GAME NOTES: The 11th-ranked Florida State Seminoles take aim at another ACC title, as they begin defense of their conference crown in the season opener against the newly added Pittsburgh Panthers.
Jumbo Fisher's three seasons in Tallahassee have seen the Seminoles rise to the top of the ACC once again. In 2012, FSU finished the year at 12-2, knocking off Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game (21-15) and disposing of BCS-buster Northern Illinois (31-10) in the Orange Bowl.
Paul Chryst has been charged with ushering in Pittsburgh's ACC era. He was tabbed the new head coach a year ago, the Panthers' last in the Big East. Chryst led his team to a 6-7 record in a season littered by close losses. The team finished the regular season at 6-6, but fell to Ole Miss in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
The Panthers actually hold a 5-3 series advantage over the Seminoles and have won the last three meetings. However, these two teams haven't met on the football field since 1983.
A solid season under center for EJ Manuel propelled him into the NFL, as a first-round selection of the Buffalo Bills. Despite the loss of one of the ACC's top signal-callers, Florida State remains optimistic on offense, thanks to all the hype surrounding redshirt freshman Jameis Winston (6-4, 220).
It was expected, but Fisher didn't name Winston the starter until last week, as the youngster was in a heated battle for the spot with Jacob Coker.
"Just a little more consistency ...for a longer period of time," Fisher said, when asked why Winston won the job. "Like I said, Jake is ready to play, too. Jameis, I thought -- as we ranked and talked about it as a staff -- did some different things. Both of them really started to take command of things as camp wore on. I thought Jameis did a little better job in the beginning. You're being close; you're splitting hairs when you really get down to it. That's not 'coach talk' or anything else. That's the truth."
The quarterback's ability to thrive early on is enhanced by one of the top offensive lines in the country, highlighted by four returning starters in center Bryan Stork (6-4, 312), guards Tre Jackson (6-4, 327) and Josue Matias (6-6, 326) and tackle Cameron Erving (6-6, 310), all of which have All- America potential.
There is talent at the rest of the skill positions as well. The backfield is led by the one-two punch of tailbacks Devonta Freeman (660 yards, eight TDs) and James Wilder Jr. (635 yards, 11 TDs). The receiving corps also returns a couple of reliable contributors, highlighted by junior Rashad Greene (6-0, 175), who earned Second-Team All-ACC last year with 57 receptions, for 741 yards and six TDs. Junior tight end Nick O'Leary (6-3, 240) could see his role expand with a new signal-caller under center.
Strong defense was the driving force behind Florida State's resurgence last season, and that success was enough to land Mark Stoops the head coaching job at Kentucky. Now with only four starters returning on that side of the football in 2013, unproven talent must step up and deliver. The biggest hit area on defense is up front, where standout ends Bjoern Werner, Tank Carradine and Brandon Jenkins have all moved on to the NFL. Werner and Carradine combined for 24 sacks in 2012 and finding that kind of production won't be easy. Sophomore Mario Edwards Jr. could be vital in that regard, as the 6-3, 282-pound sophomore showed flashes of strong play as a true freshman in 2012.