The deep talent pool is a result of coach Jimbo Fisher's recruiting efforts, and FSU is loaded with prospects again. There were three first-rounders in April, and while it doesn't appear that there will be as many for the 2014 draft, there are a number of underclassmen with the potential to eventually become first-day picks.
As talented as the Seminoles are this season, they are not the ACC favorite. That role belongs to Clemson because the Tigers have an experienced senior quarterback (Tajh Boyd) and FSU will be going with a redshirt freshman (Jameis Winston) at the position. FSU has the better defense, by far, but the offense seems unlikely to be as productive as Clemson's.
Still, one season after winning 12 games and the ACC title, FSU is well-positioned for at least another 10-win season. The Seminoles have not had back-to-back seasons with 10 wins since 1999-2000 (that was the final season in a streak that saw FSU win at least 10 games for an astounding 14 seasons in a row).
Top senior prospects
FS Terrence Brooks: After serving as a backup corner and special-teams player his first two seasons, he started all 14 games last season at free safety. Brooks (5-foot-11, 197 pounds) is fast and physical, but he lacked consistency last season. He covers a lot of ground but needs to show better instincts this fall.
LB Christian Jones: He never redshirted and is headed into his third season as a starter. After starting for two years on the outside, he was moved to the middle by new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt during spring drills. He led FSU with 95 tackles last season, when he had three games with double-digit stops. Jones (6-4, 232) is extremely athletic, and while he was highly hyped as a pass rusher coming out of high school, he actually has been quite good against the run. Hence, his move to the middle. His coverage ability needs to improve, and if he shows well in that facet this fall he will move even higher on most draft boards. Jones has a chance to be the first FSU linebacker to be picked in the first round since Lawrence Timmons in 2007.
CB Lamarcus Joyner: He has played in every game at FSU since arriving in 2010 as one of the nation's top 20 prep prospects. Joyner was a backup corner that season, then started at strong safety in each of the past two seasons. He is expected to start at corner this fall. Joyner (5-8, 195) lacks ideal size, but he is tough, instinctive, both fast and quick and a big-time hitter. He has six picks and 11 pass breakups in his career. Joyner is good in run support because of his physical nature. His spot in the draft will likely be decided by how well he performs in man-to-man coverage this season.
OLB Telvin Smith: He has been a productive backup linebacker thus far and is expected to start for the first time this fall. Smith (6-3, 215) was moved from the middle to outside linebacker during spring drills, and coaches expect him to use his speed to be a playmaker at his new position. He was third on the team with 64 tackles last season, and he has 20.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and six pass breakups in his career. He could use some added weight and bulk.
C Bryan Stork: He was a run-blocking tight end in high school but was moved inside as soon as he arrived at FSU. Stork (6-4, 312) played guard in his first two seasons before moving to center last season -- he was impressive at his new position and graded out the highest among FSU's offensive linemen. He is athletic and a good technician, and has All-American potential.
CB Ronald Darby: FSU has some exciting talent at corner, and Darby is No. 1 on that list. Darby (5-11, 189) was a reserve corner as a true freshman last season and led the team with eight pass breakups to earn ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. He is one of the fastest players in the nation -- he runs sprints for FSU's top-notch track team -- and is looking to gain a starting spot during fall camp. At the least, he will be an important reserve. He missed spring practice with a sports hernia, which hurt his development, but he should be 100 percent for the season.
DE Mario Edwards Jr.: He was a top-five prospect nationally out of high school in the Dallas area, and he saw time last season as a true freshman, including a start in the ACC championship game. He is expected to start this season. Edwards (6-3, 282) lacks ideal size, but he's an excellent athlete with a quick first step and he held up surprisingly well against the run last season. Unlike many young defensive ends, he has more than one pass-rush move. Keeping his weight down is important, as coaches think he is most effective at around 280 pounds -- he has lost 30 pounds since arriving in Tallahassee. His dad played cornerback at FSU (in the 1990s) and in the NFL, and now is FSU's Director of Player Development.
OT Cameron Erving: He redshirted as a true freshman in 2010, then served as a backup defensive tackle in 2011. A shortage of offensive linemen led to a move to the other side of the ball during spring practice in 2012, and he was a revelation at left tackle last fall. Erving (6-6, 310) should be able to add 10-15 pounds with no adverse impact. He still is learning how to play the position, but he showed athleticism and aggressiveness last season and has a high upside. His footwork for a first-time tackle was impressive.
RB Devonta Freeman: He led the team in rushing with 579 yards as a true freshman in 2011 and was second last season with 660 yards while again sharing time at the position. He'll share time this fall with James Wilder Jr. Freeman is the quicker of the two backs, and while he lacks elite speed, the squatty Freeman (5-8, 208) usually can turn the corner. He hasn't shown he can be an effective receiver, and he has had at least 15 carries in a game just four times, so he has yet to prove he can handle a heavy workload.
