The 2012 season has drawn to a close, and the final judgement of this Florida State team and so many of its core players will be based largely on the expectations thrust upon them way back in August.
On the one hand, Florida State won 12 games, an ACC title, a BCS bowl. On the other hand, it was never really close to competing for a national title -- as so many had predicted -- and the losses to NC State and Florida were both aggravating for various reasons.
The same is true for a number of the star performers. To put together our final FSU power rankings for the year, weighing expectations against performance is a must. So, with that in mind, here's how our final rankings for the season shook out. (Previous rankings in parentheses.)
1. Bjoern Werner (1)
A consensus All-American, Werner will be remembered as one of the best defensive ends to play at Florida State -- and that's saying a lot. He finished the year with 42 tackles -- including 18 for a loss. His 13 sacks ranked second in the nation. Absurdly, his eight pass breakups led the team. And the scary part is, he could have done more, as his selflessly turned away attention from his teammates on the line and served as a spy on mobile QBs.
2. Cornellius Carradine (2)
His season ended in the fourth quarter against Florida, but the impact he made in 12 games was immense. Carradine stepped in for Brandon Jenkins, who went down with a season-ending injury in Week 1, and immediately dominated. He finished second on the team in tackles (80), TFLs (13), sacks (11) and led the way with nine QB hurries. His injury will diminish his NFL draft stock a bit, but he's still got a very bright future.
3. Xavier Rhodes (4)
The great crime of Florida State's talented defense is that Rhodes has largely flown under the radar. But while his numbers remained somewhat pedestrian -- 39 tackles, three interceptions -- he was arguably the most dominant cover corner in the conference, and one of the best in the nation. With first-year starter Nick Waisome playing opposite him, few offenses tested Rhodes, but he still managed to shut down numerous big-play receivers. His Orange Bowl performance -- four tackles, one for a loss, and a forced fumble that proved to be the dagger through NIU's heart -- was a perfect ending for Rhodes, who declared for the NFL draft.
4. Lamarcus Joyner (7)
Joyner's numbers were down from his fantastic 2011, but he still earned first-team All-ACC honors and was the veteran leader in a new-look secondary. Joyner finished the year with 51 tackles and one interception, but the numbers didn't tell the story, as opposing offenses steered clear of him. Like Werner and Rhodes, Joyner could be playing on Sundays in 2013.
5. Timmy Jernigan (3)
The biggest reason for optimism on the D-line in 2013 is Jernigan, who managed to top an impressive freshman campaign in 2011 with an even better sophomore season. Jernigan finished the season with 43 tackles, including eight for a loss, and he anchored a defensive front that finished third in the nation in rush defense.
6. EJ Manuel (5)
The senior quarterback looked dreadful in the regular-season finale against Florida and the ACC title game against Georgia Tech, but rebounded with a solid overall performance in the Orange Bowl -- his fourth straight bowl victory, something only West Virginia's Pat White has done. Manuel improved his numbers in nearly every statistical category this season, led the ACC in completion percentage, finished second in yards per attempt and accounted for 27 touchdowns. And yet, it's hard to entirely chalk the season up as a success. Given the insight about his off-field worries -- his mother is battling cancer -- and the professionalism he's handled himself with for years, it feels better to forgive his limitations than dwell on them, but there will be a hefty contingent of the fan base who won't agree.
7. Rashad Greene (6)
He finished 16th in the ACC in receiving yards per game, had 100 receiving yards just once this season, and accounted for just 131 more offensive yards this season than he did as a freshman last season despite playing in five more games. Still, there's no debating that Greene was FSU's most consistent and most prolific receiver in 2012, leading the team in catches and yards and recording two of the biggest touchdowns of the year -- the game winner against Virginia Tech and a nifty grab along the sideline to help secure the win over Northern Illinois. Greene's turn at punt returner included a few highlights, too, but more mistakes.
8. Chris Thompson (NR)
Sadly, Thompson's season -- and his FSU career -- came to an end in late October against Miami (Fla.) with a torn ACL, but through eight games, no one on the Florida State roster was more electric. Despite missing the final six games, Thompson still led FSU in rushing (722 yards) and was second in all-purpose yards (935) and remained a vocal presence even after the injury.
9. Christian Jones (8)
This was supposed to be the breakout year for Jones, who moved to weakside linebacker before the season, but the big numbers didn't really develop. Still, Jones showed marked improvement over the course of the season, culminating with 10 tackles in a terrific effort in the Orange Bowl. He finished with a team-leading 95 tackles and helped lead a group of linebackers that really came together to play a big part in FSU's exceptional rush defense. Now the question is, will Jones return for an encore performance?
10. Menelik Watson (NR)
Perhaps the offensive line didn't improve by as much as many fans had hoped, but there was marked improvement from last season's disaster. Across the board, it was a bigger, more athletic group, but perhaps no one made a bigger impact than Watson. The proof? In 10 quarters without him this season, FSU allowed 10 sacks. In the other 11.5 games he played, it allowed just 16. Not bad for a guy who'd played just eight games in his career at any level before this season.