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(Post) Spring update: Florida State

Jun 11, 2014, 4:54 PM EST

Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston throws a pass against the Auburn Tigers in the fourth quarter during the NCAA BCS Championship football game in Pasadena Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston throws a pass against the Auburn Tigers in the fourth quarter during the NCAA BCS Championship football game in Pasadena

After a bit of a break, we’re back with another update on Notre Dame’s opponents. And this one might be the stiffest of them all.

The Irish will play their first true away game in one of the most formidable venues in college football, visiting Tallahassee and Doak Campbell Stadium to take on the national champs, Florida State. Jimbo Fisher’s team returns the Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and a slew of talented players expecting to take another run at a national title.

In the most optimistic of scenarios, the game against Florida State will have national implications. Even if doesn’t, it’ll be the highlight of an Irish slate that has a handful of premiere matchups.

To get us up to speed, Warchant.com’s Ben Jones took some time and answered some (I hope) good questions from me.

Let’s get to it:

On first glance, it’s striking to see the talent that’s returning to this roster. Per FSU’s spring prospectus, seven starters return on both sides of the ball. But there were a lot of key departures as well. Help put into context how this team looks on paper compared to last season’s national champs.

You’re right; there are some big pieces coming back and also some key roles that need to be filled. Offensively, FSU returns a Heisman winner at quarterback, four of five linemen, and a senior who has led the team in receiving in each of the last three years. They lose a Rimington winner at center and their first 1,000-yard rusher since Warrick Dunn, but the roster is well constructed and those shouldn’t be major issues. Replacing Kelvin Benjamin, a 6-foot-6 wide receiver with 15 touchdown receptions last year, is a big deal, but there are enough other receiving options to believe it won’t be too big of an obstacle to overcome.

On defense, FSU has to replace vocal leaders in linebacker Telvin Smith and defensive back Lamarcus Joyner. Safety Terrence Brooks was an impact player also, but again, strong recruiting for several years has restocked the roster and there should be players to pick up their production. Like many teams in June, this team has some questions. But it also has plenty of potential answers.

 

The Seminoles scored more than 50 points a game last year. Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston returns behind a very experienced offensive line. Is there anything that can hold this unit back?

Losing Benjamin, a first round draft pick, is a big deal. He had 10 touchdowns in the final six games, including the game winner in Pasadena, and was nearly impossible to cover. FSU also lost slot receiver Kenny Shaw, who had over 900 yards and was quietly productive as an outlet for underneath passes. With them gone, expect tight end Nick O’Leary (557 yards, 7 TDs in 2013) to take an even bigger role in the red zone and on short routes across the middle.

Having Jameis Winston eliminates a lot of problems, but there’s no veteran behind the redshirt sophomore. Clint Trickett transferred to West Virginia and Jacob Coker left for Alabama, meaning sophomore Sean Maguire (21 career pass attempts) is the only player with any experience behind him. He might be able to keep FSU afloat, but he’s an unknown for now.

 

Seems like a similar song for the defense. The nation’s top unit needs to replace (at least one) key starter at every level, but seems primed for a reload. What concerns do you have for Charles Kelly’s defense?

The biggest concern for the defense is replacing defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan. It’s not often a nose tackle is disruptive enough to finish third on the team in tackles (63) and lead the team in TFLs, but that’s what Jernigan did as a junior before leaving for the NFL. There’s no defensive tackle behind him who’s as explosive, and that’s a concern.

FSU will have to find someone on the defensive line to draw double teams and give the linebackers a chance to make plays. The best candidate might be junior Mario Edwards, a five-star recruit who’s always had incredible physical ability but hasn’t tapped his full potential. If he develops into a star, the defense should be strong at every level again.

 

For the past few seasons it felt like Jimbo Fisher had one of the nation’s top rosters and a schedule that set up perfectly for a championship game run. Yet the Seminoles always seemed to trip themselves up. Does last year’s championship win — against an SEC team no less — feel like it could open the flood gates?

It absolutely felt like a breakthrough for a program that had fallen into a lull in the last decade toward the end of the Bobby Bowden era. As you observed, beating an SEC team for the title was a significant achievement for a team that considers Florida its biggest rival and regularly competes with Georgia, Alabama and Auburn for recruits. Considering how the roster has been built, FSU fans are hopeful they can follow up with another strong season. The Seminoles open the season with a game against Oklahoma State in Dallas, and their goal is to finish the season in Dallas for the national championship.

