BLACKSBURG, Va. — Florida State saved face Thursday night in the frigid southwestern mountains of Virginia.
The Seminoles, ranked No. 10 in the BCS, were on the brink of blowing another double-digit lead to a mediocre team on the road – as they did a month ago at N.C. State – before rallying on their last drive to notch a 28-22 victory.
The win quells some of the hard feelings growing toward coach Jimbo Fisher, and it kept the Seminoles in the driver’s seat to win the Atlantic Division and play for the ACC championship. It also kept alive the ACC’s chances at getting a second team into a BCS bowl.
“We knew it would be tough coming in here on Thursday night and we would get their best shot,” Fisher said. “Not many folks ever come in here on Thursday nights and do all three phases and all that, … But after saying all that to come out of here with a victory on a Thursday night at Lane Stadium shows a lot of character in our football team.”
The ACC needed FSU to win this game. It needs the Seminoles, regardless of who is at the helm, to be relevant nationally. And while Fisher’s team has been positively average on the road this season, and was again for much of this contest, the Seminoles are still three wins from capturing the program’s first ACC title in seven years, nabbing a 12th victory and going to the Orange Bowl possibly ranked in the top five.
The ACC needed this more than Virginia Tech improving to 5-5 and reminding the college football universe it’s still alive and kicking and that its rowdy home can be a house of horrors for visitors.
This was supposed to be a season in which the ACC took a step forward. Eleven starting quarterbacks returned, the offenses were going to catch up with the league’s usually stout defenses, and maybe three clubs, including Clemson and the Hokies, could finish among the top 10.
Virginia Tech hasn’t done its part at all. The Hokies are now 4-6 overall and 2-4 in the ACC. They have been blown out three straight times on the road, and a defense that finished ranked among the top 10 a year ago and returned almost everyone is a shadow of last year’s group.
But eight of the other nine ACC programs not nicknamed Seminoles and Tigers haven’t done their part, either. Duke, which is bowl eligible for the first time in 18 years, is the exception. North Carolina’s probation plus poor, inconsistent play has resulted in lousy nonconference losses that have tossed this league well off the radar.
But with all of that, No. 13 Clemson (8-1, 5-1 ACC) and FSU (9-1, 6-1) remain in contention for BCS bowls – one as the league’s champion and the other as an at-large selection. Imagine, one of the ACC’s worst seasons in years – and perhaps most underachieving in memory – and it can still land two clubs in the lucrative series. That’s why E.J. Manuel’s 39-yard pass to Rashad Greene for a game-winning touchdown with 40 seconds left was so important to every school in the conference.
It reduces the heat on Fisher – the handpicked successor to Hall of Famer Bobby Bowden – and keeps alive the hopes of a program working so desperately to regain its lost luster. Losing at 5-4 NCSU and at the worst Virginia Tech team in two decades would have suggested anything but a return to form. The Noles were mere seconds from being nowhere close.
As it is, FSU still isn’t a shell of its 1990s self, and it’s unlikely it can ever regain that full form, but it is on track to put forth a special season regardless.
If this is a matter of taking steps, then the Seminoles achieved that on this night. Manuel was very solid, completing 25 of 42 pass attempts for 326 yards and three scores. He got little help from a ground game that resembled the struggles of 2011, and that’s before factoring in the five times he was sacked.
“E.J. took a beating back there,” Fisher said, “but he still stood in there and made the plays.”
The Noles overcame a late safety allowed and major mojo on the Hokies’ side to get the important victory.
The FSU victory also gives the league a chance to not only make an additional $17 million, but also notch two BCS wins, which it badly needs given its current record is 2-13 on those contests.
FSU didn’t play well and neither has the ACC, but the Noles’ win tonight was one for the conference.