Florida State Begins Long Road Back to Playoffs

Florida State had an amazing run winning the 2013 national title and making it to the inaugural college football playoff before losing to Oregon in the national semifinal last season. Over the past three seasons the Seminoles have posted a 39-3 overall record and routinely reeled in some of the top recruiting classes in the nation. Jameis Winston is gone and only 11 starters return from a year ago, but loads of talent remains on the roster in Tallahassee. The question is, can the program maintain the lofty results of the last few seasons or will the Seminoles take a step or two back next year by relying on unproven contributors?

The position everyone’s focused on is of course quarterback and the battle to replace Heisman Trophy winner and resident controversy magnet Jameis Winston. The early leader is rising junior Sean Maguire who enters spring ball number one on the depth chart. He completed 21-of-39 passes for 304 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions in his only start last season. With Winston suspended, Maguire led the ‘Noles to a 23-17 overtime victory against Clemson in the third game of the season proving he’s capable of being the guy calling the shots.

For all his faults, few questioned Winston’s work ethic or dedication to improving. Maguire — like Winston a member of the 2012 recruiting class — has picked up that mantle spending time in the film room and getting in extra throws after practice so far this spring.

He’ll battle a group of youthful quarterbacks featuring redshirt freshman J.J. Cosentino, sophomore John Franklin as well as true freshman and early enrollee De’Andre Johnson. Despite the talented challengers, Maguire figures to have the leg up in the race to start in Jimbo Fisher’s pro style offense.

The other major questions surround the offensive line where FSU has to replace four starters. Essentially the entire second-string unit is being elevated to join lone returning starter Roderick Johnson, who himself began last season on the second team. He’ll be joined by Kareem Are, Derrick Kelly and Chad Mavety. They’ve been the starters so far this spring but there’s still a battle going on at the center spot between Ryan Hoefield and Alec Eberle. The two have alternated first team reps in practice and will continue to battle, though a potential transfer might trump them if it comes to fruition.

Hegarty will be the starter if he chooses Florida State. He started 11 games in 2014 for Notre Dame but the coaches there wanted him to change positions for his final season and he wasn’t guaranteed a starting spot. He already has a degree so he will be eligible to play immediately for his next school. If he does choose FSU, the ‘Noles will have gone from lacking a proven anchor to having tremendous depth at center with multiple seasoned options thanks to spring reps.

While replacing Winston and the guys up front who protected him, the Seminoles also have to find someone to step in for one of Jameis’ most reliable targets, tight end Nick O’Leary.

A Consensus All-American, All-ACC First Team selection and the 2014 John Mackey Award Winner, O’Leary leaves Florida State as the most successful tight end in school history. He’s the FSU all-time leader among tight ends in receptions (114), yards (1,591) and touchdowns (18).

Three players — Ryan Izzo, Jeremy Kerr and Mavin Saunders — will vie for the starting spot with Izzo and Kerr the more likely options of the trio. Saunders could factor in though if he can get his blocking up to par. He hasn’t played football very long and was a receiver in high school, but his tremendous athleticism and imposing size (6’7″, 260) makes him a tantalizing option particularly in goal line situations.

Florida State will be good once again in 2015, but they’re no different than any other program looking to build and evaluate young talent right now. The spring will be a valuable experience for the young players who will be thrust into the bright lights of Doak Campbell Stadium next season.

Florida State will hold its spring football game Saturday April, 11 at 2 p.m.

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