There is no doubt that the 2012 season was the most successful season under Jimbo Fisher. The Noles got out to a roaring start, outscoring their first three oppoenents 176-3, and went on to cruise through the ACC, losing one game by one point, and get to their first BCS game since reaching the Orange Bowl in 2006. Florida State crushed Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl, winning their first BCS game since winning the national championship in 2000. But change is abound in 2013.
The inexperience at quarterback will be a concern at first. The quarterbacks on the roster have combined to throw a total of zero passes in a regular season game. With Manuel and backup Clint Trickett gone, Jameis Winston, a redshirt freshman, will take the reigns, Winston is a dual threat in multiple ways. He can run well, and he can throw well too. But he's also a pretty good baseball player. His lack of experience will be helped in some ways by the fact that five of the top six pass catchers from last season are back, led by Rashad Greene.
There will be plenty of options for running the ball. Devonta Freeman and James Wilder combined for nearly 1300 yards and 19 touchdowns, and the team averaged 5.8 yards per carry. Wilder led the team with 11 touchdowns, and his bruising style is perfect for goal line situations, while Freeman accounted for eight, and averaged 5.9 yards per carry. These two will have redshirt freshman Mario Pender to back them up. He's more in Freeman's mold as a speed back, but should see some carries. But the most important thing for these guys is the offensive line in front of them. Four starters are back, and the Florida State offensive line is regarded as one of the best in the nation. The Noles averaged 5.6 yards per carry, and with all of the experience back on the offensive line, could be even better this year.
The last two seasons, the FSU run defense was really tough to get past. The only thing that might be tougher to get past is level 65 in Candy Crush. Over the last two seasons, The FSU defense has allowed 264 yards per game, and only 87 yards per game on the ground. All four starters from last season are gone, but there was plenty of talent behind them. They may not be quite as good as the last two seasons averages, but they will still be really good. And if running backs do happen to get past the defensive line, Christian Jones will be waiting. He's the only starter returning in the front seven, but he was also the team's leading tackler last season. And he'll also have Telvin Smith with him. Even though he didn't start, Smith was third on the team in tackles, and was among the team leaders in tackles for loss as well.
Where FSU should be really good this year is in the secondary. The Noles were the best in the nation in pass defense, and three starters return, and seven of the top eight on the depth chart, led by Lamarcus Joyner. The senior is transitioning from safety to cornerback this year, and still garnered preseason All-ACC accolades at the position. Teams completed less than 49% of their passes last season against this secondary, and with the talent back, could get even better.
How do you replace a guy became the leader in points scored by a kicker in NCAA history? It's simple. You bring on a guy whose leg can rival that of the greats in FSU lore. Robery Aguayo hit a 58 yard field goal in the spring game this year, and once hit a 63 yarder in high school. His leg will get plenty of work this year between the kickoffs, the extra points, and the field goals. As long as he is accurate, there should be no problem here.
The schedule will be a little more challenging early on for FSU this year. They opened up last season with two games against FCS schools, but open up the season this year on Labor Day night at Pitt in their ACC debut. After that, the two non conference games against Nevada and Bethune-Cookman, before resuming the conference schedule, which includes road dates at Boston College, Clemson, and Wake Forest, and home dates with Maryland, NC State, Miami, and Syracuse, before wrapping up the season with a home game with Idaho, and the season finale at Florida.
Despite half of the starters being gone from last season's team, the Noles should still be good. There's still the question of whether some of the talent can live up to the hype or not. This is especially true with Jameis Winston. The Noles will have no problems running the football, but if Winston does struggle, he will have a defense that will back him up, even with only four starters back. If he does live up to the hype, then they will be in the ACC title game this year. Worst case scenario is that they finish in second place, and they could still win 10 games.