TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- If there is one penalty that didn’t trouble Florida State on Saturday night, it was excessive celebration.
Following Florida State’s 49-37 win over Clemson in what was arguably one of the biggest and best ACC games in the past decade, the No. 4-ranked Seminoles shuffled back to their locker room in rather tame fashion. There were no chants, no chops, no chest bumps. Just the kind of giddy grins you’d expect from a bunch of kids who won a big game in the backyard. Less than an hour later, they were already talking about South Florida.
That focus, they say, is the reason Florida State was able to overcome a 28-14 deficit on Saturday night and use a 35-3 run to take the lead in the Atlantic Division standings with a 2-0 start in conference play.
“Last year was different,” said cornerback Xavier Rhodes. “Last year we was all about winning the national championship and winning the ACC. We weren’t worrying about our next game. We came together as a team and realized that. When we realized that, we said we’ve got to stop worrying about the future and worry about the present. Right now, it’s South Florida.”
Good luck, South Florida.
On a day in which No. 2 LSU struggled to beat Auburn and Michigan had six turnovers in a loss to Notre Dame, the ACC had two top-10 teams that looked like top-10 teams. Florida State and Clemson put on an offensive show with 1,093 total yards, but the Noles separated themselves in the second half with their stingy defense and Heisman-caliber quarterback play by EJ Manuel. While the majority of the pregame talk focused on Clemson’s offense against Florida State’s defense, the Seminoles proved they have an offense to match it and racked up 667 total yards.
It was a game -- and a win -- worth bragging about.
Florida State, though, moved on before the parking lots were even empty.
“Tomorrow, nobody will be here,” Manuel said. “It will be back to normal in Tallahassee, just move on to the next game.”
Of course, with each win the next game gets bigger. By knocking off the defending ACC champs, Florida State not only became the team to beat in the conference, it also took another step closer to muscling its way into the national title game. Alabama has established itself as the most dominant team in the country, but No. 2 is certainly up for debate. Florida State, which must still play rivals Miami and Florida, along with a Thursday night road trip to Virginia Tech, doesn’t have an easy path to the ACC championship game, but the Noles are in the driver’s seat.
“It’s a head-to-head win against them, which is an interdivisional game, which is always bigger,” coach Jimbo Fisher said. “I call them 'double-whammies' because if there ever is a tie, you’re ahead, but we’ve got a lot of other games in this division to play, too. There will be some other teams that have a say-so in this thing.”
None of them, though, are ranked. And none of them have looked as good as Florida State and Clemson. Even Coastal Division favorite Virginia Tech has already fallen out of the Associated Press Top 25 after last week’s loss to Pitt. And with Georgia Tech’s 0-2 start, Florida State shouldn’t just win its division; it should win its first league title since 2005.
South Florida first, though.
“We’re 4-0 and that’s all it is,” Fisher said. “We’ve got a critical game next week at South Florida. We’ve got to get ready for that and put this one behind us very quickly and move on.”
The Atlantic Division standings, though, will make it hard to forget -- especially for Clemson.