|Phil Sears / Associated Press|
|Cameron Erving could be part of one of the nation's top offensive lines if he returns next season.|
With the 2013 season now out of the way, it's time to look to 2014 -- and wonder if Florida State can repeat.
Coach Jimbo Fisher potentially could have 16 of the 22 position players who started Monday night's victory back next season, including Heisman winner Jameis Winston at quarterback. A team returning 16 starters, including the Heisman winner, has to be the preseason No. 1 next season, right? Well, as FSU alum Lee Corso might say, not so fast, my friend.
A handful of key underclassmen have to decide in the next week whether they will return to Tallahassee or move on to the NFL. Let's take a look by position group.
Offensive backfield: While Winston will be back, FSU has three junior tailbacks who could go pro. Backup James Wilder Jr. told a running back recruit in November that he and starter Devonta Freeman could leave early. Junior Karlos Williams, who moved from safety early in the season and finished as the No. 2 rusher, should be back, though there are questions about whether he can be an every-down back. Fisher almost certainly will use the tailback-by-committee approach next season; the makeup of the committee "members" is the question. FSU potentially could have a dynamic senior trio that would be the envy of every team in the nation -- or coaches basically could be starting over at the position during spring practice.
Receivers: In a worst-case scenario, the Seminoles could lose each of their top four pass-catchers: senior Kenny Shaw, who was tied for second on the team in receptions; junior wide receiver Rashad Greene, who came up huge in the title game; third-year sophomore wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who turns 23 next month; and junior tight end Nick O'Leary. Benjamin (6-foot-5, 234 pounds) has drawn physical comparisons to Calvin Johnson. Greene is slight (6-0, 180) but fast. O'Leary (6-3, 248) developed into a solid all-around tight end this season but is a little on the small side. This is the area that should most worry Fisher. Will Winston be throwing to an almost-new group of receivers next season?
Offensive line: Center Bryan Stork is a senior who should be one of the first three or four players drafted at his position. But the lineman with the most long-term upside is junior tackle Cameron Erving (6-6, 320), who has played offense for just two years after starting out as a run-stuffing defensive tackle. His loss would be a big hit on the left side. Junior guards Tre Jackson and Josue Matias also are said to be thinking about turning pro, but both still have some developing to do. Erving and Stork were FSU's two best linemen this fall; having to replace both would mean there would be an unavoidable drop-off. If Erving and the two guards return, FSU will have one of the nation's top three or four lines next fall.
Defensive line: Junior tackle Timmy Jernigan (6-2, 296) was dominant in the title game and may have played the best game of his career. Good news for Fisher is that the other three starting linemen in the title game were sophomores, and end Mario Edwards Jr. is a star on the rise. This position looks fine, and if Jernigan returns, FSU might have the best defensive line in the nation in 2014.
Linebackers: This will be the biggest area of concern defensively for FSU next season. FSU is losing two senior starters in Christian Jones and Telvin Smith, who made huge strides this season in his first year as a starter. The middle linebacker was third-year sophomore Terrance Smith (6-4, 215), who needs to add more strength and bulk. The Seminoles will need at least one relatively untested linebacker to make big strides next season to replace the production lost with the graduations of Jones and Telvin Smith.
Secondary: Two senior starters will be leaving -- cornerback Lamarcus Joyner and strong safety Terrence Brooks. But FSU is loaded in the back end, and as good as Brooks and Joyner have played the past two seasons, there is a lot of young and experienced talent on hand. Jalen Ramsey, P.J. Williams, Ronald Darby, Nate Andrews -- get used to those guys, because all four should be in the NFL one day. The one question: Who will step up to take over Joyner's role as a team leader?
Mike Huguenin can be reached at email@example.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.