April 1, 2011
What do you think of Florida State right now and the direction that they’re headed?
Stewart Mandel: Well it’s an interesting time in the state of Florida with the two other big programs having just changed coaches. So suddenly, Jimbo Fisher is the most tenured coach out of the three, and he’s coming off of a ten-win season and an ACC title game appearance. So yeah, I think that nationally there’s a lot of interest and a lot of curiosity. We’ve been hearing it for years, “Is Florida State back?” So there’s a lot of curiosity if this is the year they’re finally going to do that.
Is it difficult for a program like Florida State, who had 14 straight seasons in the top five and the recent lull, is it difficult to deal with expectations of returning to that national championship game?
Stewart Mandel: It’s not just the fans, every year they’re picked to win their division by the ACC media, and any time you come off a season like last year, they’re going to be picked in the top ten in the polls. That just comes with the name and the prestige that’s been built up, so there’s always going to be expectations hovering over the program.
What would it mean to the conference for Florida State to return to the top of the ACC and take that mantle?
Stewart Mandel: Well I think that’s been part of the problem, Virginia Tech has been one of the strongest programs in the country, but the fact that Florida State and Miami were both mediocre for many years right after the expansion of the ACC is one of the reasons the conference became a punching bag as you said. It would be really important for the national profile, and I think ultimately, all conferences get measured on whether or not you win national championships; that’s really what it comes down to. The ACC hasn’t had a contender since Florida State back in 2000, it would be important for one of those programs to get back up there, and people are looking to Florida State right now as the program that’s best positioned to do that.
It was a nice way to end the season getting ten wins in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, a number one ranked recruiting class by many of the publications. With all this hype, a lot of people are taking about all the positives. What do you think are a few of the question marks going into this season?
Stewart Mandel: It’s always dangerous to read too much into certain things, and the number one recruiting class, that has fueled the hype as much as anything that happened on the field last year. Not all of those guys are going to come in and play right away. Everyone is curious to see how EJ Manuel plays as a full time starting quarterback, and he’s obviously had experience in big games, but to see him take over this role that people have been waiting for for many years. I’m also wanting to see which one of these receivers might step up and become big time players. And then obviously replacing some big names up front at defensive end and linebackers.
Jimbo Fisher is now in his second year, and he had two big mentors in Nick Saban and Bobby Bowden. Watching how he coaches, do you see either one of those influences shine through more than the other?
Stewart Mandel: Not one more than other, you see both though. It is an interesting mix, seemingly a lot of the organizational skills like attention to detail and the process, that definitely is a Nick Saban trait. And then obviously he’s got a lot of the same kind of charm that Bobby Bowden had. It is interesting that he seems to embody both.
With the preseason hype, is there some legitimacy in actually getting excited about this Florida State team possibly returning as a national title contender?
Stewart Mandel: National title contender? I’d say do that cautiously. Not to remind people of this and I know they don’t want to be reminded of it, but we’re not that far removed from that Oklahoma game as kind of a wake up call, and they’re not quite there yet. But we’ve seen other programs make that jump, Auburn went from further down, 8-5 to 14-0 last year. In college football these days, it’s not unusual for teams to make a big jump from one year to the next. So I wouldn’t start out the season thinking that way (national title contenders) necessarily, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility and even if it doesn’t happen this year, we’re seeing signs that the program is heading back in that direction.
How do you see the cycle of college football going? For Florida State for so long, it was the era where they were good for a long time. Now you look at Alabama, they’ve been good for maybe a few years, Florida was good for 3-4 years, is that where everything is headed now?
Stewart Mandel: What Florida State did from 1987-2000, we’re never going to see that again, it’s just impossible for a program to maintain that level. But I think it’s interesting that you’ve seen the landscape change from the Florida State-Florida era when Bowden and Spurrier were there, to this past decade and USC dominated a lot. Now it seems like everyone is focused on a conference and on the SEC, not just one program, but who is the SEC going to turn out this year? Which of their teams is going to win the national championship? So I think the question right now is, who is going to break that stranglehold they’ve had on the national championship? Is it going to be a team like Oregon? Is it going to be a regular contender like an Oklahoma? Or can Florida State step up, or Miami, or can any of these other Florida teams step back up and be part of that picture that the used to be in every year?
A lot of eyes are on college football right now, especially because no one knows what’s happening with the NFL. There are obviously a lot of storylines in any season, but in your mind, what are the biggest storylines going into the season nationally?
Stewart Mandel: Well unfortunately a lot of the storylines right now are negative. There’s a lot of attention being paid to the infractions that Jim Tressel incurred and stories about Auburn players, it just seems that there have been a lot of scandals in college football and that’s where the attention is being placed. But once we get back to football season, and start playing the games again, there’s going to be a lot of intrigue over the SEC race in particular, Alabama and LSU are being mentioned hand in hand. The expansion of the Big 10 and the Pac 10, this will be the first year of Nebraska playing in the Big 10, the first year of Colorado and Utah and a championship game in the Pac 12. That’s a huge change in the landscape of the sport and I think there will be a lot of attention paid to that.
You mentioned that we’re not very far removed from that Oklahoma game and that it was a kind of wake up call. This year, it’s potentially a 1 vs. 5 or 6, that can be another opportunity for Florida State to do something great. On the national landscape, that’s got to be a big game early in the season.
Stewart Mandel: I think that will almost certainly be the biggest game in the country that weekend. It’s also the same day that Miami is playing Ohio State. It was that same weekend last year that it felt like the ACC’s whole season went up in smoke. I also think Auburn plays Clemson that day, so that’s a big weekend for the conference and obviously for Florida State in particular. People keep waiting and waiting, and you have to go out and do it. You have to beat one of these national powers from another part of the country.