October 31, 2008

Mailbag: Is Florida State close to being back?

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It seems like old times in Tallahassee, Fla.

Just a year after a disappointing 7-6 finish, Florida State is back in the top 20. The Seminoles are 6-1, have a four-game winning streak and are tied with Maryland atop the ACC Atlantic Division standings.

Hey, they're even getting solid play at quarterback.

Another win or two could put the Seminoles on the verge of breaking into the top 10. It's enough to make one wonder if Florida State is returning to national prominence.

In fact, that's one of the questions in this week's mailbag.

Is Bowden's bunch back?

Casey in Tallahassee, Fla.: If Florida State goes 10-2 or 9-3 this season and wins the ACC title, would you consider them back on the national radar?

Sure, I would. But would Seminoles fans, who demand nothing less than national championships?

Perhaps the past few seasons have lowered expectations just a bit. If so, that's not a bad thing. Florida State's run of 14 consecutive top-five finishes from 1987-2000 was incredible, but it also created the unrealistic expectation that it should occur every season.

Every program takes a dip. Some dips last longer than others. Florida State's hasn't been that bad no losing seasons from 2001-07 and the Seminoles might be coming out of it.

They likely will start just two seniors on offense and five on defense in this week's game against Georgia Tech. If they finish as strongly as you're suggesting, they would be a top-20 team with a lot of experience returning in '09 - including quarterback Christian Ponder and the entire offensive line.

Plus, Florida State could be a champion of a "Big Six" conference. The ACC isn't overpowering this season, but any team that wins a major conference championship has to at least be on the national radar.

Doesn't it?

Pick a winner

Martin in Albany, Ga.: Here it is: Georgia vs. Florida. This game is important every season, but this season's game has significant implications. This is a must-win game for either team to be a national championship contender. What is your take? Who has the edge? Who will prevail?

I know you're a Georgia fan, so let's look at this from the Bulldogs angle.

Last season, Georgia defeated Florida by 12 points, which was the largest winning margin at the Cocktail Party in six seasons. This season's game should be as competitive as ever.

Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford had arguably the best performance of his career in last week's 52-38 victory over LSU. Running back Knowshon Moreno is playing at a high level, and freshman receiver A.J. Green is flourishing. The Bulldogs need all three at their best to match up with Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Florida's speedy offense, which has produced at least 30 points in five consecutive games.

Perhaps the biggest question for Georgia is whether its patchwork offensive line can hold up as it did against LSU. Given time, Stafford can drill holes in Florida's secondary.

It's just a guess, really, but I'll say the line holds up, Stafford and Moreno have solid games and Georgia prevails in another close one.

A year away at least

Keith in Dallas: With Juice Williams' recent exploits, what are his chances at a Heisman trip in December and possibly winning it next year? He is clearly the best quarterback in the Big Ten.

Juice is good. But being best quarterback in the Big Ten isn't really saying much, is it? Besides, the folks in Happy Valley could make a nice argument in favor of Daryll Clark.

There are so many good quarterbacks around the country this year that Williams won't be among the Heisman finalists. Texas' Colt McCoy, Texas Tech's Graham Harrell and Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, among others, are ahead of Williams.

Williams has had a couple of spectacular performances this season. He needs to be more consistent, though. If he harnesses all his talent and plays consistently, he could emerge as a Heisman contender in 2009.

A new direction?

Alex in Nashville: Is this Phillip Fulmer's last season at Tennessee? If so, who would the Vols be interested in?

Why is it I get so many e-mails asking about Fulmer's future at Tennessee? Oh, yeah, the Volunteers are 3-5. That's why.

As recently as last week, my opinion was that Fulmer, who received a new contract after last season, would retain his job. Firing him reportedly would cost $6 million, and with the economy the way it is, it just doesn't seem prudent to buy out a guy whose team won 10 games and the SEC East last season.

But things change. The Vols again were inept offensively in last week's 29-9 loss to Alabama, which raised more speculation that Fulmer won't return.

A loss at South Carolina this week might guarantee it. I'm changing my stance and anticipate this will be Fulmer's final season as coach.

Hey, it's been a good run. He has 150 wins and has a national championship. He deserves to be revered rather than reviled, which is the way more and more Tennessee fans seem to view him.

His successor is anyone's guess. Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly would be a good choice. So would Butch Davis if he could be pried out of North Carolina. And, lately, Minnesota coach Tim Brewster's name has surfaced on the Volunteer nation's wish list. Maybe Duke coach David Cutcliffe, a long-time Fulmer assistant, is a possibility, too.

Fact checking

Michael in Amston, Conn.: What did you think of Tom Dienhart's column regarding Penn State? I don't begrudge anyone their opinion, but he seemed to have facts incorrect when making his case against Penn Sate. Is anyone accountable for being accurate anymore?

At risk of being accused of following the company line, I thought it was a good column.

And after re-reading it, I'm baffled as to what incorrect "facts" were in there. He questioned the overall strength of the Big Ten but also wrote that Penn State likely will go undefeated and probably would play in the BCS national championship game.

He did offer the opinion that if Penn State reaches the BCS championship game, it would be unfortunate. That's his opinion, which you said you do not begrudge.

I don't necessarily share that opinion. In fact, I think it would be unfortunate if Penn State went undefeated and did not play for the national championship. Of course, I think it's unfortunate that an undefeated Utah, Tulsa, Texas, Texas Tech or Alabama wouldn't get that chance, either.

The chance for multiple unbeaten teams just reinforces the need for a playoff. But that's not going to happen anytime soon, and it's not what you asked about.

Of course Penn State fans will call it an outrageous injustice if Penn State finishes unbeaten and doesn't get in the national championship game. But it would also be unjust if an unbeaten Texas, Texas Tech or Alabama didn't play for the championship, either.

Some would say that, in that scenario, Penn State should be the odd team out because of the apparent weakness of the Big Ten and Ohio State's pratfalls in the past two championship games. Though I don't completely agree, that appears to be Dienhart's opinion and it's a valid one.

Soft schedule?

Julio in Austin, Texas: USC is considered to be like the NFL of colleges, and if that's so, why will the Trojans not play good teams, like Texas does? Ohio State and Oregon were the only ranked teams they have to play. It's almost like giving them a free ride to the Rose Bowl every season. So why does USC play all the easy teams?

Check your facts, Julio. USC is the only FBS (i.e., Division I-A) team that played only "Big Six" conference teams in non-conference play. The Trojans have beaten Virginia, which is leading the ACC's Coastal Division, and Ohio State, which is second in the Big Ten, and will play Notre Dame, which is 5-2, on Nov. 29.

True, Texas will play its fourth consecutive ranked opponent when it faces Texas Tech on Saturday, but Texas' non-conference schedule was a cakewalk.

And don't forget that two years ago, the Longhorns were bragging about playing Ohio State. Don't criticize USC for playing Ohio State when Texas did. Actually, both teams should be praised for scheduling a non-conference game against a program of Ohio State's caliber.

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