- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It was only last week that Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher lamented the use of computers to help determine the BCS standings and argued his squad's case as one of the best one-loss teams in the country.
With five turnovers in a wild 37-26 loss to rival Florida on Saturday, the Seminoles’ case against the computers was officially deleted.
It’s not that No. 10 Florida State (10-2, 7-1 ACC) shouldn’t be ranked -- it absolutely should -- but the Seminoles proved Saturday that the fourth-ranked Gators (11-1, 7-1 SEC) deserve their spot ahead of FSU, and the program is still not consistent enough to be considered a true national title contender. Florida State’s mistake-laden four quarters were a microcosm of the Seminoles’ entire regular season: an opportunity at something bigger fumbled away.
“There were ample opportunities -- ample opportunities,” Fisher said. “We just didn’t capitalize on them.”
He was talking about the game -- not the season.
Those within Florida State’s locker room after the loss emphasized the team's “24-hour rule,” reminding each other there is still plenty to play for, as the Atlantic Division champs are heading to Charlotte, N.C., to play Georgia Tech in the Dec. 1 Dr Pepper ACC championship game. The Seminoles still have a chance to win the Discover Orange Bowl. The possibility of a 12-2 season is still within reach. It’s going to be hard, though, for some of the players -- and most all of the Noles’ fans -- not to wonder what could have been this season had FSU not lost on the road to NC State and found a way to beat its rivals at home. The Noles were so close to finally meeting preseason expectations, yet so far away.
“That’s just something that’s going to be in the back of your head forever,” defensive tackle Everett Dawkins said. “But we can’t worry about that right now. We just have to keep on moving.”
Just like Florida’s running game.
The Gators controlled the line of scrimmage and ran the ball with ease, racking up 244 yards on the ground. Florida’s success on the ground made quarterback Jeff Driskel look better than usual, as it opened up the play-action and allowed him not to have to execute a true drop-back game. By the fourth quarter, the Gators had scored 24 points in a span of less than nine minutes and Florida State’s usually staunch defense looked gassed.
“We weren’t able to execute,” said Noles receiver Rashad Greene. “That basically sums it all up on one piece right there.”
In what was only its second game of the season against a ranked opponent, Florida State’s mistakes were too much to overcome. It wasn’t the first time this season turnovers plagued the Noles (two against Miami, two against Virginia Tech), but against better competition, FSU couldn’t get away with it.
“We’ve got to have them better prepared and we have to take care of the ball better,” Fisher said. “It was rare -- it wasn’t fumbles, it was interceptions. Something we haven’t done very much.”
It was also an emotional and difficult game for Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel, who threw three interceptions and fumbled the ball, leading to a Florida touchdown.
“It was not one of his most stellar performances,” Fisher said.
“I’ve got to get better these next two games,” he said. “It was tough. This is hard right now.”
While Florida State tries to refocus on the ACC championship game, the Gators left Doak Campbell Stadium believing they should be playing for the national title.
The Seminoles did their part to help the Gators build their résumé.
“We didn’t finish,” Fisher said, “we didn’t finish.”
It was only the second time this season that happened to FSU, but that’s two times too many for a team playing for more.