- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
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ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit became the latest pundit to jump on the Florida State bandwagon Tuesday, when he picked the Seminoles to win the national championship. It's a prediction shared by writer Phil Steele, who chose FSU to win it all earlier this summer.
That's a bit more enthusiasm than the voting populace has displayed, but Florida State nevertheless will open the season ranked seventh in both the AP and Coaches' polls, and coach Jimbo Fisher isn't doing anything to temper the enthusiasm.
"I love being up there," Fisher said. "The higher up you start, the less you have to climb."
But while Fisher's point might have merit, FSU's problems during the past decade have had little to do with where the Seminoles have started the season and much more to do with where they've ended it.
FSU hasn't finished the year ranked in the AP top 10 since the end of the 2000 season, twice finishing unranked. The ugly finishes have never seemed to dampen hope among AP voters, who have continued to assume things would turn around virtually every summer.
Since 2000, Florida State's average preseason ranking is 12th, but it's only finished a season that high once.
In just three of the past 11 seasons has FSU wrapped up the year ranked higher than where it began, including 2008 when the Seminoles opened the season unranked but finished 21st.
So while Fisher is pleased to see his team recognized as a preseason favorite yet again, the skepticism from many others -- the past decade has taken much of the luster off FSU's 1990s dominance -- seems somewhat understandable.
Looking at all programs who have been ranked in either the preseason or end-of-season polls at least five times during the past decade -- 32 of them in total -- Florida State stands out among the most consistently disappointing.
Here are the teams with the most seasons since 2002 in which it has finished lower in the final poll than it did in the preseason poll:
Of course, not all dips in the polls are created equal.
Oklahoma has eight seasons in which it's dipped in the polls, but in five of those eight, the Sooners fell by three spots or fewer. In fact, Oklahoma has been one of the most reliably ranked teams in the nation during the past 10 years, wrapping up seven of the last 10 seasons within three spots of where they started.
Here are the other most properly ranked teams:
(Note: Average ranking change is based on difference, plus or minus, from preseason to end-of-season poll, using "others receiving votes" to rank teams beyond the top 25. Years +/- 3 is the number of years in which a team finished within three spots of its preseason ranking.)
So if we're looking at disappointments by scale rather than sheer volume, we can set the Sooners safely aside.
If we instead look only at teams that fell by at least 10 spots from their preseason ranking throughout the year, it's a fairly harsh indictment of the FSU hype machine.
That's six of the past 10 seasons that FSU hasn't come close to finishing the season where it was expected, which is essentially where the majority of the dubiousness stems from this season.
For the sake of discussion, however, here's a quick look at the teams that have overachieved the most (at least 10 spots) compared to preseason expectations:
Notice a trend here?
The biggest disappointments are teams that often come with a ton of hype based on past success (Arizona State excepted). The teams that have made a habit out of proving preseason prognosticators wrong are those without much media attention. (TCU, in fact, has finished in the top 25 eight of the last 10 seasons, and in all eight cases the Horned Frogs finished ranked higher than where they began the year -- the only team to have done that.)
So what does all this mean?
Likely it says exactly what so many critics -- like Georgia's Mark Richt -- have already pointed out: The preseason polls simply skew the rankings long before anyone has a chance to see these teams in action.
And that brings us back to Florida State in 2012.
It's possible, perhaps, that the last decade of disappointment has served to tip the scales a bit. Is Florida State really the seventh-best team in the country? It wouldn't be hard to make the case -- as both Herbstreit and Steele have done -- that the Seminoles should be ranked a good bit higher.
Forget the FSU teams of the past -- just as voters should have done for much of the past decade -- and focus on what the current crop of Seminoles have to offer. A senior quarterback, an immensely talented receiving corps, a developing offensive line, a dominant defense and, for the first time in a long time, an ample amount of depth. Oh, and there's also that favorable schedule that includes just one road game in which FSU won't likely be favored.
On paper, that's the recipe for a championship.
Of course, as the saying goes, the games aren't played on paper. Unfortunately, that's all we have to go on when the polls come out in mid-August.