No. 10 FSU at Maryland, noon Saturday

Florida State Seminoles focus on conference title possibilities

 

With its chances at a national title all but gone, FSU is doing all it can to win the ACC, and Saturday’s game is crucial to that goal.

Special to The Miami Herald

Florida State has an opportunity this weekend to take a step toward an Atlantic Coast Conference title, which it last won in 2005. With a win at Maryland on Saturday, the No. 10 Seminoles can clinch the Atlantic Division and set up a likely rematch with Miami in Charlotte, N.C., in December.

“It’s a real big deal, we’re looking forward to closing up our division for the ACC and making it to the championship — we’re out for the crown,” junior Lamarcus Joyner said.

Florida State knows it likely lost its only shot at playing for a national title when it blew a 16-point lead and lost 17-16 at N.C. State in October.

The Seminoles have remained focused on winning the ACC ever since, maintaining that they would take things a week at a time while letting the other pieces fall where they may.

In reality though, there’s little else FSU can do. A weak nonconference schedule and being stuck in a poor conference have doomed the Seminoles with the computers (which this week rank Florida State an average of 18.75) and kept the Noles in the back half of the top 10 most of the year.

Florida State’s last best shot at a return to relevance would be beating Florida — a one-loss Southeastern Conference team and hated rival — in next weekend’s regular-season finale.

Still, don’t expect the Seminoles to be looking past Saturday to the Gators.

“Sometimes you’ve just got to [play] the cards life deals you,” Joyner said. “The computers don’t like the ACC, they love the SEC and they love other [conferences], so that’s not in our power to fight against that.

“I just love the opportunity to seal this ACC championship and get a bid to the Orange Bowl. That what I’m about.”

Despite the rather bizarre fact that Maryland is starting a linebacker under center after injuries knocked out five quarterbacks ahead of him, Maryland’s defense presents a challenge to the Seminoles. The Terrapins boast the 16th-ranked defense in the nation.

“Maryland has an outstanding defense,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “They do some really nice things on offense, have a dynamic playmaker receiver, a very strong back. They’ve had some issues at quarterback because of injury but have still been able to move the ball and do things. Special teams are very sound.

“Like I say, they’re the No. 2 defense [in the ACC], a very good team. We’ll have to play our A game up there on the road and we’ll get their A game.”

Bringing their A game will be key, as Florida State’s offense has been inconsistent on the road all season.

At home, the Seminoles beat teams by an average score of 54-7. On the road, the team wins by an closer average margin of 27-19, the offense struggles to find rhythm and to pick up blitzes and typically averages about 200 fewer yards per outing.

Against Virginia Tech last Thursday night, it took a drive in the final two minutes to put the Seminoles back on top for good, 28-22.

Seminoles fans are also quick to point out that under Fisher, Florida State has lost when it was a two-touchdown favorite five times. The Noles are favored by much more than that on the road Saturday

“When you go to someone else’s house, they’re going to defend their home,” Fisher said. “To be a very good team, you have to go win on the road — that’s what we’ve learned to do.”

On Saturday, those lessons will be tested. The Seminoles will need to focus on Maryland and finally turning in an impressive road performance.

Without a win, Florida won’t mean much in two weeks anyway.

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