Does the eye test deceive us?
Personality can drive the perception of BCS contenders as much as performance
Jimbo Fisher hates the computers.
The Florida State coach doesn't claim to have much understanding of the formulas the BCS computers use, but he knows enough not to trust them. They're faceless, emotionless automatons programmed to chew up data and spit out rankings.
Football, he believes, requires instincts and passion and perspective.
Sure, Fisher backtracked a tad when the first BCS standings of 2013 had his team at No. 2, but that was short-lived. Florida State dipped to third this week, and Fisher was back on the human-voter bandwagon.
"You have to come back to the eye test," Fisher said. "People are so important in this poll. People watch teams."
Fisher has watched his BCS competition, and the eye test tells him Florida State is not No. 1 -- at least not yet. He has a vote in the USA Today coaches' poll, and while he declined to reveal the entirety of his ballot, he strongly hinted that Alabama owned the top spot.
The Crimson Tide, Fisher said, pass the eye test.
"Alabama's playing great defense, they've got playmakers that can run the football, they're very physical," Fisher said.
He's right on all counts, but Fisher's take on Alabama -- his eye test -- is as much about the perception of the program as it is about the reality of how the Tide have played this season.
Alabama ran the ball 61 percent of the time in their two national title victories. Of its offensive touchdowns, 60 percent and more than half its yards came on the ground. The Tide were bruising, blue collar, Saban-esque, the embodiment of what has become known as Saban's "process."
This season, Alabama is throwing the ball on 45 percent of its plays. It's on pace for 81 more pass attempts in 2013 than it threw in 2012. Half its touchdowns and nearly 55 percent of its yards have come through the air. Scoring is up on offense, while the defense is allowing more yards per play than in any season since 2007. Tthe Crimson Tide aren't playing the same wide-open style of Baylor or Oregon, but they don't exactly match that buttoned-down, blue-collar perception, either.
A team tends to be defined, at least among casual observers, by its most compelling character. At Alabama, that's Saban, the mechanical genius who has authored three national championships in four years. At Ohio State, it's Urban Meyer, the no-nonsense football obsessive who turned a 6-7 team in transition into winners of 20 straight.
The perception of Florida State, on the other hand, has been defined largely by Jameis Winston, the charismatic freshman with the big arm and the big smile who in the span of two months has gone from redshirt freshman competing for a starting job to household name and Heisman front-runner.
"You turn on the TV, ESPN, you see Jameis Winston every day," FSU tackle Cameron Erving said.
Winston's numbers certainly warrant the attention, but it's really as much about his personality. He's bubbly and gregarious, outgoing and quick with a joke. The cameras love him, and the fans have followed suit.
A year ago, after Florida State lost to NC State in a painful 17-16 slog, there were numerous calls for Fisher to give up offensive play calling. The offense was outdated compared to the up-tempo attacks at Oregon or Clemson, and Fisher needed to open things up.
After Winston helped FSU to 35 points in the first quarter of a win over NC State last week, it's those criticisms that seem outdated. Suddenly, Fisher's scheme is progressive, Florida State's offense prolific, and the Seminoles look the part of an up-tempo whirlwind.
The only problem with that perception is that Fisher hasn't changed a thing.
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In 2013, Florida State is actually running the ball more often, for more yards than it did last season. Winston has converted a higher rate of big throws than his predecessor, but Fisher hasn't changed his approach to calling those plays. The 2013 team is averaging a play every 27 seconds of possession time -- exactly the same rate as last year's.
What's different isn't the style or the game plan, but the personality his team engenders.
In the huddle and during commercial breaks, Winston cracks jokes with teammates. He'll deliver a play call in a high-pitched voice just to ease the tension, contort his face to get a laugh. He prods his teammates with well-crafted mantras, and they respond with a relaxed, confident swagger.
"He's always goofy," tailback Devonta Freeman said, "and that's had a great impact on me. You see him smile, and I just think, life's so much better when you've got that look on your face."
Winston has breathed new life into Florida State, and Saban continues to set the tone at Alabama, even if the Tide have tweaked their style this season.
But it's not so simple at Oregon. It's not about any individual in Eugene. The Ducks' personality is defined as much by the system as it is by any single part.
"I think that's our hallmark around here -- to keep our foot on the gas," Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost said.
That may help explain why Winston has become a national celebrity, and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota's Heisman campaign remains more subdued.
"I think Marcus is a stud," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. "Marcus is an amazing, driven guy."
The stats support the claim. In Oregon's up-tempo attack, where decisions come quickly, Mariota has thrown 20 touchdowns without an interception. Mariota already has racked up 511 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns, a dynamic bit of playmaking ability that dwarfs Winston's numbers on the ground.
Yet the perception among many is that Winston has redefined Florida State's program, while Mariota is simply reaping the benefits of being an ideal fit for a prolific offensive system.
"Oregon's explosive, dynamic," Fisher said of his eye test of the Ducks. "They have playmakers."
But so does Alabama and Ohio State and Baylor, a team that swiped its favorite parts of that Oregon system and melded it into an even more aggressive attack.
"That's Oregon. This is Baylor. I believe our pace is a little bit faster," Bears running back Lache Seastrunk said.
Fisher's own group at Florida State has its share of playmakers, too. The Seminoles actually average more yards per play this season than that dynamic Oregon offense.
That eye test can be as deceiving as those convoluted computers. Personality goes a long way, but the numbers manage to unearth a bit of substance every so often, too. The fact is, it's tough to measure one juggernaut against the next.
"Everybody brings something different to the table," Fisher said. "You're not undefeated for no reason."
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