NCF Nation: Kenny Shaw

The dust has settled after the NFL draft, and it was another solid showing by the ACC. Overall, the league had 42 players selected, the second most in ACC history and the second most by any conference this year (trailing only the SEC’s 48).

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
Elsa/Getty ImagesFormer Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins was the first ACC player selected (No. 4 overall) in the NFL draft.
Four of the first 14 players selected in this year’s draft came from the ACC, led by Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins (No. 4 overall to the Buffalo Bills) and UNC tight end Eric Ebron (No. 10 to the Detroit Lions). Five ACC players were taken in the first round and 10 more were selected in the second and third rounds.

For the second straight year, Florida State led all ACC schools in players drafted. Seven Seminoles were selected throughout the weekend, starting with wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin in round 1 by the Carolina Panthers and ending with linebacker Telvin Smith in round 5 by the Jacksonville Jaguars. In the past two years, Florida State has had 18 players drafted by NFL teams.

Of course, it wasn’t just strength at the top for the ACC. All 14 programs had at least one player selected this year, including five apiece from Clemson and North Carolina and four from Boston College.

New addition Louisville, which officially enters the ACC next month, had four players selected this year, including three (Calvin Pryor, Marcus Smith and Teddy Bridgewater) in the first round.

Three ACC quarterbacks were selected, led by Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas (No. 120). Pitt’s Tom Savage (No. 135) and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd (No. 213) were also taken.

Duke corner Ross Cockrell was taken with pick No. 109 by the Bills, becoming just the third Blue Devils player drafted since 2001. He was also the highest-selected Duke defensive player since Mike Junkin was taken fifth overall in 1987.

Miami had three players selected over the weekend (Brandon Linder, Pat O'Donnell and Seantrel Henderson), extending its streak of consecutive years with at least one player drafted to 41. Florida State and Virginia extended streaks of their own to 32 years.

Of the ACC underclassmen who declared for this year’s draft, four went undrafted. FSU running back James Wilder Jr. inked a free-agent deal with the Cincinnati Bengals, Syracuse running back Jerome Smith signed with the Atlanta Falcons and NC State defensive lineman Carlos Gray signed with the Green Bay Packers.

Among other notable undrafted free agents in the league, former Miami quarterback Stephen Morris signed with Jacksonville, UNC quarterback Bryn Renner inked a deal with Denver, FSU receiver Kenny Shaw signed with Cleveland, Tar Heels offensive lineman James Hurst signed with the Ravens and former BC quarterback Chase Rettig signed with Green Bay.
Russell A. Griffin in Sea Girt, N.J., sent this note into the mailbag: Hi, Andrea. In 2012, when FSU lost so many to the NFL draft, sports analysts we're saying that 2013 would be the year FSU would step back a bit and that 2014 would be its year. Clemson was the team to beat in 2013. I realize no one would have thought about how good Jameis [Winston] was going to be. The analysts said 2014 would be FSU's year to step up. With all that in mind, well, it’s 2014. If last year was the year to step back, imagine what this year should be like. Granted, 2014 is going to be tougher since the schedule is tougher. I know, it is always harder to repeat. I will be at the games against Oklahoma State and later at Louisville. Go Noles.

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.

SportsNation

What are the chances Florida State goes unbeaten this year?

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    17%
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    21%
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    22%
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    28%
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    12%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,027)

Florida State is good enough to go undefeated. But being good enough to win all your games and actually winning all your games are two different matters entirely (see: Crimson Tide, Alabama). There are a few reasons why I think the Seminoles won’t run the table.

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.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Most coaches keep practices behind closed doors. They don’t want any important information finding its way to opponents.

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, however, graciously tipped his hand Wednesday when asked about what new formations and which underclassman receivers could mitigate the departure of potential first-round NFL draft pick Kelvin Benjamin, all 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds of him.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsKermit Whitfield isn't going to do the same things Kelvin Benjamin did in the Florida State passing game, but his speed could be every bit as dangerous to defenses.
“I’ll stack Bobo (Jesus Wilson) and Kermit (Levonte Whitfield) on top of each other,” quipped Fisher, clearly armed in anticipation of a question on his receivers’ height. Wilson stands 5-foot-9 and Whitfield is 5-7.

The humor could be a deflection as Fisher masks any possible concerns about replacing Benjamin, who at Tuesday’s pro day showcased a rare catching radius and leaping ability that no player on the Seminoles’ current roster has illustrated. Senior Rashad Greene's presence is vital, as he led the team with 76 catches last season, but no other returning receiver had more than 13 catches in 2013, which leaves mostly a unit with little to no in-game seasoning.

But while Benjamin’s size and strength combination won’t be replaced by anyone on the roster in its current form, his Tallahassee exit doesn’t necessarily mean a step in the wrong direction for the Seminoles offense. Whitfield and Wilson are small packages of instant offense. Whitfield initially trumpeted his speed for Florida State fans with touchdowns of 31 and 74 yards the first two times he rushed the ball, and then for a national audience with a 100-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter of the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

“You can jump or you can run there -- there are two different avenues [to catch the ball],” Fisher said. “Bobo and Kermit, those guys get the ball short and it’s hard to get them on the ground.”

Quarterback Jameis Winston knows receivers like Benjamin do not come around often, but he said neither do players with the acceleration and speed of Whitfield and Wilson.

“Kermit and Bobo, they’re going to catch the ball and you’re not going to tackle them,” Winston said. “Bobo is as electric as Kermit, but Kermit is special. And those guys can jump, and I’m pretty sure they can dunk.”

Expecting the talented but inexperienced Whitfield, Wilson, Jarred Haggins and 6-4 sophomore Isaiah Jones to quickly jell with Winston in the passing game is oversimplifying an issue that requires a quarterback and receiver to connect on an innate level. Official practice time is in short supply this spring in Tallahassee as Winston bounces between football and baseball, which will cost him Saturday’s practice.

Yet as foolish as it would be to assume Benjamin and Kenny Shaw won’t be missed, at this point it would be equally ill-advised to doubt any aspect of the team Winston touches.

