It’s a question that’s been posed many times, in many different ways. As Florida State enters the 2014 season fresh off of an undefeated 2013 campaign that culminated in the Seminoles’ third national championship — can FSU match what it did last year?
The short answer: No.
That’s not to say the Seminoles can’t repeat as national champions. It’s not to say they can’t go unbeaten again. It just means that Florida State cannot match what happened last year, this year.
Maybe not ever.
And before we get any further and the denizens of #FSUTwitter threaten me with arson or bodily harm, it’s important to preface by saying that this is not a knock on Florida State — it’s just being realistic.
Why was last season so magical for Seminoles fans?
To answer that you need to zoom out quite a bit and look at the big picture.
After nearly two decades of dominance the Seminoles fell on hard time in the middle of the last decade. FSU fans went from regular top-five finishes and a national-title-or-bust attitude to being also-rans in the ACC. That may seem harsh, but it’s true. Chances are if you attended Florida State in the 00′s, you saw the Seminoles lose more games in your four years than they did in all of the 90′s combined.
Slowly, the program’s decline took its toll on the psyche of the fanbase. You could more or less watch the five stages of grief play out among the Seminole faithful over the past decade.
There was plenty of denial to go around. Denial over the state of recruiting, denial over the level of talent on the team, hell, there was even some denial about whether or not FSU was even slipping in the first place. That gave way to anger, most of it directed at Jeff Bowden, or at Mickey Andrews, or Bobby Bowden, himself. Nobody was spared from the anger. Then came the bargaining:
“I’m cool with four losses as long as we beat Miami.”
“This whole season can be redeemed if we just knock off Florida.”
By the time Bobby Bowden was forced out and Jimbo Fisher took over, FSU fans were somewhere between depression and acceptance. An era was over, the program’s hey-day was in the past. Some of the shimmer that had come with Bowden’s run in the 90′s had faded from the program by the time Fisher had taken the reins.
Whereas the national titles in 1993 and 1999 came while fans expected the program to be there — 2013′s didn’t.
Jimbo Fisher was clearly building a program at the start of last season, the progress was undeniable. There had been three straight top-five recruiting classes, the Seminoles’ record had improved each season and Florida State had just won its first conference title in seven years.
But Seminoles fans were also still very guarded. While the team was coming off a 12-2 season, the loss of 11 players to the NFL draft (including the team’s starting QB and the entire defensive line) along with having to replace half of the previous year’s coaching staff had Florida State fans feeling extremely cautious.
Expectations had not been friendly to Florida State over the past decade. Errant placement on preseason polls, underwhelming play at quarterback and the decline of a once-proud defense had defined the past ten years. Heading into 2013, most fans were wise to be skeptical of the claims emanating from Tallahassee.
An all-world QB recruit ready to take over? Fans had heard that one before, some still had the Xavier Lee jerseys and t-shirts to prove it.
A revamped defense that will be reminiscent of the program’s hey-day? That seemed like a tall order considering almost all of the defensive staff from the past three years had moved on and FSU was embracing a new scheme.
Even the preseason ranking, 11, seemed a bit high given all that FSU was replacing.
Then came the opener against Pittsburgh, with Jameis Winston completing all but two of his passes, going 25/27 for 356 yards and four touchdowns.
A few weeks later FSU flew up to Clemson and punched a top-five team square in the mouth on their own home turf.
From there it seemed like every weekend the team found new ways to amaze its fans. The defense evolved over the course of the season, eventually becoming the most dominant unit in the country. The offense shattered just about every offensive record in school history. Jameis Winston became just the third Heisman winner in FSU history.
Try as they might, even the most cynical of Florida State fans were slowly converted into believers over the course of last season. After years and years of being let down, after years of reality paling in comparison to expectations, last year’s FSU team delivered.
Even in the final moments of the season, when doubt started to seep in as FSU faced a 21-3 deficit in Pasadena — the team didn’t betray their fans’ faith. After 13 games filled with dominant performances and the utter decimation of its opponents, FSU found a new way to win that 14th game, found a new way to deliver — this time with grit, and heart (and two of the most memorable plays in school history).
For Florida State fans, last year wasn’t just another crystal ball, another banner to hang at Doak. Last year was the culmination of years of anguish and lost emotion. The feeling of helplessness as Tim Tebow’s Gator teams thrashed overmatched FSU squads, the despair over the way Bobby Bowden was pushed out, the angst centered on whether or not Jimbo Fisher could win big — all of it was washed away over the course of last season.
2013 wasn’t just the year FSU returned to its place atop the college football world. Last year, for Florida State fans, was about falling in love with FSU all over again. It was about being reminded what it was like to watch a program, your program, at its best — during its hey-day. It was more than just regaining something that had been lost, or a return to glory for a once proud program that had been down on its luck. Last season, for Seminoles fans, was about being able to believe again.
So can FSU match it again this year? No.
And hopefully they’ll never have to.