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How many 2017 FSU players would start for the 2013 squad?

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Derwin James and who else?

Florida State v Mississippi Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

As we inch closer to the start of the 2017 season, our sights turn to the biggest of prizes: the national championship.

The last time Florida State won the national championship was not that long ago: 2013. Many fans have fond memories of the Seminoles coming back to beat Auburn in the Rose Bowl. Spurned on by the heroic efforts by Jameis Winston, Telvin Smith, and Rashad Greene among others, the ’Noles captured their third national title in program history and Jimbo Fisher’s first as head coach.

Many fans believe that the ‘13 squad was the best team that Florida State has ever fielded, and for good reason. Winston won the Heisman trophy and went on to be the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft. Jalen Ramsey and Kelvin Benjamin joined him as first round picks and countless others are currently making waves in the NFL.

Before the 2017 version of Florida State hits the field, a rigorous debate has popped up on social media comparing this year’s team to the one that won the national title.

The main question seems to be this: “How many players from this year’s team would start on the 2013 team?”

On the surface, the easy answer to this may be not many.

But as we dig into a position-by-position breakdown, there may be more players from the ’17 squad challenging for a starting role than you think.

As we answer this question, keep in mind the logical fallacy that exists with it. We already know how the 2013 team performed. We do not yet know how the 2017 team will perform.

Quarterbacks

Deondre Francois had a promising freshman season, but Jameis Winston is widely considered to be the best quarterback, if not overall, player in school history. This is not really a debate.

Running Backs

The 2013 squad featured a talented trio of backs in Devonta Freeman, James Wilder, Jr., and Karlos Williams. Freeman was the most productive of the bunch, rushing for 1,016 yards and 14 touchdowns. Between the three of them, FSU might have had among the best stable of backs in the country.

Right now, two player seem to be standing out for the ’Noles at running back: junior Jacques Patrick and freshman Cam Akers. At 6-2, 230-pounds, Patrick has the size to be a workhorse back, but hasn’t proved it yet. Likewise, Akers is one of the most talented players FSU has ever signed, but he has yet to take a snap as a collegiate player.

For now, we’re going to say neither starts for the ’13 team, but let’s revisit this at the end of the season.

Wide Receivers

Between Greene, Benjamin, and Kenny Shaw, Winston had quite the trio to throw to in ’13. Greene and Benjamin both eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving, and Shaw was nearly there with 933-yards.

Per recruiting rankings, the current crop of receivers at Florida State might be more talented than those in 2013. Auden Tate and Keith Gavin are both blue-chip recruits with size and physicality to their games. Meanwhile, Nyqwan Murray was a three-star recruit, but had a breakout sophomore season capped off by a two-touchdown performance vs. Michigan in the Orange Bowl.

I think one of Tate, Murray, or Gavin would start, or at least contribute meaningful snaps, to the ’13 squad. With Winston throwing the ball, each would have the opportunity to break out as a star receiver.

Tight Ends

This position debate is between two players: Nick O’Leary and Ryan Izzo.

O’Leary had a breakout season in ’13, catching 33 passes for 557 yards and seven scores. Meanwhile, Izzo only has 34 receptions for 444 yards and three touchdowns during his three-year career at FSU. But Izzo has been somewhat limited by average quarterback play during his time in Tallahassee and is also more of a prototypical tight end at 6-5, 250-pounds. He has also carved out a niche as a blocking specialist, something that O’Leary struggled with during his time at Florida State.

We’ll give this one to Izzo, but it’s close.

Offensive Line

This one should be a slam dunk for the ’13 team.

Cam Erving, Josue Matias, Bryan Stork, Tre’ Jackson, and Bobby Hart anchored one of the best offensive lines in the country and helped pave the way for the highest scoring offense that year. Meanwhile, Florida State is still trying to figure out its line heading into the 2017 season. Several players, like Alec Eberle and Brock Ruble, have multiple years of starting experience, but none would be penciled in as contributors for the 2013 squad.

An interesting player is former five-star recruit Landon Dickerson, who started at right guard as a true freshman before an ACL tear ended his season. He might end up as one of the most talented linemen in Fisher’s tenure, but for now we’ll give this one to every member of the 2013 line.

Defensive Line

There were some monsters on the 2013 line.

Timmy Jernigan, Mario Edwards Jr., and Eddie Goldman were all terrific players for FSU that season. Jernigan’s efforts in the interior were a big reason why the ’Noles were able to hold Auburn’s explosive running game in check.

But the 2017 team also looks to have some beasts on its line as well.

Former five-star recruit Josh Sweat is finally coming into his own, and Brian Burns returns after totaling 9.5 sacks as a true freshman. Derrick Nnadi is a rhinoceros at tackle, and Demarcus Christmas is no slouch either.

I think Nnadi and Sweat start along the line for the ’13 team, over Goldman and Christian Jones. Burns might not start, but he might be the best pass rusher of that group.

Linebackers

A pair of Smiths were key cogs for the ’13 defense.

Telvin and Terrance Smith (no relation) helped clean up the mess at the linebacker position. Telvin was a lighter player at 6-3, 218-pounds but was the definition of a sideline-to-sideline ’backer.

As FSU heads into the 2017 season, a pair of fifth-year seniors in Ro’Derrick Hoskins and Matt Thomas make up its starters. Thomas, a former five-star recruit, has all the talent in the world, but hasn’t been able to stay on the field due to various reasons.

On paper, Thomas is the most talented of this bunch, but we’ll give the nod to the two Smiths for this one.

Defensive Backs

The best secondary in the country resided in Tallahassee in 2013.

From Lamarcus Joyner to P.J. Williams, every member of the ’13 secondary were elite players in their own right. The youngest prospect out of the bunch was Jalen Ramsey, merely a freshman at the time. FSU led the country that year with 26 total interceptions.

But the 2017 secondary also features some playmakers.

Not much can be said about Derwin James that hasn’t already been said. Tarvarus McFadden also returns after nabbing eight interceptions as a sophomore. Players like Trey Marshall, Levonta Taylor, and Kyle Meyers were also blue-chip recruits in their own right.

We’re definitely penciling in James over freshman Ramsey and maybe McFadden over one of either Williams or Ronald Darby at cornerback.

Special Teams

As a freshman, Roberto Aguayo won the Lou Groza Award as the best kicker in the nation, so he gets the nod over his younger brother, Ricky.

At punter, Cason Beatty and Logan Tyler each had their ups-and-downs. Beatty averaged 41.1 yards per punt in 2013 to Tyler’s 40.3 as a freshman last season. We’re splitting hairs with this one, so take whomever you prefer at punter.