As another off season of College Football material kicks off, this year marks the third year I’ll throw my hat in the ring and look at a number of topics and categories. In the process I’ll look to do everything from predicting next year’s 25 best teams, identify the games of the year, narrow down the Heisman field, identify those replacing 2012′s stars and ultimately make predictions for each league, culminating in a national championship pick. They’ll be many things I’ll be ridiculed for. There will be a number of things that will surprise some people. Ultimately you’ll come away from the next 6 months of material as ready for the college football season as I can possibly make you. While I’ll be sure to miss on things I would like to remind the skeptics I did correctly predict the same number of bowl teams preseason as Phil Steele a year ago as well as top him in BCS Bowl participants predicted before the year. Nonetheless I’m not putting out any magazines soon so keep buying his for the top preseason coverage available.
The key in any top 25 poll is understanding the premise on which the poll is based because not all top 25 polls are built the same way. Some people choose to rank teams 1-25 based on where they think teams will be ranked at year’s end. If they think a team will lose 5 games they won’t rank them. While that may seem logical I’ve never been a proponent of that style of poll and it has never been, nor will ever be, how I choose to do my top 25 polls. My polls reflect the 25 teams entering 2013 who I think are the top 25 teams on a neutral field if the country played a round-robin. If a team is likely to max out at 7 wins that doesn’t give me the urge to rank a nine-win team over them if the nine-win team is from a much weaker league. With that covered, let us continue the top 25 for 2013 as the official kickoff of the off season coverage here at The Sports Headquarters.
*Returning Starters Figures from Phil Steele’s Blog
Teams already ranked:
#25. Fresno State Bulldogs
#24 Vanderbilt Commodores
#23 USC Trojans
#22 Miami Hurricanes
#21 Ole Miss Rebels
#20 Boise State Broncos
#19 Wisconsin Badgers
#18 Oklahoma Sooners
Coming in at #17…
Florida State Seminoles
2012 Record: 12-2
Conference Finish: 1st in ACC Atlantic, Won ACCCG vs Georgia Tech
Bowl: Won Orange Bowl 31-10 over Northern Illinois
2013 Returning Starters: 6 offense, 4 defense
The most obvious question heading into 2013 for Florida State will be who takes over the starting job next year at QB after the often polarizing E.J Manuel has finally graduated. While Manuel had a fairly strong 2012 season, it was the decision making at times that often drove the Seminoles fanbase mad, no game being a better example than a loss to Florida late in the year. Clint Trickett is the name that sticks out most, mostly due to his past experience backing up Manuel and the time he’s gotten the last two years during Manuel’s injuries. However, Trickett is far from a lock to win the starting job given the promise of redshirt freshman Jameis Winston, a more dual-threat QB who is best known for being the Gatorade Player of the Year in Alabama his senior season. Jacob Coker, a redshirt sophomore also figures to be in the mix as Jimbo Fisher will have the decision of experience vs. potential this spring making a decision. Regardless of the choice he makes, expect this group to flourish relative to the performance of the skill positions.
The running backs will again be extremely talented and the onus falls on the line and play-calling to showcase their talents. James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman are both back for their junior seasons and will likely again share the workload in the backfield, though each has the capability to carry the run game on any given day. If 2012 was any indication it’s hard to imagine either will have the number of carries to go for a 1300-1500 yard season but either has the potential to get 1000. That doesn’t include Mario Pender, the redshirt freshman who suffered a knee injury in the spring last year that cost him the season but the coaching staff has high hopes for and should break the rotation with the potential to be a big surprise in 2013. This unit is the biggest strength for the Noles again in 2013.
It was last year in the Tiger Newspaper at Clemson I said Rashad Greene could have a breakout year in 2012 and be the second best WR in the conference behind Sammy Watkins. So we’re going to try that again. Assuming Sammy Watkins returns to his level of dominance in 2011, Rashad Greene could AGAIN be the second best wide receiver in the ACC in 2013. Beyond Greene you have a deep staple of wide receivers without any jumping out as elite. Kelvin Benjamin, Kenny Shaw and Greg Dent are just some of the names that will make up the rest of the Seminoles passing attack and the Noles have added 4-star recruits at the position each of the last two years.
The offensive line has fully matured at this point dating back to the 2011 season when the entire unit was basically freshman and now is quite possibly the best in the ACC. Four starters are back, all upperclassmen with pass protection being the most important area of improvement. The Noles were 59th in the nation last year in sacks allowed, certainly not terrible as it basically defines average but something the team would like to be better if Florida State intends on defending its conference crown.
The 2012 defense as the country knew it is essentially gone. Only four starters return from the group but the cupboards aren’t empty as the Seminoles look to replace the #2 defense from a season ago. The Noles however didn’t light the world on fire defensively in its two biggest games against Clemson and Florida surrendering over 30 points in each game and a ton of yards. Still, the talent is undeniable and now it just comes down to replacing the parts. Tank Carradine and Bjoern Werner, the terrorizing defensive ends who combined for 24 sacks a year ago are both gone as well as both defensive tackles. Nonetheless this is a group that has two five start defensive line prospects from the 2012 class, Eddie Goldman and Mario Edwards ready to jump in and whose entire backup defensive line last year was top 150 prospects coming out of high school. In other words, it’s more just shuffling in the stars than really overcoming losses.
Christian Jones returns after an all-conference performance last year where he led the Seminoles in tackles and will be the one prominent starter back from the Seminoles front seven. The Noles have two spots to fill with one guy to keep an eye on being Matthew Thomas, a five-star linebacker in this year’s recruiting class. Along with the talent on the defensive line however is the back end of the defense. Lamarcus Joyner returns as an all-conference safety last year but will be moved to cornerback this season where him, Nick Waisome and Ronald Darby will form a trifecta of strong cornerbacks intent on stopping the passing attacks in the ACC and most notably Clemson in a monster ACC Atlantic game. Even with Xavier Rhodes jump to the NFL, the Seminoles bring back just about everything from the nation’s top defense a season ago with a five-star DB Jalen Ramsey added to the recruiting class.
#1 Pass defense. #2 run defense. #2 overall defense. #3 in third down defense. The Noles defense should again be a formidable force in 2013. Another note worth mentioning which I normally don’t bother with is the replacement at kicker for the Seminoles now that Dustin Hopkins is finally gone. Hopkins was as good a kicker as any in America who put 50 yarders through with regularity. The Seminoles will miss that weapon on special teams.
The Noles jump right into action on Monday night against ACC newcomer Pittsburgh on the road, as they’ll look to serve a humble welcome to the Panthers. Barring an upset there the road looks relatively clear up to October 19th when they travel to Death Valley to play Clemson. The Seminoles haven’t won at Clemson since 2001 and as I was on record saying a year ago, the same likely holds true in 2013 that the winner of that game becomes not only the overwhelming favorite to win the division but the ACC as a whole. One interesting thing of note in FSU’s favor is the Seminoles get a bye week leading into that Clemson game which means 13-14 days of preparation minimum for the Clemson offense. The stretch starting with Clemson should make or break the Seminoles season as the next two weeks feature games against NC State and Miami, both at home, as the Hurricanes figure to be the second toughest ACC foe the Noles will play all year. Of course the end of the season game against Florida awaits, this year in The Swamp, which the Seminoles will look to revenge last year’s loss at home. A fairly manageable schedule that should produce 9-10 wins at fewest.
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