In one fell swoop, the Seminoles buried a rival in a 31-7 victory, then unexpectedly had a chance to play for a spot in the Orange Bowl as league champion.
"What a perfect day for Florida State football," coach Jimbo Fisher said. "Like I say, our kids are doing a great job and they deserve to be going where they are going. I'm proud of them and am looking forward to the opportunity."
On a day that will have ramifications for recruiting and perception, the Seminoles completed a sweep of state rivals Miami and Florida for the first time since 1999, which was also the twilight of this program's 14-year run of top five finishes, major bowl trips and championship runs.
In 1999, the Seminoles went wire-to-wire as No. 1 and won the national title. Beginning in 2001, this team has not been at that same level, and it has eroded in terms of fan support, booster membership and recruiting influence.
"Words can't really explain the way I feel right now," said linebacker Nigel Bradham. "Beating the Gators, being the state champion, knowing you're going to the ACC -- a lot of things happened at once. I'm just overwhelmed with all of the emotions."
Fisher raved about what it meant to a senior class that had endured two seasons with six losses and had never gained entrance into the ACC title game. This was the most regular-season wins for this team since 2004.
"What they've been through the last four years here and all the controversy, from the academics (scandal) to the coaching changes -- things that they had no control over," Fisher said. "That's a special group of seniors that's going out."
But now, the players have little time to savor it. The focus turns to the ACC title game, where FSU will face the Hokies. The Seminoles have enjoyed success against Virginia Tech in the postseason, winning two bowl games, including the national title game 11 years ago, then beating the Hokies in the first ACC title game in 2005.
"They are very tough, they carry their lunch pail," Fisher said. "They play good defense, special teams and have playmakers on offense. They make you earn everything you get."
--The Seminoles are an underdog for their second ACC title game on Saturday. For the first time, the ACC title game is outside of Florida, moving to Charlotte, N.C., the home of the Carolina Panthers. Weather could play a huge role in the game.
"I wish we could have it in an indoor stadium, but I'm not sure we can ... It's going to be interesting," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said.
--OG Rodney Hudson was chosen the winner of the ACC Jacobs Blocking Trophy for the second consecutive year. The award, voted upon by ACC coaches since 1953, goes to the league's best offensive linemen. Hudson becomes the 11th two-time winner of the award. He is also one of three finalists for the Outland Trophy as the nation's best lineman. A senior, Hudson is rated as a likely first-round draft pick by NFL scouts and is going to play in the Senior Bowl on Jan. 29 in his hometown of Mobile, Ala.
--Fisher became the first first-year coach in Florida State history to beat Florida. He did it with a margin of victory that was the third largest win by FSU in the series.
--Fisher mandated that the Maryland-North Carolina State score would not be shown on the scoreboard.... until after the Seminoles' game. Both games were being played at same time. But after the celebration for the win against Florida subsided, another ensued as the score flashed that Maryland had defeated the Wolfpack, thus sending the Seminoles into the ACC title game.
"Our kids could have been thinking about that, but they didn't," Fisher said. "They kept the focus on playing Florida and having success against Florida -- doing what we had to do. And I thought that was huge too."
SERIES HISTORY: Florida State leads Virginia Tech 22-11-1. (Last meeting 2008, 30-20 Florida State)
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Seminoles fared well against one of the nation's better pass defenses in beating Florida. That should provide confidence they can have success throwing and catching against the Hokies. Having Rodney Smith and Willie Haulstead on the field with Bert Reed gives the Seminoles some matchup advantages, but the Seminoles may have to run the ball a lot better than they did against Florida. They averaged just 2.7 yards a carry against the Gators.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Even with Florida's disarray on offense, the Florida State defense had one of its finest hours in a long time. The Seminoles forced turnovers and contained the two biggest speedsters, Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, they will face this season. In the past several games, defensive coordinator Mark Stoops has proven effective with plans that prevent big plays and enable his players to try to get turnovers.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You want to win an ACC championship. You want to make yourself relevant. As soon as you do that, you're in a BCS bowl. Now you make yourself relevant nationally. That's the whole key for every program, where we all want to go. It's a big game for both programs." -- Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, on the importance of Saturday's ACC title game vs. Virginia Tech.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Florida State vs. Virginia Tech, ACC championship game, Charlotte, N.C, Dec. 4 -- These teams met in the first ACC championship game in 2005 in Jacksonville's Everbank Field (formerly Alltel Stadium). Virginia Tech was 10-1 in the regular season and a solid favorite to beat Florida State. The Seminoles won the ACC Atlantic Division that year despite a 5-3 conference record and three consecutive losses to end the regular season, including a 34-7 blowout loss against Florida. But in one of Bobby Bowden's last great upset wins of his career, his team rose up and stunned the Hokies 27-22 to advance to the Orange Bowl against Penn State. The Seminoles also beat the Hokies in the 2001 Gator Bowl as well as two seasons earlier in the national title game when Michael Vick was Tech's quarterback. They've only played twice in the regular season since Tech joined the ACC, and Florida State QB Christian Ponder is 1-1 in these games.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Unlike the game against Florida, the Seminoles are going to have to contain an opposing quarterback. Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor leads the ACC in passing efficiency (19 TDs, 4 INTs) and is fourth in ACC in total offense. He has the ability to burn pass-rushing defenses by breaking free on draws, and he has poise in the pocket. One of the biggest challenges for Florida State will be the emotional one. Can the Seminoles reproduce the same kind of energy and every-play focus they brought against Florida? Remember, this team didn't figure it would be playing in this game, after N.C. State rallied to beat North Carolina two weeks ago and seemed to be playing well enough to beat Maryland. The Seminoles also face one of the better defensive teams in the ACC, but Virginia Tech has showed some vulnerability against good running teams.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
QB Christian Ponder -- He is coming off one of the best games of his career and the biggest moment of his career. But his elbow injury remains a week-to-week issue, so that could affect practices. Ponder has experience facing Virginia Tech, so that will be a bonus.
TB Chris Thompson -- The Seminoles will need to generate a running game because Tech has solid pass defenders and may focus on Ponder even more after his hot streak vs. Florida. Thompson is the team's best healthiest tailback with Jermaine Thomas sidelined with a knee injury and Ty Jones with a slight ankle injury. Thompson has shown big-play ability with three long TD runs this season.
LB Nigel Bradham -- The middle linebacker will be critical in trying to slow Tech QB Tyrod Taylor and stopping the Hokies' running attack. He has been part of a solid linebacker corps for Seminoles.
--The good news for the Seminoles is they emerged from the Florida game in good shape.
TB Ty Jones (ankle) is the biggest concern. He didn't play in the second half against Florida and may be uncertain for the Virginia Tech game. That would leave Lonnie Pryor and Chris Thompson as the most experienced tailbacks.
QB Christian Ponder (elbow) had his elbow drained after the game. It tightened up on him again, but head coach Jimbo Fisher said Sunday it was just a normal procedure. Eventually, Ponder is looking at some type of surgery, probably after the bowl game or after the Senior Bowl on Jan. 29.
--TB Jermaine Thomas (knee) missed the Florida game, as expected. He likely won't be back until the bowl game, if then.