Florida State Seminoles: 2012 season
The following is a list of 10 moments and memories that best captured the 2012 ACC season, according to ESPN.com. ACC fans are bound to have more, and we’d love to hear them. What did we miss? Feel free to drop us a note in the mailbag, and we’ll highlight the best nominations in a separate mailblog. Until then, here are your top 10 moments from 2012, starting with the best:
1. Chandler Catanzaro's game-winning field goal versus LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl: It was the ACC’s biggest win of the season, and the highest-ranked team Clemson has beaten in a bowl game since the 2004 (2003 season) Chick-fil-A Bowl, when the Tigers defeated sixth-ranked Tennessee 27-14. Catanzaro’s 37-yard field goal as time expired gave No. 14 Clemson a wild 25-24 win against No. 8 LSU, and it was the highest-ranked SEC team an ACC team has beaten in the past nine years.
2. Duke becomes bowl eligible for the first time since 1994: Sean Renfree's 5-yard touchdown pass to Jamison Crowder on fourth down with 13 seconds left lifted Duke past North Carolina 33-30 and made the Blue Devils bowl eligible for the first time since 1994. Renfree converted three third-and-longs during the game-winning, 87-yard drive.
4. Karlos Williams' tip and interception in the ACC title game: In what turned out to be the final game for FSU defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, FSU's D came up big against Georgia Tech, and no play was bigger than Williams'. The game wasn't decided until Williams intercepted Tevin Washington with less than a minute remaining. It was FSU's first ACC title since 2005.
5. The ACC posting its first winning bowl record since 2005: With marquee wins over LSU and USC and a victory in the Discover Orange Bowl, the ACC finally came out on the right end of bowl season, and will enter 2013 will some much-needed positive momentum. The Noles took another step toward national relevance with a 31-10 win against No. 15 Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl -- their first BCS bowl win since they beat Virginia Tech in 2000.
6. FSU quarterback EJ Manuel’s performance versus Clemson: It was Manuel’s one true Heisman moment of the season, as he completed 27 of 35 passes for a career-high 380 yards while rushing for another 102 to become the first Seminoles quarterback since Charlie Ward in 1992 to pass for more than 300 yards and run for more than 100 in a game.
7. Clemson QB Tajh Boyd accounts for eight touchdowns: The ACC Player of the Year set school and ACC records when he scored five passing and three rushing touchdowns in a 62-48 win over NC State. The Tigers gained 754 yards and ran 102 plays, the most in school history. Boyd was responsible for every Clemson touchdown. Boyd was 30-for-44 for 426 yards and ran for 105 yards -- the combined 531 yards set another school record.
8. Johnson leads Canes to Coastal title: In the regular-season finale against Duke, Miami freshman Duke Johnson rushed for season highs of 176 yards and three touchdowns. He scored on runs of 18, 6 and 65 yards. He finished his freshman year with 947 yards rushing, easily surpassing Clinton Portis' 13-year-old school freshman rushing record of 838 yards.
9. NC State’s game-winning TD in its upset of No. 3-ranked FSU. This isn’t a “best moment” for FSU fans, but it was by far one of the most memorable plays in the ACC and a highlight for the Wolfpack. Quarterback Mike Glennon found Bryan Underwood for a 2-yard touchdown pass on fourth down with 16 seconds left, helping the Wolfpack beat the Seminoles 17-16 on Oct. 6.
10. Duke receiver Conner Vernon rewrites the record books: In a 42-17 win against Virginia, Vernon surpassed Clemson's Aaron Kelly as the ACC's all-time leader in career receptions when he made a catch for minus-2 yards in the first quarter. In the 42-24 loss to Georgia Tech, Vernon became the ACC's all-time leader in yards receiving, passing former Florida State star Peter Warrick's record of 3,517 yards.
TOP 3 OFF-FIELD MOMENTS
1. Blair Holliday joins his Duke captains for the coin toss against NC Central: It was a miraculous recovery, and the most inspirational story in the conference. Holliday, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a jet ski accident on July 4 that left him in critical condition, led the team on the Devil Walk in what was an emotional comeback for the entire team.
2. Clemson receiver Daniel Rodriguez leads the Tigers on Military Appreciation Day: The Army veteran led the team down the hill carrying the American flag prior to the Virginia Tech game on Military Appreciation Day at Clemson on Oct. 20.
