NCF Nation: Rashad Greene

The preseason All-ACC team was released Wednesday, and naturally quarterback Jameis Winston led the way with the most votes. There were not too many surprises, beginning with Florida State players littered throughout the list of 26 names.

Here is the 2014 preseason All-ACC team, as voted on by the media at the ACC Kickoff:

 
 
 

Thoughts: While the ACC had the second-most NFL draft picks in May, there is significant talent returning to the conference for the 2014 season. Of the 26 players, 21 were named to one of the three All-ACC teams at the end of last season. That doesn’t include Parker, who will play his first season in the ACC this coming season. Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and the leading vote getter (although not a unanimous one), and Beasley, who received the second-most votes, are two of the three returning consensus All-Americans from the 2013 season.

Few conferences would be able to rival that offense with Winston throwing to 1,000-yard receivers Crowder and Greene and a 6-foot-3 target in Parker. O’Leary is one of the best tight ends in the country. There was a seemingly close battle at running back behind Duke Johnson, Williams got the nod over Virginia running back Kevin Parks, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season.

Defensively, that is one talented line. Beasley received the second-most votes for the preseason player of the year, and Edwards was the No. 1 high school recruit in the 2012 class. Maddy and Jarrett are two of the best defensive tackles in the country.

Duke has the second-most players on the team, which speaks to the program David Cutcliffe is building in Durham. The Blue Devils were not picked to win the ACC Coastal despite winning it last season and returning quarterback Anthony Boone. There is a constituency out there that still doesn’t believe Duke is the real deal and is bound for a letdown, but the media believes there is talent throughout the roster; the Blue Devils have a player at receiver, offensive line, linebacker and the secondary. Miami, which was picked to win the division, has two players on the list.

Even as Duke had four players, the Seminoles still had nine, only further signifying the gap between Florida State and the rest of the conference, although the league is undoubtedly improving. That list does not include Ronald Darby or Jalen Ramsey, two players who will almost certainly be on an All-ACC team by the end of the season. It is no surprise Florida State was ranked as having the most talent on its 2014 roster two weeks ago in ESPN.com's future power rankings.
Do you need a sign college football is close but still just a little too far away? The first preseason award watch lists were released Monday, a list of more than 70 players that could be the best in the country by season’s end.

It doesn’t matter if you have started only three games in your career and haven’t played a down since November 2012 -- there is a spot for you on the list.

That said, it’s college football and as ridiculous as these often are, I admit I enjoy looking at them. The watch lists for the Maxwell Award, given to the college player of the year, and Bednarik Award, given to the top defensive player, were released Monday. As the season progresses, the list will be pared down before a winner is announced in December.

Here is a look at the ACC players to make the cut and some justification for each player being on the list.

Maxwell Award

WR Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh: As a freshman last fall, Boyd was as good of a receiver as there was in the ACC. As the Panthers’ No. 1 receiver heading into the 2014 season, Boyd could put up monster numbers and follow in the footsteps of Pitt great Larry Fitzgerald.

[+] EnlargeJames Connor
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsJames Conner set a Pitt record with 229 yards in the Panthers' bowl win over Bowling Green.
QB Jacoby Brissett, NC State: This is not a knock on Brissett, but his inclusion is certainly puzzling considering he sat out all of 2013 after transferring from Florida, where he saw limited time as a starter and backup. However, the Wolfpack staff is high on Brissett leading the program’s turnaround, and Brissett was a blue-chip high school recruit.

WR Stacy Coley, Miami: Much like Boyd, Coley had a strong freshman season and is poised for a breakout sophomore campaign. One of the country’s elite recruits in 2013, Coley could make a national name for himself if he can build a connection with Miami’s quarterbacks, which have struggled with inconsistency and injury.

RB James Conner, Pitt: It’s almost unfair Conner was limited to just the Maxwell watch list Monday considering he is a two-way standout for the Panthers. Conner is already a huge fan favorite in the Steel City for his bruising and relentless running style, and he broke Tony Dorsett’s school bowl-game rushing record in December.

WR Jamison Crowder, Duke: Any time you catch more than 100 passes for more than 1,300 yards, you deserve to be on this list.

RB Duke Johnson, Miami: Johnson’s inclusion here is a credit to how dominant he was before the injury against Florida State and how woeful Miami looked after. If he can stay healthy, Johnson has the potential to be an elite back nationally.

WR DeVante Parker, Louisville: As the Cardinals’ leading returning receiver and now in Bobby Petrino’s offense, Parker should light up stat sheets this coming season.

WR Rashad Greene, Florida State: There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Seminoles’ receivers, but none of it includes Greene, who led the Noles in receiving in 2013. With Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw in the NFL, Greene will be looked upon to bail out Jameis Winston this fall.

QB Jameis Winston, Florida State: Speaking of Winston, the Maxwell is about the only thing he did not win last season. Another spectacular season and it will be hard to ignore him again.

RB Karlos Williams, Florida State: Similar to Brissett, this is a bit of a projection pick, although Williams has done significantly more than Brissett. Williams was the third-string running back in 2013, but with his five-star talent base coupled with a senior-laden offensive line and Williams could set records in his final season in Tallahassee.

