As the flashbulbs snapped and media gathered around him last night in Charlotte, N.C., Jimbo Fisher hoisted his first Atlantic Coast Conference championship overhead.
In his third year as the coach of the No. 13 Florida State Seminoles (11-2, 8-1 ACC), Fisher had finally done it.
“That first one, you’ve got to get over that hump,” Fisher said. “And once you get over that hump, you know what it takes. Hopefully, from now on out, we can continue to play for the years to come and play great football.”
If the Seminoles want to prove they are indeed on Fisher’s stated path to winning football — that this first ACC title since 2005 was the first domino to fall — then Florida State must handle its business in its first BCS bowl in seven years.
When Florida State last attended an Orange Bowl in that 2005 season, then-coach Bobby Bowden lost 26-23 in a triple-overtime thriller to Joe Paterno’s Penn State team.
In fact, historically the Seminoles have not fared well in BCS bowls. Before their seven-year drought, Florida State was a BCS regular, going six times in the first seven years but compiling just a 1-5 record.
The Seminoles’ lone win came in the 2000 Sugar Bowl at the end of their 1999 national championship season.
But Florida State’s 21-15 win over Georgia Tech on Saturday night has them headed back to Miami for the Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium. The Seminoles won at Sun Life 33-20 back in October, when they played the University of Miami, but overall in Orange Bowl appearances Florida State is just 3-5.
Opposite the Seminoles will be a Northern Illinois team that busted the BCS after sneaking into the back end of the rankings.
The game was expected to pit newly minted ACC school Louisville against Florida State, but after the Huskies (12-1) finished in the BCS top 16 and knocked Oklahoma from an at-large bid, the Sugar Bowl ended up with Louisville and Northern Illinois got an invitation to Miami.
NIU is the first team to ever represent the MAC in the BCS.
Its coach, Dave Doeren, was recently hired by N.C. State and will not coach the Orange Bowl.
That doesn’t mean NIU will be any less fired up, though. Florida State should expect the Huskies’ best shot.
And if Florida State wants to prove it’s on its way back to relevance and that the ACC title was just the first hump — then it has to win.
Doing so would improve the ACC’s all-time 2-12 BCS mark.
Most important, though, it would put the cap on a 12-win year and push the team into the offseason on a high note.
“I want to see greatness from here on out. We have a lot of great players, a lot of great young players, and guys understand what it takes to get to this point,” senior quarterback EJ Manuel said after the ACC Championship Game. “So I don’t see us going back to where we used to be. I think Florida State is back in the [BCS] conversation.”