 

Can you give Irish fans an idea of how Jimbo Fisher is viewed? While it looks like the coach-in-waiting tab was obviously successful now that the Seminoles have won a title, there had to be some impatience there for a while? Do Seminoles fans view Fisher as an elite head coach or a guy that is merely running one of college football’s flagship programs built by Bobby Bowden?

There were some questions earlier in Fisher’s tenure as the Seminoles had head-scratching losses against teams like N.C. State and Wake Forest. Finishing an undefeated season and winning a national championship quiets a lot of questions though, and his success in the draft (18 players chosen in the last two years) has shown that he can identify and develop talent.

Bowden will always be considered the architect of the program, but this is Fisher’s team now. FSU went 24-16 in Bowden’s last three years, while Fisher has gone 45-10 in four seasons. The decision to remove Bowden was difficult and awkward, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone now who doesn’t think Fisher is the right man to lead the program.

 

It’s hard to write about Jameis Winston without getting into some of the off the field controversy. The embarrassing shoplifting situation, the other minor police blotter material, and the very serious rape charges. None garnering more than a slap on the wrist.

As someone much closer to the situation, what do you make of it? Are we past the youthful indiscretions? The New York Times had a rather unflattering portrayal of the entire situation that the school disputed, but have you noticed any changes in Winston or the program since the allegations late last season?

Frankly, this is difficult to answer. It seems that we never know the athletes we cover as well as we think we do, and that’s true with Jameis as well. There were some media restrictions placed on him this spring during baseball season and football practice. He spoke before spring football started and after the spring game, but not between those two for a full month, if memory serves.

Winston told reporters in New York at the Heisman ceremony he knew he’d have a different life going forward and wouldn’t be able to do some things he could normally do, but the crab legs incident does make you question his judgment. FSU has tried to keep someone around him when he’s in public — for example, he had a campus police officer with him at all baseball road games. But you can’t have someone with him 24/7. It wouldn’t surprise me if this summer and fall passes quietly off the field with no new incidents for him, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if there’s another indiscretion.

Either way, there will continue to be noise around the rape allegations. There may be a civil suit coming (against Winston, FSU, or the Tallahassee police), and the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating the university for Title IX violations connected to the incident.

 

Turning the subject back to football, getting Notre Dame and Florida State together is always a big deal. Is this the highlight game of the schedule for Noles fans, too?

It’s absolutely one of the highlights. The home schedule this year is very strong, with Clemson and Florida also visiting Tallahassee. The end-of-season game with the rival Gators is probably bigger, but Notre Dame might make more FSU fans more nervous. As of now, it’s my upset pick for this season.

I’m curious to see what Everett Golson in his return to Notre Dame. There are questions for the Irish to answer, but you also saw FSU slow down a bit towards the end of last year. Duke gave FSU some trouble early in the ACC Championship, and Auburn was just a play or two away from winning. If teams can look at those games and see what was successful, they might be able to create a game plan that will really do some damage.

***

Special thanks to Ben for going above and beyond. For more from him, you can find his writing work at Warchant, and follow him on Twitter @WarchantBen

  1. johngaltisspeaking - Jun 11, 2014 at 5:00 PM

    This is a very simple predication. If Notre Dame has a huge turn around on defense and we are leading in pass rushing this game can be won. If our defense is as bad as it was last year I see a pounding coming on the Irish. Offense I think we can stack up but the unknown defense is the key to this game.

    By the way anyone hear anything about Jerry Tillery decommitting ?

    • johngaltisspeaking - Jun 15, 2014 at 3:53 PM

      ND As 24-Point Underdog at FSU

  2. goirishgo - Jun 11, 2014 at 5:21 PM

    FSU is clearly loaded. Like all teams, though, a couple of things could derail them. The most obvious is an injury to Winston since their number two and number three QBs both transferred (fire Fisher! He can’t retain key recruits!). But if they are at full strength it’s likely to be a long night.

    That said, games aren’t played on paper. GO IRISH!

    • johngaltisspeaking - Jun 11, 2014 at 6:19 PM

      They are loaded just like USC is gonna be in a few years. I really think Notre Dame is fighting an uphill battle with recruiting. I just don’t know if there is a solution but with teams like USC and Bama reloading with 3 to 5 – 5 star players and stacked with 4 star players its hard to optimistic.

      • johngaltisspeaking - Jun 12, 2014 at 11:27 AM

        I really don’t know why I got down voted for stating facts. Notre Dame hasn’t signed a class with 5 5 star athletes in a long long time.

