Duke at Florida State 2/23/12

February 23, 2012

7:00 ET ESPN

At some point this week, it became clear to me that tonight’s game is the basketball equivalent of the football game against Oklahoma last September: A game highly anticipated by the Seminole faithful that everyone wishes they could attend.  While the Oklahoma days in front game had a “happy times are here again” feel due to their being many such big games in the past, tonight’s game is a rarity.  While the Duke and UNC games are well attended and serve to FSU basketball what the football team serves to everyone else in the ACC, there has rarely been  little more than pride on the line.  The times that FSU have hosted a top 15 team and been on equal ground are quite few in number (gleaned from the game notes on seminoles.com) :

  • January 10,1998  – Duke 75 FSU 63 – I was reminded of this game when I reading the news that student tickets for tonight’s game were distributed in 15 minutes . Once upon a time, student tickets for the basketball games were issued at the door; they could not be procured in advance. A near disaster before the opening of doors for this game changed that.  The 13th ranked Seminoles lost to the 2nd ranked Blue Devils and I lost my voice for the better part of a week.
  • February 27, 1993  - UNC 86 FSU 76 –  UNC was #3 and FSU was #6.  Looking back on the 1992-1993 season, one notes that FSU would have finished in a tie with UNC for the regular season title had they won.  Looking over the box scores for this game and the ones preceding it, I note the absence of Charlie Ward.  I assume he was a known “injured / will not play” before the game and that took some luster off the anticipation.
  • February 16, 1989 – Louisville 78 FSU 77 – (OT) The one game in which FSU (#7) was higher ranked than their opponent (#10).  FSU did finish the 1988-1989 season as regular season champions of the Metro conference, having beaten Louisville on the road earlier in the season.  They lost to the Cardinals in the conference tournament final, however.
  • February 17, 1978 – FSU 81 Lousivlle 70 – This game between the 14th ranked Seminoles and 9th ranked Cardinals was played in Tully Gym.

A win tonight would put the Seminoles atop the ACC standings and represent their third straight victory against the Blue Devils.  Here’s hoping for some of that 1978 magic.


POSTSCRIPT: Alas, it was a bit more like 1998 than 1978: Duke 74 Florida State 66. Although, back then, anytime FSU got behind more than 6 points the game felt hopelessly lost; tonight the Seminoles fell behind by 13 with two minutes to go in the first half but whittled the deficit down to seven at halftime and later closed the game to three points with the ball in hand.

FSU 90 UNC 57

January 14, 2012

Just over ten years ago, then-coach Steve Robinson’s Florida State Seminoles were in the midst of a five year home losing streak to the premier basketball teams of the ACC Conference, Duke and North Carolina.  In advance of a visit by the top-ranked Blue Devils, Robinson showed his players a video containing a highlight reel of great moments in FSU basketball history. At the end of the video, the screen faded to black, with the word “BELIEVE” displayed. FSU won the game  77-76 in what ended up being Robinson’s finest moment at Florida State.

Robinson was forced to leave, but the belief that the Seminoles could hold their own against the ACC elite remained. The following year, FSU again beat Duke at home, while 2004 featured a home win against the Tar Heels. Another home defeat of #1 Duke took place in 2006.   Neither team  came to Tallahassee in 2007, but the ‘Noles beat Duke in Cameron Indoor for good measure.  Mind you, these were all teams that fared no better than the NIT quarter-finals in the post-season, none qualified for the NCAA tournament. FSU’s 2009 tourney appearance came on the heels of defeating a Ty Lawson-less UNC in the semifinals of the ACC tournament. In 2010, FSU beat UNC on the road and 2011 featured yet another defeat of a top-ranked Duke team.

Today, Steve Robinson again manned a bench in Tallahassee. Unlike 10 years ago, though, he was on the losing side.  Unlike the aforementioned games, the result was not a close one as Florida State defeated the University of North Carolina by 33 points.

At half-time, though, it did appear it was going to be another tight game. While Florida State had a 12 point lead with six minutes to go in the first half, FSU only managed one additional point during the final stretch and held what seemed to be a precarious eight point lead given that the Tar Heels are the third ranked team in the country.

