FSU finally feels normal again

CHARLOTTE, NC — Florida State was the “It” program of college football in the 1990s.

It was the most explosive, the most physical, the most talented, and it
won the most games. The Seminoles ran up scores because they simply
couldn’t avoid it. They were that good.

The FSU of the 2000s has been quite different, however. Talented? Yes, certainly. Champions? Rarely. Competitive? Sometimes.

Saturday night wasn’t pretty, and in some respects will keep many FSU
faithful complaining that they aren’t back yet. But it was a step in the
right direction, as the Seminoles claimed their first ACC championship
since 2005 by beating Georgia Tech, 21-15. That’s seven years for a
program that was basically invincible its first nine years in the league

But Jimbo Fisher will take it because he understands this process requires layering.

“I think it’s huge because I think you continue to change the culture,”
said Fisher, who was a hand-picked successor to legendary former coach
Bobby Bowden before his retirement three years ago. “We had a culture
there for a while where we couldn’t win those games, we couldn’t win 10
games in a season, now we’ve won 11…

“You’ve got to win one before you can ever say I’m back… You’ve got to
win your conference championship before you win a national championship.
And now our kids understand what it takes and how hard it is, but
they’re champions.”

This not only puts FSU (11-2) back on top of the ACC, but it gives the
program a new launching point next season while also infusing Seminole
Nation with a sense of normalcy.

Normal because the only way its base is happy and the stars are properly
aligned above Tallahassee is if the program is wearing a crown of some
significance. And winning an ACC championship and earning a spot in the
Orange Bowl is certainly momentous. It also allows for discussion of
connections to the past.

The 1990s were a cherished time for FSU. It began ACC play in 1992 and
didn’t lose until well into the 1995 season on the last play of the game
one night at frigid Virginia. During its first nine seasons in the ACC,
the Seminoles played 111 football games, going 70-2 against league
foes.

The Seminoles won or tied for every ACC title in that stretch and also
captured national championships in 1993 and 1999 while giving the
college football universe a pair of Heisman Trophy winners in Charlie
Ward and Chris Weinke.

But the bottom began falling out for the program in its first game
played following the tragic terrorist attacks on the United States on
September 11, 2001.

Eleven days later, a Seminoles team ranked No. 4 in the nation visited
an 0-3 North Carolina team that had been handled easily in its first
three contests. Sixty minutes of football later, the Noles left Chapel
Hill with a 41-9 thumping on their resume, and it’s really never been
the same since.

In fact, from the beginning of the 2001 campaign through the end of last
season, FSU went 57-31 in ACC games, and that’s not factoring in the
victories removed by the NCAA in 2007 and 2008. That record reflects all
on-field results.

The 2000 FSU team ended a 14-year stretch of finishing among the
top-four of the national rankings. Since then, FSU has been in eight
final polls with a high of No. 11 in 2003.

So when the FSU band played over and over and over as midnight neared
Saturday, and players celebrated with families and some just danced to
the tunes, it was a moment in time to link something from its past to
perhaps the beginning of a new era.

“I’ll be extremely proud of it 10, 15 years from now,” said senior FSU
quarterback E.J. Manuel. “I’ll be able to say I helped our team get back
to where we needed to be.”

The Seminoles didn’t exactly put an exclamation mark on this title. They
led 21-3 in the second quarter and were playing defense as the Yellow
Jackets collected a couple of first downs before Karlos Williams picked
off a pass with 1:17 remaining to secure the championship. They almost
blew it.

So this wasn’t vintage FSU anything other than that it was another
championship. And it may be the first in seven years, but it’s the 13th
since joining the ACC, and that matters.

Forty-four current Seminoles weren’t even born yet when FSU began
working toward its first ACC title, and they now have something in
common with all of FSU’s best ACC teams.