TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Although ninth-ranked Florida State is most likely out of the national title picture, the Seminoles head into their bye week with most of their preseason goals at hand if they can avoid being upset a second time.
Florida State (8-1, 5-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) most likely lost its chance at getting to the BCS championship game when it inexplicably blew a 16-point halftime lead at North Carolina State earlier this month. But the Seminoles have rebounded impressively with three ACC straight wins, outscoring their opponents 132-34 in those games.
And thanks to North Carolina's win last weekend over North Carolina State, the Seminoles have been handed a second chance at winning the ACC championship and a BCS trip to the Orange Bowl, albeit most likely on New Year's Day.
"Now that we're back on that pedestal, we have to take advantage of it," junior safety Lamarcus Joyner said. "We need this to get our minds right and come back together and play what's out there for us."
Weighed down by the under-performing ACC and a weak nonconference schedule, it's hard to find a path for Florida State to the national title game with a half dozen unbeaten teams remaining and some with one loss who benefit from a superior strength of schedule that factors into the BCS ratings formula.
Coach Jimbo Fisher gave his players Monday off with Saturday's open date, giving him 12 days to get ready for a visit to Virginia Tech, where the Seminoles lost 40-21 in their last trip to Blacksburg, Va., in 2007.
"That's one of the toughest environments there is," Fisher said. "I'm anxious to see how this team will grow and handle that situation."
The Seminoles are 2-1 away from home this year, averaging 26.7 points on the road compared with 54 at home.
The only time they left Florida's boundaries, they lost — 17-16 at North Carolina State. And Florida State's next two games are not only on the road, but well north at Virginia Tech and Maryland, where the weather can also become a factor.
"We just need to play one at a time," Fisher said. "We need to play better ... and learn to play on the road well."
Senior wide receiver Rodney Smith says Saturday's open date comes just in time for a lot of banged up Seminoles to get healthy before their Nov. 8 visit to Virginia Tech, which is always a tough game for Florida State.
"We will go through some rehab to get our bodies back together," said Smith, who has caught 26 passes for 435 yards and three touchdowns. "This week is going to help us."
The Seminoles lead the ACC in virtually all offensive and defensive categories and are second nationally in total defense and fourth in total offense.
"There' a reason Florida State was predicted to win the national championship," Duke cornerback Ross Cockrell said after the Blue Devils were swamped 48-7 last Saturday. "We saw that."
The Seminoles have been especially good at holding down their opponent's key playmakers. Duke's record-setting receiver, Conner Vernon, managed only a dozen yards on three catches against the Seminoles.
It's been a point of pride for the Florida State defense, which earlier in the season also smothered Wake Forest's Michael Campanaro.
"If you're a threat and get our attention, we need to take care of that," Joyner said.
And now it's those trips to Virginia Tech and Maryland before the season finale at home against eighth-ranked Florida in what could be a matchup of once-beaten teams.
But first, as Fisher repeats and repeats, first things first and that means Virginia Tech.
"They're going to be waiting for us," he said.