As Florida State’s football team weaved its way to the locker room through a sea of students who stormed the field at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, many must have been wondering what is next.
Suddenly, the Seminoles are in a position unfamiliar to most players on this team. But with an Atlantic Coast Conference title (not to mention a playoff spot) out of reach following a hard-fought 23-13 loss to No. 3 Clemson (9-0, 6-0), coach Jimbo Fisher had a strong message for his team.
“I saw some guys out there who can compete with anybody, and I saw the hurt in their eyes,” Fisher said. “They have a chance to be champions in the future.
“What I saw has me extremely excited [about] the future of that football team.”
The truth is Florida State (7-2, 5-2, No. 16 College Football Playoff) is about where it was expected to be this season after coming within a missed fourth-and-inches of possibly upsetting the No. 1 CFP team in the country. The Seminoles will be at home for the ACC Championship Game, and they will not be playing in a major bowl or championship for the first time since 2011.
“The older guys got to keep the younger guys up and realize there is a lot to play for,” quarterback Sean Maguire said.
FSU received another determined effort from its defense, but it was the continued offensive struggles that was the difference.
Dalvin Cook scored on a 75-yard run on the game’s second play, but the Seminoles managed just two Roberto Aguayo field goals the rest of the game, the second time in three weeks they could not stick the ball in the end zone on the second half, both resulting in losses.
“Too many missed a few opportunities,” Maguire said. “But I thought this team fought until it had nothing left.”
Maguire, who received the start over Everett Golson, wasn’t the machine that shredded Syracuse the previous week for 348 yards and three touchdowns. He was 16 of 29 for 164 yards and threw a costly interception at the Clemson 5-yard line on the Seminoles’ second series of the game that he should have thrown away.
Fisher, who said he decided to go with Maguire “later in the week,” hinted that he will stick with Maguire, a fourth-year junior, over Golson, a senior who transferred to FSU from Notre Dame for his final season.
“We’ll evaluate and go on,” Fisher said. “This was a tough game against a tough team. [I’m not] down on Sean in any way, shape or form.”
But Cook the former Miami Central star, was the workhorse. He ran for 194 yards on 21 carries and now is 12 yards shy of breaking Warrick Dunn’s school single-season record of 1,242 yards. Cook, though, had just 37 yards in the second half.
Following Cook’s touchdown, Florida State crossed midfield six times and scored just six points.
Still, Florida State was trailing just 16-13 midway through the fourth quarter when Kermit Whitfield returned a kickoff 44 yards to the Clemson 49-yard line. After a 9-yard pass to Jesus Wilson, FSU needed 1 yard to keep the drive alive for a possible game-winning score.
But Cook was stopped twice for no gain. Seven plays later, Wayne Gallman broke through the middle for a 25-yard touchdown with 3:43 remaining to seal Clemson’s first ACC Atlantic Division title since 2011 and move one step closer to the CFP final four.
The Tigers likely will have to win out to make the playoff, and their remaining schedule includes three sub-.500 teams (Syracuse, Wake Forest and South Carolina) before the Dec. 5 ACC title game in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The Seminoles streak of three consecutive ACC titles is over. Fisher was asked if he looked at this as the end of a run.
“I think this is just the beginning,” he said. “We have guys that want to win, know how to win and have talent.
“Our guys will grow from this and mature. It’s been a heck of a run, and now it’s time to start another one.”