3. The ACC adds Louisville: The ACC's presidents and chancellors voted to add Louisville to replace Maryland, a move that looked better and better as the Cardinals' football season ended with a win against Florida in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. ACC officials conceded the move was an athletics-first, academics-second decision, but it was one the conference should eventually benefit from.
1. Florida State (12-2, 7-1 ACC; Previous ranking: No. 1) -- Clemson has the more impressive bowl win, but there’s no denying Florida State’s accomplishments this season. The Noles won the program’s first BCS bowl since 2000, defeating Northern Illinois 31-10 in the Discover Orange Bowl. An ACC title and Orange Bowl win make FSU the ACC’s undisputed No. 1 in 2012.
2. Clemson (11-2, 7-1; PR: No. 2) -- The Tigers hung on to beat No. 8 LSU 25-24 thanks to a 37-yard field goal by Chandler Catanzaro as time expired in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Quarterback Tajh Boyd has yet to announce if he will return for his senior season. Regardless, it was a monumental win for the program and the ACC.
3. Georgia Tech (7-7, 5-3; PR: No. 4) -- The Jackets’ 21-7 win over USC was a huge boost for their program, and it also was significant for the ACC. Georgia Tech’s defense was the highlight against the Trojans. It also was Paul Johnson’s first bowl win as coach at Georgia Tech.
4. North Carolina (8-4, 5-3; PR: No. 5) -- There’s no question the Tar Heels were one of the best teams in the Coastal Division in Larry Fedora’s first season, but they were ineligible for a bowl because of NCAA sanctions. Fedora will be challenged to replace standout running back Giovani Bernard, who left early for the NFL draft, and his lead blocker, Jonathan Cooper.
5. Miami (7-5, 5-3; PR: No. 3) -- The Canes weren’t a great team in 2012, but they overachieved enough to earn respect and could have played for the ACC title had they not self-imposed a bowl ban. The program is still waiting for closure from the NCAA.
6. Virginia Tech (7-6, 4-4; PR: No. 8) -- In what was one of the most painful-to-watch bowl games of the season, the Hokies beat Rutgers 13-10 in overtime of the Russell Athletic Bowl. The program avoided its first losing season since 1992, but didn’t earn any style points in the process. Many questions still face Frank Beamer.
7. NC State (7-6, 4-4; PR: No. 7) -- Under the direction of interim coach Dana Bible, the Pack ended the season the same way it began 2012 -- with an embarrassing performance in a loss to an SEC team. NC State turned it over five times in a 38-24 loss to Vanderbilt in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.
8. Duke (6-7, 3-5; PR: No. 6) -- This season will always be remembered as the year Duke got back to a bowl game for the first time since 1994. The Blue Devils, however, lost a 48-34 heartbreaker to Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl. With the score tied at 34 and Duke driving to score the game winner, Josh Snead fumbled at the Cincy 5-yard line with 1:20 left.
9. Wake Forest (5-7, 3-5; PR: No. 9) -- The Deacs ended their season losing three straight and four of their last five to miss bowl eligibility. Recruiting has been the biggest priority for the Deacs since their season ended with a home loss to Vanderbilt.
10. Virginia (4-8, 2-6; PR: No. 10) -- The Hoos had to win their last two games to become bowl eligible and couldn’t do it, but Mike London wasted no time in making offseason changes. He fired defensive coordinator Jim Reid and has since hired former NC State coach Tom O’Brien and former NC State linebackers coach Jon Tenuta.
11. Maryland (4-8, 2-6; PR: No. 11) -- The Terps put on a respectable performance this past season despite the unbelievable amount of injuries to starting quarterbacks. The biggest news, of course, was that Maryland will play one more season in the ACC before joining the Big Ten.
12. Boston College (2-10, 1-7; PR: No. 12) -- The Eagles hired Steve Addazio to turn things around, and he has hired several of his former assistants from Temple, including former BC assistant Ryan Day as offensive coordinator.
WHO TO WATCH: The quarterbacks. Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch leads the nation in total yards (4,733) and ranks third in total yards per game (364.08) behind Baylor’s Nick Florence and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel. FSU quarterback EJ Manuel could become just the second quarterback to win four straight bowl games, joining former West Virginia quarterback Pat White. In just his second season as a full-time starter, Manuel is FSU’s career leader for completion percentage at 66.8 percent -- which is significantly ahead of No. 2 Charlie Ward (62.3).
