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August 24, 2014

'Noles aim for place in college football history

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Roy "Tin Cup" McAvoy: This is everything, ain't it? This is the choice it comes down to - this is our immortality.

Romeo Posar: You don't need to be thinking immortality - you need to be thinking hit the 7-iron!

OK, Tin Cup wasn't exactly the greatest sports movie of all time, but this exchange between actors Kevin Costner and Cheech Marin very much applies to Florida State's 2014 football season.

The Seminoles are coming off an undefeated national championship run and according to the two major preseason polls are the overwhelming favorite to finish on top of the college football world once again. That feat, especially if it happens on the heels of an undefeated season, would solidify the Seminoles' place in history and give the program a little piece of immortality.

But let's take a step back first.

Winning a national championship in college football is truly a great accomplishment. To finish No. 1, the victor must prove it is the best of 125 FBS teams. That being said, a national champion is crowned every year. Outside of the fans from the victorious school, the championship usually fades from the collective consciousness of the college football world after a few years.

Being remembered and revered isn't an issue for programs that truly establish themselves as dynasties. While very few will remember who won the national championship six years ago, anybody that follows college football knows what a juggernaut Alabama has been the past few years (three national championships in four years) and the dominating Nebraska teams of the mid-1990s (three national championships).

Defining immortality in the context of college football is a bit complicated. First, winning back-to-back national championships is an absolute must. Only three FBS (formerly Division I-A) schools in the modern era can claim consensus back-to-back titles (2011-2012 Alabama, 1994-1995 Nebraska, and 1956-1957 Oklahoma). And only the '94-'95 Nebraska teams finished both championship seasons undefeated.

Florida State will have the unique opportunity to throw its hat into this very exclusive ring this season.

To accomplish this Herculean feat, it will take getting through 12 regular-season games unscathed, winning a conference championship game, and then claiming playoff victories over two of the top four teams in the country. Should that scenario play out, FSU will have a strong case for etching its logo on college football's Mount Rushmore.

That all sounds great in theory, but only a select few have what it takes to claim a piece of immortality.

That's where hitting the 7-iron comes into play.

The last thing FSU's players or coaches can think about is potentially starting a dynasty. Instead, they have to be focused on the next (shot) game. That's why head coach Jimbo Fisher has made it a point to tell his players and the media that FSU is not defending its 2013 national championship but is striving for a new title.

Unfortunately, that's easier said than done when the college football media machine is squarely focused on Florida State and its Heisman-winning quarterback. Throw in the social media monster, and it's nearly impossible for FSU's players to not be somewhat distracted by all the attention, good and bad.

"I think the pressure is so much greater now because of social media, the scrutiny that's put on our game and the TV coverage," Fisher said. "You've got 38 interviews this week and this and that, so you can get distracted very easily. ... All those things can be cumulative collectively and have an effect on how you play."

Defending National Champions since 1990
The following season*
  • 2.4 average losses the following season
  • Nebraska (94-95) only undefeated back-to-back champions
  • 13 defending champs suffered 3 or more losses
  • 12 teams won 11 or more games
  • 3 defending champs finished unranked.
  • 16 of the 27 defending champs finished in the Top 10
  • 10 of the last 27 finished the next season ranked in the Top 4.
  • On average National Champions have averaged 13 returning starters
*Facts provided by PhilSteele.com
The team is doing what it can to diminish those distractions by no longer posting on social media. But that prohibition doesn't stop the players and coaches from looking at Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and others. As evidenced by the botched #AskJameis Twitter campaign, most of the feedback coming from social media is negative, if not downright nasty, when it comes to FSU and its starting quarterback.

The mainstream media aren't much different. Not a day goes by without ESPN, print media, radio and online outlets focusing on the Seminoles and/or Jameis Winston. That focus usually involves a discussion about how great or overrated FSU is, or the real or imagined off-the-field problems involving Jameis Winston (see Ira Schoffel's column on the media's obsession with Winston).

But Fisher says it's not just increased media coverage and the online distractions that make claiming back-to-back titles so difficult. Oklahoma, Army and Notre Dame had monster runs during the first half of last century, but over the past 50 years sustaining a dynasty has become a tall order.

"Since the scholarship limitations, when they cut it down in the '70s, I think there's parity in the game," Fisher said. "Now, everyone has (quality) players. So you don't have large numbers - you used to have 105 or 110 scholarships, which kept a lot of teams out of the mix. People don't realize how big an effect that's had in the parity in college football."

Fisher says the youth movement in college football is another factor that hampers a team's ability to sustain success. During FSU's amazing 14-year run of top-five finishes, coaching legend Bobby Bowden was able to consistently field an experienced team that relied on veteran players that knew the system inside and out. That's no longer the case as teams now rely heavily on first- and second-year players.

"You are playing so many young kids now, and that has a lot to do with it," Fisher explained. "They haven't been in those situations where they've had to handle those kinds of moments, even though they are very talented. ... During Coach Bowden's run here, most of those guys didn't see the field until they were redshirt juniors. Very few guys played or started as true freshmen or sophomores. So the maturity point of that makes it hard to be consistent."

While players and coaches should never spend time worrying about how their program might be remembered in college football history, it's a fun exercise for fans and media. And with one undefeated season already in the books, it could make FSU's 2014 season that much more interesting.

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