Hueytown, Ala., quarterback Jameis Winston put his signature on a letter of intent to Florida State this, with a minimum of fanfare or drama for arguably the most coveted quarterback prospect since Matt Barkley. In Winston's case, the drama was over a long time ago: He committed to FSU last August, stuck with the 'Noles as he shot up the rankings during his senior season and never wavered despite overtures from Alabama (he grew up less than an hour from Tuscaloosa) a late visit to Stanford and a few extra days to think about it due to an all-star game in Austin, Texas, that occupied his attention on signing day. Recruitniks didn't even bother manufacturing a potential controversy.
But his official addition to the fold is another reminder, as Florida State closes the books on another widely celebrated, top-10 haul — along with five-star defensive linemen Mario Edwards and Eddie Goldman, Winston gives the Seminoles three signees ranked among Rivals' top 10 players in the entire 2012 class — that the clock is still ticking on Jimbo Fisher's efforts to produce the proverbial chicken salad. After five years, five blue-chip recruiting classes and one sobering missed opportunity last fall, the achievement gap that defined the last decade of the Bowden era is as wide as ever.
Make no mistake: Once again, the 2012 lineup is loaded. Including the incoming crop, the roster will include nine players who arrived with a 5-star rating from Rivals and 23 who were ranked among the top 100 overall recruits in their respective class — each of which has been regarded as the best in the ACC. And once again, the 'Noles will be overwhelmingly hyped as favorites to win the conference, just as they've been favored to win the conference pretty much every year since the last time they actually did it, in 2005. (Even then, they had to upset heavily favored Virginia Tech in the inaugural ACC Championship Game. The last time FSU laid legitimate claim to the title of "Best Team in the ACC" was 2003, the year before Virginia Tech and Miami defected from the Big East.) It has never ceded its crown as the premier recruiting power in the ACC, yet in the last four years has lost multiple games to Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and Boston College. In terms of falling short of expectations, no team has fallen quite as far short on quite as consistent a basis over the last ten years.
And yet: As long as Florida State is signing the likes of Jameis Winston and Mario Edwards (and Karlos Williams, and James Wilder, and Christian Jones, and so on) on an annual basis, the question of a return to the top isn't "if," but "when." At some point, inscrutable laws of statistics and probability assure that the sheer quantity of first-rate talent must eventually break through the stupor. There is no reason that this year, or any of the next four after Winston takes the reins from incumbent E.J. Manuel, can't be the breakthrough. The question is, have we reached the point at which we need a compelling more reason to believe that it's not going to be another bust?