However in a four minute stretch early in the second half, Florida State turned the seemingly insecure lead into an insurmountable one.  After the Tar Heels made it a 10 point game with 18:42 remaining, the Seminoles went on a run and built a 23 point lead with with 14:33 to go.  After that, the narrowest lead for the Seminoles would be 21 points.

Deividas Dulkys was the star of the game.  While the senior guard had scored only 32 points in his past nine games, he equaled the total in today’s game.  His career high came in a performance that featured 8 of10 shooting from three point range.  The most boisterous moment for FSU (or the most soul-sucking for UNC) came with just over seven minutes left in the second half. After a Dulkys assisted lay-up, Luke Loucks stole the Tar Heels’ inbound pass and then had to wait for help to arrive.  Relief came in the form of Dulkys who converted Loucks’ pass into a three pointer.

Since that victory over Duke ten years ago, visits by the Blue Devils and Tar Heels are to Florida State basketball are what Florida State football visits were to the rest of the ACC during the glory days.  In that light, today’s game was reminiscent of the FSU-UNC football game in 2001.  The game was such a rout that watching the game in Maryland, I was unable to see the finish as ABC cut away from coverage to show a more closely contested game.  Today’s basketball game was such an energizing rout that  UNC’s coach and starters departed with 14 seconds left so that they could be out of the way of the inevitable invasion of fans.

Good thing they made that announcement about not rushing the court

Credit for photo (and caption): Matthew Farrar

Number two on the short list of things that surprised me about Tallahassee when I arrived as a freshman at Florida state is the degree to which the city has a continental climate.  Being a good Navy kid, I was accustomed to the mild temperature swings of maritime climates, and ignorant of parts of Florida away from I-95. As such, the higher highs and lower lows of Tallahassee were a shock to me.  Today’s event reinforces the nature of Tallahassee’s climate compared to Jacksonville. While the high in the river city was 98, it was a bit warmer yet in the capital city:




327 PM EDT WED JUN 15 2011





With the usual caveats that an active season doesn’t necessarily mean your coastal locale will be hit by a hurricane (and vice versa) and that these predictions are research projects in progress.

Today, Florida State University’s Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies released the output of their model’s forecast for the hurricane season. The model, developed under the lead of Tim Larow, indicates 17 named storms and 9 hurricanes will form this season with a total Accumulated Cyclone Energy of 163 (due to limitations in the model, the number of major hurricanes is not forecast).  This is slightly above the other forecasts that I’ve tracked. 

The model’s methodology is described in the Journal of Climate article Atlantic Basin Hurricane Simulations.   Output from the model was first released in forecast form in 2009. 

Season FSU Named Storms/Hurricanes Forecast Actual FSU Accumulated Cyclone Energy Forecast Actual
2009 8/4 9/3/2 65 51
2010 17/10 19/11/5 156 166

The forecast for named storms,hurricanes and Accumulated Cyclone Energy was below the conensus and proved to be the most accurate.  Their storm numbers for 2010 matched the consensus and NOAA’s forecast edged it out performance-wise on that basis. However, their ACE forecast was again below consensus and proved to be the most accurate. Interestingly, the ACE forecast for this season is the highest among predictions I track.


In a season in which the team posted its best postseason performance since 1993, attendance for Florida State men’s basketball was even better. The 2010-2011 attendance figures released by the NCAA today show Florida State having the 6th best season-season increase in attendance in absolute terms, with an increase of nearly 2000 fans.  An average of 9327 fans attended Florida State’s home games; 139,904 total over 15 games. This total placed it 47th in the nation, only five spots behind the University of Florida, which has an arena equal in size (~12000 seats) , but a larger student body (~50,000 vs 40,000). The total tops the 1993 figure (which I presume to be the record) of 137,863, which was also a 15 game total. This is not quite an apple-apple comparison as I will explain later.

