Florida St.-Virginia Tech Preview
The eighth-ranked Seminoles come off a bye Thursday night as they travel to Blacksburg to play a reeling Hokies team that's in unfamiliar territory.
Florida State (8-1, 5-1) is atop the conference's Atlantic Division and controls its own destiny after a 48-7 win over Duke in its last game Oct. 27. North Carolina State holds a tiebreaker by virtue of beating the Seminoles on Oct. 6, but the Wolfpack have dropped their last two games to all but fall out of the division race.
"It's like starting a new season,'' said James Wilder Jr., who along with Devonta Freeman is filling the running back void left by a season-ending knee injury to Chris Thompson. "I'm definitely happy now that I know it's in our hands.''
Wilder Jr. and Freeman combined for 174 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries against the Blue Devils.
The Seminoles are the only team ranked in the top 10 in total offense (seventh at 524.6 yards per game) and defense (first at 227.1). Since falling to North Carolina State, they've won three straight by an average score of 44.0-11.3.
Senior EJ Manuel has a pass efficiency rating of 174.0 that's second in the country, and he's among the front-runners to be named ACC player of the year. Manuel has been particularly good during the winning streak, completing 69.1 percent of his passes for 950 yards and six touchdowns.
Florida State, though, isn't without problems. The Seminoles have fumbled nine times over their last two games, losing six.
"We need to get that fixed," coach Jimbo Fisher said.
Florida State is 0-2 following byes under Fisher.
Virginia Tech (4-5, 2-3) must win two of its final three games to extend its string of 19 consecutive seasons with a bowl berth, the third-longest active streak in the country. That could prove to be a tall order as the Hokies have lost four of five and have their worst mark after nine games since 1992 - the last time they missed a bowl, when they finished 2-8-1.
The Hokies fell 30-12 at Miami last Thursday, guaranteeing that their eight-year streak of 10-win seasons would end.
Virginia Tech bested the Hurricanes in first downs, third-down efficiency, total yards and time of possession, but its once-vaunted special teams continued to struggle. The Hokies gave up a blocked punt and an 81-yard kickoff return while missing a field goal and an extra point.
"For this football team, it hurts because we're so close," coach Frank Beamer told the team's official website. "I don't think it's effort. We've just got to make plays."
Logan Thomas has been one of Beamer's few reliable playmakers, averaging 281.2 yards of offense to rank third in the ACC behind Manuel and Clemson's Tahj Boyd. Thomas, though, leads an offense that's scoring touchdowns on 53.6 percent of its red-zone possessions.
A return to Lane Stadium could help cure the Hokies' woes. Virginia Tech is 4-1 at home compared to 0-4 on the road.
Florida State has won 13 of the last 15 matchups but Virginia Tech has taken two of the past three, including the 2010 ACC championship game.