ACC

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#28 Louisville Cardinals

NATIONAL FORECAST

#28

ACC Atlantic PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Bobby Petrino, 41-9 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Garrick McGee | DEF. COORDINATOR: Todd Grantham

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 28 Louisville Cardinals. 

Louisville Cardinals Previewing Louisville’s Offense for 2014:

Exit Teddy Bridgewater. Enter Bobby Petrino. The first guy was Louisville’s dynamic quarterback the last three seasons. The second is the Cardinals’ new head coach, a guy with a proven record of putting 40 points on the scoreboard, regardless of his quarterback. That’s what Louisville expects now that Petrino has replaced Charlie Strong. The Cardinals lack a tested quarterback. Will Gardner completed eight passes last season. But Petrino smiled broadly after Gardner completed 32-of-37 passes for 542 yards and four touchdowns in Louisville’s spring game. The backup spot remains open.

Gardner has every weapon an unproven quarterback could want — halfbacks, wide receivers, tight ends and four returning linemen.

Don’t believe the hype that Petrino is a pass-only coach. He isn’t. Petrino believes in a power-running game, especially while protecting a lead in the second half. Running back is the deepest pool of talent on the team. Dominique Brown led Louisville with 825 yards last season, but the two most impressive runners during the spring were Auburn transfer Michael Dyer and freshman L.J. Scott.

Petrino is convinced that receiver DeVante Parker is a first-round NFL Draft pick because of his size, speed and sure hands. James Quick, a five-star recruit in 2013, should emerge on the other side. Petrino will create ways to get the ball to Eli Rogers, Kai De La Cruz and tight end Gerald Christian.

Four starters return to what should be one of the better offensive lines in the ACC.

Previewing Louisville’s Defense for 2014:

Petrino’s biggest recruit on defense was bringing coordinator Todd Grantham from Georgia. The Cards ranked first nationally in total defense and second in scoring defense last season, numbers that will be difficult to replicate with only four returning starters — defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin, linebacker James Burgess and corners Charles Gaines and Terell Floyd.

Grantham will have to rebuild the middle of his defense — both tackles, interior linebackers and both safeties.

“I feel real good about our front seven,” Petrino says. “We’re going to be good on the interior. Our linebackers are going to be able to play the way we want to play.”

Here are the guys who will have to deliver to justify Petrino’s confidence: end Sheldon Rankins, nose tackle DeAngelo Brown and linebackers Nick Dawson and Keith Kelsey.

The secondary is a greater concern, because safeties Calvin Pryor and Hakeem Smith were three-year starters, and Jermaine Reve, the only experienced replacement, missed the spring game with a knee injury. Safety is usually a dangerous spot for a freshman or junior-college transfer, but Grantham will take a long look at true freshman Michael Johnson.

Previewing Louisville’s Specialists for 2014:

Strong was more concerned with ball control and field position than long returns. Petrino will change that. Gaines will handle kickoffs, and Quick, a state champion sprinter, is eager to return kickoffs and punts, if Petrino agrees. Placekicker John Wallace has a strong and accurate leg, making 20-of-24 field goals last season, including 11-of-13 from 30 yards or longer. Punter Ryan Johnson dropped 11 kicks inside the 20.

Final Analysis

New quarterback, new coach, new conference (the ACC), new, more formidable schedule. There’s a lot to process for a program that won 23 games as well as the Sugar and Russell Athletic bowls the last two seasons. But Petrino has won everywhere he’s coached in college — including a 41–9 record during his first stint at Louisville. If Gardner stays healthy, the Cards have enough weapons to score big on everybody but Florida State, Clemson and Notre Dame. Defense will determine if Louisville can win more than eight.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#31 North Carolina Tar Heels

NATIONAL FORECAST

#31

ACC Coastal PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Larry Fedora , 15-10 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Seth Littrell | DEF. COORDINATOR: Dan Disch, Vic Koenning

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 30 North Carolina.

Previewing North Carolina’s Offense for 2014:

North Carolina has plenty of weapons entering Year 3 with coach Larry Fedora’s fast-paced attack. The question is whether the Tar Heels will get enough help from the offensive line in order to utilize their skill position talent.

