Seminoles should be just as dominant in 2014
Posted December 9, 2013
With Saturday’s 45-7 win over Duke for the ACC football title, Florida State officially has re-entered Florida State air space in the conference.
Fourth-year coach Jimbo Fisher claimed his second straight league title and ran his overall record against ACC opponents to 28-7.
The last league foe to stop the express was N.C. State, 17-16, midway through 2012. Since that game, Fisher’s team has won 15 straight games against the league.
There’s no apparent end in sight either.
With likely Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston (red-shirt sophomore) returning for at least one more season and a more favorable conference schedule next season, it would be a shock if FSU didn’t add nine more league wins to its streak.
Louisville could unseat Clemson as Florida State’s primary Atlantic Division threat in 2014 but quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, a junior with first-round NFL projections, isn’t likely to return for another lap.
Clemson, Wake Forest, Boston College and Virginia are scheduled to visit Tallahassee in ’14. On the road, the Noles are ticketed for Miami, Louisville, State and Syracuse.
The team’s most difficult game probably will be the season opener in Arlington, Tex. against Oklahoma State on Aug. 30. The Florida game will be in Tally.
The following 2014 projections will change some during the next eight-plus months. But barring something completely bizarre, Florida State will go off No. 1 in the Atlantic, No. 1 in the overall ACC and perhaps No. 1 against nationally.
1. FSU: Winston won’t have to be a one-man team.
Also expected to return are junior running backs James Wilder and Devonta Freeman, sophomore wide-ount Kelvin Benjamin and enough veteran defenders to make the defense at least formidable again.
2. Louisville: There’s no clear-cut successor in line if Bridgewater leaves, but Cardinal coach Charlie Strong and his staff have a deep pool of young skill-position players.
Plus, the initial ACC road schedule – at Boston College, Virginia, Syracuse and Clemson – shouldn’t be overwhelming. At home, the Cards are set to draw FSU, State, Miami and Wake.
3. Clemson: Dabo Swinney and celebrated offensive coordinator Chad Morris face a hectic rebuilding operation.
Most of the megastars of the past two or three seasons will move on and there hasn’t been a lot of live audition time for the quarterbacks behind Taj Boyd.
Defensive leaders Vic Beasley (NFL-bound red-shirt junior) and senior linebacker Spencer Shuey will have to replaced.
Then, there’s the matter of the road games at FSU and Georgia Tech (plus a non-conference trip to Georgia in the opener).
4. Syracuse: Sophomore Terrel Hunt will be one of the few reasonably experienced quarterbacks in the league, and sophomore Jerome Smith has the look of a 1,000-yard rusher at some point during his career.
5. Boston College: Andre Williams and Chase Rettig have to be replaced, meaning the offense could be ugly early.
6. N.C. State: Shadrach Thornton’s recent adventures are hardly what Dave Doeren and his staff want to face first in what will be a critical and busy off-season.
At times, Thornton’s rushing yardage served as the Pack’s offense. If he doesn’t return, it only adds to the landscape empty spaces in an offensive hand void of aces.
The schedule, which looked inviting on paper in ’13, now seems a good deal tougher with road games set to UNC, Clemson, Louisville and Syracuse, plus a couple of home dates with Florida State and Georgia Tech (along with Wake and BC).
The non-league schedule – Georgia South and Old Dominion, at South Florida and a TBA – is hardly suffocating.
7. Wake Forest: Jim Grobe’s successor – Ball State’s Pete Lembo perhaps – likely will learn early and often that Grobe overcame longs odds to win 77 games at the school.
1. Georgia Tech: It starts with the fact that Paul Johnson has a career 10-1 record against Duke and gets the Blue Devils (plus Clemson and Miami) in Atlanta next season.
The offense should retain quarterback Vad Lee (1,414 yards passing), running back Zack Laskey (453 yards rushing) and top receiver DeAndre Smelter.
Back on defense should be safety Chris Milton and seven other full or part-time starters.
On the road, the Jackets are slated to visit UNC, NCSU, Pitt and Virginia Tech.
Johnson’s option offense can be a boom/bust equation at times, but it’s still the most difficult preparation test in the ACC.
2. Duke: If David Cutcliffe returns and there’s no compelling reason at this point to think otherwise, the Blue Devils should be a divisional title contender again.
Almost all of the central offensive performers will be back and obviously should be more confident in the system than ever.
Other than Florida State, the Devils’ defensive backfield has the highest ceiling in the conference.
The most glaring challenge probably will be the league road schedule – at Georgia Tech, Miami, Syracuse and Pitt. The four home games – Virginia, Virginia Tech, UNC and Wake Forest _ look winnable.
3. UNC: The quarterback competition will be interesting but whether it’s Marquise Williams, Mitch Trubisky or someone else, the Tar Heels should have a wealth of skill-position personnel.
The primary blocking will have to be reworked some with the exits of tackle James Hurst and tight end Eric Ebron but pre-bowl practice sessions will help in that department.
Defense could be a problem again, although linebacker Norkeithus Otis will be dependable leader.
The conference road schedule – Duke, Miami, Clemson, Virginia – won’t be easy.
4. Miami: Replacing quarterback Stephen Morris will be the first concern but if the recruit class rankings turn out be reasonably on target, the overall talent will be up over the past two or three seasons.
5. Virginia Tech: Logan Thomas will join Morris, UNC’s Bryn Renner and several others in the QB departure line.
But as long as Bud Foster stays on the sidelines, the defense will be imposing and 2103 freshman cornerback star Kendall Fuller will give Foster an impressive starting point.
After an early-season trip to Ohio State, the Hokies will return to face a road conference schedule that includes Duke, UNC, Pitt and Wake. In Blacksburg, they’ll have Boston College, Virginia, Georgia Tech and Miami.
6. Pitt: The second year in the ACC could be a lot like the first for the Panthers, who lose defensive leader Aaron Donald, quarterback Tom Savage and standout receiver Devin Street.
7. Virginia: Quarterback David Watford is expected to return but needs to improve dramatically for the offense to make any sort of significant strides.