Over the next 10 days, we'll be taking a look at Florida State football as the Seminoles prepare for spring practice. In anticipation of that, though, I think it's important to remember just how special the 2013 team really was.
This team scored 96 touchdowns. It dominated its schedule like almost no team ever has in the modern era. It is right there or better than any team FSU has ever had, 2005 Texas, 2008 Florida, 2011 Alabama, 2012 Alabama, etc.
Not only does a team like 2013 Florida State not come to Tallahassee every season, but teams like this just aren't around in college football every year. Rarely does a team have both that level of talent and basically everything go right, at the right time, etc.
So while the 2014 Seminoles could be just as good or better than the 2013 version, the chances are that they won't be as good. That's OK. Much lesser teams have won conference and national titles. The 2013 group was special and unique in so many ways, that to expect 2014 to be as good or better is almost disrespectful to what was accomplished in 2013.
Some questions will be answered this spring, and some won't be answered until after summer and fall camp. Some will be answered positively, and some negatively. Without getting too much into the individual positions, I have a few of my own on the macro level.
How many spots are truly open?
I consider FSU's starters to be the QB, 2 RB, FB, 2 TE, 3 WR, 5 OL, 5 DL, 3 LB, and 6 DB. That's 27. Of those, it looks like FSU must replace 12, which is almost half. That's quite a bit. But how many of those are already filled? At least some, but a true number is tough to figure.
Who will lead?
Last year, we asked this about the offense, as Lonnie Pryor, Chris Thompson, EJ Manuel and others left from the 2012 offense. We knew that the defense wasn't losing a ton in the way of leadership (though it did lose a ton of talent).
In 2014, we're asking about the defense. We know who will lead on offense, as Jameis Winston, Karlos Williams, Rashad Greene and almost everyone else of consequence returns.
But on the defensive side, FSU lost not only a key player, but a key leader at every level. Gone are Timmy Jernigan, Telvin Smith, Lamarcus Joyner, Terrence Brooks and Christian Jones. The candidates to step up and be the vocal, fiery leader and the alpha are not exactly clear. Goldman has a very different personality than Jernigan did, as does Ramsey and Darby from what Joyner and Brooks brought.
The question "who will lead?," in asking who will step up to replace the departed leaders, is perhaps a bit unfair. It presupposes that someone will step up and fill that leadership void, but knowing how special those players were as leaders, we must realize that there is a chance the leadership does not reach the level of 2013.
Florida State only has one hole to fill on special teams this year: punt returner. It has been an interesting position under Jimbo Fisher. In 2009-11, Greg Reid dazzled, fearlessly catching every punt and providing some great returns. In 2012, FSU could not catch punts. In 2013, FSU's punt return game was not great, but it caught punts very well, which is the most basic and crucial part of punt return.
With Kenny Shaw graduating, will sophomore receiver Jesus Wilson, the reserve in 2013, become the starter? If so, what will he offer at the position? Who else will FSU try back there? Rashad Greene has been OK, but he may be too valuable as the No. 1 receiver to have all that traffic around his knees and ankles, increasing the chance for a freak injury.
How will the offense evolve?
While FSU had incredible injury luck in 2013 during the year, it was very much locked in to what sort of offense it would run by virtue of its tight ends transferring or becoming injured. On April 5, Christo Kourtzidis, the potential No. 2 tight end, injured his shoulder. On June 20, No. 2 tight end, by default, Kevin Haplea tore his ACL. On July 25, Kourtzidis transferred. On August 9, Jeremy Kerr injured his leg and was lost for most of the year. Florida State entered the year and went through the year with just a single true tight end (Giorgio Newberry did move from defensive end to tight end, but was not a contributor).
In 2014, FSU will have six tight ends on its roster, and with the huge losses of Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, FSU might look to go with more two-TE sets to lessen the burden on the young receivers. We'll have more on that in the tight ends preview coming up.
Will the defense change?
With Jeremy Pruitt off to Georgia, and Charles Kelly moving from linebackers coach to defensive backs and coordinator, how will the defense change, if any? I have a hunch that the base pass rush will be much better, lessening the need to blitz, and I'll be interested to see how that works out in spring. Three of the top five defensive tackles are also gone, and as you'll read in the defensive line preview, that position is the team's biggest question.