Each of the past 10 national title winners began their respective title-winning season in the top 20 of program FEI, a measure of efficiency taking into account five years of data rather than just one. Florida State is currently 12th in program FEI, as it heads into Year 3 under Jimbo Fisher.
The Seminoles, Brian Fremeau of Football Outsiders says, are the only team among the top 15 in program FEI whose offense or defense was outside the top 50 (its offense was 54th in OFEI). No team in the past five years has finished in the top-10 of overall FEI with an offense ranked so low, and all top-5 teams have been in the top-20 of opponent-adjusted offense, save for the 2009 Ohio State Buckeyes.
How possible is a dramatic offensive leap for FSU this season? In the past five years, 11 percent of teams ranked between 40th and 60th in OFEI improved by more than 35 spots the next year, while twice as many teams fell by at least 35 spots.
Among the teams that made a big leap on offense, few were able to maintain an elite defensive rating as well. The 2010 Oklahoma Sooners improved dramatically in Landry Jones' sophomore season (60th OFEI in 2009, 11th OFEI in 2010) and maintained a top-five defense. They are the only team in the past five seasons to achieve what Florida State hopes to do in 2012.
For the Seminoles to move into the top 20 on offense and position themselves for a championship run, they'll have to find more consistency at the quarterback position and in the running game. Florida State ranked in the bottom 20 nationally in avoiding three-and-outs (59 percent of drives) and generating methodical drives (11 percent of possessions lasted at least 10 plays). On the ground, they converted only 14 of 32 attempts on third-and-short.
The Seminoles don't have a fully stocked roster returning this fall, but the experience of freshman offensive line starters in last season's bowl victory against Notre Dame sets the stage for improvement in 2012. EJ Manuel's growth and maturity will be important if FSU wants to take the next step. The elite defense should be there, but the Seminoles will need a top-20 offense to push themselves over the top.