Fresh faces for FSU in 2013
The Florida State Seminoles capped off a largely successful 2012-13 football season with the program's first ACC championship since 2005 and its first BCS berth since that same year.
Now that the fireworks have slowly dimmed in the afterglow of the Noles' Orange Bowl dominance of Northern Illinois, coach Jimbo Fisher and the many new members of his coaching staff must get back to the drawing board.
Once again, the team will be expected to compete for a conference title and a BCS bowl berth, but if they are to do it, a run is going to be made by several unfamiliar faces.
Replacing a legend is never easy
That is precisely what must happen for Jimbo Fisher and the rest of the Seminoles' offensive staff.
FSU waves goodbye to fifth-year senior EJ Manuel, the most accurate quarterback in ACC history -- seriously, Manuel was that good. His backup over the last two seasons, Clint Trickett, passed for 272 yards in extremely limited playing time in 2012. At 6-foot-3, but only 180 pounds, Trickett is a bit of a fragile figure. He won't bring the type of mobility to the table that Manuel did, but he does keep plays alive in the pocket and he has a strong arm.
That being said, the starting job is not simply going to be handed over to him.
Jacob Coker threw five passes as a true freshman in 2012. He, along with the nation's No. 1 dual-threat quarterback recruit in Jameis Winston, will push Trickett all offseason for the starter's role.
Coker is 6-foot-6, 227 pounds and obviously has all the physical traits to be a star. Some folks are saying that he can jump Trickett, who did not look like the aggressive, gunslinging passer from his freshman season.
Again, replacing the likes of an EJ Manuel is never easy, but Fisher is going to have a great selection of talented guys to choose from.
Whomever is under center should have plenty of skilled support
The Noles lose both leading running back Chris Thompson to graduation, as well as well-respected running backs coach Eddie Gran. However, by the time the 2013 season is set to kick off, the running game is going to live or die on the legs and legal issues of James Wilder Jr.; the 6-foot-2, 226-pounder finished with 635 yards on 110 carries, as well as a team-leading 11 touchdowns.
However, the dude has been arrested three times in less than a year's span.
If he cannot go, fellow sophomore (will be a junior in 2013) Devonta Freeman will be asked to shoulder the primary load after the carries were split amongst all three backs in 2012. Mario Pender is also one of the nation's top incoming freshmen. Even is Wilder is on the team, Pender will get carries, but is workload will be far less substantial.
At wide receiver, Rashad Greene is nearing superstar levels in his own right. At only 6-foot and 170 pounds, this speedster hauled in 57 passes for 741 yards and six scores as a sophomore. He led the team in all three categories, and he should provide a security blanket for the team's inexperienced quarterback and the rest of an up-and-down receiving corps.
Christian Green suffered a (terribly) down year after a solid freshman 2011 campaign. Kelvin Benjamin finished fourth on the team with 495 yards as a frosh. If either of those two can come on strong in support of Greene, this passing game has the potential to be great.
But titles are won in the trenches, and the Noles' are losing a star
There are several question marks along both lines of scrimmage, beginning with All-American defensive end Bjoern Werner. The 6-foot-4, 255-pound 'Germanator' declared for the NFL Draft a year early following a junior year in which he compiled 13 sacks and 18.0 tackles for a loss.
However, he is not nearly the only Seminoles' big man failing to return to Tally in 2013.
Tank Carradine and Brandon Jenkins are both gone as well. Thus, coaches will be looking for a huge step-up from rising star Giorgio Newberry. As a freshman, the 6-foot-6, 273-pound monster only collected 12 total tackles, but he will be a starter next season and should see an explosion in his personal stats in just his sophomore year. At the very least, studly defensive tackles Demonte McAllister and Timmy Jernigan will be back and ready for more.
Offensively, the team is looking even more sound. At tackle, junior Cameron Ervin is coming back, which his huge -- as is he: He will be a junior and at 6-foot-6, 309 pounds, Ervin is expected to dominate the left side of the line. Both guards, Josue Matias and Tre' Jackson will be returning as juniors, and senior center Bryan Stork should be an anchor in the middle of it all.
If coach Fisher keep the defensive intensity up without Werner and help continue the progression of the offensive line, another ACC title run could very well be in the works.
The Noles linebackers and defensive backs are ready to dominate
Christian Jones led the team with a solid 95 tackles in 2012, and unlike his buddies along the defensive line, he has announced that he will return for his senior season. Jones is expected to absolutely dominate the ACC in his final season, but he won't be alone.
Fellow linebacker Telvin Smith will also be taking the field at Doak Campbell for his final year, and he should easily improve upon his 64 total tackles of a year ago.
Free safety Terrence Brooks compiled 20 tackles in the Florida and Clemson games alone, and he will be another senior expected to counter Tajh Boyd's and several other gunslinger's potent passing attacks.
Nick Waisome will be a junior, and the elder statesman amongst the cornerbacks. Two future sophomores, Ronald Darby and Keelin Smith, will vie for playing time across from Waisome. Both are extremely talented, and they will be put to the test at various points throughout the season.
The Noles must move on despite losing a legend
Lest we forget, special teams are one-third of any football game. Fisher and his staff have had the benefit of one of the most prolific kickers in the history of college football in Dustin Hopkins.
Hopkins finished up his senior year having bagged 25 of his 30 field goal attempts and finished his career with more points than anyone else in D-I history.
Roberto Aguayo spent his freshman season watching Hopkins make his mark on the record books. If he can boot it the way Hopkins was able to, Aguayo will make the lives of Fisher, his teammates, and all of Noles Nation far less stressful in 2013.