Why It's Time to Start Taking Florida State Seriously as BCS Title Contender

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistSeptember 24, 2013

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 02:  Jameis Winston #5 of the Florida State Seminoles directs the offense in the second half against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game on September 2, 2013 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

After four weeks, three games and one quality opponent, the Florida State Seminoles are an impressive 3-0—the good kind of undefeated, where every game was equally impressive and none left the outcome in doubt for more than a half.

It's basically the anti-Michigan.

Because of that hot start—and because, well, it's Florida State—the Seminoles are ranked No. 8 in both polls and expected, as they were a month ago, to play Clemson for the de facto ACC Championship in October.

But unlike the Tigers, and despite its lofty ranking, Florida State doesn't get talked about as a legitimate national title contender. It's discussed as a deserving member of the BCS, sure, but not a deserving entrant in the BCS' biggest game.

And it's time for that to change.

What makes Florida State special, even compared to the likes of No. 1 Alabama, is the strength of its weakest links. The Seminoles are sound on every level; whichever unit is their weakest—the receivers, I guess?—is only their weakest by default.

None present actual concern.

Prior to the season, the main unknown was freshman QB Jameis Winston, who everyone expected to be good but few expected to be this good...at least so soon. Like any (or most) young quarterback, he was supposed to reveal his youth with costly mistakes. Perhaps at some point he will.

But for now, he's the second most-efficient passer in football. 

Teams with freshman quarterbacks—even amazing freshman quarterbacks—aren't supposed to be true national title contenders. They're supposed to be (at least) a year away.

Sep 21, 2013; Tallahassee, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston (5) returns to the field after talking with head coach Jimbo Fisher during the first half of the game against the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats at Doak Campbell Stadium. Man
Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

But just last season, by winning the Heisman Trophy, Johnny Manziel broke the glass ceiling for what redshirt freshmen were capable of. 

That pane has been shattered and a sunny breeze has pored through the lack, making it seem like anything is possible for a 19-year-old signal-caller.

And really, anything is.

Around Winston is a big, bruising, experienced offensive line and an LSU-like stable of deep and talented running backs. The receiver depth has been thinned by injuries, but top-end guys like Kenny Shaw, Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O'Leary are no worse than Auburn's when it won a few years back.

If Winston is as good as he's appeared the first few weeks—and quite frankly, even if he's a little bit worse—this offense is good enough to win a national championship.

And the defense might be even better.

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 02:  Lamarcus Joyner #20 of the Florida State Seminoles fumbles the ball on a kick off return in the first half against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game on September 2, 2013 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (P
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Football Outsiders is the premier source of sabermetrics made available to the public; it's the Baseball Prospectus of pigskin. Last season, in its opponent-adjusted efficiency metric for college (F/+), Florida State finished with the fifth-best defense in America.

Only four "starters" return from that unit, but FSU returns an embarrassment of depth. DL Timmy Jernigan, LB Christian Jones and DB LaMarcus Joyner were all voted to the Preseason All-ACC team, while DE Mario Edwards—247Sports' top overall recruit in 2012—was inserted in the lineup and received some votes.

Joining him and Jernigan across the defensive line is Jacobbi McDaniel, another former top-five overall recruit, and he's not even listed as a starter—that's the depth of this front seven. Two fellow seniors flank Jones in the linebacking corps, and one, Telvin Smith, leads the team with 12 solo tackles in just three games.

The secondary is scary good with the addition of Jalen Ramsey, FSU's first true freshman starter at the position since Deion Sanders. Between him, Joyner and the rest of the back-end depth, the Seminoles have the bodies to hang with a team like Clemson on the road.

It has the bodies to hang with anyone.

Seven starters are gone, and maybe this isn't still a top-five defense. But its basement is still pretty high. It shouldn't drop out of the top 10—and a top-10 defense is a championship-caliber one.

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 02:  Jalen Ramsey #13 of the Florida State Seminoles runs after making an interception in the first half against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game on September 2, 2013 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

A Week 7 road game at Clemson looms large, but despite having to play at Memorial Stadium, the schedule makers did FSU a favor, giving it a bye week to prepare right before it.

The home team has won the past six games of the series, but if the Seminoles can buck that trend, the rest of their schedule shapes up nicely.

Of its two best remaining opponents, one (Miami) travels to play a true road game in Tallahassee, while the other (Florida) just lost its starting QB for the season. Winston vs. Jeff Driskel already looked like a game-changing mismatch; Winston vs. Driskel's backup is even worse.

Because of the road trip to Clemson and the other potential pitfalls, FSU should by no means be talked about as a favorite to reach Pasadena. Alabama, Oregon and Ohio State are still the definite (and deserving) front-runners.

But it's about time for the Seminoles join that conversation. Or maybe it's not. Maybe four weeks ago was the rightful hour; maybe the signs were always there, and we were all too blind to read them.

Either way, they deserve to be recognized now.