But first, I want to go back to two tweets during the NCAA title game. The tweets would have made a nice appendix to my “Florida State Men’s Basketball – Midget in conference and on campus” as they showed how relatively unattended FSU men’s basketball was compared to the other sports on campus. In 2009-2010, attendance at FSU men’s basketball games was 70th nationally. That compared unfavorably to women’s basketball (where attendance was 50th nationally), softball and women’s soccer (42nd and 16th), and football and baseball (20th and 8th, respectively).  The per game average of 7,336  put them not far ahead (eight positions, ~500/game) of Butler University, a much smaller school playing in a much smaller arena and fairly far behind Duke (17 spots, ~2,000 game), again a smaller school in a smaller arena.  Those stats show the difficulty Florida State faces in recruiting. Why go to a school where your sport is (relatively) less important than softball, when you can go somewhere basketball is far and away the biggest thing happening? The 2010-2011 attendance figures are a fairly decent improvement in this regard.

Besides the obvious boost that improved team performance provided, there were a few structural factors in the schedule that helped boost attendance. Whereas having home games against Duke and UNC, virtually guaranteed sell-outs, were givens in the 1993-2003 era, the expansion of ACC took away that guarantee. There are seasons in which neither squad comes to Tallahassee. This season, however, both teams  played in the Donald L. Tucker Center.  Also, on and off in the past 15 years or so, the game against Florida has been played on a neutral court in December. However, a recent trend has been to play the basketball game on the same weekend and at the same site as the football game. Such was the case this season, as both were in Tallahassee.   Such scheduling has always produced a sell-out as well.  Finally, there were no home games during the Christmas break as the team played in a tournament in Hawaii during the time period. The latter two advantages did not exist in 1993.

One advantage 1993, did have though, was a seating configuration  that netted roughly 1,000 more seats (the re-configuration that shrank capacity did have the advantage of bringing students closer to the court). That advantage was reflected in the higher attendance at the Duke and UNC games that year. However, the game against Florida, which was not in Tallahassee only had 9,099 fans! Why? It was played on January 2, one day after the ‘Noles played in the Orange Bowl!  The ’92-’93 schedule also had three  games during Christmas break, against Arkansas Little-Rock, University of Maryland-Baltimore County, and South Florida (UMBC had a season low 5,285 fans in attendance). Had the season featured the advantages this past season possessed, its attendance would have been larger. Of course, if the arena still had 13,000 seats, this season’s attendance would have been higher still.

Despite the aforementioned improvement in seating configuration, the off-campus facility is routinely rated as one of the lowest in the Atlantic Coast Conference ( last and next to last in two recent reviews). One criticism repeated in both, though, a facility “often less than half-full”, is no longer valid. Out of fifteen games, only three had attendance below 50%. All were against non-conference teams and played on school nights.  Attendance for the 15 games follows.

Hartford 5252 (Sun Dec 5)

Stetson 5713 (Wed Dec 15)

Gardner Webb 5899 (Mon Nov 15)

Mercer 6215 (Tue Nov 23)

Clemson 7015 (Sun Dec 12)

University of North Florida 9562 (Sat Nov 12)

Wake Forest 9729 (Tue Feb 1)

University of Virginia 10266 (Sat Feb 12)

Ohio State University 10457 (Wed Nov 30)

North Carolina State 10517  (Sat Jan 15)

University of Miami 11531 (Sat Feb 26)

Boston College 11604 (Sat Jan 22)

University of Florida 12014 (Sun Nov 28)

University of North Carolina 12030 (Wed Mar 2)

Duke 12100 (Wed Jan 12)

Hat-tip to Brendan Loy, whose post boasting  that his local mid-major (for whom he blogged several games), Denver University,  also ranked in the top 10 for attendance increases, caused me to notice the improvement in FSU’s attendance.

VCU 72 FSU 71

March 26, 2011

Nearly all of my passion for sports comes from my mother.  She played competitive basketball in her teen-aged years and has maintained her love of the college-level game to this day.  From when I was eleven or so until I left for college, we competed against each other filling out NCAA brackets.

