When Christian Ponder left Jimbo Fisher for a first-round payday, the Seminoles coach plugged in EJ Manuel. When Manuel departed Florida State, there was a generational talent coming up through the ranks.
Now that Jameis Winston has bolted Tallahassee for Tampa, Florida State will endure what every other college football program does every few years: uncertainty at the sport’s premium position.
The former Heisman Trophy winner might be the toughest player to replace this season, not just in the ACC but the entire country. Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson and Sean Maguire are still attempting to sway Fisher, who remains unsettled about a starter for the Sept. 5 season opener.
The Seminoles aren’t the only ACC team that could struggle to replace its stars from a season ago. Here are the five toughest players to replace in the ACC this season.
QB Jameis Winston, Florida State
Winston won a national championship, a Heisman Trophy and 26 of 27 starts. In this pass-happy era, the numbers might be duplicated -- 4,000 is the new 3,000 for quarterbacks -- but what won’t be replicated so easily is Winston’s on-field success and command of the huddle. It was his offense the last two seasons and his team in 2014. Maguire proved in a reserve role last season that he can keep a season afloat, but could he maintain that for a whole season? Can Golson avoid the costly turnovers that sunk Notre Dame a season ago? What Fisher has going for him is himself, though. Few, if any, coaches have as strong a quarterback track record as Fisher, who has had four first-round picks and two former players selected No. 1 overall.
WR DeVante Parker, Louisville
Value and impact are often too subjective and impossible to quantify. We learn that just about every season as the definition of MVP is debated. But in the case study of the 6-foot-3, 218-pound Parker, it’s fairly easy to determine just how valuable he was to Louisville, and thus how hard it will be to replace him. The Cardinals averaged a paltry 200 yards passing against Power 5 opponents without Parker last season. With Parker in the lineup, that average jumped to 279. He had 132 of the Cards’ 203 yards through the air against NC State, and of the 1,673 yards Louisville passed for over the final six games, Parker caught 855 of them -- 51 percent. Quick is the Cardinals’ best remaining receiver, but the hope is Savage, a 6-3, 214-pound transfer, provides the same physical threat as Parker.
LT Ereck Flowers, Miami
Flowers did not get the publicity some other offensive linemen did nationally, but the NFL sure took notice. The former Miami left tackle was drafted No. 9 overall this spring. Flowers was tasked with protecting freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya’s blind side and open room for running back Duke Johnson. The Hurricanes’ offensive line situation isn’t a mess -- the 2014 offensive line recruiting class was strong -- but Miami’s still not sold on a left tackle. Darling looks to be the favorite, but he shared duties with McDermott in a recent scrimmage. Kaaya is the pivotal piece to a Miami rebound, but his arm can’t help Miami if he doesn't have time to throw.
WR DeAndre Smelter, Georgia Tech
Potential replacement: Ricky Jeune
Few players nationally did as much damage with as few opportunities as Smelter last season. He was eighth in yards per catch (20.43), and he accumulated 715 yards on only 35 receptions. Georgia Tech found a quarterback in Justin Thomas who can throw, and the Yellow Jackets had a dynamic receiver who could take advantage of Thomas’ arm. Jeune has the size (6-3, 214) to replace Smelter, but the third-year player has not done much in a Yellow Jackets uniform. He impressed coach Paul Johnson in the offseason, though.
DE Vic Beasley, Clemson
Potential replacement: Shaq Lawson
Beasley’s speed and quickness changed the game for the Clemson defense. It was not a one-man show defensively for the Tigers, but opposing quarterbacks always had to take pre-snap notice of Beasley, who collected 25 sacks in the last two seasons. The Tigers have a capable replacement in Lawson, who has been waiting his turn. Lawson is one of the preseason favorites for defensive player of the year after finishing with 3.5 sacks as a backup last season. It’s easy to project a player like Lawson to pick up where Beasley left off, but he will have to prove to opposing coaches that he’s the kind of talent they have to account for in their game plans each week.