Tonight Florida State will square off with Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship game up in Charlotte, NC. It's obviously a major game for both programs but represents a little bit more of a must-win for the Seminoles.
You see, the Yellow Jackets get to play with house money. They backed into the game after Miami self-imposed a second straight postseason ban and at 6-6, are basically expected to roll over for a more powerful Florida State team. That means no pressure and Georgia Tech can come out and try to play spoiler (and embarrass the ACC).
Florida State on the other hand simply cannot afford to drop tonight's game. Sure there are plenty of points to be made about how much the Seminoles' first ACC title in seven years would mean and how big it is to play in a BCS bowl. And you can even start the talk about how a 12-2 season with a conference championship is a major success, but here's another way to look at it.
Florida State will be the laughingstock of college football if they lose tonight.
You can already see how the national press will spin this, they'll talk mockingly about how at season's beginning the 'mighty Seminoles' were in the top five talking about BCS glory and by year's end they got knocked out of a ho-hum Orange Bowl matchup by a team that needed a Bowl waiver.
They'll rescind any mention of the program being back from the downturn at the end of the Bowden years, the ACC will look like a joke once again and at the end of the day nobody will have more egg on his face than Jimbo Fisher.
Florida State, quite frankly, has a lot more to lose tonight than Georgia Tech. And given the precedents that have been set this season you can see how the Seminoles could struggle in this one.
You can mention the Seminole offense averages 20 fewer points and 160 fewer yards away from Doak Campbell Stadium or that they just lost their defensive coordinator during a crucial week when they must prepare for an unorthodox offense.
But what really sticks out to me is that this is a team that has been known to get a little wide-eyed when they see what's at stake.
Starting up top with Fisher- whose playcalling tendencies shrink from the boisterous words of an offensive coordinator pent on domination mid-week to a head coach just trying to escape with a win come crunch time- on down to a team that has started flat in every big game it's played this season (started behind vs. Clemson, Miami, Florida, slow at VT), Florida State has shown they are not immune to the emotions of the game.
And tonight will be an emotional one.
On the other sideline though, what's Georgia Tech got to worry about? If they come out and lose by 40 that was supposed to happen, so why worry? The Yellow Jackets should show up in Charlotte loose and ready to play spoiler.
That won't happen if Florida State comes out and plays the game they're capable of. But this is a team that has lost a ton of veteran leadership on the field, starting with Greg Reid before the season, continuing with Brandon Jenkins in week one, Chris Thompson mid-year and Tank Carradine last weekend.
That's four seniors, all with NFL futures and major roles in terms of leading this team on and off the field.
Thus far Florida State- unlike many teams could ever hope to- has absorbed those losses. They've been able to keep on, even without four of their most important senior leaders and contributors.
The Seminoles come into tonight's matchup facing a multitude of distractions and challenges though, everything from the uncertainty in the back of the defense's heads over the departure of their coordinator after tonight to the fact they've had to cram for an option attack many of them have not seen since high school in just one week.
With everything swirling around FSU right now, not to mention the pressure and the emotion of the game tonight, this is when any team would need to draw heavily on their senior leadership- especially on the field.
You wonder if losing what is now their fourth senior leader will be the straw that finally breaks the camel's back...
We'll find out tonight.
One thing is for sure though. FSU gets very little national recognition if they win this game. Sure the program takes home a conference title, yes, but nationally this is a game they're supposed to win and the story is likely to turn quickly to the future plans of Jimbo Fisher once the team returns to Tallahassee.
But lose? That's something Florida State simply can't afford to let happen.