Florida State has wiped out its best competition this season, taking down Clemson and Miami with such authority that the Seminoles should have a clear path to the national championship game.
But they do not. A flawed polling system that gave Alabama and Oregon an edge before the games even kicked off is most to blame, as voters determined in the preseason that the Tide and Ducks – not the Seminoles – were among the best teams in the nation.
No. 2 Florida State has the most impressive results to date, but it has not budged from its spot behind Alabama and Oregon in the human polls despite picking up a few first-place votes in the coaches poll. So here the Noles sit, with four games left in their regular season, their destiny in the hands of LSU, Auburn and Stanford.
To be sure, Florida State must win out to stay in contention. The Seminoles have been so utterly dominant, not many people believe Wake Forest, Syracuse, Idaho or Florida have much of a shot at pulling the upset. So that leaves the ACC title game.
Florida State needs Miami to make it into the game for the rematch -- a one-loss Miami team preferably, to add some more beef to a strength of schedule that is going to take a dive in this last month of the season.
Folks across the ACC have been waiting on a Hurricanes-Seminoles matchup in the league title game since Miami joined the league in 2004, hoping their two marquee teams would carry the banner as elite programs. As we saw in the 41-14 Florida State victory on Saturday, Miami remains far from elite. And yet, a rematch is the best possible option for both Florida State and the ACC.
Never mind that their game Saturday was just the fourth time in the last 19 meetings that the outcome was decided by 20 or more points. Given the other contenders in the Coastal Division, a Miami team that got pummeled is still going to be a better opponent than Virginia Tech (with losses to Duke and Boston College), Duke (lost to Florida State 48-7 last year and has never beaten the Noles) and Georgia Tech (one victory over a winning team this season).
Miami dropped to No. 11 in the BCS standings after the loss Saturday, but the Canes will get back into the top 10 if they win out. That would give Florida State three top-10 teams on its schedule. The downside, of course, is that Miami will be dismissed as “overrated,” which is exactly what happened this past weekend.
Florida State cannot help that. But it also is true that the Noles are in the unenviable position they were in last year in the Discover Orange Bowl against Northern Illinois. They must blow out every remaining opponent – including the team they face in the ACC title game – or risk being discredited for not winning decisively enough.
Alabama and Oregon do not carry the same weight. If Oregon beats Stanford on Thursday night in a close game, it is hard to imagine the Ducks being ripped for winning a tight contest. Florida State beat No. 3 Clemson last month, and, well, outsiders crowed the Tigers were simply overmatched. Never mind that Stanford has a loss to Utah (4-4) and Clemson went into the Florida State game unbeaten -- with a win over full-strength Georgia to boot. Oh by the way, Clemson remains a top-10 team.
As for Alabama, given the way the SEC is perceived, the Tide can probably afford to win close games without anybody questioning them. So Florida State essentially has double the burden if the status quo remains.
Even still, the thought of seeing Miami again is fine with Florida State.
“Gotta embrace the challenge,” Florida State cornerback Lamarcus Joyner said after the victory. “We know what kind of football team they are. We know for a fact if we have to play those guys again in the ACC championship, then it won’t be an easy championship game.”
Joyner called Miami “the toughest team we’ve played this season. Despite the scoreboard, that does not determine the way, how physical those guys played us. Those guys played our hearts out, and if we have to see them again in the championship, I can tell you that’s going to be a pretty hard-nosed championship game.”
Hard-nosed is one thing. But Florida State must find a way to be even more dominant, as ridiculous as that sounds. Especially when you consider how difficult it is to ask a team to beat the same squad twice in one season. The ACC championship game has featured a rematch four times. Twice the same team won both games; twice the games were split.
There has not been much recent back and forth in the Miami-Florida State series. The Seminoles have won four in a row, their longest winning streak in the rivalry since 1995-99. Only a handful of redshirt seniors were on campus the last time Miami beat the Seminoles.
“I had told someone I wasn’t going to lose to Miami, no matter what,” running back Devonta Freeman said. “It just means a lot to go out there and beat them.”
The Seminoles could very well have to do that again. As unappealing as that sounds, that’s the matchup Florida State – and the ACC – need.