College Football's New Look

When he says he wants nothing to change, he means that he wants his players to maintain the same hunger they brought a year ago, when they climbed from the bottom of college football back to the top.

"It will be a memory, a positive memory we will have for the rest of our lives as players and as a group," Malzahn said. "But, when you're that close, and as a coach, you're always looking for things to motivate you. I am extremely motivated. Our players are extremely motivated."

Senior center Reese Dismukes enrolled in the winter of 2011, while the campus still reveled in the euphoria of the Tigers' national championship. He saw the program slide to the bottom over two years, and he has seen it climb back. He's not all that interested in being patted on the back for coming up one rung short.

"We don't really look at it like that," Dismukes said. "... We didn't win it, obviously. You want to win. You just have that fire in you. You want to get back to that big stage. As hard as it is in this league, you're going to have to work even harder than you did before."

Maybe Malzahn is onto something. How do you repeat a season when you beat your two biggest rivals on last-minute miracles in consecutive games? You don't. Malzahn and the Tigers are braced for a re-entry into the real world.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Jimbo Fisher needed four seasons to lead Florida State back to the top of the sport, where the Seminoles signed a long-term lease in the 1990s. It was not an easy climb. As seamlessly as he took control of the program from Bobby Bowden, the Seminoles had their guts wrenched on the way to the top. Now that they have proven Florida State is the best again, the Seminoles are counting on the memory of their disappointment in 2012 on propelling them this season.

"Are we going to fall off like we did [my freshman] year?" defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. asked.

Edwards said the upperclassmen remember losing a 16-0 lead in the second half at NC State in 2012. The defense remembers allowing the Wolfpack to convert three fourth downs on the final drive. The Wolfpack scored the winning touchdown on the last one with :16 to play.

Florida State has won 15 consecutive ACC games since that loss. It has won 16 consecutive games overall. There are a lot of reasons to feel self-satisfied.

How will the Seminoles beat complacency? Do they, even with 14 returning starters, understand the forces that will be pulling at them? Last month, quarterback Jameis Winston illustrated once again his toughest opponent stares at him from the mirror.

Fisher wants his players to take confidence from being champions, but not self-satisfaction. He worries about a collective feeling of, "'I was the reason.' Everyone thinks they are the reason," Fisher said. "No one's the reason you won. No one's the reason you lost. But collectively, we're the reason you won and the reason you lost."

So far, his players are saying the right things.

"We're not complacent," Edwards said. "We're hunting for another one. The team that won last year had a one-year lifespan. We have to go get it this time."

The difference between a good season and a good program is that long-term lease on dominance. This season will go a long way toward deciding whether Fisher gets to sign it.

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