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FSU's talent level, QB questions similar to start of 2013 title season

Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois makes his debut as a starter in tonight’s nationally televised game.
Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois makes his debut as a starter in tonight’s nationally televised game.
Published Sep. 5, 2016

TALLAHASSEE

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher enters his big-time, prime time Labor Day season opener pleased with the personality his highly ranked team has developed.

He likes the toughness they showed in fall camp. He praises the young players preparing for new roles, including a talented redshirt freshman quarterback making his first start.

The good news for Seminoles fans? Fisher said almost the exact same things three years ago as FSU began its charge to the 2013 national championship.

"It's funny," Fisher said. "We always say history always repeats itself in a lot of ways."

No. 4 FSU can only hope that proves true, beginning with tonight's sold-out game against No. 11 Ole Miss at Orlando's Camping World Stadium.

The parallels are plentiful, starting with the schedule.

The 'Noles had the national spotlight to itself on Labor Day 2013 when they spoiled Pittsburgh's ACC debut in a 41-13 rout. A similar performance to start this year would reinforce their championship expectations.

"I see a lot of similarities," said senior receiver Jesus Wilson, who appeared in 12 games during the title run. "I see everybody grinding. The young guys are stepping up fast. That's a good thing, we're going to need them."

It helps that those young guys were almost all highly regarded recruits.

"We're talented, just like them," said defensive end DeMarcus Walker, this year's undisputed leader who started three games in 2013.

In fact, this year's team might even be more talented.

The four recruiting classes that made up the bulk of the title team averaged a No. 7 national ranking by Rivals. Those classes included nine recruits with five-star billing and another 41 who had four stars.

Rivals' average ranking for the four classes that comprise this year's roster was fifth, thanks to 11 five-star prospects and 50 four-star recruits.

The talent extends to largely intact offensive lines, star running backs from Miami's Central High (Devonta Freeman/Dalvin Cook) and new starting quarterbacks. Rivals ranked current starter Deondre Francois and 2013 starter Jameis Winston as the site's top dual-threat recruits in the country. Fisher said the concerns that fans raise now about Francois' inexperience are the same ones he heard three years ago with Winston.

"A lot of people think, 'Oh, it's so much faster than high school,' " said Winston, the Bucs' second-year starting quarterback. "But man, go play with your best instincts, trust your coaching and trust your teammates."

Winston did immediately; he missed only two passes in his FSU debut and cruised to the program's third Heisman Trophy.

The Seminoles' 2013 receivers were more proven than this year's corps, but they still needed a four-star, 6-foot-5 talent to emerge.

During the title push, it was Kelvin Benjamin, who exploded for 212 yards at Florida and caught the championship-winning touchdown against Auburn at the Rose Bowl. Now receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey is challenging Wharton High alumnus Auden Tate to make a similar transformation.

"KB wasn't (a star) at first, either," Dawsey said. "He had to work as well. (Tate has) got that capability."

So do the rest of the Seminoles, who are among the preseason favorites to challenge for a trip to Tampa for the Jan. 9 championship game and a second national title in four years.

"We have the potential," Walker said. "We've just got to live up to it."

Times staff writer Rick Stroud contributed to this report. Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.