Florida State Seminoles: Virginia Tech
If FSU wins, only battered Maryland sits between the Seminoles and the ACC championship game. If the Hokies win, it means a small bit of redemption during a lost season and a chance to avoid the ignominy of finishing at .500 or worse.
"It's a hard environment," EJ Manuel said of Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium. "Any team that goes in there and gets a win, you've earned it. We'd be fools to think we're not going to get their best game of the year. They may not have played as good as they had in years past, but I don't think we're going to see the same team we've seen on film the past couple weeks. We're going to see a great team, extreme energy, guys flying around. I know we're going to get their 'A' game."
With that in mind, here are a few key matchups and numbers to watch as Florida State and Virginia Tech get ready to face off.
NOLES TO WATCH
James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman. Florida State would love to control the ground game, and Wilder and Freeman have shown they're more than capable of doing that, even without injured starter Chris Thompson. Where they're more likely to be tested, however, is in the passing game, where Virginia Tech loves to bring the blitz on defense. How well the two young running backs can recognize and pick up blitzes will likely play a big role in how well FSU can throw the ball on the Hokies' D.
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That's a bit more enthusiasm than the voting populace has displayed, but Florida State nevertheless will open the season ranked seventh in both the AP and Coaches' polls, and coach Jimbo Fisher isn't doing anything to temper the enthusiasm.
"I love being up there," Fisher said. "The higher up you start, the less you have to climb."
But while Fisher's point might have merit, FSU's problems during the past decade have had little to do with where the Seminoles have started the season and much more to do with where they've ended it.
FSU hasn't finished the year ranked in the AP top 10 since the end of the 2000 season, twice finishing unranked. The ugly finishes have never seemed to dampen hope among AP voters, who have continued to assume things would turn around virtually every summer.
Since 2000, Florida State's average preseason ranking is 12th, but it's only finished a season that high once.
In just three of the past 11 seasons has FSU wrapped up the year ranked higher than where it began, including 2008 when the Seminoles opened the season unranked but finished 21st.
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|#1 Florida State||8-0||13-0|
|North Carolina State||0-8||3-9|