Sunday, January 21, 2018
Colleges

FSU aims to walk tightrope to another title

Don't look down.

Whatever you do, don't slip.

Talk about FSU being ranked No. 1 all over again. Talk about how shiny last year's trophy is. Talk about how many championships a school might win in a row.

But don't give a thought to all the things that could go wrong.

Ah, it is a fine time to be a follower of the FSU Seminoles, the biggest dog in college football's kennel. Why, Jameis Winston might win another Heisman Trophy, just so he can use them as bookends. Why, any day now, Jimbo Fisher might be anointed the new Nick Saban. Why, only six FSU players were projected in the first round of a recent ESPN mock draft for next season, but it's still early enough to get a couple more guys in.

Yep. The Mings once had a dynasty such as this one, but when you think about it, whom did those guys play?

At this stage, what could go wrong?

Except, of course, for everything.

That's the problem with starting a season off on the mountaintop. There is nowhere to go but down. And having a roster that looks set? There is nothing to do but worry. Hey, it's what college football fans do.

By now, you have probably heard that FSU received 57 out of 60 possible votes to lead the Associated Press preseason poll in a landslide. No, they don't give out trophies for that, but it's a lot more fun to talk about than, say, a team being ranked 11th, which the Seminoles were a year ago before winning the title. Still, the higher a team is ranked, the more there seems to be to worry about.

Who knows? This team could turn into the 2012 Southern Cal Trojans.

You remember those Trojans, right? They were going to be something to behold. They had been on probation for two years, and they were going to show America what it had been missing. Matt Barkley was back, and Lane Kiffin still seemed kind of smart, so college football might as well brace itself. Southern Cal was voted No. 1 in the preseason poll, easily ahead of Alabama.

It didn't end up that way. The team lost its momentum, weaknesses were exposed, and the Trojans ended up 7-6.

Oops.

More often than not, that happens in college football. Last year, Alabama was No. 1 at the start; it finished seventh. In 2011, Oklahoma was ranked No. 1; it finished 16th. In 2010, it was Alabama; it finished 10th. In 2008, it was Georgia; it finished 13th.

That's the thing about college football. It hates being predictable. Only twice in recent memory has a team gone wire-to-wire atop the polls: The 2004 Southern Cal Trojans (who had to vacate the title) and the 1999 Seminoles. Five other recent teams, including 1993 FSU, started No. 1, fell out of the top spot but ended up winning the title.

The thing is, of course, that FSU should be pretty darn good. Why not? With the possible exception of Alabama, what school has it going on better than the Seminoles do these days? This just in: FSU should be pretty good in 2015, too. Also, 2016.

But this year? What could happen this year?

The SEC could happen. After all, the SEC had eight teams ranked in the Top 25, alas, none of them named Florida. Which begs the question: To which bowl game does the SEC send its ninth-best team?

With that many good teams, a great one could emerge. Alabama, for instance. If the Tide doesn't have to cover a field goal attempt, who knows how far it could go?

Clemson could happen. Or Notre Dame. Or some team that goes from pretty good to very good.

Oklahoma State in the opener could happen. Or in a Thursday night road game, Louisville could happen. Those games could be testier than some people think.

Rivals could happen. You know that Miami and Florida will play FSU better than outsiders expect they will. There is something about these games that affects the scoreboard.

Is this team special enough to get past all of that? Is it special enough to fight complacency, to fight through injuries, through upsets, through close calls on a day that looks as if it belongs to another team?

There is a reason that not many teams win back-to-back titles. There are so many moving parts to a college football team. Greatness is hard to grasp for two years in a row.

But here's a question to ponder. Say that FSU pulls it off. Say that the Seminoles win another trophy.

How would that compare to FSU's previous dynasty?

It's a tricky question, because we all know the standards that FSU set with 14 consecutive top-five finishes from 1987-2000. College football has never seen a team that good for that long.

In a lot of ways, however, going back to back would be better. After all, everyone judges a team by the number of big trophies it wins. And that FSU run, as great as it was, included only two titles that were six years apart. This one would have 12 years left to get a third.

These are the kind of conversations that get fans through hot August evenings as they wait for a team to start to live up to its billing.

Soon, FSU begins to walk the tightrope.

No, it cannot afford to slip.

No, it does not plan on slipping.

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