WHAT TO WATCH: Florida State’s defensive line vs. NIU’s offensive line. Florida State defensive line coach D.J. Eliot was hired at Kentucky as Mark Stoops’ defensive coordinator, but Eliot stayed in Tallahassee to help the Noles prepare for Lynch. FSU’s defensive line has been one of the best in the country, despite season-ending injuries to star defensive ends Brandon Jenkins and Tank Carradine, who tore his ACL in the loss to Florida. FSU is No. 26 in the country with 2.54 sacks per game. NIU is tied for No. 16 in the country in sacks allowed with 1.08 per game, a total of 14 all season. FSU defensive end Bjoern Werner leads the ACC and ranks seventh nationally with 13 sacks this season.
WHY TO WATCH: Because No. 13 FSU might actually lose. The Noles are the more talented team, but the No. 15 Huskies will be playing to prove they belong in a BCS bowl. This will be the first BCS bowl game for a member of the Mid-American Conference. It is also the first bowl game between the ACC and MAC. NIU is the only program in the country to win 21 of its past 22 games, and joins Oregon as the only schools with three straight 11-win seasons. The Huskies' seniors are the winningest class in school history with 41 victories. FSU is 1-5 all-time in BCS bowls since playing in the first-ever BCS national championship game (1999 Fiesta Bowl).
PREDICTION: Florida State 31, Northern Illinois 17: The Huskies will come out fired up and ready to prove they deserved their title as BCS Busters, and they’ll keep it uncomfortably close in the first half. FSU fans will prematurely panic, an upset watch will look possible, but then reality will set in. Florida State has too much talent and speed, and the gap will continue to widen in the third quarter. The Noles will win the battle up front, and the defense will fare well in its first game without former coordinator Mark Stoops. The Noles will finish with 12 wins, including an ACC title and a BCS bowl win -- not a bad consolation prize for a team that had hoped to win a national title.
Florida State’s defense began life without former coordinator Mark Stoops one day early.
In preparation for the ACC championship game against Georgia Tech on Dec. 1, defensive ends coach D.J. Eliot was in charge of the game plan and called most of the plays because of his knowledge and familiarity with the Jackets’ spread option, according to FSU coach Jimbo Fisher.
“It’s been very easy,” Fisher said. “D.J. has been back running the defense and doing everything. … He’s been back here, the staffs are in place, they’ve been intact and we’ve announced Sal Sunseri was hired as defensive ends coach. He’s been out there with us, so we feel very comfortable with where we’re going.”
FSU safety Karlos Williams said Eliot was a tremendous help in the game plan for Northern Illinois, and that he and Stoops have traded text messages a few times. Williams said that instead of lamenting Stoops’ departure, the Seminoles have celebrated the hire with him.
“We were very proud of him,” Williams said, “very happy he’s moving on, getting that head coaching job he’s been working so hard to get. He’s still been talking to a couple of us, keeping in contact, making sure things are getting handled the way they’re supposed to be getting handled down here. Overall we’re just happy for him.”
Under Stoops, FSU’s defense was one of the best in the nation. This year, FSU was No. 5 in the country in rushing defense, No. 6 in scoring defense, No. 2 in total defense and No. 3 in pass defense. The Seminoles’ main priority will be containing Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch, who leads the nation in total yards (4,733) and ranks third in yards per game (364.08).
Williams said the defense has already been prepared to handle a quarterback like Lynch.
“We’ve played quarterbacks like him already this season, the quarterback from Virginia Tech [Logan Thomas], Tajh Boyd, [Stephen] Morris from Miami,” Williams said. “A lot of quarterbacks we’ve played this year can run around, move, scramble in the pocket and throw the ball in the run. It’s just another one of those games. We’re going to have to lock in, be prepared to play the zone read, option read and the pass and the run. It’s going to be a challenge, of course. But like we always do, we lock in and play good football.”
They have to do it one more time, this time without Stoops.
Now Eliot is trying to pay Fisher back for that opportunity with a win against Northern Illinois in the Discover Orange Bowl, the last game Eliot will coach with the Seminoles before joining former FSU defensive coordinator Mark Stoops’ staff at Kentucky.
Eliot still has a job to do -- his biggest yet -- but he has already had some on-the-job training for it.
In preparation for the ACC title game against Georgia Tech on Dec. 1, Eliot was in charge of the game plan and called most of the plays because of his knowledge and familiarity with the Jackets’ spread option.
