Manuel makes FSU legit title contender

A review of EJ Manuel's 2010 performance suggests that FSU's offense could improve in 2011. AP Photo/Phil Coale

The Florida State Seminoles were sitting at something of a crossroads coming into the 1987 campaign. The Noles had posted a 7-4-1 mark the previous season and notched a school-record fifth straight bowl appearance, but those positive vibes were seemingly more than offset by two major negatives -- six straight losses to the archrival Florida Gators and the possibility that coach Bobby Bowden was going to leave Tallahassee to pursue his lifelong dream of coaching the Alabama Crimson Tide.

This certainly did not look to be the starting point of one of the greatest dynastic runs in college football history, but once Bowden made up his mind to commit to Florida State for the long term, the program almost immediately changed from a regional power to a perennial national championship contender, going 11-1 in a season that began FSU's string of top-5 finishes.

The 2011 Seminoles might be in much the same boat as that 1987 squad. The 2010 version of the team certainly was thought to be one of the better groups in college football, but a blowout loss to Oklahoma, back-to-back losses against inferior opponents North Carolina State and North Carolina, and a less-than-stellar showing against Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game took some of the luster off of a 10-win campaign.

Add that inconsistency to the fact that this year's Noles will be replacing a proven quarterback (Christian Ponder) with a relatively untested junior (EJ Manuel), and it would seem unlikely they will go down the same dynastic path as their Garnet and Gold predecessors.

But that is also when the comparison becomes apt. Just as that 1987 team turned out to be on the precipice of greatness, a closer look at Jimbo Fisher's 2011 squad (in particular, the performance of Manuel) indicates that they could very well be on the verge of a big-time run, as they are certainly legitimate national championship contenders heading into next season.