Reaction: While Brissett is obviously a surprise, overall it is hard to argue with much of the list. Williams' inclusion might be pushing it a little bit, although he certainly could be one of the best running backs in the country with his blend of size and speed. It's a positive sign for the ACC that several underclassmen are on the list, including special playmakers Boyd, Coley and Conner, who will all be true sophomores this fall. The biggest question is whether Winston will win the award if he performs the way most expect him to as a redshirt sophomore. AJ McCarron won the award last season over Winston, who was a semifinalist along with Johnny Manziel. Winston's off-the-field issues might have played a role, so it would be interesting to see if the Maxwell Award will continue to take those incidents into account.



Bednarik Award

LB Stephone Anthony, Clemson: A third-team All-ACC selection last season, Anthony was brilliant in the Orange Bowl win against Ohio State with 11 tackles and an interception.

DE Vic Beasley, Clemson: A semifinalist for the award last season, Beasley is a disruptive force in opponents’ backfields. If he can show a little more consistency, he might win the award in 2014.

[+] EnlargeVic Beasley
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesClemson's Vic Beasley is among the favorites to repeat as a finalist for this season's Bednarik Award.
LB Kelby Brown, Duke: The Blue Devils under David Cutcliffe are most known for offense, but Brown is a stout defender and one of the conference’s best. He will make a run at 100 tackles for a second straight season this fall.

DB Jeremy Cash, Duke: Cash was an instant impact player for the Blue Devils a season ago following a transfer from Ohio State. With another year in the system, Cash is poised for a huge season.

DL Mario Edwards, Florida State: The former No. 1 recruit nationally was dominant in the national championship. Edwards is now the leader of the defensive line and has just as good a chance as any to win the Bednarik.

DB Anthony Harris, Virginia: An All-ACC selection as a junior, Harris will be looked upon to lead the turnaround for the Cavs on defense. It is a talented unit, and Harris, a team captain this fall, might be the best.

DE Eli Harold, Virginia: Last season he finished sixth in the ACC with 15 tackles for loss, an impressive number. He could see his numbers improve drastically with five-star Andrew Brown now at defensive tackle.

DB Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech: An impact performer as a freshman and a second-team All-ACC selection, Fuller is set to be the next great defensive back at Virginia Tech.

DT Grady Jarrett, Clemson: With Beasley constantly seeing double teams, this opens up the door for Jarrett to be an interior force for the Tigers’ defensive line, which is arguably the country’s best.

DT Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech: He helped make a name for himself against Alabama at the beginning of the season, and his strong play continued throughout the year.

LB Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville: It will be interesting to see how he fares without defensive guru Charlie Strong, but is as talented as they come.

DE/LB Norkeithus Otis, North Carolina: Otis is another player poised to possibly gain national recognition and it begins with his inclusion on this list. He had a very strong junior season with 6.5 sacks.

LB Denzel Perryman, Miami: One of the few bright spots on Miami’s defense last season, Perryman is the unquestioned leader of the Hurricanes’ defenses. He could put up a huge number of tackles this fall.

CB P.J. Williams, Florida State: Williams was one of FSU’s best players this spring, and he might be the country’s best cornerback. His stiffest competition could come from the opposite side of the field in teammate Ronald Darby, who surprisingly did not make the list.

Reaction: It was surprising Darby's name was not included on the list despite missing the spring. He could be the first cornerback taken in the NFL draft next year. The ACC is home to some of the country's best defensive backs with Williams, Fuller and Harris. Beasley is certainly one of the favorites coming into the season, but he was shut down by Florida State last season and will need to rebound against the Seminoles to make a push for the Bednarik as a senior. His sack numbers should be impressive once again, and if he can perform on the big stages, it might be the little extra that wins him the award this season. FSU's Edwards could be the best defensive lineman in the ACC and the country if he plays like he did against Auburn all season. What could hurt Edwards is he will not always be in a position to pile up sacks and tackles even when he is dominating opposing offensive linemen.
Duke has become one of the favorites to repeat as Coastal Division champions for several reasons.

Here is one of the biggest: Duke is the only team in the ACC to return its leading passer, rusher and receiver from a year ago. The Blue Devils return their top two leading tacklers, too.

[+] EnlargeJamison Crowder
Ellen Ozier/USA TODAY SportsDuke returns 72 percent of its offense, including leading receiver Jamison Crowder.
In all, Duke returns 72 percent of its offense. Only Virginia returns more in the ACC, though the Hoos are changing quarterbacks and only produced two wins with virtually the same players a season ago. Plus, their offense took a hit in the offseason when leading receiver Jake McGee decided to transfer.

What should give Duke an edge is the veteran experience and leadership it will have with returning quarterback Anthony Boone, receiver Jamison Crowder and rusher Josh Snead -- all seniors. Crowder is the headliner of the group, after catching an ACC-record 108 passes a year ago for 1,360 yards. He needs just 1,153 yards to set the school and ACC career receiving yards record.

Snead will once again split carries in the backfield -- the way Duke has done in recent history -- though some depth does have to be developed at the position. Boone will share some of the load at quarterback as well, but there will be much more placed on his shoulders with the departure of Brandon Connette.