Florida State’s defense was once again the difference down the stretch, as the Noles held off Georgia Tech for a 21-15 win and the school’s first ACC title since 2005. One day later, Stoops left to become the head coach at Kentucky, and he hired Eliot as his defensive coordinator. The Seminoles were left to prepare for Northern Illinois without their top two defensive assistants, but those within the program say it has been a smooth transition during bowl practices. Eliot came back to campus to lead the defense, and Fisher hired two new assistants, defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri.
For Eliot, it was a no-brainer to stick with the Noles through the bowl game.
“My players mean a tremendous amount to me, so I want to make sure that I finish this thing off for them,” he said. “They bought in early to what we were doing, and they've been very successful, and they've always respected me and done exactly what I've told them to do. So I want them to know that I was going to be here until the end for them, as well.”
Under Stoops, FSU’s defense was one of the best in the nation. This season, FSU was No. 5 in the country in rushing defense, No. 6 in scoring defense, No. 2 in total defense, and No. 3 in pass defense. FSU defensive end Bjoern Werner said the Noles won’t miss a beat with Eliot leading the defense instead of Stoops.
“I always knew he wanted to be a defensive coordinator, and I’m so happy for him that it worked out,” Werner said. “I’m so happy he didn’t go with coach Stoops, because they were really close. I’m so happy for him and I’m happy that he’s staying. He coaches exactly the same way as coach Stoops, so it wasn’t a big change for us. They play the same technique and all the same stuff. I’m happy for him, and I can see that he’s happy for us that we’re doing so good. He’s going to leave on a good note.”
That’s Eliot’s game plan, anyway.
Best case: Duke wins. Look, getting to a bowl game for the first time since 1994 was huge, but it has been even longer since the program has actually won a bowl game. A win against Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl would give Duke its first bowl win since 1961, when Duke beat Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl.
Worst case: Duke’s defense allows its fifth straight opponent more than 40 points, and the ACC Coach of the Year goes 6-7.
Best case: Quarterback Logan Thomas plays an interception-free game, the Hokies get their running game going, Virginia Tech beats Rutgers for its first win of the season against a Big East team, and coach Frank Beamer announces he will hire a new offensive coordinator.
Worst case: The Hokies’ offense continues to look as anemic as it has all season, the program suffers its first losing season since 1992, and Beamer decides not to make any changes to his staff after an 0-3 finish against Big East teams.
Best case: Quarterback Mike Glennon plays four quarters like he did the final drive against Florida State, and the Pack has something positive to build on heading into the offseason with first-year coach Dave Doeren.
Worst case: The Pack’s mediocre rushing defense has no answer for All-SEC running back Zac Stacy, interim coach Dana Bible loses his first game as a head coach, and the ACC takes another punch in the gut from the SEC.
Best case: Paul Johnson has a reason to celebrate. The Jackets coach has lost all four bowls he has coached with the program. He could win his first if Georgia Tech’s defense looks like it had a month to prepare for Matt Barkley, the offense controls the clock with sustained drives, and the team wins the turnover battle.
Worst case: The Jackets secondary gets burned repeatedly by USC All-American receiver Marqise Lee, Johnson drops to 0-5 in bowl games, and Georgia Tech decides to follow Maryland to the Big Ten.
Best case: ACC 1, SEC 0. Clemson beating LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl would do wonders for both the program and the ACC. The offensive line wins the battle up front and keeps LSU at bay in time for quarterback Tajh Boyd to work his magic.
Worst case: The Tigers lose the game and their offensive coordinator and their quarterback. Chad Morris goes to Texas Tech, Boyd leaves early for the NFL draft, and receiver DeAndre Hopkins follows.
Best case: Florida State cruises, quarterback EJ Manuel looks like he did against Clemson -- not Florida -- and the defense stifles highly touted quarterback Jordan Lynch.
Worst case: The Noles lose to Northern Illinois. Nuff said. Well, that and Jimbo Fisher's entire staff leaves for the SEC.
FSU will face the MAC’s Offensive Player of the Year while in the midst of a major defensive transition. Not only will FSU’s defense need a game plan for Lynch, the staff is also trying to figure one out for itself. Fisher said a defensive coordinator might not be hired until after the Orange Bowl, and the Noles also have to replace defensive ends coach D.J. Eliot, who followed Mark Stoops to Kentucky as his defensive coordinator.
Right now, they have to address Lynch.
