Noles still have goals in reach

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- He'd heard the speech, but at that moment, Vince Williams didn't care.

Florida State had just suffered a gut-wrenching loss to heavy underdog NC State. After five years with the Seminoles, Williams knew what the loss meant. The fans would be angry. The team would be splintered. The goals for this season, at least the most cherished one, had disappeared.

So when Bjoern Werner paced through the locker room, ranting about moving on, turning the page, focusing on those goals that remained, Williams was annoyed. It was only on the lonely flight home, faced with the bitter reality of another season of unmet expectations, that he realized the wisdom of Werner's words.

"He was right," Williams said. "We can't let that [loss] change what we still can accomplish around here. We haven't won an ACC championship since 2005. We still want to achieve that. There's a lot of things we can do to still have a successful season. So you just want to look past that."

Last week's loss looms large though, and the task of looking beyond the immediate disappointment in hopes of salvaging the still significant goals ahead won't be simple. After spending the past six months talking about hype and expectations and national championships, the Seminoles must now recalibrate those aspirations to fit the realities of life as a 5-1 team.

How far Florida State has come in setting aside last week's loss is tough to say. The day after the game, Williams hosted a cookout to allow players to clear the air, mourn the loss and catch their breath. Monday's practice went well, but the mistakes made against NC State had to be addressed, and that meant facing the loss head-on.

By Tuesday, however, things seemed to have improved. Williams raved about the energy at practice, and players insisted the focus was on this week's game against Boston College.

"I feel like everybody's taking ownership of what they did and didn't do in the game, and we're moving on," junior linebacker Telvin Smith said. "We've got a big game this weekend, and it's a statement game every week."

Of course, forgetting is only a momentary luxury. The reminders are everywhere, from the barrage of questions from the media to the flood of venom from fans on message boards and social networking sites.

Inside the locker room, there is ample reason to turn the page. Elsewhere, the anger is still at the surface, a fresh wound for an already battered fan base.

"They say a fan blows only when you're hot," safety Lamarcus Joyner joked. "I think that's funny, but it makes a lot of sense. For me, it's not about all that stuff. As long as the coaches and players are staying positive, I'm OK."

In truth, Smith said he has had plenty of support around campus, but he admits he's curious to see whether the Florida State fans will still be as enthusiastic this week against Boston College.

Fans might be wondering the same thing about Florida State's players, and for good reason.

"It's frustrating," Terrence Brooks said. "When things don't go your way, it definitely sucks. But you have to bounce back. You can't have that gloom around here. It'll affect your whole season."

In 2011, Florida State dropped its third game of the season, a much-hyped showdown with Oklahoma. Two more losses followed, and when the dust cleared the Seminoles' hopes for a national title had been buried; so, too, had their chances at a conference crown or a BCS bowl berth.

There is danger it could happen again, of course. NC State has the upper hand in the division, and Florida State must run the table in the conference and hope the Wolfpack stumbles if it is to have a chance at an ACC title. Rivalry games with Miami and Florida still loom as well, but there is now more doubt about Florida State's chances of winning either contest. Miami's offense looked far better against NC State than FSU's did, and the Florida defense appears dominant.

Last week exposed Florida State's flaws, but Smith said it might also serve as a wake-up call.

"I feel like that just grounded us back to Level 1," Smith said. "We had gotten a little ahead of ourselves and we were thinking, we're 5-0, closer to that national championship. That's when we start losing. I feel like that game really got us back grounded and got us focused."

That's Jimbo Fisher's hope, too.

This week he has been quick to remind his players that those other goals remain, that there are ample opportunities for redemption, even if the ultimate prize is now nearly out of reach.

"If you're a part of Florida State, everyone wants to win a national championship," Joyner said. "But that won't alter how we're going to handle this season, because at the end of the day we still have to handle our business. If that's a blessing to still come, we'd love to have it. But if not, we'll play for what's out there."