Outside, the scene at Scott Stadium was as boisterous as FSU's locker room was silent. The attendance was listed at 44,300, and I'm pretty confident when I say that every one of those fans—expept the few rooting for FSU--rushed the field when the game ended.
The scoreboard read Virginia 33-FSU 28.
The date was November 2, 1995, a date that lives in infamy for FSU football and its fans. It marked FSU's first ever loss in ACC play, and ended a 29 game conference winning streak for Florida State. I was on hand for what turned out to be a historic occasion.
It came down to inches, with Warrick Dunn stopped at the goal line as time expired. Or was he stopped? Imagine if there was instant replay back then in college football. Perhaps FSU's ACC winning streak would have reached 48 games, since the ‘Noles next conference loss didn't come until the start of the 1998 conference season against NC State. But that's a futile debate; history won't change what happened that Thursday night in Charlottesville back in 1995. The scoreboard will always read Virginia 33-FSU 28.
Since that memorable loss to Virginia in the mid-nineties, FSU has lost 26 more conference games over the years, including 19 over the last 5 seasons alone. That's a staggering number for a program that once dominated the league. Counting last week's win over Wake Forest, FSU is 22-19 in league play since 2005. That's barely above average. In a football league filled with average football teams. And that's got to change.
This is a week FSU can start making that change. Like last week, a win would allow FSU to improve its recent won/loss ledger in the league (the ‘Noles haven't been 2-0 in the ACC since 2005), to continue moving the needle in the right direction, and to start climbing back up the ranks of the ACC.
While Miami looms on the horizon, this game is just as important. Not because Virginia is an upper echelon team in the ACC, but because it's not. You see, over these recent years FSU's biggest problems haven't come against the top teams in the league. They've come against the bottom teams. Simply put, FSU has not beaten the teams it is supposed to beat in the ACC. This is a chance to do that for a second straight week.
I'm not saying Virginia represents the bottom of the league, but the Cavs are not an ACC-powerhouse team, and, in fact they were picked to finish dead last in the Coastal division this year—behind Duke. The Cavs were 3-9 last year and changed head coaches for a reason. Even though the Cavs impressed on the road at Southern Cal earlier this year, this is a game FSU must win.
In general, FSU has won its games with Virginia. The ‘Noles are 13-2 overall against the Cavs, with the other loss coming in 2005. Both times FSU lost to the Cavs, the ‘Noles were ranked in the top 5. That's not the case this week, so history suggests FSU should be able to clip the Cavs. Jimbo Fisher suggests Saturday's showdown is this week's national championship game. That's the approach he wants his players to take each week, regardless of the opponent. He preaches perfection, knowing his team will fall short of that unreachable goal but urging them to shoot for the stars anyway.
Chances are FSU will never again dominate the ACC the way it once did. But to get back on top of the league, it must win the games it is expected to win. This is one of those games.
Against Virginia, at the scene of perhaps FSU's most painful league loss ever.
I'll again have a ringside seat for the matchup, and I'll see you from the sidelines on Primetime Noles.