That is where the Blue Devils lose the largest percentage of their offense -- 25 percent out of the 28 percent that is gone. Losing Connette means losing 14 of the team's 28 rushing touchdowns from a year ago, along with 1,212 passing yards and perhaps the most reliable backup quarterback in America. Thomas Sirk is expected to contribute, but it is too early to say what exactly his role will be once the season begins.

Still, Duke is the only team in the league with its offensive nucleus intact, an offense that -- by the way -- ranked No. 3 in the ACC. Florida State nearly does with Jameis Winston and Rashad Greene back. Though the Seminoles lose leading rusher Devonta Freeman, they believe Karlos Williams will be able to step right in and fill those shoes. Several other teams return two among their top passers, rushers or receivers: Pitt (RB James Conner, WR Tyler Boyd), Syracuse (QB Terrel Hunt, WR Ashton Broyld), Virginia Tech (RB Trey Edmunds, WR Willie Byrn) and Louisville (RB Dominique Brown, WR DeVante Parker).

Of these teams, only Syracuse returns 70 percent or more of its offense. Still not quite as much as Duke.
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It was hot and it was muggy and it was a Friday in the middle of summer, all of which should've been enough to strangle any enthusiasm from a group of Florida State's skill-position players running through offseason drills with the team's strength-and-conditioning staff last week. But as freshman tailback Dalvin Cook eased to a stop after an obviously impressive 40-yard sprint, a mad scientist on the sideline with his face buried in a laptop had everyone's attention.

The man is Chris Jacobs, an honest-to-goodness rocket scientist tasked with monitoring every movement the Seminoles make in practice and in the weight room. Jacobs had worked as a propulsion engineer with the space program before government cutbacks forced him out of the job, but a timely meeting with a member of Florida State's booster club brought him here.

The players call him "Rocket Man." Jacobs' computer is fueled by data that arrive in real time, courtesy of GPS monitors the players wear in specially designed straps across their chests -- sports bras the team has renamed "bros" -- that track everything from acceleration rates to heart rates and, most important to the dozens of Seminoles patiently waiting for official results, speed.

Twenty-two point eight, Jacobs confirms, and history is made. Cook's top speed during his 40-yard dash -- 22.8 mph -- pushed him past veteran receiver Rashad Greene for the team's best mark, and the other players quickly offered congratulations to the rookie. Greene, too, was impressed, but also inspired.

For players who just won a national championship by setting offensive records and winning every game by an average of nearly 40 points, this is the value of those GPS devices. They provide the benchmark for a juggernaut for which the biggest challenge comes by competing against itself.

"He beat my record," Greene said. "So I've got to go get him on Monday."

If the players see the monitoring system mostly as a souped-up speedometer, Florida State's coaching staff knows better. For the coaches, it's the technology that has undercut conventional wisdom by providing immediate feedback on every facet of a player's exertion on the field, opening the door to a new way of running practice and designing a program.

"It's not the reason you win," coach Jimbo Fisher said. "But it takes a lot of the guesswork out of how your team is feeling, how individuals are performing and how you moderate practice."

To read the complete story, click here.
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.
It was an off-hand comment from Jimbo Fisher on national signing day that first drew the attention of Florida State fans, but Jameis Winston added validity to the notion on Thursday, saying he planned to play two more years in Tallahassee before heading to the NFL.

The plan comes as a surprise to many outsiders, given Winston’s status as a likely first round pick in the 2015 draft -- and, perhaps, the first selection overall. But for Winston, it’s not entirely unreasonable.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesIf Jameis Winston sticks to his plan to play two more years at FSU, the ramification could be far-reaching.
The Heisman Trophy winner doesn’t mind going against conventional wisdom, with his return to the baseball team this spring providing the perfect context. Since his recruitment, Winston has insisted he wants to be a two-sport star, playing both football and baseball professionally before his career is over. That’s part of what brought him to Florida State in the first place. After his exceptional 2013 football season, it seemed reasonable he’d shift his focus entirely toward football and avoid the risk of injury on the baseball field. For Winston, however, that was never a consideration.

Winston will take a similar approach toward his decision regarding the NFL draft. Baseball remains a priority for him, and if staying through the 2015 football season allows him to continue to develop on the diamond, it’s entirely possible he’ll stick around. And for now, that appears to be the plan.

But what would it mean for FSU to have Winston in garnet and gold for an extra year? A few key points to keep in mind:

The depth chart

If Winston planned to leave for the NFL as soon as he’s eligible, that would’ve meant a chance for Jacob Coker to start for Florida State in 2015, but clearly that possibility wasn’t enough to keep him in Tallahassee. Coker plans to transfer to Alabama at the end of this semester, and given Winston’s plans to stick around for two more years, Fisher understood Coker’s rationale.

"He wants to graduate and he wants to play. He's got two years left and he's a year behind Jameis. Could he battle again? Yes. But I understand,” Fisher said. “I’m very supportive of it. I think the guy is a good player. I think he's going to be a good quarterback and we had a great conversation about it.”

Should Winston stay, it also makes FSU’s one-quarterback haul on signing day a little easier to tolerate. Treon Harris, a longtime FSU commit, flipped to Florida on Wednesday, leaving J.J. Cosentino as Florida State’s lone QB signing. That might be a concern if Winston departs following the 2014 season, but another year for the Heisman winner allows FSU to pad its QB depth with next year’s recruiting class, too.

