The Seminoles also face the challenge of replacing several key leaders from last season's team, most notably linebacker Telvin Smith and defensive back Lamarcus Joyner, each of whom has graduated and is headed to the NFL. Although Jameis Winston was the public face of the program in 2013, Smith and Joyner were the primary leaders in the locker room, as one program insider pointed to those two in in particular after FSU dominated Clemson as the individuals who "will not let us lose [focus]" even after such success.
Winston will doubtless continue to bring passion and confidence to a team that has not lost with him at quarterback. His motivation is not in question as he is aiming to become one of the all-time greats, and it is highly unlikely that he would do anything but improve in 2014. Winston's role in the spring, however, is somewhat diminished compared to the fall, as his attention will be divided between practice fields and the baseball diamond while FSU tries to give backup quarterbacks Sean Maguire and John Franklin plenty of snaps throughout the spring.
Winston's lessened presence, along with super sophomore Jalen Ramsey's participation on the track team, should actually allow more room for other leadership to develop.
I expect seniors Rashad Greene (WR) and Tyler Hunter (DB), each of whom have previously flashed outstanding leadership ability and set a strong example with their own play, to fill much of the void left by Smith and Joyner. Hunter exercised leadership from the sideline while missing most of the 2013 season with a neck injury, operating almost as an additional coach in practice, and the defensive staff asserts he knows the defense as well as anyone.
The presence of players like Greene and Hunter to fill the leadership void highlights the way that the 2014 Seminoles strike an outstanding balance. The program returns plenty of talent and experience while also having enough key departures to remain fresh and hungry. The importance of the former is oft-discussed, but the importance of the latter is often overlooked.
Teams need enough turnover from year to year to keep from getting stale. Too much continuity and it is difficult for the next year's team to have enough of its own identity to stay motivated and hungry in the face of success. Provided enough talent and leadership returns to fill the void, the departure of key contributors from a prior year actually helps keep things fresh and hungry as the new replacements want to live up to or exceed their predecessors.
True to form, the mantra around the program right now is, "We aren't defending anything," with coaches and players alike insisting that despite many returning players, this is an entirely different team with new goals. In addition, it is not as though the current upperclassmen have not also experienced significant disappointments (e.g., NC State and Florida in 2012). The pain of those failures helped drive the 2013 team, and it is not as though those moments have been forgotten within the program just yet.
I also think the defensive staff changes may also help somewhat in that respect, as it helps reinforce that this is a different year with new challenges. But because the changes were limited, the current staff should also be able to build on the foundation laid last year, adding wrinkles and refining rather than making significant enough changes to cause problems.
Last year's team was perhaps the most thoroughly bought into process-oriented thinking—taking each play, each practice, each game one at a time—of any team I've ever been around. That hunger and focus, which came straight from the leadership in the locker room, was evident in the way that team mowed through its regular season with a level of consistency and dominance rarely seen in the modern era. The question ultimately is whether FSU is able to sustain that level of focus through a new season.
At the end of the day, I think Florida State has developed a process-centered culture in which that approach (reinforced by its success last year) has gotten ingrained within the leadership of the team and is getting passed down to the younger players in the program. There's of course no guarantee the Seminoles repeat their title run in 2014, but I don't see this team losing focus or motivation. If this team is going to lose, somebody's going to have to beat them.