FSU, Ponder preparing for no. 12 Hokies

As the weeks went by, the opportunities appeared to be slipping away. Florida State needed to win. NC State needed to lose. The Seminoles lost in the final minute to North Carolina. And the Wolfpack were winning, maintaining control of the Atlantic Division lead.

But a week after FSU defeated Maryland, the Terrapins gave FSU a gift– a win over NC State that put the Seminoles in the ACC championship game.

"I'm going to definitely have to tell Ralph thank you," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said of Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen.

There may be no way to say thank you to the Terrapins for helping the Seminoles claim the Atlantic Division title. But FSU coaches and players will play in their first ACC championship game since 2005 when the Seminoles (9-3) play Virginia Tech (10-2) on Saturday at 7:45 p.m. at Charlotte, N.C.

Fisher talks a great deal about playing consistently and playing with focus. He lives by the one-game-at-a-time mantra.

But he knows about the big picture and what Saturday meant. A 31-7 rout of Florida and then Maryland's victory gives FSU a chance to show that it has put the 7-6 seasons in the past and is once again an elite college football team.

"I think at Florida State the bar is always high," Fisher said. "That's one of the reasons this is such a great job...The bottom line is you've got to win anyway. That's the name of the game. And hopefully it will just help us move in the direction and have the confidence and the expectation to win, like our players do."

FSU moved up to 20th in both the Associated Press and USA Today coaches poll on Sunday. A suffocating red-zone defense, which has allowed a combined 36 points the past three weeks, is part of the reason why the Seminoles have a three-game winning streak over Clemson, Maryland and Florida.

But they have quite a challenge in No. 12 Virginia Tech, the Coastal Division champion. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor is a dual-threat quarterback, rushing for 613 yards and passing for 2,258 yards. He is efficient, too, completing 60 percent of his passes and throwing 20 touchdown passes with just four interceptions.

Virginia Tech also has a talented group of running backs, led by Darren Evans (748 yards and 10 touchdowns).

And the Hokies are allowing just 17 points per game.

"Very, very blue collar," Fisher said of the Hokies. "Very tough. They play great defense, great special teams, and now they've got a very dynamic offense with playmakers at quarterback and running back and receiver."

The career of FSU quarterback Christian Ponder will also come full circle. Ponder played his first collegiate game in 2007 at Virginia Tech, filling in for much of the loss for injured starter Drew Weatherford.

FSU defeated Virginia Tech 30-20 in 2008 in Tallahassee, but Taylor was injured early in the game.

Now, both senior quarterbacks will look to lead their team to the ACC title.

"That's two good quarterbacks, two guys that have meant a lot to their programs," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "The football team relies heavily on them. I think it's certainly two of the best quarterbacks in the league that's going to battle."

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