I post here occasional but I am in a Maryland Terrapin fan. I thought you guys may be interested in an outsider's perspective based on your 13 game season so far (pre bowl game). Some of my thoughts:
1. Florida State was the best team in the ACC. Clemson was the only team that was really close. That said FSU had enough close games that it didn't feel like the 1990's again.
2. The lack of quality wins in some ways undoubtedly hurt the perception of this team. I know WVU backed out of a game, but WVU ended the year 7-5. FSU has one quality win, against Clemson. They were 1-1 in games against quality teams (beat Clemson, lost to Florida). If FSU wants to do anything on the national scale, one of three things has to happen 1) The ACC improves 2) FSU moves to the Big 12 or SEC or 3) They schedule an Oklahoma, Ohio State, Alabama, Stanford every year in addition to the Florida game rather than scheduling a team like South Florida.
3. Florida State did not seem like national championship material. They seemed like a very good team that could upset a national championship type team, but Florida State to some degree seemed like a team in maybe the 10 to 13 range. If I had a poll I'd probably rank FSU 11th or 12th. I consider that a good team, but not elite. The biggest factor in that assessment is the lack of very good wins, but also close games against middling teams like VT, Miami, and GT also give the perception that this team was not truly dominant against the lesser competition they played. Probably the Wake Forest game early in the season was the most dominant performance.
4. Whether Florida State is back yet is a subjective question. Are they back to the top of the ACC? Yes. Are they back to the level of excellence they had in the 1990's? No. Are they back in the national championship picture. Yes, but barely.
5. EJ Manual had all the tools you associate with a five star prospects, one of the best arms in college football, great legs, and decent toughness. Yet he lacked the intangibles---intangibles mainly being the instincts. Christian Ponder by contrast seemed to have those instincts for the most part. He also had good legs, but was a lot smaller and lacked EJ's arm. EJ will undoubtedly get a shot in the NFL, but I don't think he'll be a starter unless his instincts improve. On the bright side for FSU, I think Clint Trickett won't be a big downgrade if hes a downgrade at all next year for FSU. There is no doubt in my mind, that he simply cannot make some of the plays that Manual can make, but I think he may have better instincts.
6. How good FSU is next year and whether next year's team will be better or worse than this team will probably depend on part how many of FSU's talented underclassmen leave for the NFL.