    • papadec - Jun 12, 2014 at 1:34 PM

      Perhaps the stench of pessimism?

  3. onward2victory - Jun 11, 2014 at 6:36 PM

    Yah this FSU team seems to have no apparent weakness. Their secondary is especially strong (damn you Darby!), so I think the only way we stand a chance is to establish the run early and not abandon it by the 2nd quarter.

  4. yllibnosredna - Jun 11, 2014 at 6:39 PM

    Although a win would be monumental in the BK era (bigger than the 2012 OK win in Norman), I really think just being competitive (at this juncture) would go a long way towards restoring ND’s reputation as a team trending towards elite territory once again. Conversely, a blow-out loss would be devastating and continue to give ammunition to ND detractors who claim 2012 was a fluke. I think Michigan might be the most important game for ND to win, but a competitive performance against FSU is vital to garnering championship-level recruits. Getting boat-raced against the defending national champs will only resurrect memories of the early 2000′s ass-poundings against USC, the 2007 Sugar Bowl shellacking against LSU, and the more lopsided than the potato famine loss to Bama. ND HAS GOT TO COMPETE IN THIS GAME to stay relevant in the discussion of CFB’s elite.

    • nudeman - Jun 11, 2014 at 6:57 PM

      I get your point but in year 5 of the BK Era, shouldn’t we be hoping for more than a game where we look good losing? Wtf is that?

      He has a roster that is 100% his, his very own handpicked QB, a fresh, highly regarded Def Coord’r, and a LOT of offensive talent.

      This is ND. They need to go down there and win. Close losses don’t do it for me.

      • johngaltisspeaking - Jun 11, 2014 at 8:26 PM

        Because the reality is Teams like Alabama, LSU and Florida State and soon to be USC who recruit elite talent year in and year out pose a serious threat to Notre Dame Football level. I agree a blowout loss here will make us the laughing stock of college football. Personally I can’t even talk about beating teams like FSU until we can handle Pitt for christ sakes. Hell even getting to Stanfords level would be a monumental improvement. This team was not good last year. We had one lucky and I mean lucky year only to be made the fool in the NC game. We get pounded by Florida State and Notre Dame will be joke once again. Its Reality people ! Also I want to point out remeber Oregon playing in the NC game against Auburn. That was a hell of a run for a school who doesn’t come anywhere close to our recruiting classes. so what gives ?

      • nudeman - Jun 11, 2014 at 10:19 PM

        Last year’s team was hamstrung by a poor QB.

        Take every game last year and plug in Golson instead of Mr. X and you’ve got a win against Pitt and probably UM and possibly OK too.

        X was a legacy from a day when the cupboard was bare at QB and now those days are over.

        The bad QB play against good teams last year can NOT be understated in terms of its impact on the record.

      • johngaltisspeaking - Jun 12, 2014 at 11:46 AM

        Current Recruiting Class:

        Notre Dame : Top 150 players 1
        3 – 4 star players
        7 – 3 star players

        Alabama: Top 150 players 11
        1 – 5 Star players
        13 – 4 star players

        USC – Top 150 players 3
        2 – Five star players
        3 – Five star players

        If you don’t see the problem here then I am not sure what to tell you. Bottom line when Notre Dame had Louis Nix and Tuitt we played good ball. 4 star recruits. WE keep on this road of recruiting 3 star players we will soon be Purdue.

      • nudeman - Jun 12, 2014 at 11:59 AM

        johngaltis
        Get the point and all things being equal I’d take a 5 star over a 4 and a 4 over a 3.

        But it is also very clear to me that the star system is tremendously overrated.
        You know all the names just like I do of 3 stars who’ve become All Americans (Samardzija, Eifert, ets) and 5 stars who’ve been busts (Dayne, Ishaq). These aren’t exceptions to the rule like you might think. There are LOTS of each.
        The U of Buffalo guy who just went top 5 in the draft was a TWO star.

        I saw an interesting writeup just the other day from Greg Gabriel, former NFL Dir of Scouting for the Bears and other teams. He places ZERO credence in stars. ZERO. ZED. Naturally his opinion is that the whole thing is more complicated than that, but if he did have to pick one thing that was most telling about a HS guy’s potential in college he’d pick his offer sheet.

        So if you see someone who’s a 5 star and only has offers from Cincinnati, Buffalo and Lower Intestine U … that’s telling you something. And if you see a 3 star who UM, USC, Bama, ND, Auburn, et al are after … go get that guy.