Lynch has rushed for over 100 yards in each of NIU’s past 11 games, an NCAA record. He leads the nation in both total offensive yards (4,733) and total rushing yards (1,771). NIU ranks ninth nationally in both scoring offense (40.8 ppg) and rushing offense (250.2 ypg). The Huskies topped the MAC in rushing offense, total offense, scoring offense and passing efficiency.
Fisher said it’s going to take the entire defense to slow Lynch down. Not that FSU’s defense hasn’t risen to the occasion before. The Seminoles rank second in the nation in total defense, allowing just 253.8 yards per game, and rank 14th nationally in scoring offense with 39.9 points per game.
That was with Stoops on the sideline, though.
“You’re going to have to do it as a group,” Fisher said. “We’re going to have to have a great team effort. The guy can throw it, he can run it, he has weapons around him and we’re going to have to be very sound in everything we do and we’ll have to mix things up, give him multiple looks and do different things. But we’ll get into that as we go, but we know he’s a great player and they’ve done a tremendous job not only as an offense but as a football team.”
The Huskies are the first MAC school to play in a BCS bowl or the Orange Bowl. It is the first time a MAC school has faced an ACC school in any bowl game. First-year NIU coach Rod Carey said he doesn’t expect playing on the big stage to affect Lynch’s ability to perform.
“I think he’s the same player he was a week ago when we were playing, I don’t think that’s going to change,” Carey said. “It better not, he’s been pretty good. He’s a tough kid, we run him, but he can throw it, too. But that doesn’t define Jordan. What defines Jordan is how he leads and being the good teammate and above all, the good person he is. So I sure hope it doesn’t change.”
A BCS bowl win counts, no matter who it is against.
Florida State took a major step forward in its climb back to national relevance this past weekend when it beat Georgia Tech to win the school’s first ACC title since 2005. A win over Northern Illinois in the Discover Orange Bowl would mean a 12-2 season that included an ACC title and BCS win – a sign that Florida State is relevant again at the BCS bowl level, if not the national title game.
Florida State is making its ninth Orange Bowl appearance and its first since the 2006 instant classic against Penn State. The Seminoles have a 3-5 record in their previous Orange Bowl games, including a national championship victory in 1994. Many critics of this season's game have deemed it a lose-lose situation for the Seminoles: A win is what they’re supposed to do against an unheralded team that busted the BCS with its No. 15 ranking. A loss, however, would be devastating to both the program and the ACC’s image.
Rod Carey, the Huskies’ former offensive coordinator who was named the team’s head coach on the same day the Orange Bowl matchup was announced, downplayed the negativity surrounding NIU’s selection.
“Every opinion deserves its time, and that’s fine,” he said. “We’re in the opinion business right now. All I know is we are really excited to be in this game and such a tradition-rich bowl and against Florida State, an unbelievable program. It’s great exposure for our university.”
Northern Illinois (12-1, 8-0 MAC) is making its first BCS bowl game appearance. The Huskies beat Kent State 44-37 in double overtime in the MAC championship game. This will be the first meeting between FSU and NIU, and the first BCS bowl game for a member of the MAC. It is also the first bowl meeting between the ACC and MAC.
Fisher said he expects Northern Illinois to be playing with a chip on its shoulder, but the bigger concern is the MAC champions are better than many give them credit for.
“They’re going to be motivated, but here’s more importantly: You don’t get in this game unless you’re a good football team,” Fisher said. They’re a great football team. It’s easy for talking heads to say that. They’ve earned the right to be here. They’ve earned the right to this opportunity. They’re going to try to maximize it and make the best of it. What we’ve got to do is control what we can control and how we play, but we know we’re going to get an inspired opponent, an opponent who is going to be trying to prove something. But more importantly, we’re going to play a very good opponent. That’s what we have to look at and understand. I think when they see the film, we’ll see that.”
The good: Florida State’s defense. Wow, what a smothering job on the triple option. And the Noles did it with two of their starters -- linebacker Nick Moody and defensive end Tank Carradine -- sidelined with injuries. The Jackets were held to just 118 rushing yards after entering the game with an average of 312.54, good for No. 3 in the nation. It was only fitting that the defense came to play, as it was the final farewell for coordinator Mark Stoops, who on Sunday was introduced as Kentucky’s next head coach.
