TALLAHASSEE -- No. 3 Florida State learned a tough lesson in Saturday night’s 30-17 win over the South Florida Bulls.
When you are a top team nothing is given, everything is earned.
“We all learned a lesson as an organization,” junior safety Lamarcus Joyner said after the game. “It’s pretty tough going into someone else’s home. They are going to fight you hard, they are going to claw, and we just had to get our minds right.”
After starting the season with four home games in a row, including a very emotional 49-37 win over Clemson last weekend, FSU headed to Tampa for its first road trip and faced a chippy Bulls team that hung with them well into the fourth quarter.
“That’s what I’m happy about,” coach Jimbo Fisher said. “It’s crazy, that’s what I told them. Wins are big, you go into somebody else’s house that have good players and are coached well, and you come out with a ‘W.’ That’s still a huge step coming off the big win we had last week.”
FSU’s first true road test will come next weekend though.
The crowd at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday was a fairly even split of Seminoles and Bulls fans. Players and coaches admitted afterwards that the game had more of a bowl feel than of an away game.
In Raleigh against North Carolina State next Saturday night, FSU will face its first truly hostile crowd.
But as far as challenges go the rest of the season the Seminoles, who passed LSU for third in Sunday’s AP poll, have the most manageable remaining schedule of any of the teams in the title chase.
The top five of Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, LSU and Georgia are all legitimate contenders and every team in the top 12 is currently unbeaten.
But that won’t last. The Southeastern Conference will cannibalize itself; LSU and Alabama play one another and the three unbeatens in the East (Florida, Georgia and South Carolina) will have to duke it out, too. The winners of the East and West play in the SEC championship game.
Likewise, Oregon must play a brutal Pac 12 schedule that still includes USC, Stanford and Oregon State (all in the top 20).
By contrast, FSU’s road is littered with far fewer obstacles. Arguably the most challenging game on the schedule is already over after the Seminoles beat Clemson in week four.
In the preseason, a road date at Virginia Tech looked daunting, but losses to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati have knocked some of the early luster off the Hokies. Aside from NC State, Maryland is the only other road game outside of the state for FSU.
And much like the crowd at USF, expect plenty of garnet and gold next month when FSU travels to Sun Life Stadium for a game against Miami.
At this point, if FSU plays up to its potential the rest of the way, the only game standing between them and heading to Charlotte for the ACC Championship game unbeaten in December is their annual date with No. 10 Florida.
The Seminoles keep rising up the polls, and with a manageable schedule ahead of them, it’s very possible the only thing between Noles and their national title aspirations could be themselves.