Jimbo Fisher wants to make a very important distinction. The Florida State football team is not the "defending champion." FSU is looking to repeat.
In Fisher's eyes, there is nothing to defend. National championships are independent of each other.
"You're not competing against the past," Fisher told 247Sports' Tim Linafelt (subscription required) at ACC Kickoff. "You're playing against the opponent that's on the field at that time. Stay in the moment, practice in the moment, and live in the moment."
Fisher doesn't want players to presume that wins will come because of what happened last fall or because FSU has a talent advantage. He wants players to use the experience from the 2013 season as an advantage. That FSU team dominated 12 of 14 opponents, winning games by 30 or more points.
"Keep an attitude of domination," Fisher said, via 247Sports. "Complacency is set if you're basing (what you do) off the past. Don't base anything off the past."
If any of that sounds familiar, it probably does. Fisher is part of the Nick Saban tree. He was LSU's offensive coordinator from 2000-06, winning a national title with the Tigers in 2003.
After winning the 2011 national title, Saban said this to his Alabama team before the 2012 season, according to Eric Prisbell of USA Today: "This team is not the national championship team. Some of you guys played on that team. ... Nobody can take away what you did, but are you going to focus on what you did or about what you are going to do?"
What did Alabama do? The Crimson Tide went 13-1, suffering only a Nov. 10 loss to Texas A&M, and then bounced back to rout Auburn, edge Georgia in the SEC Championship Game and then demolish Notre Dame in the BCS championship game.
What will FSU do? Fisher thinks he has his players focused on the future.
The past efforts have been difficult. The Seminoles have won three titles (1993, 1999 and 2013) but came up short in repeat efforts.
In 1994, FSU lost at Miami and had to rally from 28 points down in the fourth quarter to tie Florida, 31-31. Although they did beat the Gators in the Sugar Bowl, the Seminoles didn't get a chance to play for a title.
In 2000, the Seminoles again lost at Miami but played for a title against Oklahoma in the 2001 Orange Bowl. FSU struggled to put points on the board without receiver Marvin Minnis (academics) and with Mark Richt working two jobs—FSU offensive coordinator and Georgia coach. The Seminoles fell, 13-2, to the Sooners.
Even legendary FSU coach Bobby Bowden now admits how hard repeating was for those 1994 and 2000 teams.
"It's so dad-gum difficult because you are talking about perfection," Bowden told the Tallahassee Democrat's Jim Henry. "You can play great football and not be perfect. Let me just say this - it's a great position to be in."
The Seminoles are in that position in 2014 and are positioned well for a repeat run. Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston is back at quarterback, and he will be protected by an offensive line that will likely feature five seniors. There are playmakers at receiver (led by Rashad Greene) and a deep group of running backs (led by Karlos Williams).
FSU loses defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan as well as linebackers Telvin Smith and Christian Jones, but there is experienced depth to fill those spots without a significant drop-off. The secondary is loaded with talent and could again be the nation's best against the pass (FSU allowed just 156.6 passing yards per game in 2013, tops in the nation).
The nonconference schedule includes Oklahoma State, Notre Dame and Florida. Among the ACC games, Clemson is at home while Louisville and Miami are on the road. But it's not insurmountable.
If FSU navigates one of the nation's toughest schedules unbeaten, the Seminoles will make the four-team playoff. And they'll be looking to repeat—not defend—as champions.