- David M. Hale, College football
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State has a long-awaited bye this weekend, but preparations for the home stretch of the season have already begun.
The first nine weeks of the season came with their share of ups and downs, but these last three games -- along with potential trips to the ACC championship game and the Orange Bowl -- offer even more intrigue.
Here are five key storylines that will likely dominate the remainder of FSU's season:
1. Can Florida State look as good on the road as it has at home?
It's not that the Seminoles have been awful on the road. Wins against Miami and South Florida weren't exactly nail-biters, and even their loss at NC State included a dominant 16-0 first half. But watch FSU cruise up and down the field at home, where it is averaging 54 points per game and holding opponents to a best-in-the-nation 198.8 yards per game, and there's no comparison. With two road tests remaining -- including a trip to Virginia Tech -- coach Jimbo Fisher needs his team to look a bit more dominant away from Doak Campbell, too.
2. How much cache comes with a win over Florida?
A case can be made that Florida State is the best one-loss team in the country, but don't expect many pundits nationally to jump on that bandwagon, thanks to the Seminoles' weak schedule. It's not entirely FSU's fault, given that West Virginia bailed on its scheduled nonconference date in Tallahassee, but two FCS opponents and another down year in the ACC has left few resume-builders for Florida State. The Gators, No. 7 in the BCS, could be the exception. If FSU wants a shot at making its case for a national title chance, it needs to dominate its in-state rival and hope Florida's accomplishments in the SEC carry some weight with voters.
3. Will the Noles make it to the ACC championship game and, if so, who will they play?
Florida State controls its own destiny in the Atlantic Division, needing simply to win its last two ACC games to ensure a trip to Charlotte for the conference championship. Road trips to Virginia Tech and Maryland remain, and neither should be insurmountable obstacles. And it's doubtful the ACC championship game will provide much more of a challenge. Right now, Virginia Tech, Miami and Duke are battling for the Coastal Division -- with all three teams having at least three losses already.
4. How much interest will there be in an Orange Bowl game against the Big East champion?
The Big East holds so little interest among Florida State fans that a sizable contingent was holding out a small hope that FSU wouldn't win the ACC, therefore opening up the potential of a Sugar Bowl appearance against Georgia or LSU rather than facing off against the likes of Louisville, Rutgers or Cincinnati. However, FSU last won an Orange Bowl in the 1995 season, and a win there this season could give Fisher a sterling 10-0 record for the 2012 season in the state of Florida.
5. Who will stick around once the season is over?
We know a number of Florida State's marquee players will be gone when the season's done, led by seniors EJ Manuel, Cornellius Carradine and Lonnie Pryor. Then there's the injured seniors -- Brandon Jenkins and Chris Thompson -- who almost certainly are gone but have at least an outside shot of earning medical redshirts to return. But the biggest questions surround a host of talented juniors who could be early selections in the NFL draft. The most likely candidates are potential first-round picks Bjoern Werner and Xavier Rhodes, but safety Lamarcus Joyner and linebacker Christian Jones could have tough decisions to make, too.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State has a long-awaited bye this weekend, but preparations for the home stretch of the season have already begun.The first nine weeks of the season came with their share of ups and downs, but these last three games -- along with potential trips to the ACC championship game and the Orange Bowl -- offer even more intrigue.