The bad: Florida State’s offense in the second half. The Noles were shut out. It was only the second time all season FSU was held scoreless in a half. The other time? At NC State, of course. It was the first time the ACC champ didn’t score in the second half.
The ugly II: The attendance. It was well-documented, well-Tweeted, and well, about half empty.
The moment: Following the game, Stoops stood in front of the Florida State band and tipped his brand new ACC champions hat to them. The band members honored him with a chant of “thank you coach!” It was too much for him. “I gotta get out of here,” he mumbled. “This is embarrassing.”
The stat: 194-183. The Seminoles outgained one of the most of the nation's most prolific rushing offenses, with MVP James Wilder Jr. leading the way.
The stat II: Florida State entered Saturday’s game with 3,284 yards passing and 2,445 rushing. With 194 yards rushing in the game, the Seminoles became just the second FSU squad to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 2,500 yards in a season, joining the 1993 squad (3,909 yards, 2,667 rushing).
The random stat: Florida State moved to 11-0 when Devonta Freeman scores a touchdown.
The play: Karlos Williams, who was playing linebacker for the first time all season, snagged his first career interception with less than a minute remaining to seal the win.
The record: Tevin Washington’s 1-yard touchdown run in the third quarter was his 19th of the season, setting the ACC single season record for most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback. Washington is also fourth among ACC quarterbacks with 2,159 career rushing yards.
The record II: FSU senior kicker Dustin Hopkins made three extra points in the first half to give him 133 points this season, setting a new ACC record. The previous mark was held by former Virginia Tech running back Ryan Williams (132) set during the 2009 season.
The quote: "Everybody has told them they're not very good and they don't belong, and I think they wanted to show that they did, that they did belong. And, like I said, they came out and played their tail off. They played with some effort and some heart." -- Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson
Florida State DT Timmy Jernigan: He had a career-best nine tackles, including 1.5 for loss and a sack, and was probably the biggest reason Florida State was able to hold Georgia Tech to just 183 rushing yards. His previous career best was six stops, which he had done twice. He earned his first full sack of the 2012 season when he stopped Vad Lee in the first quarter. He now has 4.0 career sacks.
Florida State LB Karlos Williams: His interception with about a minute remaining was the difference in the game, and he also led the team with 11 tackles in what was the first time he’s played extensively at linebacker. Williams, who had played at safety most of the season, had a breakout game.
Florida State RB James Wilder Jr.: He was named the MVP of the game after he led FSU with 69 yards rushing on 10 carries and scored two touchdowns in the second quarter. Wilder’s two rushing scores give him 11 on the season and mark his fourth two-touchdown game of the year. He becomes just the eighth Seminole ever to rush for 10 or more touchdowns in a single season and just the second since Warrick Dunn in 1996 (Antone Smith, 15, 2008).
On Saturday, the Seminoles lost a heartbreaker to rival Florida in the final game of the season on their home turf. On Sunday, they lost their leading tackler and star defensive end, Tank Carradine, to a torn anterior cruciate ligament. And on Tuesday, they lost their beloved defensive coordinator, Mark Stoops, to Kentucky. Never mind the constant swirl of rumors about head coach Jimbo Fisher following Stoops into the SEC for another head-coaching gig.
“There were a lot of distractions this week,” FSU athletic director Randy Spetman said.
With a 21-15 victory over Georgia Tech on Saturday in the Dr Pepper ACC championship game, the Seminoles knocked any perceived distractions over like bowling pins. There was no sign of a hangover from the Florida game as FSU jumped out to a convincing 21-6 lead at the half. The news about Carradine and Stoops inspired the defense to a game-changing finish in the fourth quarter, as an interception by Karlos Williams sealed the ACC title with about a minute remaining. For a fleeting moment late Saturday night, as confetti scattered in the air and the Seminoles celebrated their first ACC title since 2005, the rest of the college football world was forced to pause and finally let the Noles enjoy themselves.
They earned it.
“We are still ACC champions, and that is one goal,” FSU safety Lamarcus Joyner said. “We had a lot of goals and we met one of them. We have another one in front of us. That makes greatness, grasping opportunities in front of you.”
In order to do that, they had to forget the missed opportunities behind them -- the loss to NC State, the loss to Florida.
There’s no question there was a sense of relief from within the program Saturday night. This is a team that began the season ranked No. 3 in the country. The loss to NC State knocked the Noles out of the national title conversation and will continue to haunt them long after this season ends. Five turnovers in a loss to Florida was another statement opportunity squandered. And with Georgia Tech in position to put together a game-winning drive late in Saturday's game, NC State 2.0 looked like a very real possibility.