WR Rashad Greene: He led the Seminoles in every receiving category last season, making 57 receptions for 741 yards and six touchdowns. Greene (6-0, 175) has 13 touchdown catches in his first two seasons, and his speed and elusiveness make him a legitimate go-to receiver. Greene also was a dangerous punt returner last season, taking two back for touchdowns. He could stand to bulk up a bit.
OG Tre Jackson: He first gained notice by starting and playing well as a true freshman against Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl in 2011. He barely had played that season until the bowl game. Last season, Jackson (6-4, 327) started all 14 games and proved to be a physical run blocker. More consistency as a pass protector should be expected this season.
DT Timmy Jernigan: He is a former five-star recruit who has started only twice in his first two seasons, but he has played extremely well when on the field (75 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, four sacks) and is a burgeoning star. Jernigan (6-2, 298) will start this fall and could become the best interior lineman in the ACC. He's both quick and strong, and moves extremely well laterally. He holds up well against the run and can make the occasional foray into the opposing backfield.
OG Josue Matias: As with running mate Tre Jackson, he first gained national notice by starting against Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl in 2011 as a true freshman. And, like Jackson, he started all 14 games at guard last season. Matias (6-6, 326), who played tackle in high school in New Jersey, is especially proficient as a run blocker. He missed his senior season in high school with a leg injury.
TE Nick O'Leary: He was one of the nation's top high school tight ends in 2010 and has 33 receptions in his two seasons with the Seminoles. O'Leary (6-3, 238) lacks ideal size, but he's a tough and an effective blocker. His receiving ability is his best trait, though, and he has been used as a slot receiver on occasion. He's not that fast, but he is athletic, instinctive and has good hands. O'Leary also is Jack Nicklaus' grandson. He survived a frightful motorcycle crash in late July.
RB James Wilder Jr.: He has rushed for 795 yards and 12 touchdowns in his first two seasons and will share carries with Freeman this fall. Wilder (6-2, 226) is a tough, physical runner with speed, but he's not a shifty guy; instead, he runs over people. Indeed, he also played linebacker in high school and some colleges thought he was better-suited for that position. Wilder has developed into a competent receiver, but his blocking must improve. In addition, he never has had to deal with a heavy workload -- in 26 career games, he has carried the ball at least 15 times only once and has only six games with double-digit carries. Four of his 12 touchdowns have come against FCS opponents. Wilder, who was a national top-30 prospect out of high school in Tampa, Fla., has had off-field issues and was arrested three times for minor offenses between February 2012 and January 2013. His dad is a former NFL running back.
SS Karlos Williams: He was a consensus national top-10 prospect out of high school near Orlando and will start for the first time this season as a junior. Williams (6-1, 230) has made 39 tackles and been a good kick returner, and now is getting the opportunity to make a true mark. He has excellent speed for his size, but needs to play with consistency. Focus also has been an issue in the past. He will play a hybrid linebacker spot in certain sets and should thrive in that role. His brother, Vince, is a former FSU linebacker who was a sixth-round pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2013 draft.
QB Jameis Winston: He was a national top-20 prospect and the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback out of Hueytown (Ala.) High in 2012. He redshirted last season and is expected to start this fall. Winston (6-4, 218), who has gained about 25 pounds since signing with FSU, played in the spread in high school, and showed a strong arm and good running ability. He looked good in spring practice, and the expectations are through the roof. There's no question he has the needed physical tools; now he just has to prove it on the field. Ultimately, he will determine whether FSU wins the ACC and gets to a BCS bowl again.
Three must-see games of 2013
Oct. 19 at Clemson: The game of the year in the ACC -- the winner likely takes the Atlantic Division title and becomes the favorite to nab the league's automatic BCS berth. Clemson WR Sammy Watkins vs. Joyner, Darby and the rest of the Seminoles secondary should make for great theater. Edwards vs. Clemson OT Brandon Thomas will be a huge matchup. And Wilder and Freeman will be looking for room to run against a decent group of Clemson linebackers.
Nov. 2 vs. Miami (Fla.): FSU has won six of the past eight in the fierce rivalry. Miami QB Stephen Morris has a deep group of receivers, so FSU's secondary must play well. And Jones and Smith will look to slow Miami TB Duke Johnson.
Nov. 30 at Florida: This is one of the nastiest rivalries in the nation. Can Erving keep Florida's pass rushers out of Winston's face? Can Greene have success against Florida's corners? Can Jernigan -- who grew up about 45 miles north of UF's campus -- disrupt the Gators' rushing attack?