganBob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsDefensive tackle Timmy Jernigan hasn't only emerged as one of the best players of FSU's deep 2011 class; he's become one of the nation's best at his position.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Jimbo Fisher lost 11 players from last year's ACC champions to the NFL draft, but he's not too worried about a dip in talent on this season's roster.

Sure, Florida State waved goodbye to its share of veterans, but the 2013 lineup remains remarkably well established.

"From a talent standpoint, this is still a talented football team," Fisher said. "We have the least amount of starters back in the ACC, but we have more junior and senior starters than we had a year ago. We have a lot of guys who played significant snaps. They still played a lot of plays in big games."

In fact, of the 22 projected starters currently atop Florida State's depth chart, only two -- quarterback Jameis Winston and defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. -- were part of Florida State's two most recent signing classes. Instead, the bulk of the talent -- 10 projected starters -- comes from Fisher's 2011 signing class, a group that figures to define this season's team.

While Fisher's fingerprints were all over the 2010 class, that was a group that largely came together while former coach Bobby Bowden still headed the program. It wasn't until 2011 that Fisher had the chance to build a class from start to finish, and the results were impressive.

The first thing to notice about the 2011 class was its size. Fisher brought in 29 players, including two junior college transfers, in hopes of filling a massive talent gap that had developed in Bowden's final years. A few never arrived on campus, a few more quickly departed, but the bulk of the class has already made its mark.

On offense, three-fifths of Florida State's line comes from the Class of 2011. Both of its primary tailbacks, two of its top three receivers and its top tight end were also in that group.

On defense, Timmy Jernigan, Karlos Williams and Nick Waisome are ensconced in the lineup already, and a bevy of rising stars including Tyler Hunter, Terrance Smith, Giorgio Newberry and Nile Lawrence-Stample are in line for regular reps.

In all, 20 of the 27 freshmen signed in 2011 figure to be part of Florida State's two-deep to open the 2013 season -- from the hidden gems of the class such as Hunter and Tre Jackson to the heralded stars such as Williams and Jernigan.

"It shows you your evaluations," Fisher said. "That's something we constantly analyze in recruiting because whether it's three-star, four-star, five-star recruit doesn't matter. At the end of the day, we go back to our classes -- how we progress, who do we miss on, how they're growing? That's something we evaluate on how we do our business. That class seems like it's a very successful class."

While the depth of the class has proven to be strong, there's plenty of top-end talent. Defensive end Cornelius Carradine, a juco transfer, likely would have been a first-round pick in April's NFL draft had he not suffered a late-season injury. Jackson, Rashad Greene, Josue Matias, Nick O'Leary, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. all attracted preseason All-ACC votes this summer and have NFL futures. And then there's Jernigan, who is already being pegged as one of the top interior linemen in the nation.

"I feel like it's my D-line now," Jernigan said this spring. "I'm trying to be a leader."

That's exactly what Fisher wants to hear from his rising veterans, and the 2011 class has responded.

Not only has Jernigan taken charge of Florida State's revamped defensive line, but Greene, Wilder, Freeman and Hunter have all established themselves as the locker room's most important voices.

"I've been very pleased with that, and a couple of guys have blossomed into leaders that I never thought would," Fisher said. "Hopefully that's the player development, the enhancements no one sees, that a couple of those guys evolved into those roles that are team leaders."

The classes that followed 2011 offer their own highlights, too, and more are likely on the way. But as Florida State prepares to open fall camp, the rewards of Fisher's first full season of scouting, recruiting and development have gone a long way to establish precedent.

"It was a pretty high success rate in that group, it has been so far," Fisher said. "That reinforces why we keep doing things right."
Our NoleNation all-time draft included 72 of Florida State's all-time greats, but that didn't mean the decisions in the final few rounds were any easier than those first few picks. The truth is, we could've kept going for a while, and a number of fan favorites -- not to mention exceptional players -- were left off the list.

So with that in mind, we're doing our due diligence to provide a hat tip to a few Seminoles who didn't quite make the cut, whether due to stiff competition at their position or poor decision making on the part of our drafters. So here are a few of the biggest snubs from our Nole Nation draft -- and yes, we're aware that even this list will leave off a few favorites.

Quarterback

[+] EnlargeGreg Jones
Andy Lyons/Getty ImageGreg Jones rushed for 2,535 yards in four seasons at Florida State.
The top two on the list were easy, but picking a No. 3 quarterback in FSU history is a nearly impossible task. In our draft, Jeff Cameron went with Casey Weldon, but there's certainly a strong case to be made for Thad Busby, Peter Tom Willis, Danny Kanell, Gary Huff, Christian Ponder and, of course, EJ Manuel, who wrapped up his career with four bowl wins and the school record for completion percentage. And all of that doesn't even mention perhaps FSU's most successful pro QB, Brad Johnson.

Running back

Once again, the top two were easy. The rest of the list offered ample room for debate. That meant a slew of top runners were forgotten, including Amp Lee, Greg Jones and Lorenzo Booker. But perhaps the biggest oversight was at fullback, where William Floyd was among the best to play at any program, and surely deserved a spot in our draft. And if our draft needed someone to drive a Trans Am, we probably could've found room for former halfback Burt Reynolds, too.

Receiver and tight end

There's a long list of impressive receivers who have called Florida State home, many of which went on to long and successful NFL careers, including Jessie Hester, Javon Walker and Laveranues Coles. And because we were allowed to draft three receivers, only one tight end was selected, meaning major snubs for Pat Carter (71 receptions) and Ed Beckham (70 receptions).

