After Florida State’s 49-37 win over Clemson we all want an answer to the million dollar question: Is Florida State back?
If by “back” you mean an explosive, well-coached, aggressive, physical, fast, championship (at least conference) caliber team which appears to be immune from the frustrating let-downs of the past 10+ seasons, the answer is “yes.”
Florida State’s dynasty, however, was defined by 14-straight Top-4 finishes and if being one of the top four teams in the nation is your definition of “back,” the answer is “no” – I don’t think…yet. I strongly believe Alabama (obviously) and LSU (more physical, more depth, more proven) are better than FSU. As I write following Week Four I think the Noles , Oregon and Georgia are relatively comparably. (To resolve semantics I believe FSU could finish ranked in the Top 4 and due to its weak schedule not actually be one of the four best teams.)
I freely admit that I may be gun-shy on proclaiming FSU “back.” I’ve burned my finger on that hot stove more times over the last decade than I care to admit. Saturday night’s come-from-behind victory over an exceptional Clemson team proves to me this edition of the Seminoles has broken free from the routine disappointments of its predecessors.
The rankings will play out in due time and Seminole fans needn’t worry about them for now anyway. For now be excited. Be excited about:
· Coaching. FSU isn’t simply talented, the Noles are well-coached. FSU teams in the post-dynasty Dark Age were talented – look at the recruiting rankings and NFL Draft – but they were never especially, perhaps not even adequately, well-coached. From two separate sets of in-game adjustments from defensive coordinator Mark Stoops (after the third series of the game and at halftime) which slowed and then suffocated the Tigers’ offensive juggernaut to Jimbo Fisher’s consistent, patient, mixed play-calling, FSU didn’t (and wouldn’t have) beat Clemson on talent alone. Yes there were drops, penalties, missed blocks and big plays given up, but not in the profusion of years past and they were corrected. Florida State may have its most talented AND best coached team since 2000 – that’s exciting.
· Improvements. Yes, Florida State dropped passes, gave up multiple big plays defensively, committed about 10 penalties, had two turnovers, missed two field goals, had a couple overthrows of open receivers, but still one. That tells me this team has room for improvement and I expect a better FSU team to travel to Virginia Tech later this season and a better team than that to host Florida in the regular-season finale.
· E.J. Manuel. Manuel proved he can be at his best in big games. With more than 100 yards rushing and over 300 passing Manual played his best game as a Seminole in his most important game as a Seminole. With loads of talent around him, if FSU’s trigger man plays as well for the remainder of the season as he did Saturday, FSU will go undefeated.
· Offensive talent. My word it’s everywhere. Forget Manuel, Chris Thompson looks like the most dangerous offensive player in the nation. I’ve never seen a team for whom the simple stretch play hand-off was so regularly explosive. Add to that Rashad Green and a half-dozen receivers who’d start for 80% of FBS teams, Sammy Wilder, Jr. who played like Adrian Peterson, Devonta Freeman, who didn’t even play, and Nick O’Leary at tight end the Noles can not only hurt you, they can take it to the house with any of a dozen guys at five different positions. Off the top of my head I don’t ever recall a college team being able to score with such relative ease.
· Offensive line. While inexperienced, the FSU offensive line has done everything asked of it and seems equally adept at pass-blocking as run-blocking. The group is obviously more physical and has been a regular weakness during the program’s down period.
· Intangibles. The Noles can dazzle in the weight room and on the track. They proved to be a great bully steamrolling inferior opponent. Now we know FSU has the mettle to take a big punch from an outstanding team and remain poised. We know they have the mental discipline to focus in a raucous environment and perform. We now know this team has guts, brains, the ability to come from behind and the “stuff” of champions. Florida State’s 3-0 start meant little to me, what FSU did against Clemson tells me a great deal about the heart and soul of this team. Of everything we learned Saturday, I believe this to be most exciting for Seminole fans.
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