- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
In the past week, Florida State lost a huge game to its archrival, saw its leading tackler go down with a torn ACL, had its defensive coordinator accept the head-coaching job at Kentucky while its own head coach continues to dodge rumors he might leave next, and once again conference affiliation debates have risen to the forefront as yet another shakeup has shuffled things in the ACC.
It's been a busy news week to say the least, and oddly enough, the ACC championship game has largely gotten lost in the shuffle.
So, with so many other distractions going on around them, are the Seminoles still prepped for Georgia Tech? Here are five key issues they'll be facing.
1. Will Mark Stoops' impending departure be a distraction?
There's a subset of fans already curious if Stoops' interviews with Kentucky last week may have had an adverse effect on the preparations for Florida, as FSU turned in one of its worst defensive performances of the season against the Gators' previously inept offense. Now that it's official that Stoops is leaving, there's more reason to wonder how the Seminoles will respond. Safety Lamarcus Joyner shrugged off the concerns, however, saying that players have shown a good bit of energy in practice and are eager to send Stoops out with a ring.
2. Is a week enough time to prep for the triple option?
Florida State hasn't faced an offense like Georgia Tech's in years, and coming off an physically and emotionally draining game against Florida, a week's worth of prep time may not be enough to have the defense ready for what's in store Saturday. For all of Tech's problems this season, scoring hasn't generally been a concern, and FSU is just a week removed from being gashed for nearly 250 rushing yards -- the most it had allowed in three years.
3. Can Mario Edwards Jr. fill in at defensive end?
All-ACC defensive end Cornellius Carradine went down with a torn ACL in the fourth quarter against Florida, the second star lineman FSU has lost for the season. That leaves the freshman Edwards, a former five-star recruit who was slated to redshirt back in September, as the go-to guy, and he'll be tested by Tech's option offense, which relies heavily on confusing the opposition into abandoning assignments. Edwards has shown rapid development since September, but he still lacks much on-the-job training. Of course, against Tech's unique scheme, Edwards won't be the only one learning on the fly. As ACC defensive player of the year Bjoern Werner said, Edwards has faced off against an option offense more recently than he has.
4. Can EJ Manuel rebound from an ugly performance?
The emotional toll of the Florida loss weighed heavily on everyone, but no one shouldered more of the blame than Manuel, who coughed up four turnovers in the game. Against the ACC's third worst passing defense in Georgia Tech, however, he'll have a chance to regain some of his swagger this week. It's Manuel's second crack at winning an ACC title game, and it's his last chance to earn a championship at Florida State.
5. How much does an ACC championship really mean?
Given the lack of attention the game has received from the fan base -- tickets are selling for as little as $5 on various websites -- it's easy to wonder if the players' hearts are in the game or if their attention is elsewhere, too. A season that began with national title expectations ended with two losses, including last week's defeat against Florida. The ACC has been down all year, and 6-6 Georgia Tech only backed into the game by default. FSU is a two-touchdown favorite. It all sets up as a situation where the Seminoles have little to gain and everything to lose. Still, the players have repeatedly said they're in it to win their first championship rings, and that means something to them whether or not the fan base is overly excited for the matchup.
1dDavid M. Hale
2dDavid M. Hale
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