After whipping up on two FCS opponents and putting the hammer down on Wake Forest, Florida State’s Week 4 game vs. Clemson marks the true starting point of their 2012 quest to return to national prominence.
Indeed, the Seminoles are precisely in the same situation that USC was last week; everybody says we’re contenders and now after playing Hawaii and Syracuse it’s either put up or shut up against a ranked, in-conference foe.
And as was the case for the Trojans, the pendulum could swing either way for Florida State tonight in their prime-time game vs. Clemson. They win and they’re still considered in the mix for the BCS and more; they lose and it's lights out in terms of a return to the upper echelon of college football.
So, if Florida State manages a victory tonight does it mean that they really are finally “back” in terms of putting together a couple of national championships in a 10-year block?
The Seminoles' last two (and only two) national titles came in 1993 and 1999 and in total FSU went a mind blowing 108-15 from 1990 to 2000.
This “dynasty” era in the history of Florida State football was powered by the ultra effective combination punch of an offense and defense that outscored its opponents by a season average of 287 points over their 11-year reign.
And this is a number that plummeted to 116 from 2001-11, at least partially explaining how the ‘Noles dropped from national title contention.
If Florida State is really “for real” this time the key is that they’ll have to begin to not just win games, but to dominate them with the smothering brand of defense and high flying offense that earned them nine ACC titles and two national crowns in just over a decade.
On paper at least, the Seminoles look to be moving in the right direction in a big way.
Key indicators that point to FSU being back on the warpath for more than just pulling together eight-plus-win seasons and vying for a mere divisional title are plentiful.
To start with, in 2009 (the final stanza of the Bowden era) the Seminoles only managed to outscore their opponents by a single point over the entire season while Jimbo Fisher’s first two offerings have improved this number to 164 in 2010 and then 202 in 2011.
Thus far in 2012 Florida State (who admittedly hasn’t played a high level of competition) has already outscored foes by a whopping total of 172 points.
The next indicator that the scene is being set for a potential dynasty is recruiting numbers that have to make even the staunchest Seminole skeptic giggle with delight.
According to the Rivals.com comprehensive team rankings, this year’s Florida State team is built squarely on four recruiting classes that ranked No. 7 in 2009 (technically your senior class), No. 10 in 2010 (the juniors), No. 2 in 2011 (the sophomore class) and then No. 6 in 2012 (the freshmen).
Next you’ve got broad strokes of basic improvement that are easy to track statistically.
To illustrate, the Seminoles’ scoring offense has improved from a No. 90 national ranking in 2007 to No. 39 in 2011.
On the other side of the ball, FSU’s scoring defense has bettered itself from a low No. 94 national ranking in 2009 to the No. 21 slot in 2010 and then finally an impressive No. 4 ranking last season.
What makes the 2012 Florida State team even more worthy of being a part of a legitimate national championship conversation is two-fold.
First, one of the common threads of the Seminoles' four losses a year ago was a rushing offense that ranked No. 104 nationally vs. a passing attack that ranked No. 39.
In fact, the ‘Noles only a managed a mere 29 yards in their 2011 loss to Clemson and an equally devastating 27 yards in the defeat to Oklahoma.
Speed forward to 2012 and Florida State is ranked No. 11 nationally in rushing yards, a number at least partially powered by the return of senior RB Chris Thompson who was out most of 2011 and reeled off 197 yards and two scores on only nine carries last week vs. Wake Forest.
Secondly, Florida State plays one of the easiest schedules among the solid contenders for the crystal football.
Yes, while statistical guru Phil Steele ranks Alabama’s schedule as the 28th most difficult in the land, Oregon’s as No. 12 and Oklahoma’s as 20th, he brands the 'Nole’s as the 70th most difficult, or the 54th easiest.
What’s somewhat compelling about the history of Florida State’s reign in the ACC is that it all happened before the conference spit into divisions in 2005.
In fact, the Seminoles’ have only won the conference once since the split (2005) and have only represented the Atlantic Division in the title game twice (2005 and 2010).
Therefore, before any talk of “dynasty” or even “mini empire” can be validated, Florida State must win their division and manage a victory in the ACC title game.
As of today, the Seminoles stand on the horizon of either a magical ride to glory and high honor or instead a backwards gait towards the ever dreaded bad lands of “next year”.
Either way, we’ll find out tonight when the Seminoles host the Tigers.