Talk about a crushing defeat, Florida State couldn't be much lower this morning than after dropping an embarrassing game to an NC State team that had no business defeating it.
Typically by the morning after a game I have a fresher (oftentimes milder) opinion on what transpired the night before. Not today. Florida State deserves every bit of criticism it's going to receive this week.
Yesterday morning Seminoles fans were lamenting a scenario where they were the third of three unbeatens at year's end. By the end of the night they were trying to assure themselves that a one-loss season was doable.
Florida State is not back. They have the athletes, absolutely. But there was a swagger, a confidence present in the teams of the Seminole hey-day that this team lacks. There was no killer instinct last night, there was no cockiness, by the middle of the third quarter the offense was playing panicked and by the start of the fourth the defense had worn down.
The Seminoles played down to their opponent.
Essentially, Florida State went out and jobbed to an inferior team in the second half last night. 121 yards, no points and a number of mistakes that absolutely cost Florida State the game. Don't blame the defense, don't blame the officials, the blame for last night rests squarely on the shoulders of Jimbo Fisher and EJ Manuel.
Here are a few thoughts from the morning after...
-Credit Jimbo for at least acknowledging last night that he played a huge role in the loss. Between conservative playcalling, a different rotation of players and one of the most boneheaded plays I've ever seen EJ Manuel make, Florida State's offense was abysmal in the second half last night.
You hear it every year after a loss, maybe it's time for Jimbo Fisher to turn over playcalling duties. I don't know if that would have helped last night, but I'm not sure it would have hurt either.
-As for the player rotation last night. Chris Thompson got more carries than any FSU back has received in years, while James Wilder gets just one. Compared to the typical 2-3 back rotation, last night was unusual. I know Thompson was in the flow of the game in the first half, but in the second it would have been good to have Wilder in rhythm and barreling downhill at the Wolfpack.
-That rebuilt offensive line may have been a bit exaggerated. The run-blocking is solid at times, but the pass-pro leaves something to be desired. Granted last night part of the issue was blitz pick-up, but for a unit that was supposedly going to be a strength, they have been a liability at times this year.
-You could tell that it might come back to haunt Florida State when they had to keep settling for field goals in the 2nd quarter. The Seminoles were pleased to see Dustin Hopkins kicking well, but at the same time just one touchdown there wins the game later on. There were plenty of mistakes to go around, but one of the biggest was a play down inside the ten where EJ Manuel had a spread formation and there were no Wolfpack defenders in the middle of the field. Had Manuel checked to a draw he walks into the endzone. Instead he drops back, goes through his progression, tries to scramble and the 'Noles end up kicking three.
You can't fault EJ too much for not making the check, but those are the things you need a fifth year senior QB to do if you want to be a legitimate contender.
-I'm not the kind of guy to call for a coach's head. And frankly the recruiting job Jimbo Fisher has done has been superb. Florida State is not a cyclical team like Wake Forest and so many other schools have to be, they will reload next year and have another very good team. But at the same time there are going to start being calls. If the 'Noles drop another one like this (as in to a team besides Va Tech, Miami or Florida) it becomes a legitimate conversation. This game felt too much like last year's Virginia loss. Good programs don't have those.
Florida State has a more nuanced fanbase than it's credited for. A loss, much like last year's OU defeat, where the team just gets beats but plays its tail off is understood, even respected. But losses like Wake and UVA last year and NC State this year receive an extremely vitriolic response. It didn't take long for fans' anger to spill over on to twitter and into the comments sections. Come Saturday I doubt things have cooled down that much and I doubt BC sees many people in the stands.
-Can Florida State redeem itself? Not nationally. The only prayer would be to run the table with a one-loss Clemson team in the top five, an undefeated UF team that FSU beats in the last week and a resounding ACC championship game win over a solid team. It would also need a ton of help. So basically, just forget it.
And that's what will sting Seminole fans, Florida State didn't lose it's title shot in a blaze of glory. It tripped. In reality, a conference championship and a BCS berth are extremely impressive accomplishments. But this is the 24-7 world of ESPN where it's win or go home, and to many fans a conference title is meaningless. Especially a conference like the ACC that is considered second tier or... a basketball conference.
Can FSU still have a great season? Yes. They can finish 13-1 and in the top five. But admittedly, after shooting for a national title, that's not going to feel the same to some.
-Don't be shocked if Florida State plummets down the rankings. They could get lucky and fall to 10th or 11th (one voter tweeted this morning he had them 10th), that would be ideal and they could climb back up with a few wins (though they're not getting back in the national title picture). But also don't be surprised if they show up at 20th or in that vicinity. It's not going to look favorable that Florida State lost to a team like NC State. Yes, Georgia was blown out but it was on the road against a top five team. LSU lost to a good Florida team on the road.
Carter-Finley is a tough place to play but it's not an SEC venue. Those SEC schools also get plenty of chances to redeem themselves too. Florida State does not.
So the issue isn't just where does Florida State drop to, but how high can they rise again. Any one-loss SEC school is practically an automatic bet to jump a one-loss FSU team in the polls down the stretch. It's just the perception of conferences at play, plus FSU's weak strength of schedule. Now, with the Big 12 playing well, a one-loss Big 12 team will arguably be more battle-tested and could jump FSU too, same may go for Pac-12.
When you look at the rankings, that means Florida State would basically need every team in the top 12 to lose twice. Because as the season continues, their one loss will continue to look much worse than other teams' one-loss records. The same issue that could have left FSU the third-ranked unbeaten at the end of the year (that fans were concerned with yesterday morning) would put them dead last in the pool of one-loss teams too.
So Florida State could fall anywhere to between 10-22 in the rankings, but they probably won't be able to climb higher than five or six the rest of the season.
-Finally, all the talk about leadership is really premature. Surmise what you will about Jimbo Fisher and staff, but this week in the face of adversity is when we'll learn about the leaders on FSU's team. It's easy to lead when things are good and you're winning. But this week the whole nation is going to be down on Florida State. The team is likely going to feel embarrassed. This is where players start cashing out and losing interest if you don't have someone in the locker room to keep things together.
This week the Seminoles need to decide if they want to fight it out the rest of the way or fold and finish with two or three losses.