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Monday, September 12, 2011
Updated: September 14, 6:06 PM ET
Seminoles await big-game opportunity

By Mark Schlabach
ESPN.com

You won't find a hotel room within 100 miles of Tallahassee, Fla., for this coming weekend.

Some of the college football fans fortunate enough to book hotel rooms in advance shelled out $400 per night, with a mandatory two-night minimum.

More than a decade after Florida State won its last national championship in 1999, a truly big-game atmosphere will return to campus on Saturday night. The No. 5 Seminoles will host No. 1 Oklahoma at Doak Campbell Stadium, only the second time they've ever played a top-ranked team at home.

"This is the reason I wanted to be the head coach at Florida State," Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said. "This is the reason kids come to Florida State -- to play in games that matter."

During former FSU coach Bobby Bowden's remarkable run from 1987 to 2000, when his teams won at least 10 games and were ranked in the top five of the final Associated Press poll every season, it seemed like the Seminoles played a "game of the century" every other week.

But after the Seminoles slipped at the end of Bowden's tenure, losing four or more games in each of his last five seasons from 2005 to 2009, the spotlight on FSU's program wasn't nearly as bright.

Jimbo Fisher
Coach Jimbo Fisher and FSU face Oklahoma in the biggest game of a huge weekend for the ACC.

Fisher knows that beating the Sooners would put the Seminoles back among the sport's upper-echelon teams. "We know it's a great opportunity, and it's coming at the right time," Fisher said. "We know they're a great team, and hopefully we'll play great."

If nothing else, there will be a great atmosphere in Tallahassee on Saturday night. ESPN's "College GameDay" is coming to town for the first time since October 2003, and FSU officials anticipate receiving as many as 300 requests for media credentials.

Finding a hotel room near Tallahassee has been difficult. Some media members are staying in Lake City, Fla., which is more than 100 miles to the east. Tickets to the game have been sold out for months, and they were being listed for as much as $1,500 each on StubHub on Sunday night.

"Everyone has been talking about the Oklahoma game," FSU running back Lonnie Pryor said. "Nobody talked about the first two games. Everybody has been waiting for this game all year."

The Seminoles have been waiting a year for redemption, after the Sooners blasted them 47-17 in Norman, Okla., in the second game last season. Sooners quarterback Landry Jones threw for 380 yards with four touchdowns, and the game seemed over as soon as it started, with OU taking a 34-7 lead at the half.

"I don't think you worry about the results," Fisher said. "You worry about preparing for the game and playing the game. We won big games at the end of last season and beat some great football teams. Our word is 'now.' What are we doing right now to help us for the next game?"

But if FSU plays well on Saturday night, it can get a lot closer to its past. The Seminoles haven't defeated a top-five opponent since beating Boston College 27-17 on Nov. 3, 2007. They haven't beaten a top-five, nonconference opponent since a 30-7 win over No. 4 Florida in 2000. Since then, FSU has lost 10 consecutive games against top-five nonconference foes, and 13 of 14 against top-10 opponents from outside the ACC.

The ACC might want FSU to win more than the Seminoles themselves. Since FSU defeated Virginia Tech in the 2000 Sugar Bowl to win the national championship, ACC teams have lost 47 of 53 games against top-10 opponents from outside the conference, including Duke's 44-14 loss to No. 6 Stanford on Saturday. In fact, ACC teams -- Miami and Virginia Tech didn't join the league until 2004 and Boston College came on board the next season -- have lost 32 of their past 33 games against top-five, nonconference foes.

Obviously, the ACC's credibility would receive a major boost if FSU can upset the Sooners on Saturday.

"Everybody talks about the nonconference games," Fisher said. "From that standpoint, it would be a great win for the league. I think it's a great league. When you look at the number of players the ACC is putting in the NFL, it's right next to the SEC. The ACC will get back to competing for national championships."

Florida State can take a major step in doing just that when it plays Oklahoma. "It's a big opportunity to play Oklahoma," Pryor said. "They're the No. 1 team in the country. We can show the world what we can do and prove we can play on their level."

On the Mark

• New Vanderbilt coach James Franklin has tried to instill some fun in the woebegone program, playing dodgeball with his players this spring and surprising them with black helmets before Saturday's game against Connecticut, which the Commodores hadn't worn since 1990.

Franklin also knows the best recipe for fun is winning. The Commodores have their first winning streak since 2008 after defeating the Huskies 24-21 at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville. The Commodores forced the Huskies, the defending Big East champions, to turn the ball over four times.

"It wasn't pretty, but it's a 'W,'" said Franklin, a former Maryland offensive coordinator. "It was more in that we found a way to win a tough game and overcome adversity."

The Commodores, who defeated FCS foe Elon 45-14 in their opener, begin SEC play against Ole Miss at home on Saturday.

• Iowa State quarterback Steele Jantz's football journey took him from California to Hawaii, back to California and then to Ames, Iowa.

After playing quarterback in only a handful of games at Nevada Union (Calif.) High School because of injuries, Jantz enrolled at Hawaii and walked on to the football team. He was the Warriors' scout-team quarterback during the 2008 season, and then transferred to the City College of San Francisco.

Jantz enrolled at Iowa State this spring and has already led the Cyclones to two come-from-behind victories. His 1-yard touchdown run with 40 seconds left lifted Iowa State to a 20-19 victory over FCS foe Northern Iowa in the opener. Then Jantz threw for 279 yards and four touchdowns in a 44-41 victory over rival Iowa on Saturday, which ended a three-game losing streak to the Hawkeyes.

Jantz's last touchdown, a 4-yard pass to Darius Reynolds, forced a second overtime. The Cyclones won the game on James White's 4-yard run in the third overtime.

"Some guys rise up when the spotlight is the brightest, and he certainly has in two football games," Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said.

Off the Mark

• Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger, who guided Miami to the 1983 national championship, announced a couple of weeks ago that he would end his legendary coaching career after this season.

Apparently, the Owls have already decided to quit.

A week after losing at Florida 41-3, Florida Atlantic gained only one first down and 48 yards of total offense in an ugly 44-0 loss at Michigan State on Saturday. It was the second time the Spartans held an opponent to one first down -- they also did it against Maryland in 1944.

"This was a very disappointing thing for us," Schnellenberger said. "We thought we'd come up and play more consistently than we have in the past. We didn't. We played absolutely inconsistent and horrible."

It won't get any easier for the Owls, who play at defending BCS national champion Auburn on Sept. 24.

• Iowa wasn't the only Big Ten team to lose on Saturday. Penn State lost to Alabama 27-11, its ninth straight defeat against a top-five opponent. Rice defeated Purdue 24-22, which was the Owls' first victory over a team from a BCS conference since 2001. New Mexico State knocked off Minnesota 28-21, and Virginia beat Indiana 34-31, after the Hoosiers lost a fumble deep in their own territory in the final two minutes.

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.