Preview Florida St. at Oklahoma St.
GAME NOTES: The top-ranked Florida State Seminoles begin defense of their national title, as they open the 2014 season in a showdown with the dangerous Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Advocare Cowboys Classic at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
The stars aligned perfectly for Florida State in 2013, as the team went a perfect 14-0, won the ACC and capped all that off with a thrilling win in the BCS Championship Game over Auburn (34-31) to capture the third national title in school history.
A lot of that success was due to the emergence of quarterback Jameis Winston, who became just the second-ever freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.
The biggest threat in the regular season came from Boston College in late September, a game the Seminoles won 48-34. Two games later, FSU moved to the top of the national title contender list by trouncing then fifth-ranked Clemson in Death Valley (51-14).
Jimbo Fisher's squad closed out a perfect regular season with a dismantling of rival Florida in Gainesville (37-7) and followed that up with a whipping of Duke in the ACC Championship Game (45-7).
In one of the most memorable title games in recent memory, FSU battled back from a 21-10 halftime deficit to earn a dramatic 34-31 victory over the Auburn Tigers with a last minute drive engineered by its Heisman-winning quarterback to capture the BCS crown.
While the Cowboys will definitely have their work cut out for them in the season opener, Oklahoma State is certainly no pushover. Mike Gundy's squad had a chance to win the Big 12 title a year ago thanks to lopsided wins over Texas (38-13) and eventual conference champion Baylor (49-17), but failed to put it away with a regular-season finale loss to rival Oklahoma (33-24).
Still, the team finished the regular season at an impressive 10-2 and earned a spot in the Cotton Bowl opposite Missouri. The Cowboys couldn't keep pace with the explosive Tigers though, falling 41-31 to end the year.
Florida State brings a 16-game win streak into 2014 and has won three of the four all-time meetings with Oklahoma State. These two teams haven't met since 1985.
The FSU offense put up monster numbers in 2013, as the team averaged 51.3 points per game on 519.7 yards per game. The team set an NCAA record with 723 points in 2013. While those numbers may be impossible to match in 2014, seven starters return on offense, including Winston.
The young gunslinger picked up the Davey O'Brien Quarterback Award along with the Heisman last year, as he completed 66.9 percent of his passes, for 4,057 yards and 40 TDs. Star wideout Kelvin Benjamin (54 rec, 1,011 yds, 15 TDs) jumped ship to the NFL, but quality targets remain, including first-team All- ACC wideout Rashad Greene (76 rec, 1,128 yds, eight TDs) and senior tight end Nick O'Leary (33 rec, 557 yds, seven TDs).
Leading rusher Devonta Freeman (1,016 yds, 14 TDs) is gone, but emerging talent Karlos Williams (730 yds, 11 TDs) is poised for a big season after bursting on the scene last year with 8.0 ypc.
There is star power up front as well, highlighted by senior tackles Cameron Irving and Bobby Hart and senior guards Tre' Jackson and Josue Matias.
It wasn't just the offense that posted huge numbers in 2013 for FSU, as the defense was also one of the best in the country. The Seminoles held foes to just 12.1 points per game and a mere 281.4 yards of total offense. The unit also forced 35 turnovers, including 26 interceptions.
Standouts Telvin Smith (90 tackles, three INTs, two sacks), Lamarcus Joyner (69 tackles, 5.5 sacks, three INTs) and Timmy Jernigan (63 tackles, 4.5 sacks) are no longer around, but others will step up and fill the void in 2014, as new defensive coordinator Charles Kelly has plenty to work with.
Expect junior end Mario Edwards (28 tackles, 3.5 sacks) to become a factor. Linebacker Terrance Smith (59 tackles, two sacks, one INT) is the top returning playmaker in the middle after earning All-ACC honorable mention a year ago. The secondary will again be one of the most feared units in the country, highlighted by junior cornerback P.J. Williams (35 tackles, three INTs) and sophomore safety Jalen Ramsey, who earned Freshman All-America honors in 2013.
With everything the team accomplished last year, Fisher is charged with keeping his team grounded in the here and now.
"It's all about what you do now. You have to live in the moment, you have to proceed to the future, learn from our past experiences, and grow from them, and then be hungry enough to go play great football this fall."
Scoring wasn't really a problem for Oklahoma State last year (39.1 ppg). This season, the team will hope for similar results behind junior quarterback J.W. Walsh (6-2, 205), who played to mixed reviews in 2013, completing almost 60 percent of his throws, for 1,333 yards and nine TDs in eight games.
Offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich was impressed with Walsh's makeup as the summer camp came to a close.
"J.W. Walsh brings a lot of physicality to the game. He understands the game very well, he has experience and he's a great leader."
He will be aided by a deep receiving corps that features sophomore Jhajuan Seales (39 receptions, 571 yards, 3 TDs) and junior Brandon Sheperd (14 receptions, 223 yards, 1 TD).
The run game will once again feature Desmond Roland. As a junior in 2013, Roland finished with a team-best 881 yards and 13 touchdowns.
It was a mixed bag on defense for OSU a year ago, as the team ranked 79th against the pass overall, but led the Big 12 in scoring defense (21.6 ppg). With only four starters returning however, a new identity must emerge for the Cowboys to compete.
Up front the team will rely on holdovers in junior end Jimmy Bean and senior tackle James Castleman. Bean recorded 4.5 sacks as a sophomore.
Junior linebacker Ryan Simmons returns in the middle of the defense after posting 67 tackles last year, while junior cornerback Kevin Peterson (24 tackles, 2 INTs) should provide the team with a veteran leader in the secondary.
The Seminoles are primed for another big season and have more than enough in terms of talent to not only win the ACC again, but another national championship. While there will undoubtedly be tests along the way, FSU should pass the first test with a strong win to kick things off.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Florida State 37, Oklahoma State 17