Normally, the teams who live on in college football fans’ collective minds for years are dominant. Terrifying. Other-worldly. Teams like 2018 Clemson, [Enter year here] Alabama, 2013 FSU, or 2010 Auburn, just to name a few.
They do things in games that just seem unfair by nature, even if they’re perfectly legal. They blow your favorite team out at home 51-14, or they humiliate a fellow power in a playoff game, leaving 0 doubt.
Maybe they have a ravenous defense, a superstar skill player, or an interesting head coach. Those Clemson, Auburn, and Bama teams certainly did, 2013 FSU, too, and they’ll all live on as champions, forever frightening us from our memories, forcing us to appreciate the incredible product they put on the field.
One team, in particular, breaks this mold to pieces and throws it in the garbage: the defending champion 2014 Florida State Seminoles.
They weren’t atrocious, not by a long shot. They still had their Heisman winner, their head coach, and they even added Dalvin Cook to their backfield. And by no surprise, they ran the table – winning the ACC and contending for a title. This time they entered the inaugural College Football Playoff instead of going right to the title game like they had a year before.
But something was off. Everyone saw it.
2014 FSU just couldn’t pull away from teams like they had the year prior. They played down to every opponent, doing almost the exact amount needed to win. Half their games were 1 score games, they beat Notre Dame (thanks to a correct but controversial call). 4 of those close wins came in the 4 weeks leading up to the CFP. And once in the CFP, they were pantsed by an Oregon team that would lose the title game.
That shouldn’t be all that big a deal, many teams have backed their way into the playoff only to get blown out. 2015 Michigan State, 2016 Washington & 2018 Notre Dame to name a few. Even Clemson got beat down in 2017 – it happens.
But 2014 FSU has stuck around in our minds, arriving through tweets and articles every fall comparing one or a few struggling teams to that 2014 squad.
The usual first appearance of the take is around late September, this time last year people were making the comparison with that now-potentially-GOAT 2018 Clemson team, and it usually disappears by mid-November, with the occasional reappearance when some team is losing a CFP game by a lot.
The problem is, November was 2014 FSU’s magnum opus.
It’s glorious. It may be the single unluckiest lucky streak in sports history. Jameis threw 4(!) interceptions versus Florida, granted it was Muschamp Florida, but still! They beat exceedingly mediocre Miami and BC teams at the last second, but then they go into the ACC title game and barely beat the best GT team of the Paul Johnson Era.
2018 Clemson didn’t do this at all, their first game in November was 77-16 and the closest game after October began was a 27-7 win at BC. 2016 didn’t either with the exception of Pittsburgh, but 1 close game (even a loss) is not 7. Even 2017 Clemson was crushing opponents late in the year before it ran into Bama.
2015 Clemson was probably the closest, honestly. Their late-season featured several close games: a 5 point win over South Carolina, 10 vs FSU and Syracuse, and an 8-point escape versus UNC. But the college football public was too focused on calling defending champ Ohio State the new 2014 FSU to throw that comparison at newly-elite Clemson in 2015.
Overall the take this week should be pretty obvious:
Clemson escaping in one close game does not make it the sickly man of college football, waiting to be toppled by a usurping upstart.
It actually puts it more in-line with previous, title-winning, Clemson teams.
Send me hot, cold, or like icky mushy/warm takes to @STSouthland, @JuanFabulous, in the comments below, or to my email at email@example.com and try to keep them Clemson, or ACC, or CFB related – and try not to mention 2014 FSU.