While Sean Maguire likely will be the No. 2 for Florida State in 2014 and 2015, Cosentino also gets an extra year to develop his skills, too, and Fisher said the QB from Western Pennsylvania has ample upside when his time finally arrives.

The recruiting buzz

Winston’s plans to stay through 2015 actually might have hurt Florida State’s hopes of inking two quarterbacks in this year’s signing class, but just the notion that the star QB will be in Tallahassee for two more seasons is certainly a big selling point for other offensive talent.

FSU already inked three top receivers this year in Ermon Lane, Travis Rudolph and Ja'Von Harrison, along with highly touted running back Dalvin Cook. The opportunity to spend two years playing with Winston was certainly alluring.

But even the notion that Winston might be back for 2015 provides Fisher with another selling point on the recruiting trail this coming year. If Class of 2015 recruits believe he’ll be around for their freshman season, it’s one more reason to think FSU is a great landing spot.

“I also think getting them here and getting them to play with him is tremendous, especially when we have a need at that position,” Fisher said of his wide receiver recruiting. “Those guys have a chance to make an impact and be able to play with him.”

The 2015 season

Winston’s return for his redshirt junior campaign would mean a lot to a Florida State offense that figures to endure a massive overhaul in 2015. Of the 10 other projected offensive starters this season, as many as nine figure to be gone in 2015, including the entirety of the offensive line.

That’s perhaps a reason for Winston to reconsider his plan moving forward. While his talent and football acumen certainly won’t diminish with an extra year in college, the risk of injury is a real concern, and with five new starters on the offensive line in 2015, the potential for an injury diminishing his draft stock becomes all the more likely.

But if Winston does come back in 2015, it allows for some stability for an offense that will be saying goodbye to Rashad Greene, Nick O'Leary and Karlos Williams, among others.

The reality

The problem with all this supposition about Winston’s future is that he’s still 11 months away from having to commit to any definitive decision, and a lot can happen in that time. While Winston might be completely sincere in his plan to stay through 2015 now, the lure of first round money in the NFL and the risk of spending another year playing two sports in college could certainly change his mind. If he does, FSU is still in good shape with Maguire and Cosentino. If he doesn't, the Seminoles fans get an extra year with a once-in-a-lifetime player.

At this point, there’s no reason for Winston to offer any possibility other than his stated commitment to remain at Florida State. But what Winston and Fisher believe today doesn’t matter all that much. If his plans haven’t changed by January 2015, however, it’s an enormous boon for Florida State.
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.

ACC all-bowl team

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
9:00
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Bowl season was kind to the ACC in a few games (Florida State and Clemson won BCS games), not-so-kind in a few others (Miami, Virginia Tech, we're looking at you) and at least one was a little of both (can we get Texas A&M and Duke every year?). But now that it's all over, we're honoring the best individual performances in the ACC with our all-bowl team.

OFFENSE

QB: Tajh Boyd, Clemson: The big stage hadn't been kind to Boyd through most of 2013, but on the first day of 2014, he was exceptional. Boyd accounted for 505 yards and six touchdowns in a Discover Orange Bowl win over Ohio State, giving the ACC two BCS bowl game victors.

RB: James Conner, Pittsburgh: The freshman tailback carried 26 times against Bowling Green, blowing past Tony Dorsett for the Pitt bowl game record with 229 yards on the ground. For good measure, Conner chipped in on the defensive line for a few snaps, too.

RB: Devonta Freeman, Florida State: It wasn't the most spectacular performance of bowl season -- Freeman wasn't even the best running back on the field in the BCS title game -- but his hard running early kept FSU from falling too far behind, and his final tally -- 11 carries for 73 yards and a TD -- helped Freeman become the first FSU running back since Warrick Dunn to top 1,000 yards on the season.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesOhio State wasn't able to catch Sammy Watkins, as the Clemson WR set multiple Orange Bowl receiving records.
WR: Sammy Watkins, Clemson: Watkins made his last game in a Clemson uniform one to remember, catching an Orange Bowl record 16 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns despite battling an injury for half the game.

WR: Jamison Crowder, Duke: Ho-hum, another 12 catches for 163 yards and a touchdown for Crowder, who turned in one last stellar performance to cap an exceptional season for the Blue Devils.

WR: Rashad Greene, Florida State: The Seminoles' dramatic comeback against Auburn in the BCS championship game wouldn't have been possible without Greene's big day. He was the only FSU receiver with positive yardage in the first half of the game, and his 49-yard reception -- he dodged two tacklers and picked up most of that yardage after the catch -- was the key play on FSU's dramatic last-minute, game-winning drive.

TE: Braxton Deaver, Duke: The junior had six catches for 116 yards, including three grabs that went for 25 yards or more and five that went for first downs.

OL: Dorian Johnson, Pitt: The Panthers simply overwhelmed Bowling Green's defensive front in the Little Caesars Bowl, racking up 487 yards of offense, including 255 on the ground. (Ed. note: We mistakenly included Matt Rotherham here in an initial post. Johnson slid from tackle to guard for the game, replacing Rotherham, and the Pitt line didn't miss a beat. We apologize for the error.)

OL: Jon Heck, North Carolina: Cincinnati entered the Belk Bowl second in the AAC in sacks with 35, but the Bearcats couldn't get to UNC QB Marquise Williams, as the Tar Heels' offense racked up 39 points -- the second-most Cincinnati gave up all season.