“We trust all the guys we got. That’s why we come to Florida State, to win championships, and we've got great players,” Winston said. “It’s going to be a fast adjustment with timing, and we’re going to get this thing rolling.”
The news was hardly a surprise, but Florida State nevertheless could breathe an immense sigh of relief when Rashad Greene announced he’d be back for his senior season in 2014. There are more talented, more highly regarded players from the Seminoles’ national championship team departing for the NFL, but perhaps no one on the current FSU roster was more crucial in 2014 than Greene. He was practically irreplaceable.

[+] EnlargeRashad Greene
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsRashad Green had a team-high 76 catches in 2013, including 9 in the national title game.
The run-up to the start of the 2013 season was a disaster for Florida State’s receiver group. Greg Dent was expected to blossom into a consistent threat, but instead spent the year awaiting a trial for sexual assault. Willie Haulstead figured to return from more than two years saddled with the lingering effects of a concussion, but academics ended his season before it began. Jarred Haggins was poised for a far bigger role, but a knee injury relegated him to the sidelines.

What was left for Jameis Winston and the Florida State offense was essentially a three-man show: Greene, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw. Of Winston’s 384 pass attempts in 2013, he targeted his big three receivers 279 times (73 percent), according to ESPN Stats & Info.

The tight rotation actually proved to be a benefit. Greene, Benjamin and Shaw all enjoyed breakout seasons, with the former two topping 1,000 yards for the season. But as Florida State looks to 2014, the lack of established depth at the position means a massive rebuilding project must begin, with Greene providing the foundation.

Shaw is graduating. Benjamin departed early for the NFL. Winston’s top three targets out of the backfield all moved on as well. Aside from Greene, the current Florida State roster accounts for just 44 of Winston’s completions, the bulk of those to tight end Nick O’Leary.

So as the enthusiasm builds for a repeat performance by the Seminoles’ high-flying offense thanks to the return of the Heisman Trophy winner and four-fifths of his offensive line, the obvious question is: Who will be catching all of those throws?

Greene’s 76 catches last season were the second-most in Florida State history. It seems likely that number will increase in 2014. Even with tempting options in Shaw, O’Leary and Benjamin, Winston targeted Greene on more than 30 percent of his throws last year.

Greene was fond of telling the story of Florida State’s receivers meeting last summer to discuss the new quarterback running the offense. It would be up to them, Greene said, to make Winston comfortable, to do their jobs so well it made his job easy. In 2014, Greene’s role will be similar, except he’ll now be mentoring a young group of receivers around him, too.

Kermit Whitfield is electric with the ball in his hands, one of college football’s fastest players. He figures to be a nice fit to replace Shaw as the team’s top slot receiver, but he caught just five passes in 2013 -- none from Winston.

Benjamin’s loss provides an even bigger hole. Receivers who are 6-foot-5, 235 pounds and can run and jump effortlessly are rare gems. Still, tall receivers have been a cornerstone of Florida State’s offense, from Greg Carr to Rodney Smith to Benjamin. The last time the Seminoles didn’t have a receiver taller than 6-4 record at least 30 catches and 400 yards was 2005. That role in 2014 figures to fall to 6-4 Isaiah Jones, who caught just two passes for 31 yards as a freshman last season. And while he offers height similar to Benjamin, he checks in almost 40 pounds lighter and is hardly the same matchup nightmare as his predecessor.

Teammates raved about Jesus Wilson’s work on the practice field in 2013, and he’ll get his share of reps, too. Christian Green will be back again, but after a solid freshman campaign in 2011, he’s all but disappeared in the past two seasons. Haggins returns from the knee injury, too, but since Oct. 13, 2012, his combined stat line looks like this: 1 catch, 1 yard.

All of that is simply to underscore the importance of Greene in FSU’s 2014 passing game. His fellow receivers have potential, but Greene is the established weapon. And while the losses of Shaw and Benjamin are big, it’s worth remembering that Winston’s favorite weapon remains.

On third down last season, Winston targeted Greene 27 times -- nearly twice as often as any other receiver on the team. His 18 third-down catches doubled the next closest receiver, and all 18 went for first downs. Winston’s other returning star, O’Leary, converted 8 of 9 third-down targets, too.

In the red zone in 2013, Greene was again Winston’s top target (14 throws) and receiver (eight catches), and he and O’Leary accounted for nearly half of Winston’s red-zone targets.

In short, few receivers made more catches when it mattered most. Fifty of Greene’s receptions went for a first down, tied for third among ACC receivers. And no player on Florida State’s offense has been as consistent. Greene has led the team in receiving in each of his first three seasons in Tallahassee. He needs 41 more catches and 1,133 more yards in 2014 to match FSU’s career receiving marks.

Of course, as good as Greene has been, the onus will still fall to his emerging teammates to draw the attention of safeties away from him and provide Winston with a wider variety of weapons at his disposal. That development remains a work in progress for the next seven months, but Greene’s ability to handle double coverage, to make the big plays when it matters most, to set the standard for game day on the practice field during the week -- that makes the jobs of everyone around him much easier.

For an offense that returns so many stars in 2014, Greene will again be the cornerstone.
Florida State finished off a spectacular season with a national championship, and with Jameis Winston, Rashad Greene, Jalen Ramsey and a host of other stars returning for 2014, the expectations for next season are already sky high.

So if FSU is going to repeat as national champs, what are the big stumbling blocks on the road ahead? We take a look at the top five.

1. Rebuilding the defensive line.

[+] EnlargeTimmy Jernigan
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsWith Timmy Jernigan heading to the NFL, Florida State will have a big hole to fill in the middle of its line.
With Timmy Jernigan leaving early for the NFL draft -- he’s widely considered a top-15 pick — Florida State will have a huge hole in the middle of the line. But the Seminoles also need to find someone to rush off the edge, as Christian Jones did throughout the season and develop some depth after waving goodbye to Demonte McAllister and Dan Hicks. Nile Lawrence-Stample, Matthew Thomas and others could fill those voids, but it will be incumbent on emerging stars Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman to step up their games, too.

