Florida State Football: Are the Seminoles Back as an Annual National Title Contender?

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Is Florida State ready to contend for a National Title?

<p> Is Florida State back as an annual national title contender?</p>

Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 9 Florida State. The Seminoles were expected to challenge for the ACC title last season, but came up short. Florida State is loaded on defense, but the offense has question marks.

Is Florida State Back as an Annual National Title Contender?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
I always contend teams like Florida State aren’t truly “back” until they’re competing for national championships. That’s the bar the Seminoles have set, and claiming FSU is back for merely finishing in the top 25 in each of the last two seasons doesn’t do the program’s history justice. Certainly, Florida State is back on the right track. Arguably, the Seminoles have the most upside of any program in the state, with Florida being the only real competition here – and FSU defeated the Gators 21-7 last season in Gainesville. FSU’s 19 wins in two seasons under Jimbo Fisher are the most in a two-year span since 2003-04. The Seminoles are in better shape than they’ve been in several years, but the goal here isn’t to play in Champs Sports and Chick-fil-A bowls. FSU hasn’t even won the ACC since 2005. The Seminoles have a chance to end that streak this year. They had a ton of bad luck last year, starting with EJ Manuel’s injury against Oklahoma, which made the following game against Clemson that much more difficult. Florida State’s defense should be tremendous and the offense a little more steady, but enough questions remain – is Manuel the elite quarterback he’s hinted he’d become? Is the young offensive line ready for the prime time? Can Florida State overcome missteps against teams like Virginia and Wake Forest? Florida State may be good enough to win the ACC, but that’s not good enough to be the elite team FSU should be before we declare the Noles “back.”

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Define back? Is Florida State about to go on a decade-long run of dominance that sees the Noles win 9 conference titles in 10 years, finish in the top five nationally every season and visit the BCS National Championship game three times? Absolutely not. But that run of ACC terror will likely never be replicated by any team in any league ever again. However, can the Seminoles win their first conference championship in seven years? Absolutely.

I will argue that the 2012 defensive unit is the closest thing Tomahawk Nation has seen on that side of the ball since the Mickey Andrews glory days of the mid-to-late 90s. Along with an efficient year from EJ Manuel in his final attempt to validate his lofty recruiting status, the Noles have as good a chance since 2005 to claim an ACC crown. They get top divisional challenger at home and Miami could potentially have one of its youngest — and worst — teams in decades. Two road trips to NC State and Virginia Tech will be key. That said, FSU can lose on the road in Blacksburg on November 8 and still win the Atlantic if it can slow the Tajh Boyd-led Tigers' attack in Doak Campbell on September 22.

Either way, Jimbo Fisher has reestablished the Seminole name brand on the recruiting trail. And despite what the Board of Trustees in Tallahassee wants you to believe, the Garnett and Gold is still the most powerful football program in the league. Fisher just needs to go out and prove it on the field.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
This question seems to come up every preseason when discussing Florida State. In fairness to the Seminoles, their run from 1987-2000 is going to be very difficult to repeat. However, everything in college football seems to come in cycles, and while the program slipped at the end of the Bobby Bowden era, Florida State is trending back in the right direction.

Jimbo Fisher has won 19 games in his first two years, while landing some of the nation’s top recruiting classes. Although the Seminoles will always have some of college football’s best talent, the depth is finally starting to get back to a level where this team can compete for national championships.

Is Florida State ready to win the national title this year? I don’t think this team is ready to beat any of the teams in the top five this season, but the Seminoles should be favored to win the ACC. There’s some talented youth on this team and as long as Fisher continues to reel in top-five recruiting classes, the Seminoles will be back in the national title mix in the next couple of years. The first step for Florida State is to win the ACC – something they haven’t done since 2005. Once the Seminoles win the conference title and a BCS bowl game, then it will be easier to see where they stack up nationally. Florida State is on its way back, but it may take another year or two to become an annual top 10 once again.

Mark Ross
Did Florida State ever leave? Look, I know that it was the '90s when the Seminoles dominated the ACC and won their two national championships, the last one coming in 1999. And I know that this is 2012, which means it's been more than a decade since the mighty 'Noles were on top of the college football mountain and six seasons since they made their last BCS bowl appearance (2006 Orange Bowl), but it's not like they've plummeted to the bottom of the rankings either. Overall, Florida State has won its last four bowl games and in Jimbo Fisher's first two years as head coach, the 'Noles have won 19 games combined and were ACC Atlantic Division champions in 2009.

In the end, I think it comes down to expectations, and it's clear that the bar is set pretty high when it comes to Florida State, and that's from both the fans' and outsiders' perspectives. That said, Fisher's team this year should have a pretty decent shot at getting "back" to that expected level of success, but to do so the 'Noles will have to finish ahead of Clemson and North Carolina State and the rest of the Atlantic Division. The easiest route back to a BCS bowl, and a potential shot at a national title, is to get the automatic bid by winning the ACC Championship game, something Florida State has done just once (2005) in the game's seven-year history.

Florida State brings back 16 starters, seven on offense and nine on defense, and its defense should be among the best in entire nation. As long as the offense, led by senior quarterback EJ Manuel, can put enough points on the board and the defense can hold up, the Seminoles are as big a threat in the ACC, if not the country, of any other team. The non-conference schedule is certainly manageable with a trip to South Florida (Sept. 29) and the season-finale vs. in-state rival Florida the only potential trouble spots, and in the ACC, the 'Noles two key games are when they host Clemson (Sept. 22) and go to Blacksburg, Va., to face Virginia Tech on Nov. 8.

If Florida State can defeat Clemson when the Tigers come calling in September, the Seminoles should be in excellent position to win the Atlantic Division and go to Charlotte, N.C., to play for the ACC title. If they win that game then it's back to a BCS bowl and maybe even a spot in the national championship game, which no doubt would be a welcome sight for Florida State fans. Otherwise, they will just have to be happy with another nine- or 10-win season, which is apparently the new "normal" for the Seminoles, which also happens to be a measure of annual success the fans of the vast majority of college football programs around the country would happily accept. 

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think it’s fair to say FSU is back, at least to the point where the Seminoles look like the favorite in the ACC. Since Jimbo Fisher took over in Tallahassee, the recruiting has been at an elite level so the roster is loaded on both sides of the ball. Florida State should be led by a stingy defense that really came together at the end of last season. From the middle of October to the bowl victory over Notre Dame, no opponent scored over 20 points on the athletic FSU unit.

The key to the Seminoles title chances rests with senior quarterback EJ Manuel and the development of sophomores Devonta Freeman and Rashad Greene. The talented duo led FSU in rushing and receiving as freshmen, and both players could be set for a breakout 2012. I don’t think even the most optimistic Noles fan can expect the program to repeat the accomplishments of the ‘90s — when Florida State claimed two national championships and won the league crown every season from 1992-2000 — but Fisher has FSU primed to compete for the ACC title each season in the near future.

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