1) You don’t just replace Jameis … can Florida State come close?
No. Winston is one of the best quarterbacks in college football history, and there’s bound to be a significant drop-off. That said, Florida State will always have good quarterback play as long as Jimbo Fisher is on the sidelines - Winston will be the third straight first-round quarterback to come out of Tallahassee. But the most natural replacement for Winston is now the prohibitive favorite to start at Alabama - Jacob Coker - after transferring prior to last season, and now there are significant question marks about each remaining possibility.
Redshirt junior Sean Maguire, who played in Winston’s place in FSU’s overtime win against Clemson last season, is the only quarterback on the roster with game experience, but Clint Trickett was in a similar situation going into the 2013 spring before Winston emerged. Redshirt freshman J.J. Cosentino has the frame and the physical tools, but he will have to grow dramatically in his grasp of the offense to win the job. Redshirt sophomore James Franklin III is among the fastest quarterbacks in the country, but he would have to get far more consistent as a passer and decision-maker to contend for the job.
It’s highly unlikely that either of the true freshmen - early enrollee DeAndre Johnson and Deondre Francois - will contend for the position. Regardless of who wins the job, Seminole fans are going to have to get used to having a mere mortal at the quarterback position in 2015.
2) Is the defensive line simply going to reload like always?
Despite the losses of Mario Edwards, Jr. and Eddie Goldman to the NFL, I expect the defensive line to be better in 2015 than it was in 2014, when it was plagued by a lack of depth and questionable desire on the part of some of the upperclassmen.
Nose tackle Nile Lawrence-Stample returns from injury after missing nearly the entire 2015 campaign, and second-year players Derrick Nnadi and DeMarcus Christmas are primed for breakthrough seasons on the interior. Senior returning starter Derrick Mitchell also returns, and senior Giorgio Newberry and redshirt freshman Arthur Williams will also likely see time in a very deep rotation - something FSU didn’t have in 2014. There’s still some concern about the defensive end/outside linebacker positions - FSU plays a hybrid defensive front - where juniors Demarcus Walker and Chris Casher were liabilities last season, but, again, there’s young talent pushing for playing time if they falter again.
Sophomores Lorenzo Featherston and Jacob Pugh played significant minutes in the second half of the season, and Ricky Leonard has the length, size, and athleticism to be a force on the outside once he figures out the position. True freshman Josh Sweat is recovering from a major knee injury, but he’ll also have a chance to make a significant contribution late in the season. The bottom line is that FSU has plenty of big, long, athletic bodies across the defensive line, and the competition among them should help make this an outstanding unit in 2015.
3) What’s the one thing that needs working on?
It’s hard to pick just one thing since FSU is reloading at so many spots, replacing Winston, four starters on the offensive line, the most productive WR (Rashad Greene) and TE (Nick O’Leary) in school history, and four early round draft picks on defense. The secondary will look very different with three - arguably four - of the five starting spots very much up for grabs. That said, I’ll go with one thing on each side of the ball.
On defense, FSU has to develop a better pass rush than it had last season. The scheme doesn’t aim for a lot of sacks, but they’ve got to get more pressure on the quarterback and at least disrupt the timing. On offense, FSU has to find a reliable center to anchor a young offensive line. Despite having a veteran group in 2014, the Noles struggled up front due to problems at the center position until Cam Erving moved there late in the season. If they don’t find a solid replacement for Erving, the offense will struggle regardless of who wins the quarterback position.