2. Developing new receivers.

It wasn’t a huge surprise, but it was nevertheless a relief when Greene decided to return for his senior season. Florida State’s receiving corps was exceptional in 2013, but it wasn’t deep. Kenny Shaw is moving on, and Kelvin Benjamin could follow. That leaves Greene as FSU’s only established, consistent receiver. Isaiah Jones, Jesus Wilson and Kermit Whitfield all got a taste of playing time in 2013, but they’ll need to do a lot more next season.

3. Finding new leaders on defense.

This might be the toughest task for Florida State. Telvin Smith, Lamarcus Joyner, Terrence Brooks, Jones and Jernigan weren’t simply the defensive standouts on the field, they were the heart and soul of the unit in the locker room. There’s still plenty of talent remaining on the unit, but no one who has had to step up and galvanize a locker room or push the younger players to work harder. Finding leaders on that side of the ball — Edwards, Goldman, Terrance Smith and Ronald Darby, perhaps — will be crucial to maintaining the unit’s immense production in 2014.

4. Managing the schedule.

If the knock on Florida State this season was that it wasn’t tested until the title game, the concern for 2014 might be that there are simply too many big tests. The Seminoles open in Dallas against Oklahoma State, but also have Clemson, Louisville, Notre Dame, Miami and Florida before the season is out. If this title was a victory for the ACC’s legitimacy on a national stage, the 2014 slate for Florida State only underscores how much tougher winning the league will be going forward.

5. Handling the hype.

It’s one thing to win when no one is expecting it. Winning when everyone has you pegged as No. 1 is a whole other challenge. Florida State will enjoy its national championship now, but in 2014, everyone will be gunning for the Seminoles, and the media scrutiny will be immense. Can Winston go a full offseason as a Heisman winner and national champion and not waver from his commitment to getting better? Can the coaching staff maintain that same level of dedication from a group that already has a title on its résumé? There’s a reason so few teams repeat as champions. It’s really hard to do.

Video: FSU's Shaw says title team effort

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Florida State's Kenny Shaw says the Seminoles' national championship is something to savor because it was a total team effort.
Editor’s note: Each day this week Florida State reporter David M. Hale and Auburn reporter Greg Ostendorf will preview a position battle in Monday’s VIZIO BCS National Championship Game. Today’s matchup is between Florida State’s wide receivers and Auburn’s secondary.

Florida State’s wide receivers: It’s not a deep group, but there may not be a more dynamic set of receivers in the country than what Jameis Winston has at his disposal at Florida State.

[+] EnlargeBenjamin
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsFSU WR Kelvin Benjamin is a physical presence who can also break free and make big plays.
Rashad Greene, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw are all within striking distance of 1,000 yards. Greene is one of the nation’s most consistent threats, and while he’s not imposing physically, he runs precise routes and rarely drops a pass. Shaw is the lone senior in the group, and he’s averaging 18 yards a catch and has topped 89 yards receiving seven times. But it’s Benjamin who should keep Auburn defenders awake at night.

At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, Benjamin is as physical a receiving threat as there is in college football. He excels at jump balls, is physical at the line of scrimmage, and loves blocking downfield. His career has been marked by inconsistency, but he was red hot to end the regular season, with 17 catches for 458 yards and eight TDs in his last four games.

Even if Auburn manages to corral all of Florida State’s deep threats, tight end Nick O’Leary is a wild card. O’Leary has 33 catches for 557 yards and seven touchdowns this season and is one of Winston’s favorite targets. As the big three receivers draw attention downfield, O’Leary provides a dangerous weapon underneath and is capable of picking up big chunks of yards after the catch.

And, of course, the key to all of it is Winston, the Heisman winner and one of the country’s most aggressive quarterbacks. Winston completes 55.8 percent of his passes of 15 yards or more (second only to Baylor’s Bryce Petty among AQ QBs) and has 19 TDs without an INT in the red zone this season.

Auburn’s secondary: In the last three games, Auburn has had a difficult time defending the pass. Aaron Murray threw for 415 yards and two touchdowns. AJ McCarron threw for 277 yards and three touchdowns. And in the SEC championship game, James Franklin threw for 303 yards and three touchdowns. Now, the Tigers are about to face the Heisman Trophy winner and the nation’s leader in opponent-adjusted QBR (90.8).

It’s a group that remains confident in their ability, but they know they have a steep challenge ahead of them.

The most notable name is cornerback Chris Davis, but that’s more because of his field-goal return to beat Alabama than his pass coverage. Still, he’s the No. 1 cornerback and the team’s best chance of shutting down an opposing wide receiver. It’s the cornerback opposite Davis, Jonathon Mincy, who teams have been able to pick on this season.

Mincy was defending Amari Cooper when the Alabama wide receiver hauled in a 99-yard touchdown pass in the Iron Bowl. He also had no answer for Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, who finished with six catches for 144 yards and two touchdowns against Auburn. If he draws the assignment of defending Benjamin, which is what he wants, it could be a long day for the Tigers.

The X-factor could be Robenson Therezie who plays the Star position in Ellis Johnson’s 4-2-5 defense. He leads the team in interceptions (four) and is fourth in tackles (55). He’ll primarily focus on covering the slot receiver, but he might also be asked to cover O’Leary at times or even blitz from time to time. Auburn isn’t going to stop Winston, but Therezie could make life a little more difficult for the Florida State quarterback.

Hale: Big edge Florida State

Ostendorf: Edge Florida State

Does 2013 FSU compare to 2001 Miami?

December, 23, 2013
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Florida State, Florida and Miami have produced 10 national championship teams, but only one enters the "greatest team of all time" debate.

That would be 2001 Miami.

I had the opportunity to cover that team for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, getting the chance to not only watch a terrifically talented group dominate on the field, but also observe terrifically talented freshmen develop, knowing full well they would get their own shot at greatness.

So now that Florida State has a shot at winning a national championship and finishing undefeated, some have asked how this team compares not to the 1999 Seminoles (also unbeaten) but to the historic 2001 Canes.

