Florida State's Jameis Winston (5) throws during the first half of the NCAA BCS National Championship college football game against Auburn Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Pasadena, Calif. ((AP Photo/David J. Phillip) )
Before looking ahead, one thought on what we've just witnessed -- specifically: Florida State's place among the champions of the BCS era.
The Seminoles are not as good as Miami '01, USC '04, Texas '05 or Alabama '11; that quartet is in a class by itself.
Does FSU warrant a position on the second level?
Despite the undefeated record, it's not an obvious call because the Noles blew through a second-rate league and faced only two top-tier opponents (Clemson and Auburn).
They're certainly among the most dominant teams of the BCS era -- their only close game was Monday night -- but again, competition helps define greatness. And the Seminoles had very little of it.
Now, about next season ...
Here's the latest installment of my annual, ridiculously-early top 25 for next season -- an exercise in (hopefully) entertaining, (perhaps) enlightening futility.
Because numerous elite talents have yet to state their intentions, the following rankings will be updated after the NFL Draft declaration deadline (Jan. 15).
For the time being, I'm assuming that Johnny Autograph is headed to the pros.
Also considered: North Carolina, Arizona, Washington, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, UCF and Bowling Green. 25. Oklahoma State: CB Justin Gilbert is a huge loss, as is QB Clint Chelf. But the Cowboys are more reload than rebuild these days and should be top-25 material. 24. Florida. The defense is loaded, and the offense has to be better, right? ... Right? 23. Texas A&M: The talent accumulation has been good enough under coach Kevin Sumlin for us to assume the Aggies won't suffer a serious setback in the post-Manziel era. 22. Missouri: Maty Mauck takes over for QB James Franklin and should handle himself well. The defensive line won't be the same without DEs Michael Sam and Kony Ealy, but the Tigers have quietly built the depth to compete consistently in the SEC. 21. Oregon State: QB Sean Mannion is back and will have to find a new favorite target (no more Brandin Cooks). The defense should be stout, but will the Beavers commit to the running game, and stick with it? 20. Texas Tech: The offense returns largely intact, but the Red Raiders might have to average 40 per game to offset a rebuilt defense. (They have the playmakers to do it.) 19. Clemson: The defense returns plenty of proven talent, but QB Tajh Boyd and WR Sammy Watkins will be difficult to replace. Very, very difficult ... Impossibly difficult, in fact. 18. Arizona State: DT Will Sutton and S Alden Darby are two of many defensive departures. Fortunately for the Devils, the triumvirate of Taylor Kelly-Jalen Strong-D.J. Foster will produce enough offense to keep the Sun Devils in the 8/9-win range. 17. Mississippi: Combine the return of QB Bo Wallace with coach Hugh Freeze's too-good-to-be-true recruiting, and the Rebels should continue their ascent. 16. Notre Dame: The return of QB Everett Golson (from suspension) will have sweeping implications for the Irish, who are built to play the option attack that's made-to-order for Golson. The schedule (Florida State, USC, Stanford, etc) is hellacious. 15. Wisconsin: It only seems like QB Joel Stave has been around for five years; in fact, he's back for his junior season. Add Melvin Gordon and four returning starters up front, and the Badgers will have no trouble moving the ball. 14. Georgia: With 10 starters back on defense, plus TB Todd Gurley and loads of talent at receiver, the Dawgs have top-10 potential -- but only if QB Hutson Mason provides stability. 13. Baylor: Heavy losses on defense and the departure of All-American G Cyril Richardson are a double-whammy. But Bryce Petty's back -- as is passing game mastermind Art Briles. 12. LSU: The aerial attack must be rebuilt with the departure of QB Zach Mettenberger and several gifted receivers. But the Tigers should be granite defensively with nine starters returning. 11. Michigan State: Significant personnel losses on the offense line and throughout the defense (i.e., Max Bullough, Darqueze Dennard) will lead to the Spartans taking a half-step back next season, even though QB Connor Cook should continue to improve. 10. UCLA: QB Brett Hundley's return will allow the Bruins to take advantage of talented pieces throughout the offense (including the line, which was force-fed in '13 due to injuries). The secondary will be first rate. And (Myles) Jack's back! 9. Ohio State: The departures of RB Carlos Hyde, LB Ryan Shazier and four starters on the offensive line should be offset by the maturation of Urban Meyer's stellar recruiting classes -- and the return of QB Braxton Miller. 8. USC: Most of the defense returns, including CB Josh Shaw and dominating DE Leonard Williams. Add QB Cody Kessler/Max Browne, TB Buck Allen and WR Nelson Agholor, and the Trojans should maintain their '13 second-half momentum. Lane Kiffin left the cupboard anything but bare. 7. Stanford: The personnel losses on both sides of the ball are significant (i.e., TB Tyler Gaffney, G David Yankey and LBs Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy), but there's enough talent for Stanford to remain among the elite -- if QB Kevin Hogan becomes a consistent pocket passer. 6. South Carolina: Whether he played like a No. 1 pick or not, Jadeveon Clowney's departure is significant. Same goes for the losses of QB Connor Shaw, DL Kelcy Quarles and WR Bruce Ellington. But the Gamecocks are loaded everywhere else and figure to be the favorite in the SEC East (either alone or alongside Georgia). 5. Oregon: I'm not convinced the Ducks can beat Stanford, but they should handle everyone else on the schedule thanks to the return of QB Marcus Mariota, C Hroniss Grasu and CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. The departure of De'Anthony Thomas might not be the blow it appears on paper. 4. Oklahoma: Playmaking WR Jalen Saunders departs, but the Sooners will have a veteran defense. If QB Trevor Knight plays like he did against Alabama, slot OU into the playoffs. 3. Alabama. Because. 2. Auburn: QB Nick Marshall and TB Tre Mason are two of (as many as) 10 returning starters on offense. The defense must be tweaked to account for attrition, but it's not like the Tigers were dominant on that side of the ball. 1. Florida State: Tough to pick anyone else considering the champs return QB Jameis Winston and a slew of other starters on both sides of the ball. Even if the number of NFL departures runs high, the Noles should be a top-five candidate.
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