FSU wins in unconvincing fashion

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Memo to Florida State fans who want to jump in celebration of the 31-10 Discover Orange Bowl win against Northern Illinois: Don’t jump too high, you might hit your head on Florida State’s ceiling.

Because this is it.

This is what you get with back-to-back top-10 recruiting classes, with a roster bursting at the seams with talent, size, speed and depth, and a defense worthy of a national title. You get a flat, disjointed offensive showing against the MAC champs. You get the same inconsistent effort against a lesser opponent that became the trademark of this year's ACC champs. You get a heart attack in the third quarter when it’s 17-10 and Northern Illinois is driving with all of the momentum after a predictable onside kick.

Before you start hurling your oranges ...

Florida State deserves credit for winning 12 games for the first time since the program’s unbeaten 1999 season. It deserves a pat on the back for helping the ACC win its first BCS bowl game since 2009. Florida State's defense deserves a vacation, not to mention a few NFL contracts. Florida State and the ACC avoided embarrassment with the Noles' win over NIU. In the end, the conference finished with its first winning bowl record since 2005, including signature wins over USC and LSU. Florida State did what it was supposed to do, it won. But the win left doubts in the process, just as it has all season long.

Florida State needed a touchdown in the final 40 seconds to beat the worst Virginia Tech team the program has seen in 20 years.

Florida State was held scoreless in the second half of the ACC championship game against a 6-7 Georgia Tech team.

Florida State lost to an NC State team that fired its coach and had five turnovers in a bowl loss to Vanderbilt.

It doesn’t get any better than the talent that’s currently on Florida State’s roster. Florida State lost three, three, of its best players to injury, including likely first-round NFL draft picks Tank Carradine and Brandon Jenkins, and leading rusher Chris Thompson, and the Noles were still deep enough to win a BCS bowl. They shouldn’t have just won this game, though, they should have put Northern Illinois away in the first quarter.

Instead, for 3½ quarters Tuesday night, Florida State reminded fans why this was a lose-lose situation for the Seminoles. Even the most loyal of FSU fans had to be cringing at the offense’s bumbling start. In typical FSU fashion, the Noles managed to rack up 534 yards of total offense and convert on only three of 14 third downs.

You think Mark Stoops would be happy if his old defense held its opponent to only 100 yards but gave up 30 points?

“We didn’t score points, but we moved the ball,” Fisher said. “We had 428 yards in less than three quarters. We just broke the school record this year for total yardage in a single season, the most yardage by an offense in Florida State history.

“I don’t know what we were tonight, where it was, but this offense, we’ve been very proud of it,” he said. “… I think we’re right there, and I think we had to get on this platform and understand that we have to go win the championship, you have to get in a BCS bowl game and understand all the things that go with it, all the hoopla … but you’ve got to learn to handle those things to play on the big stage, and these guys did that and showed our young guys that we feel very confident about where we’re going and what we’re doing and for the future.”

Clemson isn’t waiting. The Tigers are coming off a thrilling 25-24 win over No. 8 LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. They ended the season looking like the best team the ACC will have to offer in 2013. While FSU put on a middling performance against the MAC, Clemson was arm wrestling the SEC -- and won.

Clemson versus Florida State should again determine the ACC champ next year.

“We’ve got a heck of a football team coming back,” Fisher said.

He had a heck of a football team this year, too, and it gave every reason to believe that this was its ceiling.