NEEDS A BIG SEASON FROM: MARIO EDWARDS JR. | junior | defensive end
It's easy to put all the focus on quarterback Jameis Winston, but a real key to Florida State's national championship season came from a punishing defense.
And if the Seminoles are to repeat as champs in the first year of the new playoff system, they'll need a huge season from junior defensive end Mario Edwards Jr.
Edwards was a force in last season's BCS National Championship victory over Auburn, tallying six tackles, including three for a loss.
His breakout 2013 campaign featured 28 tackles in 11 starts, including 9 1/2 tackles for a loss and 3 1/2 sacks.
Florida State needs Edwards to exceed those numbers this season and provide upperclassman leadership to a defensive line that returns just one other starter (tackle Eddie Goldman).
Derrick Nnadi and former Manatee High standout Demarcus Christmas are potent freshmen who made waves in camp. But until they become seasoned, it's up to Edwards to keep improving and take that next step to become an elite defensive end.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: DERRICK NNADI | freshman | defensive tackle
The 6-foot-2, 303-pound prized recruit has made big strides in camp, with Edwards referring to Nnadi as "that guy." What Edwards means is that Nnadi, who was rated the nation's fourth-best defensive tackle and fourth-best prospect in Virginia by Rivals, is looking like a player capable of helping fill the void left by All-American nose guard Timmy Jernigan (second-round draft pick by the Baltimore Ravens).
DEEP AT: TALENT
If Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston stays out of trouble, Florida State has a proven signal-caller leading an offensive unit that returns several key cogs from last season's national title season. Mix in the stellar defense, and the Noles are deep with talent all over the field.
THIN AT: WIDE RECEIVER
While there is no doubt Florida State possesses unworldly talent, the receiving corps has quality with leading receiver Rashad Greene (76 catches, 1,128 yards) set to be Winston's No. 1 target, but there are questions about who will rise to become the No. 2 option following Kelvin Benjamin's departure to the NFL (Carolina Panthers) along with Kenny Shaw (Jacksonville Jaguars).
BY THE NUMBERS
Florida State players drafted in the NFL during head coach Jimbo Fisher's first four seasons
Consecutive bowl game victories by the Seminoles, the nation's longest active streak.
Preseason ranking for the defending national champion Seminoles.
fifth season, 45-10
at Pittsburgh W, 41-13
NEVADA W, 62-7
BETHUNE-COOKMAN W, 54-6
at Boston College W, 48-34
MARYLAND W, 63-0
at Clemson W, 51-14
N.C. STATE W, 49-17
MIAMI W, 41-14
Wake Forest W, 59-3
SYRACUSE W, 59-3
IDAHO W, 80-14
Florida W, 37-7
Duke W, 45-7
BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
Auburn W, 34-31
30 OKLAHOMA STATE, 8 p.m.
6 CITADEL, 7:30 p.m.
27 N.C. State*
4 WAKE FOREST*
18 NOTRE DAME
22 BOSTON COLLEGE*
Game times TBA, unless noted
HOME GAMES IN ALL CAPS
*- ACC game
GAME TO WATCH: NOV. 29 VS. FLORIDA
Throw out records and rankings with rivalry games. And if the talented Seminoles get off to the same start as in 2013, then talk about pressure when hosting the Gators and a chance at the college football playoff at stake.
Expect playoff berth
Repeating as national champs during the BCS days meant running the gauntlet unscathed again, but the likelihood of that -- and going wire-to-wire from preseason No. 1 to national title -- isn't favorable for Florida State, despite getting an easier schedule than most. Even with a potential slip-up, voters should keep the Noles in the top four for one of the playoff berths this season.
-- Capsule by Jason Dill, Herald sports writer