June 17, 2011

Mailbag: Is the wait over for Florida State?

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. Click here to send Olin a question for a future mailbag.
Notre Dame has won eight national championships, but the last came 23 years ago.

Texas waited 35 years between a UPI national title in 1970 and a BCS crown in 2005.

LSU won the 1958 national championship. The Tigers didn't win another until 2003 " a span of 45 years.

When Ohio State upset Miami in the 2002 BCS title game, it ended a 34-year championship drought.

Nearly half a century passed between Michigan's national titles in 1948 and 1997. Tennessee waited 47 years between its 1951 and 1998 national titles. Last season, Auburn won its first national crown in 53 years.

And has it really been 25 years since Penn State's most recent national title?

When so many programs have waited a quarter-century or longer for a national title, a little more than a decade doesn't seem so bad. But down in Tallahassee it seems like an eternity since Florida State's 1999 championship. Perhaps the Seminoles won't have to wait much longer.

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Waiting game

Florida State was No. 1 in recruiting. The Seminoles will win the ACC. Do you think they will win the national championship, too?
Danny in Pensacola, Fla.

Florida State seemingly is listed in everybody's preseason top 10, so the Seminoles have to be taken seriously as a championship contender.

But Seminoles fans should first aim for the ACC title, which cannot be taken for granted. Virginia Tech remains a contender, Clemson often has been a thorn in the Seminoles' side and FSU still has a tendency to lose a game it's expected to win (at home against North Carolina last season, for example). Still, there are a lot of reasons to be high on the Seminoles.

Eight fulltime starters return on offense and that doesn't include quarterback E.J. Manuel, who has a lot of starting experience. Nine starters return from a defense that held 10 opponents to fewer than 20 points (though two had more than 40). That defense could be even better this season.

Still, I don't see the Seminoles among the top national championship contenders, although that could change Sept. 17. If the Seminoles can post a home-field victory that day over Oklahoma, which likely will be ranked No. 1, they will be major factors in the championship race.

But the next week, they travel to Clemson, which could be treacherous, too.

Obviously, Florida State made giant strides in Jimbo Fisher's first season as coach. But a national championship seems too ambitious at this point.

Remember, a one-loss team out of the ACC probably would not be chosen for the BCS championship game over a one-loss team from the SEC, Pac-12, Big Ten and maybe the Big 12. FSU would need to beat OU and Florida (and hope the Gators have a good year) to get in with one loss.

Again, at this point the Seminoles should be focused on winning the ACC, then hope that's enough to get into the BCS title game.

Be realistic

We all saw improvement the last four games in Notre Dame's offense and especially the defense. Is it realistic to think Notre Dame can have a 10- or 11-win season?
Cliff in Portsmouth, Va.

Four seasons have passed since Notre Dame posted a double-digit victory total. That was a 10-3 mark in 2006, when the Irish lost to LSU in the Sugar Bowl and Charlie Weis still was beloved in South Bend.

Yet, it's not only reasonable for Notre Dame to set a goal of at least 10 wins this season, it would be disappointing if the Irish don't reach that number.

The Irish were tantalizingly close to 10 wins last season when they finished 8-5. One of the losses was to Michigan when Denard Robinson scored the decisive touchdown in the final minute. Another was a three-point overtime loss to Michigan State on a fake field goal. Then, there was the one-point loss to Tulsa in which the Irish had a pass intercepted in the end zone late in the game when a makeable field goal would have sufficed.

That list of near-misses raises optimism, but Notre Dame has many more reasons for optimism.

First, nine offensive and eight defensive starters return. Second, the Irish are entering their second season under coach Brian Kelly and we've seen numerous examples (Ohio State, Florida, Alabama, Auburn, Oklahoma, etc.) of teams showing dramatic improvement in a coach's second season. Third, there is that closing four-game winning streak.

