The bowl bump. No matter how much smart college football media writes about it, it crops up every year.
Bowl games are a bad, bad influence on next year's season results, perhaps the worst barometer of any game of a season due to differing motivations, the layoff over the holidays, etc. I bring this up because I see a lot of FSU fans drastically changing their 2016 expectations based on one game. History shows that is a big mistake. Yes, the 38-24 loss to Houston should be considered and analyzed, but it does not trump the other 12 games of data. It's merely one of 13. It does not trump the very accurate aggregate recruiting rankings.
And it works both ways, too, with fans and some media overrating teams that win their bowls. That is why I saved this article from my colleague Bill Connelly, penned a year ago, knowing I could run it whether FSU won or lost.
Bowls are unreliable sources of information about the next season. But we can't help ourselves. For the next eight months, we will lean on our last memories.
And for Tennessee, that means we'll remember a stellar TaxSlayer Bowl performance over Iowa. The Vols led, 42-7, after three quarters. Running back Jalen Hurd made Iowa defenders look like middle schoolers, Joshua Dobbs completed 76 percent of his passes, and a Vol defense that was solid all year looked downright nasty.
Tennessee looked great. And now we're going to overreact. By the second quarter, we were seeing "potential SEC East favorite" and "maybe top 15 in 2015" tweets. So allow me to remind you that the Vols didn't always look this good. They came in ranked 43rd in F/+, behind No. 39 Pitt, No. 40 Memphis, No. 41 Florida, and No. 42 BYU. They were 6-6, with home losses to Florida and Missouri and a 31-point loss to Ole Miss.
With Dobbs, they won three of four to finish the regular season, but even in that stretch they only looked great once, in a 50-14 win over Kentucky. That they came back to win at South Carolina was an excellent sign for a young team, and that they survived a sketchy performance to take down Vanderbilt suggested maturity.
Still, this was a borderline top-40 team that, with quite a bit of returning experience, should expect to approach a top-25 level next year. But following Friday's dominance, a top-30 2015 might end up a disappointment. The bowl bump, one of the most unfair rewards for a strong bowl performance, could set the bar higher than the Vols can reach. Just ask 2012 West Virginia, which was rewarded for its 2012 Orange Bowl decimation of Clemson with a No. 11 preseason ranking and went 7-6. Or 2014 Oklahoma, which finished 2013 by beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, began this season ranked fourth in the country, then fell apart.
Offseason perceptions matter more than they should, when it comes to in-season perceptions. A top-30 performance in 2015, which would be accompanied by about eight wins or so (including a "breakthrough" against someone like Georgia), would represent another definable step forward for Butch Jones. But if we set the bar higher than that and make improvement seem disappointing, that's unfair.
Regardless, Tennessee looked awesome and gave us a hint of what a great Vol squad might look like. Let's just tap the breaks before we decide that's the version of Tennessee we should expect to see 13 times next year.
Bill nailed it here, and not just on Tennessee, but also in noting how badly people overrated West Virginia after it hung 70 on Clemson in the Orange Bowl some years back, or how underrated Oklahoma was entering this season after being crushed by Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Was FSU's loss to Houston disappointing? Absolutely. But if you're drastically altering your expectations for the 2016 season due to a crazy recency bias, history shows you're doing it wrong.
Instead, evaluate all 13 games, look at how FSU did over the entirety of the season after losing the No. 1 pick and an NFL RECORD NUMBER OF PICKS OVER A THREE-YEAR SPAN, and then realize that will not happen this offseason. Not even close.