We all know Florida State has to beat Auburn to be in the discussion. If that happens, do the 2013 Seminoles have a case to make over 2001 Miami? First, a little tale of the tape.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesFSU QB Jameis Winston is one of many Seminoles who could get drafted, but it will be tough to match Miami's 2001 team, which had 17 players become first-round picks and 38 players total drafted.
Talent level: Florida State is loaded with NFL talent up and down its roster, from the senior class all the way down to its freshman class. If redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston came out today, he would have a shot to become the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. Timmy Jernigan and Kelvin Benjamin have a shot at going in the first round in 2014 if they leave school early, and a slew of other players are guaranteed to get selected. It is hard to give the Seminoles a complete grade here until we know how many players will get drafted.

But they have work to do to match what 2001 Miami did: 17 players became first-round picks, and 38 players were drafted. Of the 22 starters in the national championship game against Nebraska, 11 became first-round selections, and 18 were drafted. To compare, 2004 USC is widely regarded as one of the greatest college football teams of all time, too. The Trojans had 33 total draft choices off that team and nine total first-round selections.

Position groups: Florida State has an edge at quarterback with Winston, the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner, and at receiver. Miami had Andre Johnson but the Florida State trio of Benjamin, Rashad Greene and Kenny Shaw is much better.

[+] EnlargeGore
Eliot Schechter/Getty ImagesFrank Gore was just one of many players from the 2001 Canes who went on to successful NFL careers.
Now consider what Miami had at running back: Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee, Frank Gore and Najeh Davenport. In the secondary: first-round picks Ed Reed, Mike Rumph and Phillip Buchanon, along with freshmen backups Sean Taylor and Antrel Rolle (future first-rounders). At linebacker: future first-round picks D.J. Williams and Jonathan Vilma. At tight end: Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow. On the defensive line: Jerome McDougle, Vince Wilfork, William Joseph and Andrew Williams. The Florida State offensive line is supremely talented, and all five starters are projected NFL players. But the Miami starting offensive line in 2001, featuring future first-rounder Bryant McKinnie, only allowed two sacks all year and paved the way for one of the best rushing teams in college football.

Schedule: Florida State has not gotten as much credit as it deserves because people perceive its schedule to be weak. But it is hard to argue with the way this team has dispatched all its opponents, most especially the ranked teams it has faced. Florida State outscored ranked opponents Clemson, Maryland, Miami and Duke 200-35. Miami was just as thorough. In consecutive weeks, the Canes beat No. 14 Syracuse and No. 12 Washington 124-7, an NCAA record for largest margin of victory against back-to-back ranked opponents. Miami led Nebraska 34-0 at halftime of the national championship game before going on cruise control. The defense posted three shutouts. Florida State has one.

On average, Miami played against better offenses and better defenses. Miami’s average opponent total offense ranked 65. For Florida State, the average is 70. The average opponent total defense rank was 48 for Miami and 55 for Florida State. Miami faced three offenses and five defenses ranked in the top 30 nationally. Florida State has faced one offense and two defenses ranked in the top 30 nationally. But the Canes did have two scares, against Boston College and Virginia Tech. None for Florida State so far.

The verdict: I still believe the 2001 Miami group is the greatest college football team of all time. Others disagree. Of course, all these comparisons are moot if Florida State loses to Auburn on Jan. 6. We can pick up the debate if the Seminoles hoist their third national championship trophy.

FSU offense poised to make history

December, 12, 2013
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — They know the numbers, but none of Florida State’s offensive playmakers wants to vouch for just how significant 1,000 would be.

The refrain was established even before the season, and it has been repeated again and again each time another Seminoles star gets within striking distance.

“I don’t feel like anyone is really focusing on that,” said Rashad Greene, Florida State’s leading receiver with 981 yards. “We want that crystal ball. That’s the goal, and individual stuff will take care of itself.”

It’s the same answer given by Kenny Shaw, now 71 receiving yards shy of 1,000.

It’s the same answer given by Kelvin Benjamin, who needs 43 receiving yards to crack 1,000.

[+] EnlargeRashad Greene
AP Photo/Richard ShiroRashad Greene is one of three FSU receivers who's less than 75 yards from the 1,000-yard mark this season.
It’s the same answer given by Devonta Freeman, who can top 1,000 rushing yards with just 57 in the VIZIO BCS Championship Game.

And, of course, the national championship is exactly where their focus should be, but the proximity of all four players to that elusive mark is nothing to shrug off.

At Florida State, getting to 1,000 has been a remarkably rare accomplishment for anyone. In the school’s history, only 12 players have reached that mark, and only once have multiple Seminoles cracked 1,000 in the same season.

For Freeman, getting to 1,000 would end the longest -- and one of the most inexplicable -- streaks in the country. No Florida State back has topped 1,000 yards since 1996 thanks to a confluence of injuries, depth, performance and bad luck. To end the streak in a national championship game would be a perfect conclusion.

“That would be great,” Freeman said. “But we’ve got to win it. We’ve got to win, then get these 1,000 yards.”

Freeman figured to have plenty of competition from his teammates in Florida State’s backfield, but Karlos Williams (705 yards) was developed slowly after moving from safety in Week 2, and James Wilder Jr. (542 yards) was hobbled by injuries in the early season, opening the door just enough for Freeman to approach that elusive mark.

When the season began, the depth at receiver actually appeared to be a concern. Senior Greg Dent was suspended after being charged with sexual assault. Senior Willie Haulstead was ruled academically ineligible. Jarred Haggins suffered a preseason knee injury and was lost for the year, too. That left Florida State with just four veteran receivers, but the lack of depth actually proved to be a blessing.

The tight rotations meant Greene, Shaw and Benjamin were on the field more often, and for Benjamin in particular, that made a marked difference in his performance. In 2012, Benjamin withered down the stretch, but this season, his last two games have been his best. He has caught 14 passes for 331 yards and five touchdowns in his last two contests, pulling him into position to crack 1,000 yards, too.

Only once has Florida State had two receivers top 1,000 in a season -- 1995, when E.J. Green and Andre Cooper did it with a combined 9 yards to spare. That Florida State might have three this year would put the Seminoles’ offense in rarefied company.

Only four other teams in college football history have had three 1,000-yard receivers in the same season. Three of those teams -- 2009 Houston, 2007 Hawaii and 2003 Texas Tech -- hardly offer apt comparisons. They combined to throw the ball on 69 percent of their plays. Florida State, meanwhile, has thrown just 46 percent of the time this season.