OL: Laken Tomlinson, Duke: The Blue Devils racked up 661 yards of total offense and 29 first downs against Texas A&M, with the offensive line -- led by Tomlinson -- paving the way for a 300-yard passer and a 100-yard rusher.

OL: Tre' Jackson, Florida State: Yes, the Seminoles' line allowed four sacks in the game, but Jackson and Co. also helped FSU run for more yards per carry (4.8) than the vaunted Auburn ground game and provided Jameis Winston with plenty of time to throw on a dramatic game-winning drive in the final minute.

C: Macky MacPherson, Syracuse: The Orange rushed for 208 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner with 1:14 left, to knock off Minnesota in the Texas Bowl. The physically dominant performance on the line was a fitting conclusion to MacPherson's Syracuse career.

DEFENSE

DE: Mario Edwards Jr., FSU: Edwards had one sack and three tackles for loss among his six total tackles for a Seminoles front that turned it up a notch in the second half, allowing the offense to catch up and ultimately escape with the win.

DT: Andre Monroe, Maryland: The Terrapins' finale as an ACC member ended on a sour note with a 31-20 loss to Marshall in the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman. Monroe tied for a game-high with 10 total tackles, three of which went for a loss, one of which was a sack. Monroe added a quarterback hurry as well.

DT: Aaron Donald, Pitt: With one more game to go in a historic season, Donald did not disappoint. The senior closed out his career with two tackles for loss, including one sack, to go with a pass break-up in the Panthers' 30-27 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl win over Bowling Green. Donald's sack came on second down of the Falcons' final drive, all but sealing the win.

DE: Vic Beasley, Clemson: Beasley was part of a Tigers front that made life extremely difficult for Braxton Miller and the rest of the Ohio State backfield. Beasley recorded four tackles for loss and a sack among his five total tackles, and in the end Clemson's defense proved to be the difference in a shootout win.

LB: Norkeithus Otis, UNC: The Tar Heels capped their strong second half with a bang, routing Cincinnati 39-17 in the Belk Bowl to make them 6-1 over their last seven games. Otis tallied seven total tackles -- two for loss and one sack among them -- to go with two quarterback hurries.

LB: Jack Tyler, Virginia Tech: UCLA proved to be too much for the Hokies in a 42-12 win in the Hyundai Sun Bowl, but Tyler played well, totaling seven tackles, including half of a sack, to go with one pass break-up and one quarterback hurry.

[+] EnlargeP.J. Williams
AP Photo/Gregory BullP.J. Williams' interception was the big break Florida State needed to create in its come-from-behind victory over Auburn in the BCS title game.
LB: Cameron Lynch, Syracuse: The Orange finished a successful first season in the ACC by topping Minnesota 21-17 in the Texas Bowl. Lynch, a junior, tied for a team-high with eight stops, with most of his big plays coming behind the line of scrimmage. He had two tackles for loss, one sack and a forced fumble to help Syracuse go 7-4 after an 0-2 start in coach Scott Shafer's first year.

DB: P.J. Williams, FSU: The defensive MVP from the Vizio BCS National Championship came up huge when it mattered most, picking off Auburn's Nick Marshall early in the fourth quarter to set up a touchdown that cut the Tigers' lead to one. Williams finished with seven total tackles and 0.5 tackles for loss.

DB: Jemea Thomas, Georgia Tech: Thomas ended his college career with a bang, totaling a game-high 15 tackles. Three of those stops were behind the line of scrimmage, including one sack.

DB: D.J. White, GT: The Yellow Jackets get two more years of White, a future that looked all the brighter in the 25-17 loss to Ole Miss in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. White finished with 13 total tackles, two forced fumbles, one interception and three pass break-ups.

DB: Bryce Jones, Boston College: The Eagles' turnaround campaign under Steve Addazio ended on a down note, falling to Arizona 42-19 in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl, but Jones was a bright spot, with the sophomore notching a team-high 12 tackles, including one for loss.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Chris Blewitt, Pitt: Blewitt went 3-for-4 for the Panthers in Detroit, connecting from 25, 28 and, most important, 39 yards with the game-winning kick with 1:17 left in Pitt's 30-27 win.

P: Tommy Hibbard, UNC: Hibbard was phenomenal for the Tar Heels, punting four times for an average of 44.2 yards per boot. He pinned Cincinnati inside its own 20 three different times, and he had a long of 59 yards in the win.

KR: Levonte Whitfield, FSU: At the time, Whitfield's 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown seemed as if it would go down as one of the greatest returns in BCS championship game history. The touchdown gave Florida State a 27-24 lead with 4:31 to play -- but the lead would change twice more before it was over. Whitfield finished the game with 172 return yards.

PR: Ryan Switzer, UNC: The Tar Heels had a huge day on special teams in a Belk Bowl win over Cincinnati, with Switzer -- an All-American -- leading the way, returning his fifth punt of the season for a touchdown.
In a game as good as Monday’s Vizio BCS National Championship, there are countless storylines to dissect in the aftermath. And as Florida State soaks in its third national championship, we’re only beginning to fully appreciate the effort it took for the Seminoles to get here. So while the celebration in Tallahassee continues, here’s a brief look at some of the most underrated storylines from FSU’s absurd 34-31 win over Auburn.