It was almost as if you could hear the entire city of Tallahassee exhale all the way in Charlotte when Williams snagged that pick.
“Oh man,” defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan said. “Oh, man. We’ve been trying to get here for a long time. That’s why I thank God for letting us win this game and I thank the seniors for helping this program get back to the top and get back into the national title conversations and winning these ACC championships and Orange Bowls and those types of games. We’re Florida State. That’s what’s supposed to happen. It wasn’t nothing miraculous. That’s what we’re supposed to do.”
It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t matter.
Give 'em a break. In the end, Florida State is right where almost everyone predicted this summer it would be: heading to the Discover Orange Bowl. While many will continue to lament what could have been, Florida State is staring down what is: the possibility at a 12-2 season with an ACC title and a BCS win.
Not exactly a five-loss Rose Bowl team, now is it?
“I’m extremely happy for our players because I know how hard it is and how much flak they’ve taken: ‘When are you going to be back, when are you going to win a championship, when are you going to do this,’” Fisher said. “... There’s a point in time you point back and you look at it and you say, ‘That was it.’ That’s the time that you got over the hump and you got there and you didn’t let the circumstances blur your vision, and they did that.”
It doesn’t always have to be about playing in the shadow of the SEC or comparing what’s happening in Charlotte to what’s happening in Atlanta. It wasn’t time to ask whether Fisher was the right man to replace Bobby Bowden. For once -- just once -- it can be simply about putting a trophy in the case and letting a group of players -- kids -- who have been through a lot enjoy it.
“I’ll be extremely proud of it 10, 15 years from now,” quarterback EJ Manuel said. “I’ll be able to say I helped our team get back to where we needed to be as far as the BCS conversation, the national championship conversation and things like that. I want to see greatness from here on out. We have a lot of great players, a lot of great young players, and guys understand what it takes to get to this point, so I don’t see us going back to where we used to be. I think Florida State is back in the conversation.”
Thanks in large part to the defense, which held Georgia Tech and the nation’s No. 3 rushing offense to just 183 rushing yards.
“You didn’t want to work this hard for three years and not be able to finish this,” Stoops said, “because our program, Coach Fisher and the players deserved this win.”
And they deserve to celebrate it -- without any distractions.
"Coach [Jimbo Fisher] and I really have not discussed it," Stoops said. "Coach and I need to sit down and have a discussion on that. It will be hard. It will be hard to do. I don't want to be a distraction. We'll see. I'm never going to turn my back on these kids. It will be a mutual decision we'll all sit down and figure out."
Let's get to the news first.
B.J. Bostic will start in place of A-back Orwin Smith, the Jackets' leading rusher who injured his ankle in the Duke game and was also sidelined for last week's game against Georgia. Defensively, Euclid Cummings will start in place of defensive end Emmanuel Dieke. Florida State has not reported any lineup changes.
As for attendance, which is sure to be a hot button topic this year ...
More than 50,000 tickets were sold in advance, according to an ACC official. There are two giant, black, ACC-branded tarps blocking off four upper-deck sections in each end zone, and if the seats are empty, you'll be able to see them on TV, as the majority are Carolina Panthers blue. This year should be an anomaly, though, not a trend for the league championship game (at least ACC officials hope). Last year was great attendance for the Clemson-Virginia Tech rematch, but let's face it: this game has taken the backseat even to other news within the conference this week. Not to mention the Coastal Division was an absolute disaster, with both Miami and North Carolina ineligible to play in this game. Georgia Tech is here by default, and if it loses this game, it will drop to 6-7 and play in a bowl game thanks to a waiver granted by the NCAA.
And yet Georgia Tech is just one win away from playing in the Discover Orange Bowl.
It's the goal for both teams, regardless of how many fans come out to watch tonight.
Manuel has been here before, and last time it didn’t turn out so well. Filling in for an injured Christian Ponder in the 2010 ACC championship game against Virginia Tech, Manuel threw two interceptions in a 44-33 loss to the Hokies, including one that was returned for a touchdown.
"In the future, we'll learn from it," Manuel said that day. "Just remember how to get back in this position and win."
He’s back, and there’s no question he’s better.
