Today, we're checking in on Florida State, where Jimbo Fisher looks to build on his first ACC title and Orange Bowl win while breaking in a new quarterback and a slew of new assistant coaches.
Coach: Jimbo Fisher (31-10 overall, 31-10 at FSU)
2012 record: 12-2 (7-1 ACC)
Key losses: QB EJ Manuel, RB Chris Thompson, FB Lonnie Pryor, DE Cornellius Carradine, DE Bjoern Werner, CB Xavier Rhodes
Newcomer to watch: QB Jameis Winston. The redshirt freshman hasn't officially been tabbed as the starter yet, but fans have already anointed him the second coming of Charlie Ward. That's not a fair comparison, of course -- Ward won a Heisman and a national title, Winston has yet to take a snap. But it's also possible Winston could blossom into an even more prodigious quarterback. He's got a big arm, good mobility and a football IQ that Fisher says is off the charts. Expecations are huge for the Hueytown, Ala., native, but that doesn't mean he won't live up to them.
Biggest games in 2013: at Pittsburgh, Sept. 2; at Clemson, Oct. 19; vs. Miami, Nov. 2; at Florida, Nov. 30
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Fisher suggested earlier this month that he liked his defensive line this year better than last, but that's something of a tough sell. Florida State lost three former All-ACC defensive ends to the NFL draft along with both of its starting tackles. Yes, there's ample talent waiting in the wings, led by Jernigan and Mario Edwards Jr., but replacing Werner, Carradine and Co. won't be an easy task.
Forecast: This is the rare season in which Florida State appears to be sliding beneath the radar. Clemson is the odds-on favorite, the Seminoles are in transition, and the usual preseason buzz that surrounds the program has been little more than a murmur.
That's exactly how Florida State wants it.
Certainly there are question marks, as Fisher had to replace six assistant coaches, his starting quarterback and a slew of top defenders, but there's also a lot of talent. Florida State lost 11 players to the NFL draft, but cupboard isn't bare. Winston brings immense potential to an offense still stacked with experienced veterans, while Jernigan, Jones, Joyner and others on defense have All-American potential.
Whether it all coalesces into a second straight ACC title is a bigger question. The schedule won't do Florida State any favors, from the opener at Pittsburgh to the regular-season finale at Florida, the toughest games are away from home. And none will be bigger than the Oct. 19 date with Clemson, an emerging rivalry in which the winner has taken the division in each of the past four years.
There is time, of course, for Winston to get his feet wet and for the defense to master new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's system before the Clemson game arrives. If they can, the conference won't be as cut-and-dry as the preseason prognosticators have promised, and the Seminoles won't fly under the radar for long.