The 2007 Tulsa Golden Hurricanes are really the only good comparison to what Florida State has done on offense this year. They had a 50-50 split on play-calling, and they are the only team in the last 10 years to have four players top 1,000 yards in one season.

It’s not a record that established Tulsa as an all-time great, of course. It’s simply just an interesting bit of trivia. And that’s why Florida State’s mantra is so significant.

One thousand yards would mean something. Four players topping 1,000 would mean even more. But four 1,000-yard players sharing a national championship would assure the Seminoles of their place in history.

“To me, if it’s in the context of winning and being successful, then it’s a great accomplishment,” Jimbo Fisher said. “Still, 1,000 yards is 1,000 yards, and that means a lot.”

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- They talked about Pasadena, spoke about the final destination within the confines of their team meeting rooms and practice fields.

Now that the moment had arrived, what unfolded seemed surreal. Florida State players dangled roses and put on championship hats and T-shirts after a 45-7 rout of No. 20 Duke in the ACC title game Saturday assured them a spot in the BCS national championship game.

But senior receiver Kenny Shaw admitted afterward what he and his teammates had accomplished was still hitting him. He flashed back to his freshman season, arriving on campus as part of Jimbo Fisher's first recruiting class.

The first week brought the first surprise: a conditioning test. Nobody passed. Not even close. "We died," he recalled. The first thought: Florida State was going to be miserable place to be for the long haul. But he knew, and the players in his class knew, Florida State ultimately would win championships again. The misery would have a payoff, somehow, some way.

[+] EnlargeKarlos Williams
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsKarlos Williams and Florida State finally can celebrate the program's return to college football's peak.
Shaw and his senior class kept working, and each successive class kept working, too, until Fisher had assembled the most talented team in America headed into 2013. Fisher knew it, and so did the players.

"We did envision this after last season, because we felt like we left a lot on the table," linebacker Telvin Smith said. "We felt like there was so much that we were supposed to accomplish that we came back and we had a little -- not a vendetta ... it was just a reckoning. We tried to put ourselves back to where we were supposed to be."

Anybody with any doubts about the schedule Florida State plays should check out Florida State itself, brimming with one NFL prospect after another, a year after losing 11 players to the draft.

Though Florida State did not play its best game against Duke, leading just 17-0 at halftime, you got the feeling the onslaught would be a formality given the sheer talent advantage on the side of the Seminoles. Indeed, Florida State scored 21 third-quarter points to effectively put the game out of reach, extending its domination over a Duke program that has never won a game in the series.

It seems only appropriate, then, that Florida State will get to face off against the SEC and Auburn in the BCS national title game. The conference that has lorded over not only college football but the ACC in particular has boasted for seven consecutive years that it has the most talent in America and the best teams in America.

Florida State, finally, seems ready to answer that argument. Nobody had more players drafted into the NFL last year. Not Alabama. Not LSU. When asked about the prospect of taking down the SEC, Seminoles players were not quite ready to start trash-talking a league that has come to dominate the ACC during regular-season matchups. Just last weekend, the ACC went 1-3 against the SEC, with Florida State posting the only victory, over Florida.

"I feel like the ACC is one of the best conferences in the nation," Florida State receiver Kelvin Benjamin said. "We've got a lot of great players."

So from a players' vantage point, is it irksome that the SEC is declared the best in America without much question or debate?

"Not even, not at all," Benjamin said. "The national championship is not here yet. We'll show them who the best is."

Fisher has molded his program into an SEC program, learning under Nick Saban and coaching at SEC schools. He served as quarterbacks coach at Auburn from 1993-98. He is intricately familiar with how the conference works, and how many of the programs in the conference work. It is no coincidence he has gotten to this level, then, following a similar framework.

The ACC has not had a team play for a national championship since Florida State faced Oklahoma following the 2000 season. It has watched every other conference get a swing at the SEC in the BCS national championship game and miss.

Now it finally gets its turn, with the undisputed No. 1 team in America, loaded with prospects and the Heisman Trophy front-runner in Jameis Winston. The ACC has waited on this moment, to finally stand on the top of the college football world.

Stepping on the SEC and ending its championship hold would make the victory all the more rewarding.

To Pasadena, then.

FSU's Benjamin a matchup nightmare

December, 3, 2013
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It’s sort of a running joke among the Florida State defensive backs. It’s a confident group -- ranked No. 1 in the nation two years running -- so no one admits when they’re overmatched, but they know covering Kelvin Benjamin is a tough job, and so they can’t help but laugh when someone else tries to do it.

Lamarcus Joyner, all 5-foot-8 of him, has battled Benjamin for jump balls in practice, but how many corners can combat a 6-foot-5 frame?

[+] EnlargeBenjamin
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsKelvin Benjamin's 12 touchdowns leads Florida State's receiving corps.
P.J. Williams is tall enough to at least pose a threat on those plays, but then, he has to account for Benjamin’s surprising burst of speed, too. How may 6-5 receivers get used on end-arounds, after all?

Terrence Brooks plays with a unique blend of speed and physicality, but mixing it up with Benjamin isn’t exactly fun. A receiver with size and quickness that still likes to hit, to block downfield -- how many players in the country do that?

“It’s like it’s easy for him,” Brooks said. “I don’t think they make him anymore in the factories.”

This is how it’s been since Benjamin arrived at Florida State in 2011, a physical freak of nature who performed such astonishing feats of athleticism and strength on the practice field that the accounts from teammates were often met with skepticism from those who hadn’t seen it firsthand. But making it look easy was actually what made life hard for Benjamin.

His first year was a waste. He was overweight, unprepared and redshirted.

The 2012 season represented a big step forward, but still a disappointment. His focus wandered, and his production waned. He caught 30 balls, but he had just 52 receiving yards in the final five games of the season.

This season, however, Benjamin is blossoming into the player his teammates always knew he could be -- a monster few defensive backs are capable of taming.

“Anybody can make mistakes and have a season like [2012] and throw excuses out there,” Benjamin said. “I felt like the season just improved me as a player.”

