After winning BCS title, Florida State prepares to enter new era
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- If this were next year, Monday might have only been the beginning. Just imagine a back-and-forth finish on the level of Florida State-Auburn in the Rose Bowl. Imagine being breathless after the final whistle. Then imagine ESPN throwing its broadcast to the day's second semifinal, from the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
The dynamics of deciding major college football's national champion will change dramatically next season. That long layoff? It will now be a week shorter, and it will come before the semifinals. The teams playing in the title game will then have one week to prepare for one another. That could give an advantage to a team with an unusual offense because while coaches may scout potential title game opponents, they'll spend three weeks preparing for their semifinal foes. The new playoff system also means we won't spend the first quarter of the title game watching two teams knock off rust. That will instead happen in the semifinals.
Not everyone is completely thrilled with the new setup. When he dropped by on Tuesday to collect a few trophies for his team, Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher suggested that not all the changes are positive. "When I was a child, I remember who won the Sugar Bowl, who won the Orange Bowl, who won the Cotton Bowl, who won the Rose Bowl. It was a big deal to go," he said. "We act like that's not a big deal now. That's one of the great things you have in college football. We're so involved in winning a championship that we're forgetting the tradition and history of doing things. And how many times was the BCS ever wrong?"
Fisher also wondered about the logistics of preparing for two games during a heavy recruiting period. "How are we going to recruit? You keep putting playoff games in there, when are we going to ever recruit?" he asked. "If you start in December and finish in the middle of January, when does recruiting season go? You've got a lot of things that we'd better be careful in this playoff system before we go crazy on it."
Fisher would likely have sung a different tune had Florida State finished No. 3 in the BCS standings following the 2013 regular season, but he's clearly given this some thought. He should have because his team brings back enough talent -- led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston -- to be a prime candidate to make the playoffs after the '14 season.
Underclassmen have until Jan. 15 to declare for the NFL draft, so the Seminoles will have to wait to learn which of their juniors plan to return to Tallahassee. Receiver Kelvin Benjamin and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan seem likely candidates to turn pro. Tailback James Wilder Jr. will reportedly enter the draft, and Devonta Freeman could join him, especially with converted safety Karlos Williams pushing for more playing time and highly touted recruit Dalvin Cook planning to enroll next week. Offensive tackle Cam Erving had an excellent season, and he'll face a tough decision. Wideout Rashad Greene has NFL talent, but he may want to stay to avoid being in such a deep class of receivers. For tight end Nick O'Leary, the grandson of golfer Jack Nicklaus, the decision won't be financial. He simply must decide if he feels he can raise his draft stock with another season of college football.
If any of those players return, they'll join a loaded group. Winston must stay at least one more season. So too must defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. and cornerback Ronald Darby. Kermit Whitfield, whose 100-yard kick-return touchdown gave Florida State its first second-half lead Monday, will be back. So will sophomore defensive back P.J. Williams, who was named the BCS title game defensive MVP after making a key fourth-quarter interception on a Nick Marshall pass.
This group helped usher out the BCS era by bringing a title to the program that played in the first three BCS championship games following the 1998, '99 and 2000 seasons. The SEC had ruled college football throughout the latter portion of the BCS era, but Florida State snapped that league's seven-year title streak in Pasadena. "It's very fitting that Florida State come full circle," Fisher said. "Like I say, maybe we don't play in the SEC, but we play in the south -- and we've got good football. Florida State, it's like the reckoning. Things are getting back in order again."
And now things are about to be shaken up by the playoff. Had the new system been in place this year, the Seminoles might have faced Michigan State in a semifinal. Given the quality of the Spartans' defense, Winston might have endured an even more miserable time than he did early against the Tigers. Meanwhile, Auburn likely would have faced Alabama in an Iron Bowl rematch.
The BCS went out in glorious fashion, but it was time. Next year, when a team celebrates on the field at the Rose Bowl, it will be because that team is headed to JerryWorld in Arlington, Texas, to play for a national title. Fisher may not be completely sold on the concept, but he knows that's where he wants to go. "If that's what you're going to do," he said, "we're going to line up and play them."