Quarterback Marquise Williams figures to be the trigger man after guiding UNC to four wins in its final five games last season. Williams has improved as a passer and has the strength and toughness to pick up tough yards as a runner.

UNC is especially loaded at running back, where returning starter T.J. Logan leads a quartet full of speed and power. Incoming recruit Elijah Hood figures to make an immediate impact with his punishing style, and fleet-footed Romar Morris and Khris Francis also will contribute.

At receiver, the production of All-ACC tight end Eric Ebron will be difficult to replace. But the Tar Heels have nice variety among their wideouts. Quinshad Davis and Bug Howard are tall, rangy targets on the outside, and Ryan Switzer and T.J. Thorpe are shifty, speedy players with open-field ability.

Up front is where the questions exist. The Tar Heels lost their top two performers from a unit that was shaky for much of last season. They must find a left tackle to replace departed star James Hurst, and they need Lucas Crowley to emerge in his starting role at center.

Previewing North Carolina’s Defense for 2014:

Torched for the first half of the 2013 season, UNC’s defense improved as players gained a better grasp of Vic Koenning’s aggressive scheme. Star defensive end Kareem Martin is gone, but the unit should be better than it was in Fedora’s first two seasons.

Koenning likes to bring blitzes from all over the field, but he should be able to get a consistent pass rush from Norkeithus Otis at the Bandit position. Otis had 7.5 sacks last season and leads a deep group up front that also features run-stopping nose tackle Ethan Farmer.

At linebacker, senior Travis Hughes returns for one final chance to capitalize on lofty potential that has gone mostly unfulfilled. The coaching staff wanted to get UNC’s best athletes on the field together more often, so speedy senior Darius Lipford was shifted from Bandit to middle linebacker. However, Lipford declared for the NFL's supplemental draft in July.

The secondary should be improved with the emergence of cornerback Brian Walker, a potential star, and the move of senior Tim Scott from corner to free safety. Safety Dominique Green and Ram Malik Simmons also are coming off promising finishes to 2013.

Previewing North Carolina’s Specialists for 2014:
The Tar Heels are dangerous on special teams. Switzer, who led the nation in punt return average and tied an NCAA record with five punt returns for scores last season, puts fear in the hearts of opposing coaches and punters. Logan brought back a pair of kickoffs for touchdowns last season, and Thorpe led the ACC in kickoff return average in 2011. Punter Tommy Hibbard has helped the Tar Heels lead the league in net punting each of the last two years. Kicker Thomas Moore lacks accuracy from long range, but he is reliable from inside 40 yards.
Final Analysis

The Tar Heels have enough talent to challenge for first place in the ACC’s Coastal Division, which remains unpredictable and up for grabs, but their margin of error is small. In truth, UNC looks to be in better shape for 2015 than for this season. The offense has only one senior on the two-deep depth chart, and the defense would benefit from another year of experience up front and in the secondary. But the Tar Heels have to play the 2014 season first. If they perform better than expected along the offensive line and get a breakout season from someone on a defense that lacks an established star, the future could be now. 




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#30 Miami Hurricanes

NATIONAL FORECAST

#30

ACC Coastal PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Al Golden , 22-15 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: James Coley | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mark D’Onofrio

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 30, the Miami Hurricanes. 

Previewing Miami's Offense for 2014:

Coordinator James Coley’s fast-paced attack averaged 33.8 points and 425.8 yards per game in 2013, but with quarterback Stephen Morris graduating and heir apparent Ryan Williams unlikely to be ready after undergoing April knee surgery, this group has some challenges.

Quarterback Kevin Olsen is working to hold off Gray Crow and freshmen Brad Kaaya and Malik Rosier, but Olsen has no game experience and some accuracy issues. There are some major playmakers at running back and receiver. Lining up in the backfield is one of the nation’s most talented backs, first-team All-ACC pick and All-America candidate Duke Johnson. He’s recovered from a broken ankle suffered in game eight last year and is looking to build on a season in which he averaged 174 all-purpose yards per game. He’ll run behind a solid line that returns three starters, including NFL prospect Ereck Flowers.

