With the Florida State Seminoles set to host Wake Forest in their ACC opener there's more than a little riding on the game. Nobody around the Seminoles team has come right out and said it, but this is personal for Florida State.
In sports, football more than almost any other, coach-speak and party lines prevail like in politics. If you ask the Seminoles they tell you it's a different team and another year.
That the Wake loss was something they got over last year.
If you look at the roster though, there's more than a little carry-over from a team that was nationally outed as "not there yet," last season against Wake. The 35-30 loss still leaves an after-taste like vinegar to the Seminole faithful, who have watched their team drop four of six after dominating Wake for nearly 25 years prior to that.
Head coach Jimbo Fisher and thd Seminoles aren't looking back, aren't dwelling on last year, but it's far from forgotten.
And it's understandable the team doesn't want to rehash it, EJ Manuel admitted on Monday that coming off two difficult losses to Clemson and Oklahoma last year the 'Noles overlooked Wake. Fisher isn't in a huge hurry to remind people he opted to start freshman Clint Trickett instead of Manuel and by the time EJ got in the hole was too big. The Seminoles aren't trying to re-live last season.
But they haven't forgotten it, you didn't have to look too hard to see evidence of that this week during practice and in interviews.
Here are three keys storylines to follow heading into the game.
1.) Wake Offensive Line vs. Florida State Defensive Line
Jim Grobe admitted on Wednesday, during the ACC coaches teleconference, that his offensive line is still unsettled, "still in flux" as he called it with players shifting in and out of different spots even in week three. That's not unlike some of the uncertainty the Seminoles have on their own O-Line, but the Seminoles aren't facing an elite defensive front, the Deacons are. Bjoern Werner has alsbolutely abused FCS tackles this year, his first chance to go up against an ACC lineman should have him amped up today. Don't expect immediate domination up front, Wake will hold its own early but as Florida State cycles through it's depth, look for things to get rough.
2.) Florida State Defense vs. Wake QB Tanner Price
Skinner is going to be a pain for Seminole fans, he's a smart, scrappy quarterback who doesn't make many mistakes and will not be easily thrown for a loop by an experienced Florida State defense. The Seminoles have given up 3 points in just over three halves of football, while they're going to eventually give up points you know they don't want to surrender their first touchdowns of the season to Wake. The biggest key to defensive success for FSU will be maintaining responsibility. Free-lancing is fatal against a team like Wake who thrives off exploiting match-ups and mistakes. If the Seminoles maintain their responsibilities the results will be closer to the 31-0 shutout they handed Wake at Doak two years ago instead of the upset they suffered last year.
3.) EJ Manuel's Composure
EJ Manuel has not played much this year. Everyone is talking about how the game has slowed down for him, how he's come into his own as a leader, but so far in extremely limited action he hasn't had much of a chance to show that off. Wake will be Manuel's first full game (unless something goes wrong or it's out of hand quickly). It will be interesting how Manuel looks for a whole game when he's healthy for the first time in months. As Manuel goes, so do the Seminoles. Chris Thompson will be emotional for the start of this one, the game means a lot to him personally after breaking his back against Wake last year. Manuel will need to be the calming influence on offense out of the gate. He'll need to get the Seminoles offense rolling and be a leader today. For the record, I expect EJ to live up to the hype, but this is his first real chance to.
I'll have a few items up before the game tomorrow, check back before kickoff.