TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida State put together a consensus top 5 recruiting class in February with a group highlighted by an elite trio of offensive skill players.
Running back Dalvin Cook and receivers Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane were rated among the best in the country, but coach Jimbo Fisher couldn't foresee the major role they would have on the Seminoles (8-0, 5-0 Atlantic Coast Conference, No. 2 CFP).
''You don't ever know,'' Fisher said. ''But you've got to develop players. That's why we practice the way we do. ... We practice a lot different than a lot of folks do and try to get more quality reps for those guys and bring their development along.
''I can't predict which one of those guys are going to emerge. ... I just kind of play it by ear. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't.''
The Seminoles' threesome scored four touchdowns during the come-from-behind 42-31 victory over Louisville last week. It was the first time in school history that true freshmen scored four touchdowns in a single game. Heading into Saturday's game against Virginia (4-5, 2-3), they have accounted for 25 percent of No. 2 Florida State's offensive touchdowns and 6 of their 9 scores have come with the team trailing.
Cook ranks second on the team in rushing yards (380) and rushing touchdowns (5). Rudolph, the No. 1 rated receiver in 2014 class by Rivals.com, has recently moved into the starting lineup, averaged 16.2 yards per catch and is tied for second on the team with three receiving touchdowns. Lane was a ranked a five-star recruit by Rivals.com and Scout.com and has averaged 23.6 yards per catch and scored his first touchdown on a 47-yard fourth-quarter pass that gave FSU its first lead against Louisville.
''To have three true freshmen to make the plays they made in that game ... was very encouraging and very big and I think it really helps us grow as a team,'' Fisher said. ''You always have to worry about Rashad (Greene and) Nick (O'Leary), but now you've got to worry about those guys and being able to run the football.''
That's why their development has become so important in the quest to repeat. The Seminoles used the first half of the season searching for a receiver opposite Greene and his 853 receiving yards on 58 catches. Senior Christian Green wasn't able to hold onto the position and sophomores Jesus Wilson and Kermit Whitfield are more suited for the slot position.
Receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey used two words in August to explain what the freshmen brought to Tallahassee: ''Playmaking ability.''
''At the end of the day, you have to put what you feel is the best lineup on the field,'' FSU tackle Cam Erving said. ''That's what really matters. Depth is the biggest thing for a team.''
Fisher promises to play those who earn time on the field, regardless of class, but everything was set up for Cook to redshirt. Starter Karlos Williams was expected to shine after rushing for 730 yards and 11 touchdowns as the No. 3 back in 2013, but has not. The coaching staff was also optimistic about sophomores Mario Pender and Ryan Green.
Surprisingly, Cook has been the most consistent of the group. Williams and Pender have both missed time due to injury and Cook has had no problem picking up the slack. He showed big-play ability with 110 yards and two touchdowns on just nine carries against the Cardinals and ground out an efficient 122 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries against Syracuse. More than anything, Cook has proven trustworthy in all situations.
''His ability to practice and prepare,'' Fisher listed as Cook's most significant progression. ''And understanding it's not just about running the ball. It's about pass protection, how you run a route.
''He's learned to be more detail-oriented and not rely on ability.''
Florida State put up 42 points and a season-high 574 yards on a Louisville defense ranked No. 1 for much of the season. The Seminoles' sporadic offense seems ready to grow along with the contributions of the three freshmen - a stark contrast to 2013 when there wasn't a single true freshman consistently touching the ball.
''They're some electrifying players,'' FSU linebacker Reggie Northrup said. ''I (saw) it coming. Especially the way we compete against them. ... Even in practice you can see them getting better. ... It wasn't surprising to see them do that to those guys out there.''