[+] EnlargeDevonta Freeman
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsFlorida State RB Devonta Freeman became the first 1,000-yard rusher for the Seminoles since 1996.
Quest for 1,000, Part I: It was an otherwise uninteresting 4-yard rumble on first down late in the third quarter, but it was one of the most statistically significant rushes in Florida State history. The run put Devonta Freeman at exactly 1,000 yards for the season, making him the first FSU back to reach that mark since Warrick Dunn in 1996 and ending the longest active 1,000-yard rusher drought in college football. Freeman finished the season with 1,016 yards and 14 touchdowns. More importantly, he was a crucial part of the offense when Jameis Winston struggled early Monday, finishing with 94 all-purpose yards and a touchdown.

Quest for 1,000, Part II: Freeman’s 1,000th yard came late. Rashad Greene's came early. The junior wide receiver cracked the mark with the second of his nine catches in the title game, finishing the season with 1,128 receiving yards. He’s the first FSU receiver to crack 1,000 since Anquan Boldin did it in 2002. Greene’s impact Monday was huge. He was the only FSU receiver to catch a pass for positive yardage in the first half, and he was responsible for 40 percent of Winston’s targets in the game. Most significant: He had 57 yards on two catches on the winning drive.

Quest for 1,000, Part III: And if Freeman and Greene weren’t enough, sophomore receiver Kelvin Benjamin became the third FSU player to join the 1,000-yard club with his penultimate grab, a crucial 21-yard catch early in the fourth quarter that set up Florida State’s second touchdown. Benjamin ends the season with 1,011 yards. It was a frustrating game at times for Benjamin, who was shut out in the first half and had two crucial second-half drops that ended drives. His final two catches, however, were essential, including the winning touchdown grab.

Special teams was big: Kermit Whitfield's kick return for a score was obviously a turning point in the game, but it was hardly the only crucial play on special teams. The first half, in many ways, was defined by two momentum-shifting punts. The first, by Auburn’s Steven Clark, pinned FSU at its own 2-yard line. Cason Beatty's punt on the ensuing drive netted just 22 yards, and Auburn scored easily to take a 7-3 lead. Tack on three lucky saves in a row for Auburn after muffed punts, the 15-yard penalty that kept FSU from going for two early in the fourth quarter and, perhaps most significant, a missed 33-yard field goal by Auburn's Cody Parkey early in the second quarter and special teams swung the momentum of the game in either direction again and again. As for Whitfield, the true freshman touched the ball just 25 times in 2013 but racked up 818 yards and four touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeP.J. Williams
AP Photo/Gregory BullP.J. Williams' interception led to a touchdown that pulled the Seminoles within one point.
FSU’s young stars: The three biggest plays in the game for Florida State came from Winston (game-winning TD drive), P.J. Williams (game-saving interception) and Whitfield (game-changing kick return). That trio’s total accomplishments prior to this season: 14 tackles by Williams, largely on special teams. In other words, this veteran team that Jimbo Fisher has been slowly building for years won the national title in large part because of the contributions of three players who’d barely seen the field before the start of 2013. That’s a good sign for 2014 at Florida State, too.

Pruitt’s big adjustment: To open the game, FSU defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt brought pressure on Nick Marshall often, and it wasn’t entirely successful. The Tigers’ QB burned the Seminoles deep on several big plays. But Pruitt adjusted, was more conservative down the stretch, and it worked. Marshall was just 7-of-17 passing with an interception when Florida State brought four or fewer pass-rushers, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Jernigan’s impact: The stat sheet shows just nine tackles, but anyone who watched Monday’s game knows Timmy Jernigan meant so much more for Florida State’s defense. He was a beast up the middle, shutting down Auburn’s vaunted run game for long stretches and offering next to nothing between the tackles. He clogged gaps and allowed linebacker Telvin Smith to step up and record a game-high 15 tackles. He flushed Marshall out of the pocket repeatedly. Of course, Jernigan was also completely gassed by the end, relegated to the sideline for much of Auburn’s final two scoring drives, and the Tigers’ success without Jernigan in the game was the ultimate proof of what an impact FSU’s under-the-radar defensive tackle actually made.

Winston’s rebound: There were two resounding narratives regarding Florida State entering the game. The first was that Winston, the Heisman Trophy winner, would have a field day against an overmatched Auburn secondary. The second was that the untested Seminoles wouldn’t know how to handle a close game in the fourth quarter. It just goes to show that the pregame predictions often don’t amount to much. Winston’s unwavering confidence this season -- particularly on the prime-time stage -- has been Florida State’s hallmark. The “do it big” speech has been played again and again, but Winston was hardly that guy during the first three quarters Monday. His footwork was a mess. He was off target on throws. He was hesitant to release the ball, choosing again and again to tuck and run. He rarely looked downfield in spite of those supposed mismatches for his receiving corps. And yet, when the game was on the line, the QB who’d thrown just 25 fourth-quarter passes all season rebounded by completing 9 of 11 for 117 yards and two touchdowns in the game’s final quarter.