Offensive line

The knock on Florida State of late has been its lack of great O-linemen, and that might have shown up a bit in our draft, where the pickings got a bit slimmer in later rounds. Still, a few names left out included Greg Futch, Jason Kuipers and Mark Salva. Perhaps most intriguing, however, are some recent Seminoles, including recent second-round NFL draft pick Menelik Watson, and current players such as Cameron Erving, Josue Matias and Tre' Jackson.

Defensive line

There have been tons of great pass rushers come through the program, so our draft ended up skipping past a few, like Willie Jones, who starred in the late 1970s, and Everette Brown and Brandon Jenkins, who turned in big seasons recently. Others of note: Kamerion Wimbley, Alonzo Jackson and Carl Simpson.

Linebackers

There's no shortage of talent in the middle of the defense at Florida State, and that includes a handful of linebackers that were left out of our draft. Aaron Carter played in the mid-1970s and is still FSU's all-time leader in tackles with 512. Tommy Polley racked up 100 tackles in each of his final two seasons at Florida State. Buster Davis racked up 26.5 tackles for loss and was a third-round NFL draft pick.

Defensive backs

There may have been no position group more loaded, so apologies to Corey Fuller, Dexter Jackson, Antonio Cromartie, Patrick Robinson, Samari Rolle, and, of course, the great Lee Corso, who wrapped up his career at Florida State in 1956 with 14 career interceptions -- the same number Deion Sanders finished his career with.

Specialists

It's too bad we didn't draft return specialists or Leon Washington, Willie Reid and Greg Reid all would've been considered. Joe Wessel and B.J. Ward had a knack for blocking kicks, too. Scott Bentley probably wasn't one of FSU's three best kickers, but he made some big kicks for FSU's first national champion. Derek Schmidt had a great career, too.
Throughout the summer, Nole Nation will be counting down the 40 players we're projecting to make the biggest impact on the Seminoles' 2013 season, taking into consideration everything from experience to potential to their spot on the current depth chart.

Next up: No. 18 Tre' Jackson

Position/Class: OG/Jr.

What he's done: Part of Florida State's much-needed youth movement at the close of 2011, Jackson and fellow freshman guard Josue Matias got their first career starts in a win over Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl. The momentum carried over into 2012, where Jackson and Matias became fixtures on the O line, starting all 14 games. Jackson's season grade of 84.7 percent was the second-best among FSU's offensive linemen last season, and he topped the list in six different games, according to FSU's Web site.

Where he's at: Like Matias, Jackson's role is solidified, and short of a serious injury, he'll be Florida State's starting right guard for the second straight season. The bigger question at this point is whether he'll be ready to take the next step from solid performer to potential All-ACC lineman, particularly given the relatively significant question mark with Bobby Hart stepping in alongside Jackson at right tackle.

What's to come: The success FSU enjoyed on the ground last season (third most rushing yards in school history) was due in large part to the progress made by Matias and Jackson, but this season presents a new challenge. Former right tackle Menelik Watson missed 10 quarters of action last season, and when he was out, FSU's pass protection fell apart. With Watson now gone and the enigmatic Hart taking over, major questions linger about how well the right side of the line is prepared to protect freshman QB Jameis Winston. But if 2012 was still a learning experience for Jackson, this season, he'll be the established veteran. As much as it is incumbent upon him to progress in his own production, he'll be leaned on to help mentor and motivate Hart, too.
Throughout the summer, Nole Nation will be counting down the 40 players we're projecting to make the biggest impact on the Seminoles' 2013 season, taking into consideration everything from experience to potential to their spot on the current depth chart.

Next up: No. 19 Josue Matias

Position/Class: Offensive guard/Junior

What he's done: When Jimbo Fisher and line coach Rick Trickett finally threw up their hands in disgust and turned over the starting lineup in FSU's 2011 bowl game against Notre Dame, Matias was given his first shot at a full-time job. Along with fellow freshman Tre Jackson, the duo worked through some early struggles but, for the first time all season, offered some hope. That carried into 2012, when the two interior linemen helped Florida State to its third-best rushing performance in school history, with three different backs topping the 600-yard mark. Matias was at the forefront of that push, racking up a team-high 31 knockdown blocks.

Where he's at: There's no questioning Matias' standing on the depth chart. Florida State has little in the way of established talent behind him, and he and Jackson will be the Seminoles' starting guards for the next two seasons, barring a major injury. But while Matias took a big step last season at left guard, maintaining those lofty rushing totals while helping protect a first-year starter at quarterback in 2013 will be a significant new challenge.

What's to come: Three offensive guards went in the first 20 selections in this season's NFL draft, and at 6-foot-6, 326 pounds, Matias has the ability to join those ranks in the next year or two. Jimbo Fisher raves about his potential, but consistency remains something of a concern. Matias was good as a sophomore in 2012, but he could be great in 2013 if he can more consistently reach the heights he achieved at times last season. There's a lot of returning experience on the line -- and throughout FSU's offense -- so this season represents a chance for Matias to prove he's not just a big body in the middle, but perhaps a future star.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

FSU Coach Explains Why Winston Went Unpunished
ESPN Florida State reporter Jared Shanker breaks down head coach Jimbo Fisher's explanation that Jameis Winston's suspension from the baseball team for a shoplifting incident in April was sufficient punishment.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video