At receiver, Allen Hurns is gone after setting a school record with 1,162 yards, and it may be more of a receiver-by-committee approach. But if someone is going to fill Hurns’ shoes it will likely be Stacy Coley, who showed game-breaking speed as a freshman with 591 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns. There’s solid depth here with Phillip Dorsett, Rashawn Scott and Herb Waters, and tight end Clive Walford is a big target down the middle of the field. Walford was second on the team with 34 receptions last season. This should be one of the ACC’s more talented group of pass-catchers.

Previewing Miami's Defense for 2014:

Miami must improve dramatically on defense after ranking 13th in the ACC last season, allowing 426.4 yards per game. The Canes struggled to get to the quarterback and had trouble stopping the run — not a good combination.

There are decent playmakers on the defensive line in end Anthony Chickillo and tackle Olsen Pierre, but there isn’t anyone here who commands a double-team. Look for five-star signee Chad Thomas and junior college arrival Michael Wyche to make immediate impacts up front.

At linebacker, Denzel Perryman ranked fifth in the ACC with 108 tackles, and he’s moving from outside to the middle. The coaches had high hopes for Alex Figueroa, but the sophomore linebacker was dismissed from the team in July.

The secondary is a solid group led by shutdown corner Tracy Howard and his team-high four interceptions. On the other side, Ladarius Gunter has 17 career starts on his résumé. At safety there’s starting experience with Rayshawn Jenkins and Deon Bush. If the line gets pressure, the defensive backs should hold up long enough to make their share of plays.

Previewing Miami's Specialists for 2014:

The Canes have to replace punter Pat O’Donnell, who ranked second in the nation with a 47.1-yard average in his only season at Miami. Placekicker Matt Goudis may handle both roles even though he says he prefers not to punt. Goudis showed off a strong leg on field goals last season, making 13-of-17 attempts with a long of 49 yards. The return game will be a strength, as the team ranked No. 2 in the ACC in kick returns (25.1 ypr) and No. 4 in punt returns (11.3 ypr). 

Final Analysis

Ten wins were once the norm at Miami, and now it’s a place to set the bar for 2014. The last time UM reached double-digit victories was 2003, and the only way it happens this year is with an improved defense and solid quarterback play. Certainly the pieces are in place on offense for an explosive group, but new faces on both sides of the ball need to make significant impacts for Al Golden’s team to reach its goals.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#38 Duke Blue Devils

NATIONAL FORECAST

#38

ACC Coastal PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: David Cutcliffe , 31-44 (6 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Scottie Montgomery | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jim Collins, Jim Knowles

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 38 Duke.

Previewing Duke's Offense:

Quarterback Anthony Boone was at the controls of a highly productive offense in 2013 (32.8 ppg), but his performance last season was actually quite uneven. There were times, such as the historic win at Virginia Tech, in which the Blue Devils won in spite of Boone. There was talk of a legitimate QB competition in the spring, but that all changed in April, when Brandon Connette — who has been used in more of a Swiss Army knife role in previous seasons — announced his plans to transfer to a school in California to be near his mother, who has brain cancer.

Duke flourished despite erratic play at quarterback because it developed into a highly balanced offense. The Blue Devils ran for 178.0 yards per game in 2013, their highest average since 1977. The four-back rotation that Duke used to pile up those yards took a hit when Jela Duncan was dismissed from school for violating academic policy, but the Blue Devils still have productive options in Josh Snead and Shaquille Powell.

Two starters must be replaced on an offensive line that opened holes and still pass-blocked at the usual high levels (just 17 sacks allowed), but the three most vital parts — left tackle Takoby Cofield, right guard Laken Tomlinson and center Matt Skura — all return.

Duke also gets one more season from arguably its most valuable player, explosive wideout/returner Jamison Crowder, who enjoyed a record-setting season in 2013. 

Previewing Duke's Defense:

The Duke defense still had its struggles in 2013 (58 points against Pitt?) but it made up for its tendency to give up yards (418.0 per game) with a timely knack for making big plays. The Blue Devils forced the fourth-most turnovers in the ACC (26), led by a ball-hawking secondary that was responsible for 16 of the team’s 18 interceptions.

