Florida State receivers Kenny Shaw, Rashad Greene and Kelvin Benjamin felt so inconspicuous last year they made a pact – spend the summer working to develop into one of the top corps so the nation would know their names in 2013.
The nation is paying attention, including seventh-ranked Miami. The Hurricanes visit the third-ranked Seminoles Saturday in a matchup of top 10 rivals.
“There’s no question that we’ve seen them and we know how talented they are,” Miami coach Al Golden said. “Obviously you can’t defend all of those things all game. They’re an extremely talented team led by an excellent quarterback right now and they’re not beating themselves.
“They’re explosive and they’ll make you pay for any mistake that you make.”
Florida State boasts the No. 11 pass offense in the nation with an average of 341.4 yards per game. Those numbers would have been bigger if the starters weren’t regularly pulled out of blowout victories. The Seminoles (7-0, 5-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) are tied for No. 6 in the FBS in touchdown passes with a redshirt freshman at quarterback.
Jameis Winston is certainly special, but his group of receivers has made life easier.
The trio is in the midst of career-best seasons and Nick O’Leary is developing into one of the best tight ends in the country.
“Its’ paying off. We’re getting noticed,” Shaw said. “We’re getting all the accolades. We just feel like no defense can stop us. But that comes with practicing and going against a great defense every day.
“We always knew that we were good, but we didn’t get the shine that we know we could have got.”
Shaw, Greene, Benjamin and O’Leary can all stretch the field as Florida State has 40 pass plays of 20-plus yards in seven games. Only eight teams in the nation have more. The receiver has been responsible for at least 14 yards-after-catch on a quarter of those receptions. All four are included in the ACC’s top 10 in yards per catch.
That athleticism has allowed Winston make simpler throws knowing they could turn into much more. That’s the challenge for the Hurricanes (7-0, 3-0).
It’s “critical because it allows him to make good decisions,” Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said. “Certain times you only have one or two guys you think can do this, that or the other. When you have multiple guys, it allows you to take what the defense gives you knowing you’re still getting it to a good player who can do something special with the ball.”
Before the season “we were worried about Jameis as a young player. We all were,” Fisher said. “But the thing that kept me sleeping at night was we had experience around him and guys that I know, if he can just do his job, they’ll take care of the rest of things.”
Not only are they experienced, but they’re diverse.
Greene (6-foot, 180 pounds) is the most complete receiver in the group and his eight touchdown receptions are the eighth-most in the FBS. Shaw (6-0, 170) is the most elusive and ranks No. 3 in the ACC in punt-return average. Benjamin (6-5, 234) is the type of physical specimen the NFL covets. O’Leary (6-3, 248) is tied for the most touchdowns (6) in the country by a tight end.
Benjamin doesn’t hesitate to crown them the best group of receivers in college football.
“Hands down” he said. “Why? We can do pretty much anything that anybody else can do. Our playbook is all over the place, like a pro style.
“We can go get the ball, we can do sweeps, we can do reverses. We can do pretty much anything that everybody else does.”
That wasn’t the case last year when the Florida State pass offense ranked No. 7 in the ACC despite having the NFL’s No. 16 overall pick in quarterback EJ Manuel. Greene is on pace for the first Florida State 1,000-yard season since Anquan Boldin in 2002 as all three receivers and O’Leary are in the midst of career-best seasons.
Greene hosts and cooks Sunday dinner every week for the receivers. T-bone steaks, macaroni and cheese and green beans were on the menu two weeks ago. This is what they envisioned when they made the pact last year.
“We got the swagger back,” Shaw said. “The goal was just to be more consistent and get that trust from coach Fisher just to throw it.”