Notre Dame bounced back from that stunning loss to Tulsa by beating Utah, Army, USC and Miami. In that stretch, the Irish's defense allowed just three touchdowns. One of those came after USC recovered a fumble deep in Notre Dame's end of the field. Two by Miami were scored in the fourth quarter, after Notre Dame already had taken a 30-3 lead in the Sun Bowl.

There are some questions. The quarterback situation must be resolved, though the bet here is Dayne Crist will be the starter. Look for Michael Floyd to be in the lineup and form a productive receiving duo with Theo Riddick, though some other receivers need to emerge.

The defense could be even better with heralded 2010 recruit Louis Nix finally in shape and ready to contribute at nose tackle.

Notre Dame's schedule is challenging and depth could be an issue for the Irish, but if they stay healthy, they could have a big season.

Lock it down

In my opinion, programs such as USC, Texas, Ohio State and Florida always are going to be in the top 10 " with the exception of a down year here and there " because each does a really good job of locking down the top-tier in-state recruits from their respective states. My question is why can't Georgia coach Mark Richt and his staff do the same thing in the talent-rich state of Georgia? Why is it that the Bulldogs are losing so many top in-state recruits to Alabama, Florida State and Auburn?
Calvin in Jacksonville

Players have many reasons for opting attend college outside of their home states. Some guys want to get away from home for a while. Some develop a better relationship with a recruiter from another school. Others might see a better opportunity to play elsewhere, and perhaps they grew up following an out-of-state team. They also may want to play for a well-known coach or be attracted by another program's on-field success. And maybe " as crazy as this may seem " their academic interests would be better served elsewhere.

When times are hard (as they are at Georgia right now) and native sons like Greg Reid are playing well elsewhere (Florida State), it probably seems like all the best players in Georgia are leaving the state.

That's not accurate, though. The 2010 recruiting class might have been a bit disappointing because only five of the top 20 players in Georgia opted to play for the Bulldogs, but Richt has fared well in other years.

In fact, in the past four years, the Bulldogs three times have signed at least seven of the state's top 20 players. Richt signed 11 in '08, seven in '09 and 10 in 2011. In fact, Georgia's 2011 class included seven of the state's top 10.

The other big schools you mentioned have had their share of in-state recruiting losses. Texas has seen Adrian Peterson star at Oklahoma, Dez Bryant at Oklahoma State, Andrew Luck at Stanford and LaMichael James at Oregon. And the folks in Gainesville would have loved to have had Denard Robinson of Michigan, Daniel Thomas of Kansas State, Trent Richardson of Alabama and Onterio McCalebb of Auburn.

Even the best programs can't keep all the good in-state players at home. In fact, Georgia should be glad you can't. Don't forget recent Georgia stars Matthew Stafford and A.J. Green and current quarterback Aaron Murray were out-of-state recruits.

Richt has done a solid job in-state, considering so many other programs in the SEC as well as national programs such as Notre Dame and USC recruit there, too.

Hollow punishment

Why were USC's wins vacated and not forfeited? I know you can't just hand over a national title after the game has been played, but is saying it never happened any better?
Greg in Orlando

Personally, I don't get the "vacated" idea of punishment. The record books may not list USC as a national champion, but the memory of the Trojans' 55-19 victory over Oklahoma wasn't suddenly erased from my mind.

And, somehow, I doubt the players on the 2004 USC team will decide to return their national championship rings, nor should they. After all, The Associated Press still is recognizing USC as its national champion. So, despite the "vacated" title, the Trojans are the only team that's designated as a national champion in 2004.

I get that "vacating" the 2004 championship rankles fans from Auburn, who feel their undefeated team was unfairly left out of the championship game that year. But Utah also was unbeaten in 2004. Who's to stay Utah couldn't have beaten Auburn that season?

It seems to me the best way to punish a program is to hit it with scholarship losses and bowl bans (which the NCAA did to USC), along with a hefty fine. Want to get the attention of college administrators? Hit them hard in the wallet.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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