That will have to be the formula again this fall, because Duke still has issues on the defensive line. The Blue Devils had loads of experience there last season, but still not much in the way of production. Now all but one starter on that unit is gone, leaving just defensive tackle Jamal Bruce and a whole lot of question marks.

Fortunately for Duke, the secondary that was the big concern heading into last season is now the source of strength in 2014. Even without All-ACC corner Ross Cockrell, there’s plenty of talent in this group, led by tackling machine Jeremy Cash at safety. It may get even better if redshirt freshman Evrett Edwards makes the impact that many expect.

Also expected? Plenty of tackles from Duke’s pair of starting linebackers, David Helton and Kelby Brown. Keeping the talented but injury-prone Brown healthy will be key.

Previewing Duke's Specialists:

Perhaps no school in the country is more set on special teams than Duke. The Blue Devils feature All-ACC-caliber performers at kicker (Ross Martin), punter (Will Monday), punt returner (Crowder) and kick returner (DeVon Edwards). Last year, special teams played a critical role in several Duke wins. Expect the same this fall.

Final Analysis

The Coastal Division race should be wide open again this season, and Duke should be in the thick of it. Thanks to a pillow-soft non-conference schedule, and the absence of Clemson, Florida State and Louisville among Atlantic Division crossover opponents (the Devils get Syracuse and Wake instead), a third straight bowl game seems highly likely for the Blue Devils. A repeat trip to the ACC title game? Duke seemed to catch just about every late-game break in 2013 (for a change). It’s hard to envision a repeat of that level of magic again this fall. And the Blue Devils certainly won’t be sneaking up on anyone this time around.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#36 Pittsburgh Panthers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#36

ACC Coastal PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Paul Chryst, 13-13 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Joe Rudolph | DEF. COORDINATOR: Matt House

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 36 Pittsburgh.

Previewing Pittsburgh’s Offense for 2014:

Pittsburgh was more jugger-not than juggernaut in its debut season in the ACC. It ranked 118th nationally in sacks allowed, 102nd in rushing yards and 80th in points. Are better times ahead? Hard to tell.

For the second consecutive season, coach Paul Chryst must break in a new starting quarterback. Sophomore Chad Voytik is a dual-threat in the mold of Russell Wilson (whom Chryst coached as offensive coordinator at Wisconsin). He threw for more than 5,000 yards as a prep. Problem is, his collegiate sample size is limited to 11 career passing attempts. That said, Voytik opened eyes after stepping in for injured starter Tom Savage in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl and leading a last-second victory.

Voytik’s transition should be made easier thanks to sophomore wideout Tyler Boyd, who was the nation’s most productive freshman receiver with 85 receptions for 1,174 yards. The challenge is finding a No. 2 pass-catcher to offset the attention Boyd is sure to face.

At running back, bruising sophomore James Conner is coming off a 799-yard season (5.5 per carry), during which he ran for 229 yards in the bowl victory over Bowling Green. The offensive line could be a concern. The unit returns four starters, but given last season’s struggles, that might not be a positive.

Previewing Pittsburgh’s Defense for 2014:

How does Pittsburgh replace all-everything tackle Aaron Donald? It doesn’t. However, “Just because one guy left doesn’t mean the whole defensive line is going to fall apart,” says junior tackle Darryl Render. The belief is that Donald’s tenacity will have a residual effect for current and future Panthers. And with only five starters returning from a unit that ranked 34th overall, that’s a must. Render and Khaynin Mosley-Smith will provide experience on the interior line, while sophomore end Shakir Soto, who had a sack in his lone start in ’13, is a player to watch as Pittsburgh tries to increase its sack total of 25.

