Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated is a friend of TomahawkNation.com and an excellent writer. He came out with his "post-spring top-25" yesterday and placed Florida State 9th. To my surprise, FSU fans were angry. Aside from the fact that this is a meaningless pre-season poll done by a single voter (no offense, Andy), I have a hard time figuring out why FSU fans honestly believe FSU is being slighted here.
Let's start with a story.
41-24 in its previous five seasons. It finished 2009 on a tear and almost won its conference championship game. In its last 21 games leading up to the 2010 season this team was 16-5. The team had a new head coach, the energy had returned, and the recruiting was really picking up. The pollsters placed this team 8th to start the year. The fans complained.
What team fits that profile?
That team was Nebraska. And the Cornhuskers again finished with an excellent season, again going 10-4 and again playing for (and losing) the conference championship.
This sounds very, very familiar. Scarily so.
Florida State is 40-26 in its last five seasons. True, the 'Noles are 15-6 in its last 21. FSU played for its conference championship. The recruiting is trending into the stratosphere. The team is trending up, but like Nebraska, it lacks some consistency. One good season is not going to convince voters who have been repeatedly burned by the Seminoles.
|Category||2010 Nebraska||2011 FSU|
|Previous 5-year record||41-24||40-26|
|Last 21 games||16-5||15-6|
|Coaching change during stretch?||Yes||Yes|
|Recruiting on the rise?||Yes||Yes|
|Talk if darkhorse nat'l title contention?||Yes||Yes|
Now, in FSU's defense, it has played a much tougher schedule over the last five years than Nebraska did. And Nebraska's bad losses were worse than FSU's. But the similarities are remarkable!
Would any FSU fan complain about another 10-4 finish (keeping in mind that FSU went 7-4 against bowl teams last season)? I suspect a few would, but it is a pretty spoiled program to complain about that.
And now the poll.
Returning starters: 16 (eight offense [maybe 6 if Spurlock and Reliford don't return], eight defense)
Key returnees: RB Jermaine Thomas, OT Andrew Datko, OT Zebrie Sanders, LB Nigel Bradham, CB Greg Reid, CB Xavier Rhodes
Spring star: QB E.J. Manuel
Spring recap: Because I'm doing this poll a little later than usual, I've gotten a chance to see how many of my colleagues ranked teams after the spring. Some of them really love the Seminoles. Top-five love, even. Jimbo Fisher is building something special in Tallahassee, but I'm not sure Florida State is back to late-90s, baddest-team-in-the-universe mode. Yet. That day doesn't seem far off, though. Fisher has spent the past few years working FSU's offense back into shape, but the hallmark of those late-90s Seminoles teams was an athletic, almost vicious defense. The coaching staff has spent the past few years stockpiling the same type of players Mickey Andrews used to unleash upon the world, and second-year coordinator Mark Stoops now has a deep(ish), athletic group that should be able to hang with elite offenses. The names Telvin Smith, Christian Jones and Lamracus Joyner, already well known to recruitniks, probably will become more familiar to a mainstream audience this season.
I'm comfortable with this ranking.
The 1-4 this year is pretty much set in stone: some order of Oklahoma, Alabama, LSU, and Oregon.
But after that, everything is a mess between 5-13, typically seeing these teams in some order: Arkansas, Boise State, Florida State, Oklahoma State, Ohio State, Nebraska, Stanford, South Carolina, Texas A&M.
As 'Nole fans, you probably think FSU is head-and-shoulders above that group of teams. Personally, I would not have Stanford in my top 15. Everyone has his or her own preference, and that is part of what makes college football fun. But FSU does have a lot of questions that 'Nole fans assume will be answered. But, for a moment, think about what writers might see. For instance:
- Will EJ Manuel be able to throw accurately?
- How will the team be affected by Jimbo Fisher's time while dealing with his son's illness? (get well, Ethan. You're in the thoughts and prayers of every Seminole)
- Will the receiving corps mature and play to its potential?
- Will FSU lose anyone to academic issues? Reliford (missed spring ball)? Others?
- Will Andrew Datko and Zebrie Sanders, two senior tackles with a combined 65+ starts between them get back from off-season surgery in time to benefit from the off-season program?
- Who will play the other guard spot? Will David Spurlock hang up the cleats after multiple significant concussions?
- Who will start at middle linebacker and safety?
If all of these issues work out, then and only then is FSU a dark-horse national title contender. Now, most of these will work out. But assuming everything here works out is likely foolish. And considering this is May, and we don't know the answers to many of these questions, FSU's ranking of 9th doesn't look so crazy.
Further, I find that often, fans of one team know little or nothing about the other teams against which they argue the merits of their own team. How many players can you name from the other teams ahead of FSU? Not as many as Andy Staples can, I bet. If you don't know about the other teams, you don't have a defensible argument that Florida State is better than them.
Further, fans seem to be quite angry that FSU is ranked behind South Carolina, who FSU beat in the Chick-Fil-A bowl, 26-17. But what many fans fail to remember is that South Carolina lost its All-SEC running back on the first series to a nasty hit by 175-pound Greg Reid. Would the result have been different had the Gamecocks been able to run Lattimore? Maybe, maybe not. Further, the Stephen Garcia suspension appears to be bunk. But the very fact that this is a debatable issue means that it is not crazy to put South Carolina ahead of the 'Noles.
As for other thoughts on the poll?
- Stanford at 5? Losing its head coach, its excellent defensive coordinator, and half of its starters. I don't see it. Andrew Luck is probably a better QB prospect than even Peyton Manning, but it takes more than one guy to dominate.
- Three Schedule Frauds: Michigan State- TCU- Wisconsin at 13-15. Again, these teams play awful schedules. Just horrible. Combined they played 12 bowl teams during the regular season. FSU played 9. Oh, and these three also lost half their starters, or close to it.
- Auburn at 18? Auburn lost 16 of its 22 starters and more than 10 of its 22 backups. This team is in major re-build mode and unless they get Russel Wilson (possible), they should not be in the top 25.
- I think VT is a bit low at 19 and WVU is a bit low at 20, and Notre Dame is a bit low at 21, but I do want to comment that I believe they will combine to be no worse than 27-9 in the regular season.
- I can't see Mississippi State at 22. They had their breakout year last season, and this year the schedule is tougher.
- Utah and Maryland? Really? 24 and 25? Utah was unranked at the end of last season, faces a major step up in competition from the garbage that is the MWC, and loses half its starters. No thanks. I've covered Maryland before and see a 7-5 team. They were incredibly fortunate last year.
And because as a rule, if you say a team does not belong, you should provide an alternate, I'll do just that:
Auburn, Mississippi State, Arizona State, Maryland, and Utah should not be ranked. So, who are my 5 replacement teams?
- N.C. State. They boasted an excellent defense last season and have steadily improved each year under O'Brien. People point to Russel Wilson's loss, but he was very average for them last year (QB rating of 127 in ACC play). It was the defense that carried the Wolfpack last season!
- Georgia. 6-7 last year, but 0-4 in games decided by a TD or less. Could have easily gone 9-4. Return 15 starters, lots of talent, one of the best QB situations in the SEC, and a fast-improving defense that finally has two monsters in the middle.
I could only come up with two that definitely should be in. I think that shows how hard this is.
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