It happened right before our eyes.
While pundits and fans alike wringed their hands, wondering when Florida State was coming “back,” Jimbo Fisher was laying the foundation for something big–the kind of project that couldn’t be rushed.
Realistically, a four-season restoration is remarkably efficient. But this is college football, where realistic expectations are wholly unrealistic and narratives are shaped quickly.
Just a year ago, the narrative shaped around Fisher and Florida State after his first three seasons at the helm was that the Seminoles were good, but couldn’t win that proverbial big one.
There was the 2010 ACC Championship Game when Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s three touchdown passes led the Hokies to a 44-33 win, giving Frank Beamer his fourth conference title and extending Florida State’s streak of seasons without a BCS bowl bid to five.
But that first year was a feeling-out period, the brief honeymoon of Fisher’s tenure. With plenty of returning talent, the 2011 Seminoles were hyped as being “back.” An early season showdown at Doak Campbell Stadium against top-ranked Oklahoma brought College Gameday to Tallahassee, and with it, the same big-game feel that followed Florida State throughout the 1990s.
But an offensively anemic performance exacerbated by E.J. Manuel’s shoulder injury deflated the pumped up Seminoles, and the aftereffects lingered through a disappoint, four-loss finish.
The next year was when Florida State was really, REALLY “back.” That is, until a visit to NC State in October. That, coupled with a loss to rival Florida, provided the inevitable white noise of the 2013 offseason.
Fisher took on the unenviable task of following a legend, Bobby Bowden. Immediately succeeding an all-time great rarely goes well; just ask Ray Perkins, Bob Davie or Ron Zook.
Jimbo Fisher is none these. He’s also not Bobby Bowden. Bowden sustained greatness for almost three decades, only fading in the final few years of his illustrious career.
Fisher has another quarter-century of success before he can adequately be compared to Bowden. Nevertheless, in the coming season, Fisher can accomplish a feat his predecessor never achieved: win consecutive championships.
Coming off the 2013 national championship, Fisher has the luxury of returning Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston. Bowden assuredly would have loved to retain Charlie Ward for the 1994 campaign, but alas, eligibility.
Conversely, Winston is guaranteed one more year in garnet-and-gold–two, if his father proves prescient.
But Winston is just one piece of the puzzle. Wide receiver Rashad Greene is among the most reliable targets in the country. Winston also plays behind a monstrous offensive line, featuring Cameron Erving, Josue Matias and Tre’ Jackson. That line typifies Fisher’s approach to reestablishing Florida State as the nation’s premier program.
The former Nick Saban assistant has Florida State structured in much the same way his former colleague built Alabama–but with a twist.
Aggressive recruiting with focus on defense and the line turned Alabama into a dynasty with three BCS championships in four years. While outsiders lamented that the Seminoles were not yet “back,” Fisher and his colleagues won on the recruiting trail, attracting top-flight offensive line and defensive talent to Tallahassee.
This year’s Seminole defense features Athlon‘s top-rated secondary, featuring stud cornerbacks Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams, returning interceptions leader Nate Andrews and breakout star Jalen Ramsey.
The linebacker corps is teeming with young talent ready to shine, particularly former 5-star prospect Matthew Thomas. Defensive end Mario Edwards is primed for his own step toward stardom in his junior campaign.
It’s a tried and true formula, but with the added twist of Fisher’s quarterback acumen. Winston’s stellar season speaks for itself, and predecessor Manuel was the only quarterback taken in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft. The coach’s ability to land and foster quarterback talent now plays a role in Saban’s efforts to keep Alabama at the top of the college football heap against the advances of other programs–particularly Florida State.
It didn’t exactly happen overnight, but under Jimbo Fisher, the Seminoles are back. And they’re better than ever.