A point of emphasis for the linebackers and defensive backs this spring was creating more turnovers, given that the Panthers ranked 107th in that category. They also had an ACC-low eight interceptions. A big season is needed from athletic linebacker Todd Thomas, who was fourth in tackles but provided no sacks or interceptions. Ditto for cornerback Lafayette Pitts (no interceptions). As a unit, the linebacking corps could flourish with returning starter and former blue-chip quarterback Anthony Gonzalez joining Thomas and true sophomore Matt Galambos. In the secondary, safety Ray Vinopal returns after ranking second in tackles. He also had two interceptions in an upset of Notre Dame. 

Previewing Pittsburgh’s Specialists for 2014:

Chris Blewitt set a record for Pittsburgh freshman kickers with 82 points, converting 14-of-18 field goals. At punter, redshirt freshman Ryan Winslow steps in for three-year starter Matt Yoklic. 

Final Analysis

In recent vintage, Pittsburgh would best be described as unimpressive and/or average. The words are cringe-worthy for those involved with the program, but not inaccurate. The Panthers are 13–13 in two seasons under Chryst and 19–20 since 2011. The good news is that the program firmly belongs to Chryst — only 17 players remain from previous regimes — and young players are making an impact. Chryst played 12 freshmen extensively last season. Still, the Panthers should expect to experience more growing pains, given the uncertainty at quarterback, the precarious nature of the offensive line and a defense that lost the best lineman in the nation. Victories over Notre Dame, Duke and Bowling Green in ’13 can serve as building blocks, but losses to Navy, Georgia Tech and North Carolina are reminders that more work must be done. 




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#27 Virginia Tech Hokies

NATIONAL FORECAST

#27

ACC Coastal PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Frank Beamer , 224-109-2 (27 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Scot Loeffler | DEF. COORDINATOR: Bud Foster

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 27 Virginia Tech. 

Previewing Virginia Tech’s Offense for 2014:

With the departure of three-year starter Logan Thomas, the Hokies have as wide open of a quarterback battle as they’ve had in years. Sophomore Brenden Motley had a slight lead of the three quarterbacks in Blacksburg in the spring, but Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer, who in 2012 threw for 375 yards and four touchdowns in nine games with the Red Raiders, might be the best bet to win the job after a summer arrival.

Tech’s ground game should be better, if only because it would be tough to be worse. The Hokies had one of the most inept rushing attacks in Frank Beamer’s 27 seasons in Blacksburg last year, averaging only 119.8 yards per game. But sophomore Trey Edmunds (675 yards, 10 TDs) is back after suffering a broken leg in the regular-season finale, and 224-pound freshman Marshawn Williams might be the answer to the Hokies’ short-yardage woes. It’ll help if Tech’s underperforming offensive line, which returns five players who started games last year, can come together under Stacy Searels, the unit’s third coach in as many years.

The top three receivers, Joshua Stanford, Willie Byrn and Demitri Knowles, are back. All three caught at least 40 passes last year, but it’s the tight ends who have offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler most excited. Ryan Malleck returns from a shoulder injury that cost him all of 2013, Kalvin Cline is looking to build off a solid freshman year, and converted quarterback Bucky Hodges, a 6'6", 243-pounder with 4.5 speed, will be a matchup nightmare for opponents.

Previewing Virginia Tech’s Defense for 2014:

With seven seniors who started during their careers gone from last year, defensive coordinator Bud Foster has some reloading to do with a group that ranked fourth nationally last season. The first team separated itself in the spring, especially up front. Luther Maddy turned down a chance at the NFL to be the anchor the Hokies need on the interior, and 257-pound tackle Corey Marshall has been a handful because of his quickness. Dadi Nicolas and Ken Ekanem have been bookend pass-rushers with good burst off the edge.

The linebackers had a complete overhaul, with fifth-year senior Chase Williams, a heady veteran who’s waited his turn, and Deon Clarke, an athletic junior who came on in the spring, standing out.

The secondary is solid, with beyond-their-years sophomores Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson locking down the cornerback spots. They combined for 11 interceptions as true freshmen. Seniors Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner man the safety positions, rounding out the most experienced unit on the defense. It’s not the biggest defense Foster has had, but it might be among the quickest, one that has the potential to be plenty disruptive.