Benjamin’s improvements began in the weight room. He shed some excess pounds and got into the best shape of his life. He hit the film room, studying the playbook with renewed vigor, knowing a new quarterback was taking the reins of the offense, and he’d have a fresh start and a bigger role. He talked with Rashad Greene and Kenny Shaw, the veterans of the receiving corps, about finally showing the rest of the world what had so often been confined to the practice field.

“He’s a lot more focused mentally than anything,” Greene said. “He’s always had the ability, the skill, the talent. But the way he’s been locked in and just been all in for the team -- he can tell you, he’s really focused compared to what he was last year. And it’s showing all around.”

It’s helped, too, that Benjamin’s role has increased dramatically.

A year ago, the receiving corps was deep -- a solid mix of veterans and younger players all eager for their share of throws. For Benjamin, however, there simply weren’t enough footballs to go around. He’d be on the sideline for long stretches, then his head wasn’t in the game when he took the field.

But this offseason, Florida State lost three seniors for the season before fall camp concluded, and that’s meant a tight rotation on game days and plenty of throws for Greene, Shaw and Benjamin, who are now all within reach of 1,000 yards.

“A receiver wants to touch the ball as many times as you touch it in practice, and my first season, I wasn’t doing that,” Benjamin said. “I let that get to me, wanting the ball more and the rotation. This year, we stay on the field until we finish the game. It’s just staying in there and having that feeling that consistently you’re in the game and you’re warm and can go out there and do it.”

In last week’s win over Florida, Benjamin was constantly in quarterback Jameis Winston’s sights. He had a career-high nine catches for 212 yards and three touchdowns. It was the first time a Florida State receiver topped the 200-yard mark in 11 years. It was the eighth-best single-game total in school history, and Winston had predicted it earlier in the week.

"I said, 'KB, you are an unstoppable force. If you go out there and do what you're supposed to do, no one can cover you,'" Winston recalled after the win.

None of it comes as a surprise, of course. Just look at Benjamin, and it’s always been obvious he would become a star. There simply aren’t other receivers who do what he can do.

Duke corner Ross Cockrell said the key is to challenge Benjamin at the line of scrimmage, play physical with him. But really, Cockrell is grasping at straws. Benjamin has five inches and 50 pounds on the Duke corner.

“We'll be working all week on that answer,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said of defending Benjamin. “We don't have anybody that can line up and match up physically with him. He's just a monster and with great skills.”

Benjamin has always been a monster, but after three years, Jimbo Fisher has finally convinced him to prepare as if he were a mere mortal. Now those skills are well refined, and Benjamin presents a matchup as perplexing for defenders as any in college football.

And that’s when Florida State’s own defensive backs can break character and admit, covering the monster can’t be done. They know. They’ve tried.

“Seeing him go against other guys,” Brooks said, “we sit there and laugh about it.”

Noles roll again amid Winston scrutiny

November, 24, 2013
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The stands were sparsely populated by the end, a small contingent convinced either by obligation or morbid curiosity to wait out the inevitable.

When Florida State scored its ninth touchdown of the day, Kenny Shaw wondered if it was time to call off the dogs. After the 11th, he wondered if the Seminoles might make a push to score 100.

After it was over, Jimbo Fisher was asked if he'd ever been on a team that scored 80, as Florida State did in an 80-14 win over Idaho on Saturday. Actually, Fisher said, he once quarterbacked a team that scored 82.

"I guess we've got to step our game up a little," FSU QB Jameis Winston responded.

Eighty points and more work to do. That's the elite strata where Florida State resides on the field these days, and Saturday was a crown jewel in a dominant season.

Shaw, Devonta Freeman and Karlos Williams all topped 100 yards. The defense picked off four passes and scored twice. As he has in four of the past five games, Winston made just a cameo in the second half, and yet he still threw for four touchdowns, pushing his season total to 32 -- one shy of Chris Weinke's school record.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesDespite the storm brewing off the field, Jameis Winston remained as focused as ever on it.
After Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel struggled in a loss to LSU, Winston's strong outing (14-of-25 for 225 yards and four touchdowns) should've secured him a massive lead in the Heisman race with just two games remaining, too, but that's where life for Florida State stops being so easy. There is a whole set of messy questions still lingering away from the game itself that complicate everything about what's to come.

The investigation into sexual-assault claims leveled against Winston will bleed into a third week, state attorney Willie Meggs told the Associated Press on Saturday, saying he likely wouldn't make a decision on whether the Florida State quarterback would be charged with a crime until after Thanksgiving. But as Meggs bides his time, the rest of Tallahassee buzzes with questions and rumors and innuendo.

Before the game, fans debated the next step in this legal drama as they guzzled beers and grilled burgers. When Winston took the field for Florida State's first offensive series, he earned a massive ovation from the crowd, though Fisher chalked it up as a routine greeting for the Heisman candidate. After it was over, only a small contingent of Florida State's roster was available to media -- a measure instituted by the school to avoid any quotes that might be misconstrued by a horde of reporters parsing every last word. And, as has been the case before each of Winston's public comments since the news of the investigation first broke, FSU staff offered a concise reminder that he would talk only about football, even if the football was a complete afterthought in the wake of yet another blowout win.

On the field, there's little left to discuss. Florida State is as good as any team in the country.

Off the field, the illicit details of an alleged 11-month-old encounter have led to an enigmatic legal battle that is the talk of college football.

"The football field is a sanctuary to me," Winston said. "And it's like that for all my teammates. I can feel it. On that field, everything is zoned out, clear the mechanism, we focus and we're out there to get a victory."

The victory came easily, as so many have this year. Florida State has won each of its games by at least two touchdowns, scored 40 points or more in all 11 contests and outscored its three nonconference opponents by a combined 196-27.

Saturday's game was more about a celebration of the senior class, which took the field in front of the home crowd for the final time. It also was another referendum on Winston's focus, and he continues to show nothing of any private worries during his public appearances.

In that context, the 80-point afternoon was an appropriate conclusion to Florida State's home slate. This was a senior class that arrived amid turbulence, as legendary coach Bobby Bowden was pushed out the door following the 2009 season and Fisher took the reins. It's a group that signed on with Fisher amid one storm, then weathered numerous others along the way.

