TALLAHASSEE -- After months of hype and mounting anticipation, weeks of camp in the grueling August heat of Tallahassee, and after all the other games this past weekend, the No. 11 Florida State Seminoles are set to kick off their season Monday night in Pittsburgh.
“It’s prime time, everyone in the country’s going to be looking at one team playing — that’s us,” FSU senior linebacker Telvin Smith said. “It’s going to be two teams on the field, but everyone’s going to be looking to see what Florida State has. We always have that target on our back. That’s what we like to play with.”
Florida State will look to welcome the Panthers (6-7 in 2012) to the Atlantic Coast Conference at Heinz Field by firing an opening salvo that puts the rest of the country on notice.
After finishing 12-2, winning the ACC for the first time in seven years and beating Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl last season, all eyes will be on Florida State to see how it replaces a national-best 11 players lost to the NFL Draft — chief among them quarterback EJ Manuel.
Under center for the Seminoles will be Jameis Winston. The redshirt freshman won over the fan base with a 12-of-15, two-touchdown passing performance in FSU’s spring game, but didn’t win the starting job until just more than a week ago when the Seminoles broke finished fall practice.
The former five-star prospect from Hueytown, Ala., comes highly touted. Originally discovered via ESPN’s Elite-11, Winston always has seemed destined to do big things. Florida State just hopes he’s destined to do them this year. His first test will come against a team that has been challenging at home.
“This will be a tremendous game. They played very well last year. Played Louisville to the heels — had them. They were up 14 on Notre Dame in the fourth quarter. They beat Virginia Tech up handily up there at home,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “They play at home extremely well. We’re going to have to bring our ‘A’ game because it’s going to be a challenging football game, no doubt.”
The Seminoles will likely rely heavily on their running game as they ease in their young quarterback. Junior running backs James Wilder Jr., and Devonta Freeman (Miami Central) will share the load behind an experienced starting offensive line.
Opposite them will be a Pittsburgh defensive unit that finished 31st in the country against the run last year and returns top defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
“Offensively, [they do] a lot of moving people around and changing formations — they’re able to run the football, they’re physical and extremely big up front,” Fisher said. “They have a great receiver, [Devin] Street, who is a playmaker.”
Beyond Street, though, the Panthers are thin at receiver and have plenty of questions facing them on offense.
As do the Seminoles on defense.
But instead of questions about personnel, there will likely be questions about the scheme new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is debuting. The defense is much more matchup focused and similar to the defense run under Nick Saban at Alabama.
That’s best illustrated by how Florida State will attack one of the largest offensive lines it will encounter all year. Averaging 315 pounds per player, Pittsburgh will likely try to control the tempo of the game with its run.
To counter, Eddie Goldman — typically an interior defensive lineman — gets the start at left end. Meanwhile, Dan Hicks — typically a defensive end — starts at strong-side linebacker.
Monday night, all eyes in the nation will be on the Seminoles as they make their first impressions in 2013.
What will people be saying after?
Smith laughs and says, “Florida State! Florida State! Florida State!”