I spent a particular Thursday night glued to the television watching a certain college football game with vested interest.
No money was at stake, but countless hours of preseason and in-season time spent dissecting, bragging about, boasting about and defending a Florida State football team that was finally back on the national stage were.
Granted, that stage was a prime-time spotlight that will undoubtedly be lost in the shuffle of an SEC Saturday showdown between LSU and Alabama, but the Seminoles definitely took advantage of the opportunity with a 38-7 beatdown of Boston College.
E.J. Manuel showed all the poise and leadership that put him in the preseason conversation for the nation's most elite quarterback. His numbers pale in comparison to Austin Dantin -- a Tallahassee Leon High School graduate -- of Toledo's Tuesday night performance, when he tossed five touchdown passes and threw for 321 yards, but Manuel managed his fourth straight blowout victory.
Manuel was 12-of-16 passing for 180 yards and two total touchdowns. He took hard hits on his ailing shoulder and hopped up each time. He hung on to option runs before flipping it out to his talented tailbacks at the moment of impact, then jumped back to his feet fired up about the play's success. He showed, on a night when few sports fans were watching anything else, that FSU's future behind the 6-5, 245-pound Virginia Beach native is bright.
Obviously, on a night when Manuel only threw for 180 yards, the Seminoles had a balanced team effort. Whatever confusion the FSU defense had during its three-week slide from No. 5 in the country to unranked has been cleared up quickly. The D ranks third in the FBS right now with 30 sacks.
The D-line combination of Bjoern Werner, Brandon Jenkins, Cornellius Carradine, Everett Dawkins, Anthony McCloud and Timmy Jernigan frequently torpedoed the Boston College backfield. The 'Noles only allowed 94 yards rushing on 39 attempts by the Eagles. Better yet, the scheming of defensive coordinator Mark Stoops limited BC to just 207 total yards in the game, forcing two fumbles and getting two interceptions.
The 'Noles have smashed their opponents by no fewer than 25 points in each of the last four weeks. As a result, the garnet and gold clinched their 30th consecutive year of bowl eligibility. At 6-3, the Seminoles are practically guaranteed a 13th game on the schedule. While the ACC title game is still a long shot -- Clemson has the lead in the Atlantic Division standings, along with the tiebreaker over Florida State -- the 'Noles have clearly righted what went wrong during their three-game skid.Seminole Nation has now changed its tune from panic and doubt to a simple question of "What if?"
What if Manuel hadn't been hurt in the first half of the closely contested showdown with then-top ranked Oklahoma? What if Manuel had been fully healthy and ready to lead the 'Noles into Clemson and Wake Forest?
While hindsight makes it fun to envision an undefeated FSU heading into next Saturday's Goodyear blimp contest against the hated Miami Hurricanes, reality shows us a team that has obviously committed to spending the remainder of the season making up for games it has already lost.
There's no doubt that how FSU finishes out will have a direct effect on both recruiting and respect. After outscoring their last four ACC opponents 122-39, it's safe to say that recruiting and respect still have a garnet-and-gold flare.
Elton Gumbel is a sports anchor and reporter for WCTV in Tallahassee, as well as a regular contributor to NoleDigest.com.
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