"We've been through this years in and years out," Shaw said. "You're going to go through what championship teams go through. We're trying to stay upbeat, continue on the same schedule, play like everything's normal."

Things aren't normal, but those distractions haven't altered Florida State's march toward the BCS championship game.

When it was over, Shaw was asked when he might stop to reflect on his four years at Florida State. On a day when so much debate raged among those away from the field, Shaw offered a far more succinct approach.

"Probably after Pasadena," he said.

FSU's seniors leave lasting legacy

November, 22, 2013
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Terrence BrooksMelina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsTerrence Brooks is part of a senior class hoping to lead Florida State to a national title.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The questions come because Saturday marks an ending, and endings require acknowledgement. But really, Terrence Brooks hasn’t wanted to talk about it much.

Yes, he’ll walk out onto the field at Doak Campbell Stadium for the final time in his career on Saturday, but it seems like an odd time for reflection. There’s still so much work left to do, and for Brooks and the rest of Florida State’s 2010 recruiting class, the ultimate goal is tantalizingly within reach.

After all, a national championship is why they came here in the first place -- even if it seemed a long way off at the time.

“I feel like all of us in that class, we’ve laid some great groundwork since we came here,” Brooks said. “We want to go out with a bang. We can’t let anything get between us and this national championship.”

When Brooks agreed to play for Florida State, a national championship was the least of the Seminoles’ concerns. In 2009, FSU barely qualified for a bowl game. Legendary coach Bobby Bowden was pushed out, and coach-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher was given the reins. For nearly a decade, the program had been listing toward irrelevance, and now Fisher was tasked with convincing top recruits he had an answer.

The Class of 2010 bought his pitch, then spent the next four years building the legacy he’d promised.

“There’s some guys that you’ll remember to the end of your last dying days,” Fisher said. “That’s a tremendous group of guys to me, and they ought to be remembered in Florida State lore for a long time for what they really meant.”

For Brooks, Lamarcus Joyner, Telvin Smith, Kenny Shaw and Christian Jones, creating a new legacy at Florida State was part of what drew them to Tallahassee in the first place.

Joyner grew up in Miami, rooting for the Seminoles as a kid. Smith was a star in south Georgia, and he knew the history of the once-proud program. Jones’ dad and brother both played here, too, and he wanted to make his own mark.

When the class finally came together on Signing Day 2010, Fisher had compiled enough talent to begin the long climb back to relevance.

“Guys like me, Telvin, Lamarcus -- we used to talk in high school,” Jones said. “We’d talk about how we can help build that foundation. We grew up watching Florida State and knew how great the teams were in the past.

Fisher’s job when he took over as head coach was to change the culture of a program that had fallen on hard times. He needed leaders -- both on the field and off. He looked for players with infectious personalities, then sold them on what they could accomplish at Florida State.

Little by little, Fisher’s process took root. Florida State won 10 games his first season, nine his next, then 12 in 2012, along with his first ACC title. There were still the occasional questions about whether Florida State was “back” but no one doubted the program was pointed in the right direction.

“Everything he was saying was falling into place,” Smith said. “At the end of the day, I couldn’t do anything but believe.”

That belief has paid off in a perfect start to the 2013 season, with Florida State in the hunt for a BCS championship and the Class of 2010 leading the charge -- in the locker room and on the field.

“They are the transition,” junior Karlos Williams said. “They’re the class that started it, that really started the change. It’s something they take pride in. They came in and said they weren’t leaving without a national championship.”

Saturday figures to be a rather simple step toward that goal. Idaho has won just four games the last three years. But it’s still a significant moment, a point to measure where they were and how far they’ve come.

“I think this is just the beginning for the program,” Jones said. “And it’s a special thing for us to know we laid that foundation.”
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The 17-year drought at Florida State is one of the more inexplicable streaks in sports.

Warrick Dunn breezed to 1,180 rushing yards his senior season in 1996, and while few Seminoles fans expected to see another back quite as dynamic as Dunn, it wasn’t hard to envision a slew of runners following in his footsteps and marching well past 1,000.

[+] EnlargeDevonta Freeman
Zuma Press/Icon SMIDevonta Freeman would need to average 75 yards per game to become the first FSU running back to hit 1,000 yards in 17 years.
And yet, for 17 years and for myriad reasons, it hasn’t happened. No school in the country has a longer active streak.

Of course, this year was supposed to be different. Sure, 2000 and 2002 and 2004 and, heck, even 2012 were supposed to be different, too, but they weren’t. But everything about this season has felt different for Florida State, felt like the good old days when Dunn roamed the sideline, and really, it would’ve taken a catastrophe to keep Devonta Freeman from finally, mercifully putting the streak to an end. Right?

Not exactly.

Three weeks ago, Freeman was the workhorse against Miami, carrying a career-high 23 times for 78 yards, bringing his season rushing total to 639. With six more games to play -- including predicted blowouts against Wake Forest, Syracuse and, this week’s opponent, Idaho -- 1,000 was well within reach.

The former prediction has lived up to its billing. Florida State beat Wake and Syracuse by a combined 118-6, and is a 56-point favorite against Idaho on Saturday. The latter, on the other hand, is proving more elusive.

Florida State has won its last two games by such a massive margin that Freeman’s role all but disappeared. He carried the ball just 10 times in the two games, for a total of just 40 yards. After the Miami win, he needed to average just 60 yards per game to reach 1,000 -- a total he’d topped six times already this year. Now, he'll have to average 75.

“I think Free’s gonna get it, man,” said fellow tailback James Wilder Jr., who’d entered the season dreaming of 1,000 yards himself, only to see injuries wreak havoc on the quest. “I’m rooting for him the whole way.”

Wilder is healthy now, and he's gotten some short-yardage carries that might’ve gone to Freeman earlier in the season. Karlos Williams has taken the bulk of the second-half carries in the recent blowout wins. For the year, Freeman has just 12 carries (for 29 yards) in the fourth quarter -- a third of which came in the Miami game.

