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December 11, 2013

FSU working towards a place in college football history

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Florida State not only has a chance to earn its third national title on Jan. 6 against SEC Champion Auburn - the Seminoles have is an opportunity to achieve something truly special.

Any team that finishes the regular season undefeated, wins a conference title and earns a chance to play for a national championship will be considered "great" in the context of a single season. But there is a level beyond just great that only a very select few teams have achieved, some may even call it immortality.

Through its first 13 games, Florida State has done something very few college teams have ever accomplished - dominating victories against every opponent it has faced. Not once have the Seminoles been seriously challenged in 13 straight games. Boston College pulled ahead early in the game played back on Sept. 28 but the Seminoles went on a 45-10 run to put it away down the stretch. A late BC touchdown cut the final margin to 14 points but the game was effectively decided by the third quarter. Only two teams in major college football history have won all of their games by 14 or more points - FSU could become the third.

Fisher's program currently ranks in the top six in 13 major team statistics including having the nation's No. 1 scoring defense, pass efficiency offense and pass defense. FSU is also just 28 points away from scoring the most total points for a single season in NCAA history. More impressive is that no team has come close to challenging FSU all season with a 53 to 10.7 average margin of victory - FSU is in range of having the top margin of victory average in a single season since Army's beat all of its opponents by an average of 52 points in 1944. And it hasn't made any difference whether the opponent is ranked or unranked. Versus the four ranked opponents so far in 2013 the 'Noles' margin of victory is still more than 40 points at 50 to 8.75.

It's that kind of consistent dominance against all comers that defines a true champion and a team for the ages.

In pro sports many point to the 1996 Chicago Bulls, the 1998 New York Yankees or the 1985 Chicago Bears as the greatest teams of the modern era. In college football there are only a handful of teams that can stake a claim to being truly elite and will be forever remembered for their dominance.

In 2001, the Miami Hurricanes ran roughshod through college football going undefeated, leading the nation in defense and destroying a No. 4-ranked Nebraska team in the national championship game. When the dust had settled, Miami outscored its opponents 512 to 117.

Other than a narrow 26-24 win against No. 14 Virginia Tech, no team was able to get within double digits of the Hurricanes that season.

In 1972 USC, led by coaching great John McKay, was simply unstoppable. The Trojans cruised through the 11-game regular season winning all of their games by an average margin of 28 points. For icing on the cake, UCC blew out the No. 3 and Woody Hayes-coached Ohio State 42-17 in the Orange Bowl. In its three games versus top 10 opponents, USC won by an average of 40-17. Hall of Fame announcer Keith Jackson would go on to say that the 1972 Trojans were the greatest team he ever saw play. This squad also became the first ever to receive every first place ballot in both the coaches and writers' polls.

But it's the 1995 Nebraska Huskers that may have the best argument as the most dominant football team over the past 50 years. Unlike Miami's 2001 team and USC's 1972 squad, no opponent came close to upsetting the Huskers. The Tommie Frazier led team outscored its opponents by an average final score of 53-14, and that included four easy victories over top 10 ranked opponents. The most impressive win was a 62-24 dismantling of an undefeated and No. 2 ranked Steve Spurrier led Florida team in the Fiesta Bowl.

Key Stats
1972 USC

1995 Neb.

2001 UM

2013 FSU
W-L Record 12-0 12-0 12-0 13-0
Margin of Victory 28 40.3 34 42.3
Margin vs. ranked 20.5 (6) 30.75 (4) 32.8 (5) 41.2 (4)
Points per game 38.9 52.4 43.2 53.0
Points against per game 11.2 12.1 9.4 10.7
Offense yards per game 431.8 556.3 454.8 529.4
Defense yards per game 241.8 294.1 270.9 268.5
S.R.S* 30.33 26.86 26.17 23.67*
Simple Rating System; a rating that takes into account average point differential and strength of schedule. FSU's SRS would increase with a win over No. 2 Auburn. Sports_reference.com

A convincing win against No. 2 Auburn in the BCS National Championship game would, at the very least, put FSU in the conversation as one of the best college football teams to take the field in a single season.

Playing an Auburn team that won the SEC and is coming off back-to-back wins over top five teams, including previously No. 1 ranked and defending national champion Alabama, will certainly improve FSU's resume and add credence to the argument that the 2013 Seminoles should be considered one of the all-time greats. While victories over then No. 3 Clemson and No. 7 ranked Miami looked impressive at the time, both have fallen off since bringing into question the FSU's schedule strength. In fact, Clemson at No. 12 and Duke at No. 24, are the only FSU opponents that finished ranked in the top 25 in the final BCS standings.

What was accomplished this season didn't happen overnight. There has been a steady buildup since Jimbo Fisher took over the program in 2010. Recruiting dramatically improved and Fisher modernized the program based largely on how Nick Saban did it at LSU and Alabama.

"If you look at the progress that we made over the years, Chick-fil-A Bowl, Champs Sports Bowl, Orange Bowl, we kept getting better," said senior defensive back Lamarcus Joyner. "We kept climbing the ladder and that's where I envisioned it, coming back as a senior leader to keep climbing that ladder."

A second half swoon at NC State and a fourth quarter collapse in the regular season finale versus Florida derailed FSU's chances at the ultimate prize last year, but there have been no such letdowns in 2013. With the 45-7 win agaainst Duke last Saturday, FSU continued a perfect season and brought home the program's 14th ACC title.

What has been accomplished in 2013 was all done despite FSU losing six assistant coaches to other schools, including both coordinators, and having 11 players taken in last April's NFL draft. Normally that would mean a rebuilding season but not at FSU, where Fisher had built the program up from the ground up and established a firm foundation.

"What I love about what we're doing right now, we're becoming a program," said Fisher. "I've always said that teams come and go but programs sustain the test of time."

Standing in FSU's way from college football immortality is a team from a conference that has ruled the roost in college football over the past decade. The SEC has been the unquestioned power conference claiming seven straight national championships. With Ohio State's loss to Michigan State on Saturday, the SEC will get a chance to make it eight in row with Auburn slated to take on FSU for the coveted crystal ball.

After winning the ACC Championship on Saturday night, Fisher downplayed the opportunity to play an SEC team for the title or the significance of playing against a conference he is intimately familiar with coaching at both LSU and Auburn. However, you have to believe the chance to defeat Auburn and break the SEC's streak of national titles would not only warm Fisher's heart, but it would also solidify FSU's place in college football history.

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