TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher believes his Seminoles still have enough talent to make a run at a second straight Atlantic Coast Conference championship despite all the talent they lost to the NFL.
Eleven players were selected in the NFL draft and another handful of Seminoles signed free agent contracts. Still, Fisher is confident the Seminoles will be right in the middle of things again this season.
"We'll tweak and turn, we're learning," Fisher said. "The infrastructure of our program about how we do things won't change right now."
A favorable schedule would also appear to benefit the Seminoles. Games at Clemson in mid-October and a season finale at archrival Florida are likely to be the only times the Seminoles may not be favored to win this season.
Fisher's major challenges include quarterback EJ Manuel (Buffalo Bills), cornerback Xavier Rhodes (Minnesota Vikings) and defensive end Bjoern Werner (Indianapolis Colts), who were all first-round picks in the NFL draft earlier this year.
And that doesn't include other Seminoles on last year's ACC championship squad who are also vying for roster spots in the NFL, like kicking specialist Dustin Hopkins, who departed after scoring 466 points. The points, and his 88 career field goals, are both NCAA marks for FBS schools.
"We lost a lot, but there's still a lot coming in," Fisher said.
Here are five things to watch during the Seminoles' season:
1. QUARTERBACK BATTLE: Jimbo Fisher says the competition is wide open between Jameis Winston and Jacob Coker. The 6-foot-4 Winston and 6-foot-5 Coker are both mobile and have strong arms. Coker is talented enough to start elsewhere but Winston appears to be doing everything a little bit better. Winston has plenty of talent surrounding him with a pair of 600-yard rushers back and a playmaking receiver in Rashad Greene. "Whoever it is, we'll be fine," senior center Bryan Stork said. "We've (offensive line) got to keep them healthy. We have the potential to be one of the best O-lines in the country."
2. THE DEFENSIVE LINE: FSU is replacing four starters up front but all of the backups have experience. At end, Mario Edwards Jr. started in the ACC championship game and Orange Bowl as a freshman (recording a combined 10 tackles), while senior Dan Hicks will likely start on the other side. And at tackle, junior Timmy Jernigan has 73 career tackles (and two starts), and senior Demonte McAllister had 33 tackles a year ago as a backup.
3. KICKING GAME: Considered one of the top place kickers in the 2012 class, Roberto Aguayo made 5 of 6 field-goal attempts in the spring game (including two from beyond 50). It was a strong start for Aguayo, who replaces the ACC's all-time leading scorer in Dustin Hopkins.
4. NEW COACHES: Fisher overhauled his staff in the offseason and hired six new assistants. Among the departures are defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, who is now the head coach at Kentucky, and offensive coordinator James Coley, who has taken the same job at Miami. Fisher has brought in Jeremy Pruitt, who won the last two national titles as Alabama's defensive backs coach, to take over the defense (linebackers coach Charles Kelly and defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri are also new). Fisher says there will be no offensive coordinator in title, but he will have three new assistants in Randy Sanders, Tim Brewster and Jay Graham.
5. TRIP-UP GAMES: FSU has gone 31-10 in Fisher's three seasons, a successful transition from coach Bobby Bowden. But FSU has struggled in games it was heavily favored, losing ACC matchups to N.C. State and North Carolina in 2010, Virginia in 2011 and finally dropping a 16-point second-half lead at N.C. State in 2012. If the Seminoles are a serious contender on the national stage, they can't lose those kind of games.
Predicted finish in the ACC: Second in the Atlantic Division
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