TALLAHASSEE -- In his three years as coach at Florida State, Jimbo Fisher has demonstrated a number of skills deemed desirable in major college head coaches.
He can sell. That has been shown through a broad number of improvements to the program as FSU transitions to a more SEC-style approach to football.
It was on display prominently Sunday morning when the Seminoles broke ground on a $15 million indoor practice facility.
He can recruit. He regularly lands top five classes, his team is full of NFL prospects and he raids South Florida for its top talent year in and year out.
But can he win big?
It’s easy to get caught up in statistics and records. Coming into Saturday, FSU had the first-ranked defense to Florida’s 104th-ranked offense, and Fisher was 5-0 against in-state rivals.
That could have mattered less though.
Florida imposed its will along the line of scrimmage from the outset on defense — and when it mattered most on offense — and the Gators won decisively 37-26.
“Our kids played hard, we just didn’t play well,” said Fisher after the game. “We have to move on and get better and I have to do a better job of coaching them.”
Will Muschamp’s team came into the game prepared to move the ball on a defense the caliber of Florida State’s.
Plays developed quickly, they moved Jeff Driskel around and when the game called for it, they got physical.
“We had a lot of confidence coming in here being able to run the football,” Muschamp said. “We’ve run it well versus everybody. We’ve run it well versus better defenses.”
Conversely, Fisher’s offense took a while to adjust to the tempo of the Gator defense, causing drives to end early for a multitude of reasons and giving Florida over 30 minutes time of possession by the start of the fourth quarter.
By then, the Seminoles defense was worn down, technique began to wane and the bow broke to the tune of 24 fourth-quarter points.
A record of 10-2 heading into an ACC title game would be greeted as a major success at most schools, but when you sell high like Fisher has, the disappointment is richer, too.
This was the year to shoot for the stars, when the maturation of two very good classes aligned with a particularly weak schedule, and it seemed as though the Seminoles had a shot at the big one.
But an October upset in Raleigh to North Carolina State knocked the Seminoles from reach, and Saturday night’s loss to Florida ended any prayer of getting back within it. Now Fisher’s team turns to its last chance to prove he can win big. A two-game stretch where the Seminoles can win their first ACC championship in seven years and their first BCS game in 13.
In Georgia Tech, the Seminoles face a 6-6 team that presents a unique challenge — a true option attack that can be difficult to prepare for in one week and an opponent the Seminoles haven’t beaten since 2003.
That’s not to mention star defensive end Tank Carradine tore an ACL on Saturday night and EJ Manuel was knocked silly.
If Fisher can win next Saturday in Charlotte, he can salvage the disappointment many are feeling about the Seminoles’ season with some hardware. He can bring home a trophy, hang a banner. It’s something to point to and say — “I did that.”
Fisher can talk the talk, he can sell his program and he can sure recruit with the best of them.
But if the Seminoles trip like they did in Raleigh and fall to another team conventional wisdom says they should beat; if they lose to a team they are favored over by two touchdowns — something that has happened five times in three years under Fisher — then at the end of the season there will be one question on the minds of many Florida State fans: What has he won?