It really was about his teammates: If there was a mantra Winston stuck to this season throughout all the highs and lows, it was that the season -- and his success -- was built on the backs of his teammates. Monday’s national championship proved him right. While Winston struggled early, so many others stepped up. Freeman moved the ball on the ground. Greene provided a reliable target. Fisher called a brilliant fake punt that Karlos Williams managed to execute perfectly. Whitfield returned a kick for a score. The defense held Auburn scoreless on five straight drives -- forcing a turnover along the way -- while Winston slowly chipped away at a 21-3 deficit. Yes, it was the Heisman winner who delivered the winning drive with 1:19 to play, but it was Greene’s spectacular run after a catch and Benjamin’s unparalleled ability to go up for a ball in the end zone that made the difference. For Florida State, 2013 really was about team, no matter how good (or, in Monday’s case, shaky) Winston was along the way.

Wait is over for Florida State

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
3:28
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PASADENA, Calif. -- As the Florida State players emerged from the locker room for the second half of Monday night’s VIZIO BCS National Championship, their confidence unwavering in spite of falling behind against Auburn, receiver Kelvin Benjamin said they all agreed in the huddle that “this is our time.”

Florida State had waited long enough.

With the program’s first national title since 1999 on the line, Florida State found one big play after another -- the kind of explosive, big gains they had made look so easy all season but were so hard to come by against Auburn. It wasn’t just Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, who had been pressured all night by Auburn’s defensive line, who delivered in the clutch. It was freshman Kermit Whitfield, one of the fastest young players in the country, whose jaw-dropping, 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter changed the game with blazing speed. It was Rashad Greene, whose ability to split two defenders and run 49 yards off a screen pass extended the game-winning drive. It was Benjamin, whose otherwise quiet night was overshadowed by the game-winning touchdown.

One thing it wasn’t: all about conference supremacy.

[+] EnlargeLevonte Whitfield
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsKermit Whitfield's 100-yard kickoff return was just one of many big plays the Seminoles used to win their first national title since 1999.
While so much has been made about the ACC versus the SEC, Monday night’s moment of celebrating a 34-31 win over Auburn was for Florida State, and only Florida State. The Seminoles earned it, collectively. As the players made their way to the locker room after the game, clutching roses between their teeth and already wearing their new hats and T-shirts proclaiming them national champs, it was a celebration of an improbable come-from-behind win -- and more than a decade of waiting for the return to No. 1.

“I have to say, it’s been a four-year evolution to put ourselves in this opportunity,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We talked about being a program, and we wanted to do things right, and we wanted to build the foundation, and these guys have given their hearts and souls to us as coaches and it’s been unbelievable.”

So was the game -- the last of the BCS era.

Florida State’s comeback from 18 points down was the largest in BCS national championship game history. The Noles trailed 21-3 with 5:01 left in the second quarter. It looked like a dud, a collapse on the game’s biggest stage. Florida State’s strength of schedule was once again called into question. So was its offense. And its defense.

None of the players, though, flinched.

“When you train like we do and practice the way we practice, it’s a habit to go out and play hard and compete,” Greene said. “We weren’t worried. I wasn’t nervous at all. Even when they scored and there wasn’t much time on the clock. Honest to god, I still knew we were going to win the game.”

At halftime, Fisher prodded his team to keep blocking on kickoff returns because “Kermit’s going to pop one anytime now.”

Nobody else saw it coming -- and Auburn couldn’t stop it.

Whitfield’s return was the first special teams touchdown in the national title game since 2007, and it gave FSU a 27-24 lead with 4:31 left in the game. Fisher said Whitfield ran a 10.1 in the 100 meters, the third-fastest time in high school history.

“He has great hips, great acceleration, he’s learning our offense and getting the touches,” Fisher said. “But in the open field, he’s as dynamic as anybody in America.”

With Auburn being such an opportunistic team, though, it wasn’t enough. Auburn responded with a touchdown on the next drive to take the 31-27 lead, and Florida State had 1:19 left to win a national title.

From FSU’s own 28-yard line, Winston found Greene for 49 yards, and two plays later the Noles were in the red zone. Greene said he saw “green grass and one defender,” so he got as many yards as he could before stepping out of bounds.

“I knew those guys were physical corners, physical defenders, so it was my job to get physical back with them and create some type of separation, and I was able to do it,” Greene said. “We definitely had that calm mentality, just take a little at a time and they’ll definitely come, and [the big plays] came at the end.”

Indeed, it was finally their time.
video
Love it or hate it, the BCS delivered a dramatic and fitting ending on Monday night, as No. 1 FSU rallied from from a late four-point deficit in the final two minutes to defeat No. 2 Auburn 34-31 in the final VIZIO BCS National Championship at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. The Seminoles won their third national championship and ended the SEC's reign of seven consecutive BCS national championships.

Play of the game: Trailing 31-27 with about one minute to go, Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston threw a 49-yard pass to Rashad Greene to move to Auburn's 23-yard line with 56 seconds to play. Six players later, after Auburn was penalized for pass interference in the end zone, Winston threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin to go ahead for good with 13 seconds to play. FSU's extra point gave it a 34-31 lead.

Turning point: After Auburn took a 24-20 lead with about 4:42 to go, FSU's Levonte Whitfield returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, giving the Seminoles a 27-24 lead with 4:31 left. Whitfield, a 5-foot-7 freshman known as "Kermit," returned a kickoff for a touchdown for the second time this season.

