It is no secret that the Florida State Seminoles have not had a 1,000-yard rusher since Warrick Dunn in 1996. They’ve had talented backs since then — Travis Minor, Greg Jones, Leon Washington and Lorenzo Booker — but for a multitude of reasons, none of them has eclipsed the 1,000-yard plateau in a single season.
This year, the Seminoles have two veteran running backs, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr., who’d both like to see that streak end. Both players are coming off solid sophomore seasons and are looking to break out this fall. Freeman ran for 660 yards and eight touchdowns last year, while Wilder added 635 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground.
Last year, the duo split carries with seniors Chris Thompson and Lonnie Pryor, who combined for over 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns. With their departure, Freeman and Wilder can expect to shoulder more of the rushing load in 2013. Their only real competition in the backfield will come from Mario Pender, who has battled injuries for most of his time in Tallahassee. Freshman Ryan Green is an explosive runner as well, but he too is coming off an injured ACL he suffered his senior year in high school.
That leaves Freeman and Wilder as the two primary ball carriers, increasing their likelihood of ending the streak. In addition to playing time, there are a few other reasons why it seems likely one of them with cross the 1,000-yard barrier as well.
First, they return four starters from an offensive line that was markedly improved in 2012. All told, the Seminoles ran for almost 3,000 yards as a team and had 40 touchdowns on the ground. That unit should be even better this fall, which bodes well for Freeman and Wilder.
Secondly, they are breaking in freshman quarterback Jameis Winston. Head coach Jimbo Fisher had a lot of faith in four-year starting quarterback E.J. Manuel last year and as a result, allowed him to throw the ball 387 times. This year, I’d expect Fisher to try to rely on the run game to alleviate some of the pressures on the freshman quarterback.
Finally, I don’t expect Florida State to blow out as many teams as they did last year. The Seminoles’ defense not only lost defensive coordinator Mark Stoops but also seven players to the NFL Draft. While there is a ton of talent still there, it might take some time for them to learn the new schemes, and there could be some growing pains. If so, don’t expect to see scores like 69-3, 55-0,and 52-0, which were the scores of the Seminoles’ first three games in 2012.
In those blowout wins, Freeman and Wilder had productive days, but they were pulled early so as not to run it up. As a result, they lost out on a number of carries, and that of course impacted their overall rushing numbers.
With those things in mind, I think there is a good chance that one of the two will rush for over 1,000 yards this year, ending a bizarre streak for the Seminoles.
B.L. is an ACC Football writer for Rant Sports and can be followed on Twitter @coachlip.