SB Nation football research genius and expert analyst Bill Connelly is previewing the ACC this week.
Here's an excerpt from 2012 Florida State Football Preview: The Greatness Drought
Yes, we've been here before. "This is the year Florida State puts it all together, we promise!" et cetera. But if you are of the mind to roll your eyes at preseason "[Random Former Power] is back!!!" proclamations, you might want to take your shots at the 'Noles now. In four months, you might not have the opportunity anymore.
In the four seasons before Jimbo Fisher took over as head coach, Florida State averaged 7.5 wins per season with an F/+ ranking of 31st. In Fisher's first two seasons, the Seminoles have averaged 9.5 wins and an F/+ ranking 11.5. In 2011, FSU navigated through a sea of injuries and inexperience on the offensive side of the ball and managed a 9-4 record despite three close losses (and a fourth loss that was closer than the 10-point final deficit suggested). They won seven of their final eight and finished the season with satisfying wins over Florida and Notre Dame. Good, right?
That this doesn't quite seem like enough tells you just how far Bobby Bowden took this program. Florida State finished in the AP top five every year from 1987 to 2000, going a combined 152-19-1 in the process. They went to what we now call a BCS bowl in 16 of 19 years from 1987 to 2005. They won two national titles in the 1990s and came close to at least six others in Bowden's tenure. That's absurd. That's taking what Nick Saban is doing at Alabama and stretching it out over two decades. (Only, even Saban has just managed two top-five finishes in five years.) When the good is compared to the great, the good suddenly seems quite lacking. A four-loss season is supposed to be a success?
After such an incredible run, Florida State has been mired in a bit of a greatness drought for a while now. They haven't finished even in the AP top 15 since 2004 and haven't finished in the top five since the streak ended in 2000. Their last conference title came almost seven years ago. They have lived up to their preseason ranking just twice in 11 seasons. They somehow managed to cede control of the ACC Atlantic Division to Boston College for a couple of years, and Clemson has now won the division in two of the last three years. It has created almost a no-win situation for Fisher in Tallahassee, one in which no four-loss season can be considered encouraging, no matter how young and banged up the offensive line and receiving corps were.
But that is not, nor should it be, Fisher's concern. Removing from the equation where you think or feel Florida State should be as a program, he has guided the 'Noles forward in each of his two years, from 25th to 15th in F/+ rankings in 2010, and from 15th to eighth last year. The FSU offense slipped last year, but the defense was the sixth-best in the country (oh, and it returns almost everybody this year), and his special teams unit was the only one that could come close to matching LSU's in terms of overall efficiency.
The wins haven't completely followed yet, but if he keeps building what he has been over the last two years, they will soon enough. There's almost no way around it.
We tend to scoff when [Random Analyst] announces that [Random Former Power] is "BACK!!!", be it Florida State, Notre Dame, Nebraska, or whoever. It's both hip and quite often correct to roll your eyes and tamp down expectations because of previous failures. And if you want to do that about Florida State again this year, no one's going to stop you.
But all I can say is that the numbers love them, and not simply because they recruit well. The hints have shown up on the field as well. The bones of this program are stronger than they've been in quite some time, and while there are certainly still question marks on the offensive side of the ball, the odds of Fisher leading FSU back to the top five get better with each year of experience, each near-miss, and each great recruiting class.
The success-or-not line for Florida State is pretty easy: wherever the Seminoles are ranked in the preseason, match or exceed it in the postseason. Considering the Seminoles will almost certainly start the year in the Top 10, the goal will simply be to finish there as well, by whatever means that requires (probably a 10-2 record or better, which the Football Outsiders Almanac 2012 gives them a 78 percent chance of attaining).
Again, it is very easy to roll your eyes at someone who tells you that this -- THIS -- is the year when [Random Former Power] puts it all together and returns to the elite level. Trust me, I know. I do it all the time.
But it is difficult to ignore the combination of on-field improvement and recruiting success Jimbo Fisher has put together in just two years on the job. The offensive line must prove it is ready to take a step forward after last year's injuries and youth, and E.J. Manuel could certainly stand to make faster decisions in the pocket. But given even reasonable health, the Seminoles should easily be the best team in the ACC in 2012. Choose not to believe it if you want, but you might not have a choice in about four months. The 'Noles will have some rebuilding to do in 2013, but 2012 could be a very, very fun year in Tallahassee.
That's about 800 of the 4,000-word preview. You absolutely need to go read the excellent sections on the progression, offense, defense, special teams, etc. And participate in the comments, of course. Bill does great work, and what's better, it's free (as is everything on SB Nation). Go enjoy it.
Photo: Al Messerschmidt, Getty Images