      • johngaltisspeaking - Jun 12, 2014 at 1:16 PM

        nudeman I agree with with your saying but at the end of the day who sends more players to the NFL Alabama or Notre Dame ? The bottom line there are hidden gems in 3 star players but I would not want to bank on that as a strategy for my team. If you look at the last two recruits for notre dame the nfl wouldn’t even bother with these kids.
        But then again its hard to explain Oregon. Granted they play a super weak schedule they can still hang with the big boys. Oregon and Missouri aren’t putting up huge recruiting classes but some how they can compete. I dont know the solution but I do know that Notre Dame has a serious weakness and that is their ability to recruit playmakers. I don’t think this class will end up even in the top 15.

      • c4evr - Jun 12, 2014 at 1:30 PM

        Certainly the star rating system isn’t a dependable gauge, but what is quantifiable is the development under coaching staffs. This is the year that will reveal where Kelly is on that scale.

      • domerboyirish - Jun 12, 2014 at 1:55 PM

        Good discussion going on here.

        I think it’s still way too early this year to hit the panic button on recruiting. According to Rivals, our ‘average star rating’ places us in 12th place currently. (Note: I do not follow ‘total points’ for my criteria as schools that sign 33 three star kids does not make a great recruiting class.) Just get the best guys possible. Id’ rather sign 17 four and five star recruits than 25 three and four star recruits.

        That said, are we really worked up over 12th place at this juncture? Sure, I’d like a five star play maker or two before all is said and done but the base for this class has been nicely set. I’m sorry but you need some 3-star kids with potential for the depth of your program. (We have one more 3-star than Alabama and the same amount as Auburn.)

        Everyone take a deep breathe. We’ve recruited well under Kelly. We’ll be fine.

      • johngaltisspeaking - Jun 12, 2014 at 2:15 PM

        I will say our newest commit Nick Coleman is one fast athlete. This kid can fit into multiple positions and yes he is only a 3 star commit.

  5. iamgolden4life - Jun 11, 2014 at 7:49 PM

    I agree with nude man, also who gives a flip how well FSU’s team looks. This isn’t no damn soup kitchen, nobody’s going to give us anything and we don’t expect them to. We get everybody’s best year in and year out. I believe our defense will be just fine this year. I also cannot wait to see our run game carry us from the Rice game all the way to the bus leaving the coliseum on Nov 29,and also into the playoffs.. P.S. I told you in the Travis Waller comments we would have a commit b4 the end of the week. Let’s welcome the 10th recruit in 2015 class, Micah Dew-Treadway

    • papadec - Jun 12, 2014 at 2:22 AM

      Yes – you did. Good call. Looks like a RKG. Welcome Micah.

  6. disenter - Jun 11, 2014 at 8:10 PM

    It’s a big game that comes on the heels of Stanford and UNC @ home. Hopefully those games get the Irish tuned in and ready to go on the road and give FSU a smack in the mouth.
    I’m getting anxious to see what happens with this new defensive scheme and the offense with Golson being back. Game day can’t get here fast enough

  7. onward2victory - Jun 11, 2014 at 9:18 PM

    In other news, an LSU player was arrested for battery charges and Florida’s recruiting coordinator abruptly resigned due to suspected recruiting violations.

    ESSSSS EEEEEE SEEEEE

    • johngaltisspeaking - Jun 12, 2014 at 11:36 AM

      OOH shut up its this mentality that gives Notre Dame a snobby reputation. We chose to have a higher academic requirements and even our kids get into trouble. So before you start blasting better football teams over issues that affect all of us think next time.

      • iamgolden4life - Jun 12, 2014 at 12:18 PM

        Anyone else tired of this guy “johngaltisspeaking”? get off here you troll, Nobody cares what you have to say. Go find you a pac12 or sec board and give them your opinions. WeAreND!!!!

      • nudeman - Jun 12, 2014 at 12:29 PM

        Maybe I’m the fool but I think he speaks the truth on several things here.
        The practice of pointing out every transgression by a kid from another school, while interesting reading, does contribute to the snobby rep ND fans and alum have. ND has had problems with kids doing dumb things too.

        The worst thing though is the blather about a 40 year decision.

        If a kid is academically inclined he can get a great degree from any SEC school
        If a kid isn’t then it doesn’t matter where he goes.
        ND is a great school. I get it. No argument.
        But the point becomes obnoxious at some point.

