- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Jimbo Fisher sat down in front of the television cameras after it was done, his face flushed and his voice hoarse. Florida State's 49-37 win had been a roller coaster, and Fisher had suffered and celebrated every twist and turn.
This was, perhaps, his biggest win as the Seminoles' coach, a statement that the hype he'd helped generate this past offseason was richly deserved. But it took eight sentences before Fisher's jubilance was overcome by resolve, and the celebration was muted by his mantra for the season.
The win was big, but he'd already turned the page.
"We should win big games at Florida State," Fisher said. "We're 4-0, but that's all it is. We have a critical game next week at South Florida. We have to get ready for that and put this one behind us."
The pretense is absurd, but Fisher understands that the challenge that lies ahead is far different from the one his team just met.
Florida State earned a decisive victory against the best competition the ACC could muster. South Florida, meanwhile, limped home after a loss to Ball State. Any buzz remaining for the Seminoles' trip this week to Tampa will simply be residual enthusiasm from the win over Clemson, and that's the new challenge FSU will face.
If these first four weeks of the season were about proving Florida State could live up to the expectations, the bulk of the next two months will be defined by the Seminoles' quest to remain unflinchingly focused.
"You continuously do what Coach Fisher says every day," safety Lamarcus Joyner said. "That's why we have the success we have now. It's just keeping the circle tight. That'll carry us on."
It's not that the win over Clemson is an assurance that Florida State has arrived, though surely the majority of those are-they-really-back doubters have receded into the background amid the jubilant masses. But what remains for the Seminoles will hardly provide the same challenge.
The lone top-25 team left on their schedule is Florida, which will travel to Tallahassee for the regular-season finale. In the interim, it's a sea of mediocrity otherwise known as the ACC.
Clemson was a legitimate test, and Florida State passed with flying colors. For the next seven games, however, the Seminoles will likely be their own biggest adversary.
So Fisher lamented the 11 penalties Florida State was flagged for against Clemson. He lauded his defense's ability to bounce back in the second half while remaining careful to point out that all the immense preseason hype about the unit probably had been overstated. He swooned over the riveting excitement of a come-from-behind win over a top-10 team, then, with a straight face, suggested a middling Big East opponent would provide a critical game for his team.
"This was a big win for us," Fisher said, "but I'm anxious to see how quickly we can put this one behind us."
The premise sounds incongruous with the celebrations in the stands and the numbers on the scoreboard after Saturday's win, but Fisher has spent too much time railing against distractions for any of that to matter. Just four games are in the books, and there's a danger in picturing the finish line with so much of the race left to run.
"We know we're not there yet," receiver Rodney Smith said. "There are still people looking to knock our heads off. I think we've got the guys to make sure our team keeps a level head and makes sure we put the work in to get it done."
However the story ends, Saturday's chapter was high drama, and even Fisher had enjoyed this chapter.
It was a win worth savoring, Chris Thompson said, a reminder of both how far the Seminoles have come but also how much more they now have to lose.
"Guys are going to celebrate and enjoy a good win for us," Thompson said, "but I think all the guys are keeping it together."
Florida State has every right to celebrate its win over Clemson, but the Seminoles know they must avoid a letdown.