Back Again

For the second year in a row, Florida State is back in the race for a chance at a National Championship following a loss to Miami earlier in the season. Ranked fifth in the first BCS poll, the highest of any one loss team, FSU faces a series of middle-of-the-road opponents before closing the season with Florida. It a similar situation to last season, and should FSU continue its march it will need to avoid the dreaded let down that snapped the title run against Clemson.

It was just around this time last year when Florida State found itself back in the hunt for a National Championship for the first time since 2000.

A late autumn trip to Notre Dame that ended in one of the worst shutouts in Irish history combined with Miami's 31-7 loss to Virginia Tech helped FSU secure the third place spot in the BCS standings, trailing USC, who also had one loss, and undefeated Oklahoma.

The rebound from a 14-22 loss to Miami earlier in the season was nearly complete, and with three games left the national title game was just over the horizon.

That was, until Clemson obstructed the view. "I just didn't think we realized where we were. I don't think we realized what was at hand," receiver Dominic Robinson said.

"After you lose one game, here at Florida State, every game after that you're playing to defend your chance for playing in a national championship. I don't think we realized that. We saw what was down the road, but in preparing for that game we didn't think about what was at stake."

A lack of focus.

A lack of execution.

A loss.

It dashed any chance FSU had at making a run at the top and as Robinson watched LSU and Oklahoma play in the Sugar Bowl, he could only wonder what could have been.

"It doesn't really set in until you're watching the national championship game and you know there's no reason that shouldn't be us," Robinson said.

Now, Florida State is in a similar situation.

The 36-3 win over undefeated Virginia vaulted the Seminoles into fifth in the first BCS poll as the highest ranked one loss team, coming in behind USC, Miami, Oklahoma and Auburn. Next on the schedule is a gauntlet of middle-weight teams (Wake Forest, Maryland, Duke, NC State), all unranked and most with records at or below .500, but opponents that could meddle with a chance for a national title if another let down similar to the one at Clemson occurs.

"You do worry about a let down because history tells. You look at the loss we had at Clemson last year after an amazing win at Notre Dame and so you worry about those things because you've seen it," Robinson said.

But this year, he says things will be different, pointing to what happened in Syracuse.


They can't all be blowouts, even though that's the way most players and coaches would probably prefer. Often there's a few nail biters along the way and occasionally they come from teams you wouldn't expect.

Cast and point, this year's game in Syracuse.

Florida State entered the game a 19-point favorite, having handled UAB, Clemson and North Carolina the past three weeks. On the other hand, Syracuse had lost their only two games to ranked teams (Purdue and Virginia) by a combined score of 82-10.

But the Seminoles struggled and the Orange played inspired, and when Sam McGrew leaped into the air in the final seconds of the game and intercepted QB Perry Patterson's pass as it sailed into the end zone in the direction of a waiting receiver, Syracuse fell just short of pulling out one of their biggest upsets in school history.

Opposite the Orange, the Seminoles sideline breathed a collective sigh of relief. Coach Bobby Bowden knew they got away with one.

"We were very fortunate tonight," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said.

"It was like Murphy's Law out there for us – everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. That's our fault."

Still, in the end it was a win, and the kind that built character. As center David Castillo puts it, "Those games happen to everybody and those game can make and break a season. When you make it through those games you get focused and your team gets that much better."

Sentiments that are shared by Robinson.

"You want to blow out every team and especially in a game like that where we thought we would blow them out. But it's great for the team and great for our morale," Robinson said. "It's great to get that sense of urgency inside of us and to let us know that we're not invincible. During that game it set in, in our minds, that we could lose. Once you realize that you fight every down for the rest of the year."

Many of the players say that sense of urgency was missing last year, and that's why Clemson slipped away. They approached the game thinking Clemson, who was 5-4 and had lost 11-straight to the Seminoles, would be a pushover.

"The reason why there's so much positive concern, because we could lose. I think coming into Clemson we didn't think we could lose. After we beat Notre Dame, we thought we're in the national championship game, we didn't go game to game. Now that we've experienced that, there's that sense of urgency," Robinson said.

The memory of that loss is still lingering around the team. When running back Lorenzo Booker was asked about refocusing toward Wake Forest, the first thing he mentioned was the loss against Clemson and the lack of focus that caused it.

Does Booker think it will happen again?

"Not after last year. We were ranked higher and had the national title right in front us. We went down to Clemson and they run us right out of the stadium. Everybody went through that last year and you look at it and we're right back in that same situation," Booker said.

"We only had two games left after that and we didn't lose them, so it makes you think we had one loss just like everyone else."

What Robinson and Booker learned from that game is something Bowden hopes all his players were able to take away for fear that if not they might repeat the same mistake following the win over Virginia.

"Well, you always are especially when you come off a big win like that. I think last year we played Clemson after we played Notre Dame and got waxed pretty good. You hope they learn from these experiences," Bowden said.

"They have to do it. Coaches can talk about it all they want to. We know what can happen. They have to be able to see it too, the fact that they have been through it once, surely they have learned their lesson."


At the end of the season, not withstanding another BCS malfunction, it will come down to two teams battling for the national championship. At fifth in the current standings, Florida State is right in the mix.

But to make it to the top, the Seminoles will need a little help from some other teams. Auburn still has to face Georgia, Oklahoma has a road trip to Texas A&M and the Big 12 championship, USC can shift to cruise control, but Notre Dame may give them a run for their money (Luck of the Irish?), and Miami has to go against NC State and Virginia on the road.

(Side note: The Seminoles still have a shot at the ACC title despite the early loss to Miami. If Virginia defeats Miami there would be a three-way tie at the top, and under ACC guidelines the highest ranked team would take the conference title and the automatic BCS bowl bid.)

This all takes into account that Florida State does its part and wins out.

They've got the defense, ranked first in the nation against the run and on pace to be the best Florida State's seen since 1997. They've found the quarterback. He's ranked 27th in the nation in passing efficiency with a rating of 136.9 and a completion percentage 66.10, which would put him in the company of Charlie Ward, Thad Busby, Danny Kanell and Chris Weinke if he can keep his production steady through the end of the year.

Even Sexton's presence has given the players the feel of a much-needed fresh start.

"Different players in there bring a different attitude," Nicholson said.

"Every team has a unique, attitude and culture that surrounds them."

That attitude will play a big role in finishing out the season, especially if the team finds itself grinding out another game like Syracuse. That could be the difference between being good and being great.

"The biggest thing is being able to pull out the Syracuses, because you're going to have games like that, offensively you don't play you're best, defensively you don't play your best," Robinson said.

"We were flat out bad. The key is winning those games. Games like that define a teams season, when you don't play at your best and you win. I think that's the difference between us this year and last, if you look at the Louisville game from a couple years ago, being down to the wire and we didn't pull it out, but this year we did."

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