At the start of the season, expectations were that Florida State, under new head coach Jimbo Fisher, would begin the march back to ACC greatness. After the program had seemingly plateaued under Bobby Bowden, Fisher was given the task to bring the Seminoles back to prominence, and not just in the ACC. With a great number of veterans returning from a 7-6 team last year, the Seminoles were ranked in the preseason top 20. An early setback to Oklahoma showed that the Seminoles weren’t quite ready for a return to national prominence. During the conference season there were a couple slip-ups to North Carolina and North Carolina State. But when the dust finally settled, they got enough victories to claim the Atlantic Division title-eliminating Maryland by beating the Terps in College Park, and even sweeter for the program-defeating Florida in the regular season finale after losing to their state rivals six straight times. Yes, Florida isn’t the same Florida college football fans are used to seeing, but still the win puts the Seminoles in the top spot in the state (the Seminoles beat Miami earlier in the season). And with the Terps beating the Wolfpack, Florida State will return to the ACC Championship game for the first time since the inaugural game in 2005.
For the Virginia Tech Hokies, the season started out with high expectations also. The only ACC team to be ranked in the top 10 in preseason, the Hokies immediately stumbled in a last second loss to Boise State. That game produced a one-week hangover as the Hokies also lost to an FCS team in James Madison at home. Since that loss, the Hokies have not been beaten since, becoming the first team to go undefeated in conference play since Florida State in 2000. The Hokies have been what everyone thought they would be at the beginning of the season-the ACC’s best team. This team hasn’t been getting a lot of national attention since the opening losses, but has quietly been one of the country’s best teams over the last few weeks of the season. The Hokies put the bad start behind them and now sit one win away from a BCS bowl, probably the Orange Bowl.
The game pits two teams that did not play each other during the regular season. Florida State has the statistically better defense; the Hokies have been better on offense. Both units feature plenty of talented players. Charlotte has gotten itself a quality championship game; and while the national implications may be small, two very talented teams will determine who gets the BCS berth for the conference.
Elsewhere in conference, ACC teams split with the SEC in the four matchups over the last weekend. In addition to the Seminoles beating Florida, Wake Forest defeated Vanderbilt in a clash of conference bottom feeders. Clemson and Georgia Tech were not as fortunate against South Carolina and Georgia, respectively. The conference also split with the Big East in two matchups, as Boston College defeated Syracuse, but Miami lost to South Florida in overtime. The loss represented Randy Shannon’s last game as coach of the Hurricanes, as he was fired a few hours after the game. In addition to the Terprapins’ win over N.C. State, the Hokies defeated Virginia and North Carolina handled Duke. For Wake Forest, Virginia and Duke, the season ends here. For the others, bowl game invitations await. But next week, only the Hokies and Seminoles have the spotlight.