      • domer77blowsgoats - Jun 12, 2014 at 4:34 PM

        So Nude – what else is BK to sell to recruits if not the 40 year benefit vs say the SEC?

        Weather? Nope. Social life? Nope. Girls? Nope.

        Good school absolutely. The 40 years refers more to the ND network and the immediate respect of an ND degree vs. the education. There are few alumni bases in the world that can match that of NDs. Sure there are local powers, but very few worldwide. Does someone with a degree from Alabama working in CA realize any AL network benefits, highly unlikely.

        ND is the Yankees of baseball, the Cowboys to football, etc.. I personally have benefited greatly from the ND network and there is absolutely nothing obnoxious about selling that whatsoever.

      • nudeman - Jun 12, 2014 at 5:01 PM

        Goat, against my better judgment I will answer your question. I’m sure I’ll regret this.

        I don’t disagree with anything you wrote, and in fact I don’t disagree with the “40 year” observation. It’s legit and believe me, I wish I had an ND degree and had played cards with you and your football friend and taken all your money. (All $2.26)

        But we’re lacking context. It seems almost anytime a recruit is considering another school, the 40 year thing gets pulled out like a sledgehammer by someone here and it becomes an arrogant way of saying “There’s an ND education and there’s everything else; and everything else sucks”.

        It started to grate on me after I heard it the 638th time.

    • johngaltisspeaking - Jun 15, 2014 at 11:00 PM

      See what I mean !

      Mahone, who moved from running back to wide receiver for the Irish last season, was arrested in Mahoning County (Ohio) last night for five alleged offenses:

      • Disorderly conduct fighting or threatening
      • Assault on a police officer
      • Resisting arrest
      • Intimidation of a public servant/public official
      • Vandalism/government entity

      Here’s the link to his booking information. Notre Dame has no comment on his status with the university or football team.

  8. iamgolden4life - Jun 12, 2014 at 1:12 PM

    Wake up one of these days and remember that these are 16-17 year old kids and all you can think of are 3-4 and 5 star ratings labeled to these kids. Maybe one day you’ll realize its not about what you think of these kids but more importantly the decision these kids are making for their future. There is a reason kids you words like “amazing & special” when describing Notre Dame. Yes we all are expecting our team to compete with the elite yearly, but I can only say I cannot wait for this season, and for all the doubters to gladly eat their words.This is only June people. Lets get a little closer to NSD before everyone gets their panties in a wad about how recruiting is going, it’s called depth people. WeAreND

  9. iamgolden4life - Jun 12, 2014 at 1:27 PM

    Welcome aboard Nick Coleman (cb). Now before you start talking about this kid, I think you should see his tape. The kid looks pretty darn good running the football as well. At 6 foot 170 pounds this kid is exactly the right type of corner that we’re after. I don’t know what the hold up on Shaun Crawford is but if some how if we land John Reid before he decides I could see him(crawford) going elsewhere. One last note I think Nick Coleman has recently just won some sort of award @ a camp he just recently attended. All in all I see us adding QUALITY depth on our defense. Hopefully we can land the big fish in HIlliard, Cornell, Iman Marshall(who will visit later this summer) Elijah Taylor(possible silent commit) and some sleepers later down the road defensively. Welcome aboard young man. WeAreND

    • johngaltisspeaking - Jun 12, 2014 at 2:46 PM

      The kid is incredibly fast !

  10. irishdodger - Jun 12, 2014 at 2:05 PM

    ND’s best chance to upset FSU is to come in under the radar. Unfortunately, FSU’s schedule is weak (not their fault…conference is what it is) so whichever network broadcasts this matchup will overhype the matchup w/ flashbacks to their previous clashes and the two brand names going head to head. My fear is an undefeated FSU & a one loss ND will be so overhyped that it’s bound to be a blowout.

    • onward2victory - Jun 12, 2014 at 2:53 PM

      The good thing for ND is that all the pressure will be on FSU. Defending Nat Champs, expected to win, etc. Under Kelly the Irish seem to play their best when they’re the underdog.

      • nudeman - Jun 12, 2014 at 9:09 PM

        Really? When have they upset anyone?

      • nudeman - Jun 13, 2014 at 5:13 PM

        Not sure why I got thumbed down. Legit question.

        But let me be more clear: When has a BK ND team upset anyone?
        I don’t ever remember in the last 4 years ND going into hostile territory as a ‘dog and coming out with a win

  11. c4evr - Jun 12, 2014 at 11:13 PM

    Well, that Pittsburgh game last year upset me pretty badly.

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