A brief glimpse at what everyone believes this summer. Part of ACC Week.
Stop me if you've heard this one before, but finally, 2011 looks like the year Florida State makes it move back… OK, so you have heard this one before. That's good, because you're going to be hearing and awful lot about the annual Seminole revival over the next six weeks or so, this time with feeling.
So far, the major preseason mags have unanimously tabbed FSU not only to repeat at the top of the ACC Atlantic, but also to return to the top ten after a decade-long hiatus. About half see the 'Noles creeping back into the top five. All but one ranks them ahead of the reigning ACC overlord, Virginia Tech, as the best team in the conference. So you might as well get used to it.
In fact, there's a good chance you're already used to it. Since Florida State was last Florida State — FSU hasn't come close to contending nationally since dropping the 2001 Orange Bowl to Oklahoma with the BCS championship on the line — the mainstream consensus tracked by Stassen.com counts FSU as a go-to preseason favorite, year after year, regardless of the actual returns:
Florida State Preseason Consensus Since 2001
2001: 1st ACC (Unanimous), 6th National.
2002: 1st ACC (Unanimous), 4th National.
2003: 1st ACC, 15th National.
2004: 2nd ACC, 6th National.
2006: 1st ACC Atlantic, 10th National.
2007: 1st ACC Atlantic, 21st National.
2008: 3rd ACC Atlantic
2009: 1st ACC Atlantic, 17th National.
2010: 1st ACC Atlantic, 21st National.
2011: 1st ACC Atlantic (Unanimous), T-5th National.
As predicitions go, it's a fairly dubious streak. FSU justified the pundits' optimism with ACC titles in 2002, 2003 and 2005, though even in '02 and '05 they wound up falling well short of national expectations with five losses in both seasons. In the meantime, though, it's been a steady diet of disappointment: The teams projected to win the Atlantic in 2006, 2007 and 2009 all staggered across the finish line at 7-6, good for fifth, fourth and third place in the division, respectively.
It's not that the pundits are gluttons for prognosticative punishment. In the first place, Florida State has continued to dominate ACC recruiting during its decade in the desert, signing the No. 1 class in the conference (according to Rivals) seven of the last ten years. In the second place, they place in a consistently vulnerable division, where the only rival that can remotely keep pace with Florida State in recruiting, Clemson, is regarded as a chronic underachiever in its own right after croaking away golden opportunities in 2006 and 2007, collapsing as a runaway favorite in 2008 and settling into another pattern of mediocrity. The resident overachiever, Boston College, can't touch the 'Noles' overall talent; neither can inconsistent Maryland or N.C. State. And the less said about the current status of Wake Forest as a viable contender, the better.
Under those circumstances, if you keep throwing darts at the board long enough, eventually one of them is going to hit its target. 2010 was the bullseye the summer pundits have been waiting for.
That's probably more clear in retrospect than it was during a season that was almost instantly submerged by a 47-17 flogging at Oklahoma in the second game. More importantly, though, was where the Seminoles finished, even beyond the top of the Atlantic Division standings. They trounced Miami in Miami, capped a three-game win streak with an emphatic beatdown of Florida to close the regular season and laid the lumber on SEC East champ South Carolina in the bowl game. Their two conference losses in the regular came by a combined six points in the closing seconds. They won ten games for the first time since 2003 and landed in the top 20 of the final polls for the first time since the ACC split into two divisions in 2005.
Then they went out and signed arguably the best incoming recruiting class in the country to go with a lineup that already brings back 17 returning starters. To a man, the new additions to the lineup — junior quarterback E.J. Manuel, sophomore linebackers Christian Jones and Jeff Luc, juco transfers Tank Carradine and Jacob Fahrenkrug on the lines — are blue-chip types with likely NFL futures.
But at its root, the latest, most effusive round of optimism is less about the specifics of the 2011 roster than it is the general vine of progress coming off Jimbo Fisher's first season as head coach. He accomplished his primary goal: Reestablishing some momentum toward Florida State's birthright as ACC overlord and perennial national contender after years of stagnation and decline under septuagenarian Bobby Bowden and an aging coaching staff. The 'Noles are not only a talented, experienced lineup coming off a division title; at the end of 2010, there was a palpable sense for the first time in ages that the program is actually moving forward.
That sense, combined with a talented, experienced lineup, a manageable schedule and a prediction industry apparently determined to see the Seminoles as the garnet-and-gold-clad Horsemen of the Apocalypse who ran roughshod over college football throughout the nineties, will get you a ticket that says "BCS or Bust." The recent history of power programs breaking through in their second year under a new head coach only raises the stakes.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.