February 11, 2011
Tracking the buzz of college football's hive mind.
Stop me if you've heard this before: Florida State, coming off a promising finish and a loaded recruiting class that only adds to the most talented roster in the ACC, is the runaway favorite to win the conference and reclaim some measure of – OK, I see you're stopping me. This moment of deja vu has been brought to you by the last decade of preseason predictions, virtually all of which have pegged the Seminoles as favorites to return to their rightful throne atop the ACC – or at least the Atlantic Division – regardless of actual results on the field.
The 2010 edition followed through on the usual summer love by taking the Atlantic for the first time since 2005 (thanks to a little help from Maryland and their friends in stripes on Thanksgiving weekend), which would be enough to get the prognostiscenti's nostalgic juices flowing in itself. Add thrashings of rivals Florida and Miami and a convincing New Year's Eve knockout of South Carolina to seal FSU's first 10-win season since 2003, and the prospect of a genuine resurrection under Jimbo Fisher is like catnip: The knee-jerk, "pre-preseason" polls that set the foundation for 2011 expectations last month almost unanimously tapped Florida State for the top 10 in the fall – a full decade after FSU's last top-10 finish, after playing for the BCS championship in 2000. Only one other team in the ACC, perennially overachieving Virginia Tech, even appears in any of those efforts, and always well behind the Seminoles.
Among that group, ESPN's Mark Schlabach took the prize for most garnet-and-gold-tinted vision by vaulting Florida State all the way to No. 3 in his revised early poll, optimism even some of his ACC-centric colleagues can't believe. Why not? As it ever was, so it ever shall be.
And if you're going to hitch your hopes (or your money) to any FSU bandwagon, frankly, you can do a lot worse than this one. By the numbers, the 'Noles are both the most talented outfit in the conference – last week's signing class was the third in a row to finish atop the ACC rankings, according to Rivals – and the most experienced, bringing back a conference-high 16 starters. The defense, in particular, is on the verge of a breakout campaign after a slow decline and eventual collapse under longtime coordinator Mickey Andrews, a fade successor Mark Stoops only began to repair last year.
This time around, he gets back top pass rusher Brandon Jenkins and cornerback Xavier Rhodes, both of whom came in as primary goal of the first phase of the post-Bobby Bowden era. FSU's greatest fear going into last season what that the decay was already too far gone to prevent the total, walls-falling-in collapse that seemed so inevitable under the old regime, and for now, it seems the malaise really did leave with Bowden.
But the goodwill will only survive as long as the prevailing sense of progress. For this team, clearly, that means an ACC championship and/or BCS bid, at minimum. Throughout the BCS era, Year Two is the year that almost all of the most successful administrations – Oklahoma under Bob Stoops, Ohio State under Jim Tressel, USC under Pete Carroll, Georgia under Mark Richt, Florida under Urban Meyer, LSU and Alabama under Nick Saban, Auburn under Gene Chizik, Oregon under Chip Kelly – made the leap into the national elite. Florida State can fulfill expectations in 2011 without quite joining that class (it certainly doesn't take an "elite" team to carry the ACC), but the red line between continued progress and yet another bitter disappointment doesn't get much thinner.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.