I think one of the best parallels to the 2012 Florida State team is actually a Florida outfit — the 2008 national championship Florida team, in fact. But I know one difference between them for certain: Florida State's not going to win a national championship like those Gators did. And that has everything to do with the SEC.
The early loss is the obvious parallel: Florida's loss to Ole Miss that year came in the Gators' fourth game of the year; Florida State's loss to N.C. State came in its sixth. But, more importantly, both teams had established themselves as title contenders prior to those losses: Florida did so by clobbering Miami and Tennessee; Florida State by throttling Clemson. Florida was No. 4 when it fell, FSU No. 3, and both teams fell to No. 12 after suffering their first loss.
Florida had time and a schedule with plenty of meaty hunks on its side. Those Gators took down ranked top-10 LSU and Georgia and ranked South Carolina and FSU teams, then beat Alabama in a national title play-in game that doubled as the SEC Championship Game. Florida's fate was nearly in its own hands just two weeks after falling to the Rebels, moving up to No. 7 in the Coaches Poll after walloping LSU, with plenty of room to jump fellow one-loss teams Oklahoma and USC by beating other SEC foes and an opportunity to knock off Alabama by winning out.
Texas Tech was ahead of Florida, too, but either it or Texas would have ended up with a loss, and, besides, Florida wasn't worried about getting to No. 1, just No. 2. That only took being the best one-loss team, and Florida just needed Penn State (yes, Penn State was No. 3 in the middle of the 2008 college football season) to lose to assure that, given how good the Gators would look with a 12-1, SEC-fortified record.
As it turned out, Florida didn't even need to be the top one-loss team, because no team ended up undefeated. And despite hovering behind one-loss Texas and Oklahoma for almost an entire month in the BCS standings, Florida's SEC Championship Game win over Alabama helped it leap Texas for No. 2, proving that a one-loss SEC champ was better according to the BCS' computers than a one-loss Big 12 co-champ with a win over the BCS' No. 1 team even in a year when there were three Big 12 teams in the top seven of the final BCS rankings, and only two SEC teams in the final BCS top 15.
Want a terrible SEC backronym? It's the Schedule Euphoria Crew, and has been for years: If a team goes undefeated in the SEC, it'll play for a title ... and if it loses, it still might.
Florida State, on the other hand, has no chance at winning a title, even if it blitzes Florida by some ghastly score on Saturday. And it can blame the ACC for it.
Two weeks after falling to No. 11 in the Coaches Poll as a result of its loss to N.C. State, Florida State was No. 10 in the Coaches Poll, passed up by an unbeaten Oregon State team that had just topped mighty Utah. Every team but Notre Dame ranked ahead of Florida State at that point has lost since, which is more help than Florida got in 2008 ... and Florida State's No. 5 in the Coaches Poll this week.
Why is that? The computers hate Florida State even more than I do. Let's quote Samuel Chi, SB Nation's BCS expert:
All this will simply leave Jimbo Fisher seething, as his Florida State team has not even a prayer of reaching the BCS title game. The Seminoles' loss by a single point to N.C. State proved to be lethal to its national title chances, as they've been treading water in the BCS standings ever since. They're still at No. 10, behind a trio of two-loss teams.
Florida State's loss will prove to be fortuitous for the BCS, for the Seminoles easily could've been undefeated and kept out of the BCS title game, thanks to their putrid computer rankings. It's probable that FSU would've been either No. 1 or No. 2 in both polls but only around seventh to 10th in the computers, not enough to push it into the top two in the BCS standings. As it is, FSU is no better than mid-teens in any of the computers, with a low of No. 26 in the Massey Ratings.
And the computers hate Florida State because the ACC is somewhere beyond Superfund eligibility.
FSU's best win by far is over Clemson; the 'Noles' second best win is pretty inarguably over Miami, which is 6-5 and just self-imposed a postseason ban despite theoretically being alive for a BCS bowl berth. That's not just because Florida State got bailed on by West Virginia, either, because the Mountaineers' hypothetical non-conference schedule boost is looking smaller and smaller by the week; had FSU played and beaten WVU, Dana Holgorsen's bunch would probably be 4-6 right now.
Meanwhile, Clemson's by far the second-best team in the conference, and Clemson's best win is ... hell, Georgia Tech at home? (Georgia Tech has lost to Middle Tennessee State and gotten rocked by BYU.) Florida State doesn't even get whatever negligible bump beating Georgia Tech would confer until next week, when the Yellow Jackets could be 6-6 and playing for the ACC's crown.
Florida State partisans can point out that the SEC's flotilla of BCS cruisers has gotten to where it is by beating up on itself and no one else, and that's fair: All six SEC teams in the BCS top 12 have only lost to other SEC teams, and only three of those eight losses have come at home (Texas A&M's SEC debut against Florida, Alabama escaping LSU in Death Valley, and, ahem, ALABAMA LOSING AT HOME TO A TWO-LOSS TEAM).
Three of those SEC teams have rivalry meetings with ACC teams this week. But in the two matchups of ranked teams, Florida State's favored by seven at home despite Florida not having an offense to speak of and coming in with an injured starting quarterback, and Clemson's favored by four at home despite South Carolina not having Marcus Lattimore; Georgia's favored by 13 over Georgia Tech, and that feels low.
What's more, even if the ACC sweeps those games, and Florida State beats Florida comprehensively, and Notre Dame and Alabama lose, the Seminoles might still get aced out of a BCS title game shot. Oregon's ahead of Florida State in the BCS rankings and has much more computer love despite having exactly zero wins to date over teams in the current BCS top 25 (Oregon's beaten No. 24 Arizona and No. 25 Washington), and Kansas State's in an even better position than the Ducks with the computers despite taking a 28-point beatdown at Baylor's hands.
And, hell, FSU could use wins by Arkansas over LSU and by Missouri over Texas A&M, too, because those two-loss teams are ahead of it in this week's BCS standings. ACC fans know that their honest, awful backronym is the All Crap Conference, and might admit that the SEC could be the Sucks to be Excluded Conference, and Florida State fans, who knew full well that this year was about going undefeated or not winning a title, know it well.
Florida, which needed a punt block with seconds to go to beat Louisiana at home two weeks ago, needs a win over Florida State and a loss by Notre Dame to play for a national title. Florida State, which has the nation's No. 1 offense and No. 1 defense on a per-play basis, practically needs an almanac to figure out its title chances.
The SEC might not be better than the ACC. But it's definitely better for a team with title dreams to run the SEC gauntlet than to wade through the ACC's slop.