Last year, Freeman averaged 5.9 yards per carry -- a rate that would’ve gotten him to 1,000 with just 13 carries per game. This season, his average has dipped just a tad, to 5.7 yards per rush. He’s been far more explosive in the passing game (218 yards) and he’s already topped his career high in touchdowns (11 total, 10 on the ground), but it’s those 13 carries a game have proven problematic. So far this year, he’s averaged 12 per game, and in the past two blowouts, he’s averaged just five.

“The last couple games, it’s just been the way it’s fallen out,” Jimbo Fisher said. “But we’ve still got four ballgames left, a lot of ball left to play.”

Freeman isn’t Florida State’s only star in search of a record, though. He’s just in search of the most high-profile one.

Jameis Winston is on pace for 39 touchdown passes, which would dwarf FSU’s previous season high of 33, set by Chris Weinke in 2000. Of course, like Freeman, Winston’s workload has been limited by success. He's thrown just 18 fourth-quarter passes this year.

[+] EnlargeGreene/Shaw
Stephen M. Dowell/Getty ImagesRashad Greene (left) and Kenny Shaw could become the first pair of FSU receivers with 1,000-yard seasons since 1995.
Eleven years have passed since Florida State last had a 1,000-yard receiver (Anquan Boldin in 2002), and the Seminoles have never had a runner and receiver crack that mark in the same year. This season, however, Rashad Greene (860 through 10 games), Kenny Shaw (721) and Kelvin Benjamin (565) all have a chance at 1,000. Greene, who needs just 35 yards per game the rest of the way, seems like a near lock.

“If that can go within our team goals, and we can reach everything, I think it’s great,” Fisher said. “I have a lot of respect for [Greene] and I’m hoping for it.”

But hope doesn’t put the ball in a receiver’s hands or earn a tailback a few extra carries. The statistical goals are about opportunity, and during FSU’s run of blowouts this year, those opportunities have been a bit too rare.

Shaw, who is on pace for 1,009 receiving yards, is a fine example. The senior has topped 89 yards receiving in a game six times this season, but he’s never gone past 100. Last week against Syracuse, Shaw was stuck on 99 when one final pass came his way. He was tackled at the line of scrimmage, though, and 99 is where he stayed. There's a strange bit of luck involved too, and that's been the great variable for Florida State over the years.

Yes, this season is different -- and maybe too different. Florida State is the only team in the country to win all its games by at least 14 points. If the streaks continues for another year, the ultimate irony might be that it did so because Freeman and Co. were simply too good.

ACC weekend rewind: Week 12

November, 18, 2013
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Just two more weeks left in the regular season. But before looking ahead, let's take one last look back at the week that was in the ACC.

[+] EnlargeJames Wilder Jr.
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsTailback James Wilder Jr. rushed for two touchdowns on just three carries in Florida State's romp of Syracuse.
The good: There's not a whole lot not to like about another brilliant Florida State performance, as the Seminoles rolled to a 59-3 win over Syracuse to clinch a perfect ACC season. Jameis Winston (19-of-21 passing) was only needed for a half, and he got plenty of help from his supporting cast, with Karlos Williams making the most of his four carries (78 yards), Kenny Shaw adding 99 receiving yards on seven catches and the defense holding the Orange to 68 first-half yards on 30 plays. Those poor souls from Idaho entering Tallahassee this coming weekend for Senior Day ...

The bad: What happened to you, Miami? Just three weeks ago you entered a prime-time showdown at rival FSU riding high, undefeated, free of the NCAA cloud and ranked No. 7 in the BCS standings. You've lost three games since, the latest a 48-30 contest at Duke, which wrestled away control of the Coastal Division from you. You gave up 358 rushing yards to a team that entered averaging just 165.9 per contest. Fortunately, you have Virginia on deck this weekend for Senior Day.

The ugly: Speaking of Virginia, the Cavaliers have some company in the cellar of the ACC, as NC State lost again, this time a 38-21 contest at Boston College. The Wolfpack fell to 0-7 in ACC play for the first time in program history, and they are now guaranteed to miss a bowl game in Year 1 under Dave Doeren. Andre Williams did a lot of this to them, too.

The history: Williams keeps finding records to chase. This time the Eagles senior rushed for an ACC single-game record of 339 yards, giving him an ACC single-season record of 1,810 rushing yards on the season. The previous ACC single-game record was 329 by Wake Forest's John Leach in 1993 versus Maryland, according to ESPN Stats & Info. And the previous league single-season record was 1,798 by Virginia's Thomas Jones in 1999. Williams' 339 yards Saturday were the most by an FBS player in a game this season, though it was not the most across college football Saturday: That would belong to Cartel Brooks and his 465 yards for Div. III Heidelberg, a new NCAA record.

More history: Tajh Boyd broke Phillip Rivers' ACC record for career touchdown passes, as he now has 97. And the Clemson quarterback had 340 passing yards in Thursday's win over Georgia Tech, leaving him one 300-yard game shy of Rivers' ACC record of 18.

(We want) more history: OK, fine. Duke quarterback Brandon Connette rushed for four touchdowns, giving him 29 rushing touchdowns for his career, breaking the previous school record of 28, set by Tom Davis from 1941-44.

The fun and games: Hey, who doesn't like a game of Hangman? It's not like the end of the Florida State-Syracuse game featured anything more dramatic, anyway.

The consistently inconsistent: Pitt was thisclose to keeping Notre Dame out of the national title game last season. It then followed things up by laying an egg at UConn. The Panthers finally took down the Irish this year, so how did they respond? Naturally, by falling behind by 24 points in the second half in an eventual 34-27 home loss to red-hot North Carolina. Give credit to Pitt for mounting a furious comeback to tie the game, and to Tom Savage and Devin Street for playing hurt, but surrendering a pair of punt return touchdowns to Ryan Switzer did not help matters. The Panthers remain at five wins, with a game this weekend at the always-tricky Carrier Dome on deck before the season finale against Miami.

The celebration: Did you see how happy Randy Edsall was? Maryland finally got to bowl eligibility under the third-year coach, snapping a three-game losing streak by pulling off the overtime upset at Virginia Tech. This was a big deal for Edsall & Co., as evidenced by his oh-so-happy postgame demeanor.

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