Florida State, Florida and Miami have produced 10 national championship teams, but only one enters the "greatest team of all time" debate.
That would be 2001 Miami.
I had the opportunity to cover that team for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, getting the chance to not only watch a terrifically talented group dominate on the field, but also observe terrifically talented freshmen develop, knowing full well they would get their own shot at greatness.
So now that Florida State has a shot at winning a national championship and finishing undefeated, some have asked how this team compares not to the 1999 Seminoles (also unbeaten) but to the historic 2001 Canes.
We all know Florida State has to beat Auburn to be in the discussion. If that happens, do the 2013 Seminoles have a case to make over 2001 Miami? First, a little tale of the tape.
Talent level: Florida State is loaded with NFL talent up and down its roster, from the senior class all the way down to its freshman class. If redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston came out today, he would have a shot to become the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. Timmy Jernigan and Kelvin Benjamin have a shot at going in the first round in 2014 if they leave school early, and a slew of other players are guaranteed to get selected. It is hard to give the Seminoles a complete grade here until we know how many players will get drafted.
But they have work to do to match what 2001 Miami did: 17 players became first-round picks, and 38 players were drafted. Of the 22 starters in the national championship game against Nebraska, 11 became first-round selections, and 18 were drafted. To compare, 2004 USC is widely regarded as one of the greatest college football teams of all time, too. The Trojans had 33 total draft choices off that team and nine total first-round selections.
Position groups: Florida State has an edge at quarterback with Winston, the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner, and at receiver. Miami had Andre Johnson but the Florida State trio of Benjamin, Rashad Greene and Kenny Shaw is much better.
Now consider what Miami had at running back: Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee, Frank Gore and Najeh Davenport. In the secondary: first-round picks Ed Reed, Mike Rumph and Phillip Buchanon, along with freshmen backups Sean Taylor and Antrel Rolle (future first-rounders). At linebacker: future first-round picks D.J. Williams and Jonathan Vilma. At tight end: Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow. On the defensive line: Jerome McDougle, Vince Wilfork, William Joseph and Andrew Williams. The Florida State offensive line is supremely talented, and all five starters are projected NFL players. But the Miami starting offensive line in 2001, featuring future first-rounder Bryant McKinnie, only allowed two sacks all year and paved the way for one of the best rushing teams in college football.
Schedule: Florida State has not gotten as much credit as it deserves because people perceive its schedule to be weak. But it is hard to argue with the way this team has dispatched all its opponents, most especially the ranked teams it has faced. Florida State outscored ranked opponents Clemson, Maryland, Miami and Duke 200-35. Miami was just as thorough. In consecutive weeks, the Canes beat No. 14 Syracuse and No. 12 Washington 124-7, an NCAA record for largest margin of victory against back-to-back ranked opponents. Miami led Nebraska 34-0 at halftime of the national championship game before going on cruise control. The defense posted three shutouts. Florida State has one.
On average, Miami played against better offenses and better defenses. Miami’s average opponent total offense ranked 65. For Florida State, the average is 70. The average opponent total defense rank was 48 for Miami and 55 for Florida State. Miami faced three offenses and five defenses ranked in the top 30 nationally. Florida State has faced one offense and two defenses ranked in the top 30 nationally. But the Canes did have two scares, against Boston College and Virginia Tech. None for Florida State so far.
The verdict: I still believe the 2001 Miami group is the greatest college football team of all time. Others disagree. Of course, all these comparisons are moot if Florida State loses to Auburn on Jan. 6. We can pick up the debate if the Seminoles hoist their third national championship trophy.