Early turning point: With Auburn holding a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter, Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall lofted a 50-yard touchdown pass to Melvin Ray to stake the Tigers to a 14-3 lead with 13:48 to go in the first half. Ray, a sophomore from Tallahassee, Fla., had four catches for 58 yards this season before hauling in the long touchdown catch against the hometown Seminoles. FSU, which hadn't trailed since falling behind Boston College on Sept. 28 and had led for more than 571 minutes of football before falling behind the Tigers, suddenly trailed by two scores. The Seminoles played catch-up the rest of the night but finally caught the Tigers in the end.

Player of the game: Winston, a redshirt freshman from Bessemer, Ala., got off to a slow start against Auburn's defense, getting sacked four times and fumbling once in the first half. But in the end, Winston broke the Heisman Trophy jinx, throwing the winning touchdown with 13 seconds to play. He completed 20 of 35 passes for 237 yards with two touchdowns.

What it means: The controversial BCS era ends with the SEC being denied its eighth consecutive national championship, which should sit well with college football fans outside of the SEC. In a game in which the SEC seemed most vulnerable during its championship streak, the Tigers jumped out to a 21-3 lead but couldn't hold on for a victory. The Tigers were denied their second BCS national championship since the 2010 season, when they defeated Oregon 22-19 in the BCS National Championship behind quarterback Cam Newton. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn missed becoming only the second coach -- Miami's Larry Coker was the first -- to lead his team to the national title in his first season since the BCS began in 1998.

Stat that matters: 2-for-12: Florida State won despite going 2-for-12 on third down.

What's next: Florida State will probably be a popular choice to be the No. 1 team in preseason polls heading into the 2014 season. FSU will have to replace several key pieces on defense, including linebackers Christian Jones and Telvin Smith and cornerback Lamarcus Joyner. But the Seminoles will bring back Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, along with several of their most important players on offense. Auburn, which reached the BCS national championship in Malzahn's first season, will be among the SEC West favorites in 2014, along with Alabama and LSU. The Tigers will bring back Marshall, but they'll have to wait to see if junior tailback Tre Mason returns to school or enters next spring's NFL draft. Auburn's very young defense will be a lot wiser in coordinator Ellis Johnson's second season, too.


NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Florida State receiver Kenny Shaw was posing for photos while wearing “Google Glass.” Auburn players were dancing and jumping into interview shots, even joining the ESPNU crew on stage. Players from both teams took turns getting their pictures taken with the Vizio BCS National Championship trophy.

But don't be fooled -- they're ready for Monday night.

Saturday’s media event at the Newport Beach Marriott was chaotic, with every player and coach from both teams available to reporters. Florida State was the first team in the spotlight, followed by Auburn, and while the stars and head coaches for each team were seated at individual podiums, the rest of their teammates and staff members were seated around tables in a huge ballroom, swarmed by reporters with microphones and television cameras, working to preview the sport’s biggest game.

[+] EnlargeNCAA BCS National Championship
AP Photo/David J. PhillipAll of FSU and Auburn's players faced the media throng Saturday before the BCS title game.
In spite of all of the distractions and attention this week, those within both programs agreed they are focused and ready for Monday night’s stage.

“Preparation has been great,” FSU receiver Rashad Greene said. “So I feel like it's been one of the best all year. So we're doing a great job at handling our business, handling the situation, and when it's time to prepare, we have done a great job and when it's time to have fun, we're doing a great job at having fun as well. So we're definitely mature enough to handle our business and know there's a time and a place to do everything.”

Auburn cornerback Chris Davis said the Tigers have had the same approach.

“In the SEC, that's the best conference in college football,” Davis said. “And I just got to say, we're going to be well prepared for Monday. We're just ready to play our best and represent the great state of Alabama.”

For Auburn, Monday’s game is a chance to extend the SEC’s streak of national titles to eight, and give the conference 10 of the 16 BCS championships. For Florida State, which is making its first appearance in the national title game in 13 years, it’s a chance to elevate the ACC and most likely finish in the top five for the first time since the program’s historic run from 1987-2000. Saturday’s media event was a also rare opportunity for reporters to speak with Florida State assistant coaches, several of whom are former players now basking in the program’s return to the top.

Both teams have been here since Dec. 31, when they were welcomed at Disneyland. Sunday morning’s news conferences with FSU coach Jimbo Fisher and Auburn coach Gus Malzahn will be the final media availability before Monday’s 8:30 p.m. ET national title game.

For the players, it’s all business now.

“Our team has done a very good job this year of not getting distracted by anything,” Malzahn said. “This week has been no different, even though the schedule has been a little bit chaotic at times. Once we got in our meetings, once we got to the practice field, the guys have been locked in, trying to get better and focus.”

Fisher and Greene both said that the Noles haven’t played their best game yet.

“I feel very confident we're ready,” Fisher said. “I think we've practiced extremely well and I like our mindset and our attitude right now. I think we're very confident in what we do but we're not arrogant. I think our kids believe in the system, and the team we have, there's not a lot of arrogance where they're ignoring things and not preparing at the same time, and I think that's very critical.”
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
12/23/13
10:00
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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.

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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.

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