Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher talks to the offensive unit during a practice… (Phil Sears / US Presswire )
Jimbo Fisher has a chance to answer a tantalizing and long-standing question about Florida State football.
Is it a program the way Alabama is a program, or a one-man miracle mirage?
From the mid-1970s until last year, Florida State's football identity had been inextricably linked to Bobby Bowden.
Florida State was a former women's college with little football pedigree … and on the brink of collapse. The school was 4-29 and had considered dropping football when Bowden was hired in 1976. He went 5-6 his first year and never had another losing record on his way to two national championships and the hall of fame.
What Florida State might become after Bowden couldn't be answered until he retired. That happened last year when Bowden was forced out after going only 30-22 his last four years. Fisher, the coach-in-waiting, couldn't wait to prove he could repair what Bowden had built.
"We're not asking to do things that haven't been done here before," Fisher says in his media guide bio. "We're just asking to go back where they should be."
Fisher, so far, has delivered. He went 10-4 in his first year and swept Miami and Florida, the school's in-state rivals. Florida State then beat South Carolina, champion of the Southeastern Conference East, in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, and that was followed by Fisher hauling in one of the nation's top recruiting classes.
Florida State must replace Christian Ponder, the team's best quarterback since Chris Weinke, but you'd have to go back to Bowden's glory days to find so much optimism entering a season.
Florida State has been picked to win the Atlantic Coast Conference and is back in the national title conversation. Ponder is gone, but junior EJ Manuel seems more than ready to take over. He went 4-2 as a starter filling in for Ponder and will be surrounded by talent. The Seminoles return their top five running backs, all their receivers and nine starters on defense.
Florida State's national title hopes will turn over two weekends in early September.
On Sept. 17, Oklahoma, No. 1 in the Associated Press preseason poll, visits Tallahassee. It will be a payback opportunity for last year, when Florida State got hammered, 47-17, in Norman.
Mark Stoops, Florida State's defensive coordinator, is the brother of Sooners' Coach Bob Stoops.
The next week, Florida State must travel to Clemson, where it hasn't won in Death Valley since 2001.
The ACC hasn't been much of a player since the Bowl Championship Series was formed in 1998. Florida State, in 1999, is the only ACC team to win a BCS title.
Nobody's ready to say "Bobby Who?" yet in Tallahassee. Fans can rest assured, though, with Fisher in charge, there's little chance the school will revert to Florida State College for Women.
The countdown so far: 25. Texas; 24. Georgia; 23. Arkansas; 22. Arizona State; 21. West Virginia; 20. Auburn; 19. Ohio State; 18. USC; 17. Michigan State; 16. Florida; 15. Virginia Tech; 14. Texas A&M; 13. Texas Christian; 12. South Carolina; 11. Notre Dame; 10. Louisiana State; 9. Oklahoma State; 8. Wisconsin; 7. Nebraska; 6. Stanford.