Previewing Virginia Tech’s Specialists for 2014:

A.J. Hughes is solid at punter, although that’s about the only sure thing on the Hokies’ once-proud special teams. Tech missed 11 field goals last year, second-most nationally, and doesn’t appear to have an obvious candidate at kicker this season. Incoming freshman Michael Santamaria, a rare scholarship kicker out of high school, might be the answer.

Final Analysis

The offense should benefit from being in Year 2 in Loeffler’s system, but Year 1 didn’t exactly set the bar high. The Hokies had the 101st-ranked offense nationally in 2013, averaging 356.0 yards per game. Fixing the lagging running game would go a long way toward making Virginia Tech more competitive, since there’s plenty of faith in Blacksburg that Foster will figure things out like he always does. Beamer is confident that the changes he made to the offensive coaching staff prior to 2013 are taking root but knows that it will take time. Still, the Hokies should contend in a wide-open Coastal Division this year.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#1 Florida State Seminoles

NATIONAL FORECAST

#1

ACC Atlantic PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Jimbo Fisher, 45-10 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jimbo Fisher | DEF. COORDINATOR: Charles Kelly

Florida State ended the SEC’s run of dominance with a 34-31 victory over Auburn to win the final BCS Championship. As college football shifts to the playoff era, the Seminoles are the pick to repeat in 2014. Quarterback Jameis Winston is poised to make another run at the Heisman, and the offense is loaded with talent at the skill positions, including running back Karlos Williams and receiver Rashad Greene. Tackle Timmy Jernigan is a big loss, but the Seminoles are loaded with talent and feature the nation’s top defensive backfield. With a favorable schedule, Florida State is an overwhelming pick to finish 12-0 in the regular season and claim the No. 1 seed in college football’s new playoff format.

Follow the top 25 on Twitter @AthlonSports and join the debate at #Athlon25.

Previewing Florida State’s Offense for 2014:

Sophomore quarterback Jameis Winston, who was a runaway winner of the Heisman Trophy and a slew of other awards, is back again to lead the offense, and he will operate behind an experienced and talented offensive line. All five starters will be seniors, including All-America candidates Cameron Erving and Tre’ Jackson, and the only “newcomer” is center Austin Barron, who has been a part-time starter in the past.

The Seminoles are replacing their first- and second-string tailbacks and their starting fullback from a year ago, but no one in their camp seems concerned. That’s largely because of the excitement surrounding converted defensive back Karlos Williams, who racked up 730 yards and 11 touchdowns while averaging 8.0 yards per carry as a third-teamer in 2013. Speedy backups Mario Pender, Ryan Green and true freshman Dalvin Cook give the Seminoles a group of potential home-run hitters off the bench.

When Winston drops back to pass, he will have back his two favorite targets — senior wide receiver Rashad Greene and senior tight end Nick O’Leary. Greene led FSU in receiving as a freshman, sophomore and junior, and has a chance to be the most productive receiver in school history. O’Leary led all tight ends nationally with 16.9 yards per reception, and he was one of three finalists for the John Mackey Award. 

The biggest loss on offense was 6'5" receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who led the team with 15 touchdown receptions, including the game-winner in the national championship game.

Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast Previews the Florida State Seminoles for 2014:

 

Previewing Florida State’s Defense for 2014:

 Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 ACC Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.
The Seminoles will have a challenge replacing five of their top six tacklers from a year ago, including superb defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and emotional leaders Telvin Smith at linebacker and Lamarcus Joyner at defensive back. But few programs have recruited as well defensively over the past four years.

Junior defensive end Mario Edwards blossomed in 2013, displaying the talent that made him the USA Today National Defensive Player of the Year as a senior in high school, and he will be joined by a slew of powerful and athletic defensive linemen. The lone returning starter at linebacker is junior Terrance Smith, but he is a good one. It was his ascension to the starting lineup that helped spur FSU’s defensive turnaround after a bumpy start in 2013.

And the Seminoles couldn’t be more confident about their secondary, despite losing two starters, including a unanimous All-American in Joyner. Sophomore Jalen Ramsey, who started as a true freshman at both cornerback and safety last season, is expected to take over where Joyner left off.

