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September 2, 2013

Winston, defense to finally answer questions

Ready, set, football.

At long last, the Seminoles' 2013 season is about to begin, and Florida State will begin to answer the many questions surrounding the team.

Will Jeremy Pruitt become a great defensive coordinator? And what will his defense look like? Will those defenders live up to their enormous potential? Will the offensive line hold together and stay healthy? And above all, will redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston rise to the occasion?

Expectations are sky-high for Winston, who has yet to play a down of collegiate football and won the starting job in fall camp. He's built a tower of hype after a stellar spring game performance and a few billboard quotes during the team's media day. But whatever Winston becomes, the road to get there truly starts on Monday.

He'll get a heck of an entrance: Monday night, in prime time, on the road, against an ACC opponent in Pittsburgh.

Winston should have plenty of help from FSU's running game, with an offensive line that has 80 starts combined under its belt and a talented backfield in running back tandem Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr.. Florida State did lose redshirt freshman Mario Pender for the year in the week leading up to the game, but coaches and players have been impressed with freshman Ryan Green during fall camp.

Even if FSU takes the pressure off Winston, Pittsburgh was ranked in the top 20 last season in total defense and Fisher said he was impressed with the Panthers' run defense. The odds are that Winston will have to make at least a few plays. With all the hype and expectations surrounding him head coach Fisher said he's glad the season opener is on the road for his first-time starter.

"I think it's better for them to be on the road," Fisher said. "I think there's less distractions. The environment and atmosphere may be tougher, but I think leading up to it and their frame of mind being on the road helps. You're isolated. You're away from all your friends and family."

Questions don't just surround Winston. Monday night is also the first run for Pruitt as a defensive coordinator. Pruitt took over a defense long on talent but short on returning starters, and instilled a host of new wrinkles and packages.

Florida State knows the first game won't be perfect. Fisher said he expects a few kinks in Monday night's game.

"There's always a kink or a wrinkle that happens in those first games with players or coaches, it doesn't matter where you're at," Fisher said. "But I'm comfortable with where we are right now in that aspect."

FSU will have to get past the first-game jitters quickly. Monday's game has big implications for FSU's season. A loss to Pitt, a conference foe, would effectively snuff out FSU's title hopes immediately, and the Panthers would love nothing more than to enter the new league by beating the defending champion.

The opponent is a step up for Florida State as well, which opened against weakling opponents the past three seasons. Players say they don't mind the added pressure.

"That's why you come here to play those big-time games," senior safety Lamarcus Joyner said. "We're in the run of trying to be dominant again so we need those kinds of games."

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