Depth and Stars Matter at Florida State

Randy Morse FishWrap, FishWrap Archive

Florida State, Oregon’s opponent in the upcoming Rose Bowl on January 1st, knows how to win. An established football tradition and excellent coaching are complemented by top recruiting classes attracted to the school of 32,000 in Tallahassee, year after year. As the ‘Noles prepare for their showdown with the Ducks, they have not-so-quietly put together the nation’s second-ranked 2015 recruiting class, and are closing in on national leader, Alabama.

Ducks fans will be at least vaguely aware of this, the result of the recent announcement that five-star defensive end Josh Sweat had picked the Seminoles over, among a handful of other programs, Oregon.

Josh Sweat -- no sweat for FSU.

Josh Sweat — no sweat for FSU.

At this point, FSU has the highest average star rating in the country, at 3.95, with a number of five-star talents still contemplating a college career under the tutelage of Jimbo Fisher and his staff. To put that in some perspective, only one school in the last ten years has managed to exceed a 4.0 star average in a recruiting class – USC, in 2010.

Many quickly point out the fact that stars aren’t everything. There are plenty of examples of four- and five-star players who don’t pan out at the college level, while many unheralded kids go on to become sensations – I give you that now-famous three-star prospect out of Honolulu, Marcus Mariota. But make no mistake – over the course of a long and rugged season, as players wear down and injuries occur, the more talent across the board a team has, the better its depth, the more likely it is going to be successful late in the year. The fact Florida State has won 29 games in a row speaks rather eloquently to this fact.

The Seminoles’ defensive line situation is a case in point. Plenty banged up this year, the team still managed to hold the fort with replacement linemen, winning every game with starters riding the bench while nursing significant injuries. Players like Nile Lawrence-Stample (see top photo), a 6’1″, 314 pound redshirt junior defensive tackle, a high four-star player out of high school who tore his pectoral muscle in FSU’s 23-17 overtime victory over Clemson on September 20.

While Derrick Mitchell (four-star) filled in nicely since his teammate’s injury, backed by Justin Shanks (another four-star), having Lawrence-Stample back in time to face the Ducks would clearly boost FSU’s defensive fortunes.

Plug and play: FSU's Derrick Mitchell is no slouch on the defensive line.

Plug and play: FSU’s Derrick Mitchell is no slouch on the defensive line.

“It really could [help depth],” Fisher said. “Give you a lot of reps, give you quality, give you size, girth. Niles is a heck of a player now. He was fixing to have a great year. He has power, speed, and all that. He’s in good shape. We just have to get him back to playing football.”

FSU linebacker Terrance Smith echoed his coach, stating the return of Lawrence-Stample in time for the Rose Bowl would be a tremendous boost, adding that his team’s national championship run last year was in part due to the outstanding play of the defensive line.

“It freed me and Telvin [fellow linebacker, Smith] a lot, we could go sideline to sideline and just make plays. To be able to have two threats up there, plus Mario [Edwards Jr.] and Demarcus [Walker] on the edge, to be able to have people that require double-team blocks and can’t get single blocked… that’s a big factor.

The fact that all these players were potential All-Americans when they entered the program doesn’t hurt. Stars are certainly not everything. But can a team really ever have too many? Jimbo Fisher would likely answer with an emphatic, “no.”

 Top photo

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