This wasn't the same FSU squad seen in recent weeks. This was a team on a mission to right the ship of a national power that had fallen from grace. In the end, the Seminoles did it for themselves and for their coach – a man who, despite single-handedly building the Seminoles into one of the most successful and recognized programs in the history of college football, found his judgment under question as of late.
At the end of the game, however, coach Bobby Bowden's position on the podium at mid-field to accept the championship trophy seemed all too fitting and appropriate for a man of his stature as the legions of Seminoles faithful chanted in approval.
"We just wanted to come out and win this one for coach Bowden," sophomore wide receiver De'Cody Fagg said. "There's been a lot of stuff in the papers the last few weeks, but in the end we came out on top as the ACC champs."
The "stuff" in the papers had been aimed in a variety of directions. If offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden wasn't being blamed for struggles in the month of November, it was the play of the maligned offensive line. Defensively, some questioned the heart of a unit that had been prone to giving up the big play during the losing-streak.
"We had a lot of folks against us," said senior Willie Reid, who was voted the game's MVP. "We just had to shut out all our critics."
And shut them out they did. The Garnet and Gold defense kept Virginia Tech quarterback Marcus Vick in check and the offense came out with a solid scheme en route to pulling off the upset over a team that was favored by 14-points.
Offensively, the Tribe entered the game with a battered and bruised offensive line with only seven healthy scholarship athletes. Combined with the fact that Seminoles redshirt freshman quarterback Drew Weatherford had become uncharacteristically mistake-prone in the three November losses, nobody could have predicted the sound offensive performance against a Hokies squad boasting the nation's No.1-ranked defense.
Indeed both sides of the ball played strong for FSU against a formidable opponent in the national spotlight, which only bodes well for the future of a team that has played over 25 freshmen this season.
With the month of November in the past and a losing-streak snapped, it now looks as though that Florida State swagger is slowly but surely returning as the critics have been silenced.
"It feels good to be going to the Orange Bowl," Fagg said. "We've just got to build off this and show people why you should never bet against Florida State."