- David M. Hale, College football
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The speech following Florida State's first loss of the season was critical. The sting of the defeat at the hands of NC State had barely sunk in, and fans still milled about the stadium as Bjoern Werner greeted each teammate in the locker room with a challenge to turn the page, imploring them to focus on what's ahead.
After Saturday's loss to Florida, Werner gave no speeches. He didn't beg teammates to put the loss behind them or vow to fight another day.
He didn't have to.
"The NC State game was a little different because it was our first loss and people were talking about the national championship," Werner said. "This time, I didn't have to talk. There were so many guys in the locker room saying to keep your head up. That's what you want."
There's not much shame losing to Florida. The Gators might be as good as any team in the country, and they have the credentials to prove it. But this wasn't a team that snuck up on FSU the way NC State had. This was a game that required a bigger emotional investment than any the Seminoles had played this season, and that was evident in the aftermath.
"A lot of the guys -- of course they're down and they're sad," Jimbo Fisher said. "That was a very emotional game. But we had a lot of those leaders going around saying pick your head up."
Moving on is a necessity if Florida State wants to define 2012 as a success. To an extent, the loss to Florida undermines FSU's legitimacy on the national stage, but conference supremacy will be defined by this week's game against Georgia Tech, a chance for the Seminoles to win the ACC for the first time in seven years.
A week after facing behemoth Florida, a game against the 6-6 Yellow Jackets comes with little fanfare, but this isn't about Georgia Tech.
"We have the ACC left, bring the ACC championship home -- how many years ago did we win the ACC?" Werner said. "The team knows what's at stake. You can't let this [loss] drag into next week."
The ACC has hardly been a proving ground this year, and the conference wrapped up the regular season sporting a dismal 7-19 record against nonconference opponents from BCS automatic-qualifier conferences, including a 1-5 mark against the SEC. Those struggles are, in no small part, why the game against Florida meant so much. It was FSU's chance to prove itself outside its lackluster surroundings.
Now that it's over, the Seminoles must fight for the consolation prize, even if beating Georgia Tech largely depends on avoiding such a mindset.
"We have two more games that we need to win, that we have to win," EJ Manuel said. "We lost a game, guys are upset. I know I'm very disappointed. I've got to get better for these next two games."
Georgia Tech was embarrassed at the hands of its SEC rival Saturday, too, but that loss to Georgia doesn't carry the same weight. The Yellow Jackets weren't expected to contend, and the outcome came as little surprise. Tech's appearance in the ACC championship game, too, comes with few expectations. It backed into the spot by default, only winning a dismal Coastal Division after Miami bowed out of bowl consideration with NCAA sanctions looming.
For Georgia Tech, there is nothing to lose Saturday. For Florida State, the difference between success and failure in 2012 hangs in the balance.
The scars of the loss to Florida will likely linger into the offseason, but FSU doesn't have time to consider what might have been. Myriad opportunities were squandered against the Gators, but the key now is to ensure another one isn't missed against Georgia Tech.
"Knowing these guys, we're all men out there," Rashad Greene said. "We know that after a loss, you've got to move on from it and learn from what you did."
Florida State took an emotional beating in the loss to Florida, and getting over the game mentally might be the biggest hurdle in the way of an ACC title.