WATCH: Layne Herdt and Tim Linafelt preview FSU’s ACC opener at Virginia
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – In two quick sentences, Florida State coach Willie Taggart summed up everything that will be at stake when the Seminoles visit No. 25 Virginia on Saturday night (7:30 p.m., ACC Network).
“This week is an incredible opportunity for our football team,” Taggart said.
Then, a few breaths later:
“We have an unbelievable challenge in front of us.”
Indeed, the Seminoles on Saturday have a chance to do a lot of the things that good teams typically do during the course of a season.
Win a game, on the road and at night, against a ranked conference opponent.
Which leads to Taggart’s second point – that taking advantage of these types of opportunities never comes easily.
And while the Seminoles are likely to face tougher tests later this season, Virginia is probably the best team FSU has faced thus far.
The Cavaliers have experience on both sides of the ball, as well as a dual-threat quarterback and one of the nation’s top defensive players at cornerback.
And UVA, after a decade in which it posted eight losing seasons, has made steady improvement in every year of coach Bronco Mendenhall’s tenure – from 2-10 in 2016 to 6-7 a year later and 8-5 in 2018.
The Cavaliers are off to a 2-0 start after a win at Pittsburgh and an easy home victory over FCS William & Mary.
“It’s big for a lot of reasons,” Taggart said. “For where we’re trying to go as a program, for what we’re trying to do as (far as) team goals and winning the conference. …
“It can add much needed momentum to our football team.”
No kidding. After an uneven, 1-1 start in which the Seminoles let one game slip away and narrowly escaped with a win a week later, it’s still not quite clear which way this season is headed.
Is FSU the team that dominates its opponents in first halves — the Seminoles led 21-6 against Boise State and 21-0 over ULM — or is it the team that lets off the gas and sputters in the second?
So far, the answer seems to be both. Which means that maybe that 1-1 record is fair.
But it’s unlikely that the Seminoles can maintain that course for the rest of the year, if for no other reason than they’re about to face an increase in their level of competition.
Starting Saturday, the Seminoles will play eight consecutive ACC opponents. And they’ve got three games to play against teams ranked in the AP Top 25.
That includes, of course, a visit to No. 1 Clemson in a few weeks, as well as games against a seemingly improved Louisville team, an NC State group that’s on the verge of the national polls, and a Miami team that’s looking to rebound after two close losses.
Throw in the regular-season finale at No. 9 Florida, and the Seminoles’ nine remaining FBS opponents have a combined record of 14-4.
Granted, the season is only two weeks old. But now would be a great time for the Seminoles to reach an extra gear.
“Every game that’s on the schedule is a big game,” quarterback James Blackman said. “But this is a great opportunity for us to show what we’ve got and show that we’re back.”
Go figure, then, that FSU opportunity to do so comes at the site of what might still be its most infamous ACC defeat.
(No shame if you avert your eyes.)
That Virginia team, while loaded with future pros, needed a win over a team like Florida State for validation– to prove it belonged on college football’s biggest stages.
And, regardless of one’s feelings about whether or not that ball broke the plane of the end zone, the Cavaliers on that night showed that they did.
(Never mind that they didn’t stay there long.)
It would hardly make for an even trade, but, 24 years later, the Seminoles can somewhat return the favor.
“We’ve got to go play our best ball game,” Taggart said, “and put it all together.”
Beating a Virginia team on the bottom line of the Top 25 won’t immediately vault FSU back among the sport’s elite.
There will be more games to win, likely over the course of a few seasons, before they can say that.
But when a team is on its way, as the Seminoles still believe they are, these types of games are often mile-markers from the road.
The type of game that, when a team is in a championship or major bowl game, it can look back and say, “Yeah, that’s where this whole thing really started.”
“This is a great opportunity for the Florida State Seminoles,” safety Cyrus Fagan said. “We’re on the road, testing everybody, everybody against us.
“So, this is a great challenge for us and my team. We love this challenge. It’s time.”
Yes, it’s an unbelievable challenge.
But, more than that, it’s an incredible opportunity.
Odds and ends …