TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida State won the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Orange Bowl and had 12 victories for just the third time in school history.
Still, there remains a notable void on the school's 2012 resume.
The last two times the Seminoles won 12 games the seasons culminated with national titles. Everything seemed to be lined up for the 13th-ranked Seminoles (12-2) to make a run at another championship with a talent-laden, veteran roster, experienced quarterback and a favorable schedule.
But the Seminoles were derailed by a 17-16 loss at North Carolina State, blowing a 16-point lead against the double-digit underdog Wolfpack. Florida State also lost to archrival Florida in its regular season finale.
Nonetheless, coach Jimbo Fisher points out 2012 was Florida State's best season since 2000 when it lost to Oklahoma in the national championship game.
"We're knocking on the door," Fisher said after Monday's 31-10 Orange Bowl win over outmanned Northern Illinois. "We're right there."
Fisher is 31-10 since taking over for the iconic Bobby Bowden in early 2010, a significant turnaround from the Seminoles' 23-16 in his predecessor's final three years. And Fisher believes he has enough talent aboard to keep the Seminoles moving upward. He stands 3-0 in bowl games, 5-1 against intrastate rivals Miami and Florida in addition to his first ACC title.
Fisher heads into his fourth season in 2013 in need of replacing his starting backfield, three of the nation's top defensive ends and the most productive kicker in NCAA history along with at least four departing assistant coaches.
The biggest loss could be the departure of defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, who quickly built one of the nation's best defenses out of the ashes of one of the country's weakest the year before his arrival. Kentucky gave Stoops a five-year, $11 million contract to become their head coach in hopes of working his magic there.
Restocking one of the nation's stingiest defenses with a new coordinator will also be important in the Seminoles' ability to repeat as ACC champions in 2013.
EJ Manuel, Chris Thompson and Lonnie Pryor accounted for 11,825 yards and 91 touchdowns between them and the speedy Thompson's career was basically cut in half by injury. A pair of juniors, defensive end Bjoern Werner and cornerback Xavier Rhodes, are also leaving school early with the likelihood of being high picks in the NFL draft in April.
And the Seminoles will turn to untried redshirt freshman Roberto Aguayo as a replacement for placekicker Dustin Hopkins, who leaves as the NCAA's all-time scoring and field goal leader. Hopkins' toe accounted for 466 points, including 88 field goals during his record-setting career.
"These guys laid the foundation," Fisher said.
With the veteran backfield and several key defenders departing, Fisher and new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt face a first major lineup reshuffling.
While incorporating a handful of new assistant coaches into the program, the restructuring for 2013 starts with finding Manuel's replacement at quarterback. Manuel, who was Christian Ponder's understudy his first two years, went 25-6 as a starter, including a 4-0 bowl mark. Manuel joined former West Virginia quarterback Pat White as the lone quarterbacks to lead their team to four wins in bowl games.
Although rising redshirt junior Clint Trickett begins spring practice in March as Manuel's replacement, he'll be challenged by Jacob Coker, Sean McGuire and Jameis Winston, an elusive 6-4, 210-pound athlete considered by many the best quarterback coming out of high school a year ago. Winston, however, will split time with the baseball team while competing for the starting quarterback position.
Whoever wins the starting quarterback job should benefit from an experienced offensive line that returns virtually intact and a cadre of talented receivers led by Rashad Greene, who is already closing in on the top 10 career marks at Florida State in catches, receiving yards and touchdowns as he heads into his junior campaign.
Tailbacks James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman, who will both be juniors, may each see an increased workload next year. The two have combined for 2,034 and 28 touchdowns rushing while splitting time with Thompson.