Nobody has to remind Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer or any of his players how lopsided the recent series has been with Florida State (the Noles have won 13 of the past 14). Then again, nobody has to remind Florida State which program has owned the ACC championship game since its inception in 2005.
There’s plenty of history between Florida State and Virginia Tech heading into Saturday’s Dr Pepper ACC championship game, and the Hokies have not fared well in it. They have, however, won three ACC football titles in their five seasons in the ACC and are on a 10-game winning streak as they chase their fourth. Florida State, which once dominated the conference with its 12 league titles, is looking to regain the grasp it once held on the ACC while Virginia Tech wants to maintain it.
“Yeah, this game is definitely going to determine whether or not they put us back up in the spotlight of taking over the ACC,” said FSU linebacker Kendall Smith. “In the past, Florida State was very successful with taking over the ACC, and by us going against Virginia Tech, which has been very successful in the ACC in the past four to five years, we've definitely got a chance to -- this is going to help with recruiting, with everything. This is going to show the world that, OK, if we win this game at Florida State, we're back on the path and whatnot.”
Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder agreed.
“They're always competing at the ACC championship level and they've been to pretty much every ACC championship game,” he said. “So I think they're ahead of us right now, and they've competed really well the whole year this year and obviously struggled a little early on but have really turned it up ever since those first two games.
“I mean, right now they're undefeated in the ACC, so they're definitely the best team in the ACC right now, and this is going to be a tough game for us.”
Ponder and Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor, both seniors, will take center stage against two of the nation’s top scoring defenses. Statistically, Virginia Tech and Florida State are very similar teams -- both are averaging over 30 points per game, and they’re both holding opponents just under 18 points per game. They both have a talented group of running backs that has suffered its share of injuries, and defenses that have progressed throughout the season.
In order for the Seminoles to win their first ACC title since 2005, Florida State’s passing game must first win the battle against a talented Virginia Tech secondary that has 12 interceptions in the past five games and a league-leading 20 picks overall.
Ponder is No. 3 in the country in passing efficiency and has thrown 20 touchdowns to eight interceptions. He’s played better since back-to-back losses against NC State and North Carolina.
“We're two plays from being 11-1 right now, and I think since the NC State game I started taking it upon myself to play better,” he said. “I mean, I was doing a lot more in practice, studying a lot more film, and finally things started clicking for me. I started getting confidence and it kind of started snowballing. The more confidence I got, the more comfortable I was, and I just started playing better.”
Taylor will have his hands full with Florida State’s defense, which ranks second nationally in quarterback sacks. The Seminoles’ defense under first-year coordinator Mark Stoops has been a major factor in the program’s return to the title game.
“Their front four is playing pretty good,” Taylor said. “I know the two outside guys, the two rushers are playing at a very high level, going to have to keep my eyes out for those guys. And as far as the secondary, just fast. Just got to do a good job in one-on-one situations.”
Should Virginia Tech win its fourth ACC title in six years, tight end Andre Smith said this one would mean the most because of the Hokies’ 0-2 start.
“Again, you know, we started off rough, and here at Virginia Tech we're not used to that,” he said. “It would definitely feel like a lot bigger than the previous two. Just to be able to win out and be doing so well after a rough start would just be great. You know, that would be great confidence for us and definitely a turnaround of the season. They've all been enjoyable, but I think this one would definitely be the most enjoyable for sure.”
The same can be said for Florida State, which has dominated the series, but not the game.