TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- College football is reactive. What we see on Saturday alters perceptions in real-time. The College Football Playoff and the fluidity of the top four (and next four ) have only exacerbated the reaction.
They're often overreactions, and we're all susceptible to them. It's how Baylor and Ohio State are now in some top fours and how Oregon was able to shed its "perennial underachiever" label in favor of being called by many as the most impressive team in the country.
Those three teams' narratives have changed with what we witnessed each do against ranked teams on the road Saturday. Florida State's narrative is a little more difficult to discern.
It's easy to overreact to Florida State. "No way would a playoff team look so average against Virginia! The refs gave FSU the Notre Dame win!"
It's equally easy to underreact to the Seminoles. "They're still winning! They like to play from behind!"
At this point, there might not be a right way to react to the second-ranked Seminoles after each week anymore. Any reaction could be the wrong one. It says something about a team that even when down 24-7 to NC State and 21-0 to Louisville that it was clear Florida State wasn't out of it. But there is something to be said about a wannabe championship contender trailing by such large margins to begin with.
The biggest takeaway with this team through nine games is that each Saturday you are not 100 percent sure what you will see. That could be a problem this coming weekend against rival Miami, as for the first time since Sept. 24, 2011, the Seminoles will not be at least a three-point favorite.
Last year, it was almost a guarantee that Florida State would make its opponent look like it played JV ball. That was an outlier, upon which most people agree. However, this season has still been a bigger struggle than expected, even when not held in the same light as the 2013 team.
Maybe that is part of playing with a roster that has no senior starters on defense, a quarterback still only in his second year starting, a running back that was a safety at the beginning of last season and a receiver corps comprised mostly of freshmen and sophomores.
"The thing that's amazing, you say they're young and make mistakes, but at the same time they stay poised and don't panic," coach Jimbo Fisher said. "There's a great tribute to that.
"Now we just got to quit making some of the silly things that we do."
Fisher said he has been coaching long enough to figure out the problems, do the necessary tweaking and move on. There isn't much time with just three regular-season games left before the ACC championship and then, Fisher hopes, the playoff.
Football adage suggests teams need to peak toward the end of the season. Fisher instills the "Remember November" mantra in his players' heads. There are signs Florida State is taking it to heart. The defense played one of its best games of the season, and the offense cashed in on turnovers before ending the first half with a 15-play, 80-yard drive that ate nearly seven minutes of clock.
Florida State also turned it over three times and scored six points after halftime. The same yin and yang witnessed all season.
"It's going to happen. That's not really a concern," linebacker Reggie Northrup said of playing a complete game. "... You don't want to take winning for granted because it's hard to win, but at the same time we got expectations and higher standards. There's some things we got to clean up. We're better than how we perform."
A talented roster -- and a No. 2 ranking -- suggests FSU is better than what it's shown, but that is the confounding part in all of this. The evidence is mounting that maybe Florida State isn't better than how it has performed. Nine games is a sizable sampling, and at this point Florida State is good enough to win a championship and yet possibly only good enough to land in the Orange Bowl.
Those nine games have all ended in wins, which still makes for a clear playoff picture: Win and they're in.
Florida State's makeup is still coming into focus, and that picture may never fully develop this season.