Manuel enters Saturday’s title game against Georgia Tech as one of the most efficient passers in the country. His career pass-efficiency rating of 151.54 would be the best in ACC history if maintained, surpassing the mark of 151.15 set by former FSU Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke during the 1997 to '99 seasons. Manuel has led Florida State to a 23-6 record as a starter, including consecutive bowl wins against West Virginia, South Carolina and Notre Dame. This season, he has thrown for 2,967 yards, 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Surprisingly, a third of those picks came last weekend.
Manuel is coming off an uncharacteristically poor performance in a loss to rival Florida during which he threw three interceptions and lost a fumble that eventually led to a touchdown. FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said one of the biggest differences between Manuel now and the last time he played for the ACC title is his maturity in tough situations.
“I think how he deals with things from day to day and the ups and downs, and he understands there are ups and downs,” Fisher said. “There's going to be tough moments like [the loss to Florida] for him, and how he responds back and bounces back. I just think he's a much [more] mature player, and he has great knowledge of what we're doing.”
Manuel followed his own advice and got the Noles back to Charlotte. Now he's got to finish the job and help them win.
Who: No. 13 Florida State (10-2, 7-1 ACC) vs. Georgia Tech (6-6, 5-3 ACC)
What: Dr Pepper ACC Championship game
When: Saturday at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
Jimbo Fisher: 29-10 (third year) at Florida State and overall
Paul Johnson: 39-25 (fifth year) at Georgia Tech; 146-64 (16th year) overall
All games: Florida State leads 12-9-1;
In bowls and at neutral sites: First meeting
In ACC play: Florida State leads 12-2
Last meeting: Georgia Tech 49, Florida State 44 (Oct. 10, 2009 at FSU)
FSU title game history: Florida State will be seeking its 13th ACC championship. The Seminoles won or shared the title for the first nine seasons after they joined the conference (1992-2000), and went on to capture the national championship in 1993 and 1999. The Seminoles were also ACC champions in 2002, 2003 and 2005. FSU is making its third appearance in the ACC championship game. The Seminoles defeated Virginia Tech 27-22 in the inaugural event in 2005 in Jacksonville, Fla., and suffered a 44-33 loss to the Hokies in 2010 in Charlotte.
GT title game history: The Yellow Jackets captured their first of two ACC titles in 1990, when they went on to claim the national championship. Georgia Tech shared the title with Florida State in 1998. The Yellow Jackets are making their third appearance in the ACC championship game since its inception in 2005. Georgia Tech suffered a 9-6 loss to Wake Forest in the 2006 championship game in Jacksonville, Fla. The Yellow Jackets defeated Clemson 39-34 in 2009 in Tampa, Fla., but later vacated the win and the ACC title because of NCAA sanctions.
FSU stat stars
DE Bjoern Werner: He ranks third nationally and leads the ACC in QB sacks per game with 1.08 and is tied for 15th in total tackles for lost yardage per game (1.50). Werner’s 18 TFL this season have accounted for 134 yards in lost yardage. Werner now has 13 sacks this season.
QB EJ Manuel: He ranks eighth nationally in passing efficiency with a 160.01 rating and leads an offense that averages 41.5 points per game and has scored at least 51 points in four regular-season games.
PK Dustin Hopkins: He now ranks third on the all-time NCAA FBS scoring list with 456 points. Hopkins trails Travis Prentice of Miami (Ohio) by 12 points for second place all-time. He enters Saturday’s game tied for the all-time lead in field goals among NCAA FBS kickers with 87.
WR Rodney Smith: He has caught a pass in 37 consecutive games, one shy of the school record. E.G. Green (1994-97) holds the school record for most consecutive games with a reception at 38.
Georgia Tech stat stars
RB Orwin Smith: His 9.43 career yards per carry is the best for any ACC running back who has gained 1,000 or more yards. Smith has 1,830 yards on 194 carries and 20 touchdowns. His 61.2 yards per game leads the team.
QB Tevin Washington: His 36 career rushing touchdowns are an ACC and school record by a quarterback. Washington leads all active conference players in rushing touchdowns, and his 216 points scored rank seventh. He has improved his completion percentage by more than 12 percentage points (47.1 in 2011 to 59.6 in 2012).
KR Jamal Golden: He ranks second in the ACC and 10th nationally in kickoff returns with 29.0 yards per runback, including two returns for touchdowns.
LB Jeremiah Attaochu: He leads the team and ranks third in the ACC with eight sacks in 11 games (.73 per game).