Previewing Florida State’s Specialists for 2014:

Though overshadowed at times by his classmate at quarterback, placekicker Roberto Aguayo received his just due during the postseason when he snared the Lou Groza Award as the nation’s top kicker. The Seminoles are not quite as loaded at punter, where junior Cason Beatty returns after averaging 41.1 yards per attempt. For all of FSU’s successes in 2013, the Noles ranked next to last among ACC teams in net punting. Beatty was shaky again in the spring game, leading to speculation that he would have to win the job again in preseason camp. FSU’s return game likely will be led by Kermit Whitfield, whose 100-yard touchdown return against Auburn in the national championship game was essential to the Seminoles’ comeback.

Final Analysis 

Despite losing several key pieces from the 2013 national championship team, Florida State has more than enough talent to make another run this fall. The keys will be staying healthy on the offensive line, where the Seminoles have almost no experienced depth, and rekindling the competitive fire that drove them to that undefeated season.

Five Reasons Why Athlon Sports is Picking Florida State No. 1:

1. The No. 1 roster in college football?
Whether or not you believe recruiting rankings are 100 percent accurate, there is truth in what the experts at Rivals, 247Sports, Scout or ESPN compile each season. Over the last five years, Florida State has averaged a 5.6 finish in recruiting rankings, placing the Seminoles No. 2 nationally behind Alabama. Acquiring talent is just one part of the equation for any program, as development is even more crucial to its success. Florida State has been arguably the best program in the nation at developing talent over the last few years, and coach Jimbo Fisher does an outstanding job of identifying players who could be successful at a different position (Karlos Williams, Cameron Erving). It’s tough to beat Alabama on the recruiting trail, but the Seminoles can match the Crimson Tide’s roster thanks for Fisher’s recruiting and development. 

2. The schedule
Repeating as a national champion is no easy task. After all, only one team (Alabama) was able to go back-to-back in the BCS era. Take one look at Florida State’s schedule for 2014. Where is the loss going to come from in the regular season? Maybe at Louisville on Thursday night? What about a home date against Florida in the regular season finale? Notre Dame? Even though those three games represent possible losses, it’s hard to see Florida State dropping one of those games. Barring a major upset or any significant injuries, the Seminoles have a favorable path to 13-0 (counting the ACC title) and a spot in college football’s playoff.

3. No. 1 offensive line in the nation
We could pick several of Florida State’s positions to highlight here, but the offensive line is the best in the nation and a key reason why this team is poised to repeat. Four starters are back from last year’s line, including tackle Cameron Erving and guard Tre Jackson. Erving, Jackson and Josue Matias are expected to be All-America selections for 2014. The only new starter up front is at center with Austin Barron, but he has five starts under his belt. Overall depth on the line was a concern last season, and the coaching staff took steps to alleviate that concern with seven incoming recruits in the 2014 class. 

4. Jameis Winston…better as a sophomore?
Considering Winston’s stat totals and Heisman Trophy victory, it’s hard to believe he could be even better as a sophomore. But after an offseason to learn under Jimbo Fisher, Winston might be a more complete quarterback in 2014. Of course, finding a flaw in Winston’s game is tough, especially since he’s poised to be one of the first picks off the board in the 2015 draft. One concern for Winston will be the development of a receiving corps that must replace Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin. However, as we mentioned above, this roster isn’t hurting for talent, so incoming freshmen like Travis Rudolph or Ermon Lane could help to ease the transition from Shaw and Benjamin. With one of the top coaches and quarterbacks in the nation, it’s hard to find a flaw in Florida State’s overall roster in 2014.

5. Biggest concern for Florida State is…punting?
It’s pretty easy to tell how stacked a team is when punting is one of the top concerns heading into the season. Cason Beatty didn’t have many opportunities last season, but he averaged 41.1 yards per punt and failed to answer concerns about the position in the spring. Beatty hit several low kicks in 2013, and even though Florida State has speed and talent on its special teams to prevent big returns, he needs to work on his hang time and overall yardage this offseason. The Seminoles should easily handle most of their opponents, but in a tight game, a bad punt could result in a short field or seven points for the opposing team.




More Stories:

Pages