But it is hard to avoid comparisons to their respective offenses.
Like Winston in 2013, Francois will not have to go it alone in his first career start. There are veterans at every position on offense, and that should not be underplayed headed into the Sept. 5 opener against Ole Miss. Fisher has said many times that having an experienced group around Winston helped his development (that 25-of-27 passing debut against Pitt was a huge help, too).
Let us take a look, then, at what Florida State returned on offense in 2013, and what it returns in 2016.
Running back: In 2013, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder returned as a nice 1-2 combo. In 2016, the Seminoles are much stronger here, with Dalvin Cook back after rushing for 1,691 yards and 19 touchdowns last season. In all likelihood, teams are going to try to load the box to slow down Cook and make Francois try and beat them.
But the Seminoles essentially return every single receiver who took a meaningful snap last season (more on them in a minute), and Francois showed during the spring game he has what it takes to make the clutch throws when the heat is on (caveat noted that spring games do not, by their nature, apply much heat). Fisher also reported Francois had “quite a few touchdown passes” during a scrimmage Wednesday.
Receiver/tight end: Rashad Greene, Kenny Shaw, Kelvin Benjamin and Nick O'Leary all returned to help Winston and the offense top 4,000 yards in the pass game. Greene and Benjamin each went over 1,000 yards that season; Shaw nearly did. While the group Florida State returns for 2016 is not as consistent, there is major potential. Travis Rudolph has the capability to be an All-ACC receiver; Bobo Wilson and Kermit Whitfield have a ton of experience, and Auden Tate reminds many of Benjamin. Ryan Izzo also returns at tight end, though he has work to do to get to O’Leary’s level.
Offensive line: Florida State returned one of its best offensive lines in 2013, featuring ACC Jacobs Blocking Trophy recipient Cam Erving at left tackle. The Seminoles have all starters returning in 2016, headlined by ACC Jacobs Blocking Trophy recipient Rod Johnson at left tackle. Pretty important that both Winston and Francois have elite tackles blocking their respective blind sides. While the returning Florida State offensive line is not as good as the one the Noles had headed into the 2013 season, Fisher believes this will be a vastly improved group as 2016 goes on.
Florida State returns more starters on offense in 2016 than it did in 2013. And the expectations are higher for this team going into the season. Florida State started ’13 at No. 11 in the preseason ranking. The Noles already are No. 4 in the coaches’ poll.
There is no denying the amount of talent returning. And there is no denying the 2013 comparison, either. At least on offense.