Bill Connelly previews FSU

2013 FSU football's 10 things to know: Can the Noles keep improving

I think Bill does a very excellent job here of providing stat driven analysis of almost everything you would want to know about FSU in around 4,000. The only slight difference in opinion I have is I'm a lot higher on the depth and talent FSU has backing up the DTs this season. I'll give you a couple of key exerts below and you should click on the link above and read the rest. (Also maybe this is something someone around here with mod capacities might consider putting up on the front page of the site?)

3. Pace-adjusted quality: high

Florida State was really, really good in 2012. For 46 of 48 regular season quarters, this may have been one of the two or three best teams in the country. A fourth-quarter lapse versus NC State led to a jarring, unlucky upset, and an outright fourth-quarter collapse against Florida handed the Seminoles a second loss. But again, the quality was ridiculously high at the beginning of the season -- yes, FSU's first three opponents were quite bad, but the Seminoles still played like an elite team against bad opponents -- and remained high throughout.

Adj. Points Per Game (first 7 games): Florida State 42.3, Opponent 13.3 (plus-29.0)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 7 games): Florida State 36.4, Opponent 17.8 (plus-18.6)

There was a defined offensive drop-off when running back Chris Thompson went down against Miami, but this was still a very, very good team throughout the season. Now it just needs to figure out how to get two quarters better.

4. Hello, Jameis

In E.J. Manuel, Florida State had an eventual first-round draft pick at quarterback. That makes it a bit odd that the play-calling seemed designed to protect him to some degree. FSU threw more frequently than the national average on standard downs, a gambit often used to take heat off of a young quarterback; meanwhile, thanks in part to Manuel's mobility, the Seminoles also ended up running slightly more than the national average on passing downs, another safe, protective approach.

In all, FSU ran and passed a rather normal amount, but considering how good the ground game was, especially before Thompson's injury, you could certainly make the case that FSU should have leaned on the run more than it did. A line that was incredibly young and banged up in 2011 quickly gelled and thrived in 2012 (13th in Adj. Line Yards), and while Thompson was easily the most explosive tailback on the roster, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder, Jr., still provided a nice, steady punch.

The play-calling almost suggests that FSU knew it had a good running game (just look at how much FSU ran in the red zone -- when it needed points, FSU ran the ball) but use the threat of the run to take heat off of Manuel, who still took too many sacks (and didn't get amazing protection).

If Fisher was reasonably conservative with a solid senior quarterback, chances are he will be that way again in 2013, with a redshirt freshman at the helm. Jameis Winston is, by all accounts, about as close to a sure thing as possible, to the point where he was being asked about "Manziel disease" (i.e. how one reacts to great success as a young player, basically) recently. It will be a shock if he doesn't succeed, but one still has to figure that Fisher's No. 1 tactic will be even more easy passes on standard downs and even more scrambling and running opportunities on passing downs.

This approach isn't very exciting, but it can work. It turned Nebraska into a Big Ten division champion last year, and, after all, it led FSU to a conference title. And the 'Noles should have the pieces to pull it off. Freeman and Wilder both return, so expect quite a bit of running between the tackles. And to the extent that getting to the edge is still a goal, youngsters like Mario Pender or Ryan Green could play a role. Meanwhile, three of Manuel's top four targets return in the receiving corps, and all three averaged at least 9.0 yards per target. (And, of course, there are about 17 new blue-chippers trying to crack the rotation.) And the line, so young in 2011, is ridiculously experienced, with all five starters returning (96 career starts in all, including backups). That's a nice thing for a young quarterback to have.

7. If the line is solid, look out

The new members of Fisher's defensive coaching staff have quite a bit of experience with Alabama's 3-4 in their background. Sunseri attempted to install the defense at Tennessee last year, for that matter. It doesn't appear that Pruitt is going with a straight 3-4 this year, but the idea will be for FSU to be multiple, capable of going from three down linemen to four, from a 4-3 to a nickel, and from a nickel to a dime with as much ease as possible.

Lord knows the Seminoles will have depth and versatility at linebacker and defensive back. If you can remain unpredictable in the way you align your defense, you don't have to blitz very much to keep an offense on its toes. Saban's defense really doesn't send the house very often -- you just never know where the fourth or fifth pass-rusher will be coming from. Without leaning on a strict 3-4, it's likely Pruitt will be taking on the same attitude.

Pruitt will be able to utilize a prototype middle linebacker in Christian Jones and a wealth of stellar cornerbacks while moving around versatile players like speedy linebackers Telvin Smith and Reggie Northrup and bulky safety Karlos Williams (bigger than either Smith or Northrup) in a variety of ways. A ridiculous number of four- and five-star freshmen and redshirt freshmen will give Pruitt options if someone gets hurt.

Again, there is no guarantee that the line will be great, but the linebackers and secondary will be. And that alone should keep FSU's defense in the top 10 or top 15, despite all the turnover.

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