My bias was towards my first love, Georgetown (I lived in Maryland during the Patrick Ewing era and there’s are the first college basketball games I remember) and the Big East teams. My mother’s bias was towards schools from Virginia.  Any school other than UVA (remember, we’re a Virginia Tech family) was bound to be pushed a round or two further than they seemingly deserved.  It was thusly that she correctly predicted the 14 seed Old Dominion Monarchs to defeat  the black-horse favorite to win it all, Villanova,in the 1995 tournament. She was always thrilled by such occurrences (even though she didn’t have a bracket going in 2006, she was supremely excited by George Mason’s run).

My father, on the other hand, is too practical and level-headed to have anything that could be called passion for sports.  He has often issued the game-day warning “Half of the teams will lose. If you can’t deal with that don’t watch them.”

That pessimism was realized for the Seminole faithful last night as FSU’s run ended in overtime early this morning. Twice, the Seminoles fell nine points behind only to grind their way back, thereby increasing the pain of the loss. In the small scope of a game, and the larger one of the season, it is easier to sloth in mediocrity.  Pushing for greatness can hurt.

During both VCU runs, the love for Virginia teams came back briefly, with the thought “This would be totally awesome, were they not playing against FSU”.  The painful nature of the loss is such that neither love of my birth state or the passion of the mid-major fans being rewarded is of much comfort.

15 years ago, the last time Florida State won a tournament game (and also had their run ended by a mid-major), they seemed to be on the ascent.  However, their star player, Randell Jackson,  got deluded into thinking he was NBA draft material and left early (a contemporaneous account reads “A (player) whose agent probably tells him he’s Cliff Robinson.He’s not… whoever told him to come out early should be sued.”) only to go un-drafted.  The damage went beyond him, as the 7’2″ giant Karim Shabazz, who had Jackson as a best friend, decided to go home to Providence after being left by his buddy.  The departures broke the team and while coach Steve Robinson managed to build them back enough to upset #1 Duke in 2002, they never returned to what they were at the beginning of his watch.

This time appears to be different. Coach Leonard Hamilton (under contract until 2014) has built success dependent more on a team effort than particular individuals.  A departure of Chris Singleton shouldn’t be as back-breaking as Jackson’s was (and hopefully, no one would get home-sick from his absence). After all, they nearly upset UNC while he was injured, and got to the Sweet 16 with only modest amounts of playing time for him in the tournament. The team’s greatest days still lie ahead.




Tonight’s game against Virginia Commonwealth University marks the Florida State’s mens basketball team’s first appearance in the Sweet 16 since 1993.  While that’s a (relatively) long time ago in a number of ways, one way of looking at it that particularly struck me was the realization that Virginia Commonwealth (a member of the Colonial Athletic Conference) belonged to the long  defunct Metro Conference *.

The post-season highlights for FSU hoops between now and then are slight. Appeared in the 1997 championship and lost to a Michigan team that later forfeited their season.  Won 1st round game in 1998 NCAA tournament.  Lost first round games in 2009 and 2010 tournaments.

Those highlights are small in comparision accomplishments of the other teams in the ACC.  This is where the pain of being a football school in a conference where basketball is king is apparent. (I went to high school at the northern edge of the heart of ACC country and had many classmates skip school for the 1st round of the conference tournament. That doesn’t happen in Florida).   From 1993 to this year, ACC teams made a total of 37 appearances in the Sweet 16, with every member of the conference except for Florida State and Virginia Tech doing so (Miami went back when it was a Big East member).  Five of those appearances resulted in national championships.  FSU basketball was a runt among big dogs.

Besides being overlooked and out-achieved in conference, the basketball team has been the unloved under-performer relative to other sports at FSU.

1993, of course marked the football team’s first national championship.  That fell in the middle of the 14 year run of consecutive top five finishes.  Between now and then made four national championship games, winning one.  While the glory years are somewhat past, FSU football has continued its streak of bowl game appearances (an accomplishment that’s been increasingly devalued since 1993) and it is what the average person thinks of when Seminole sports are on their mind.

Baseball is the gold standard when it comes to the post-season. FSU has been in the tournament every year since 1978.  Since 1993, they have been to seven College World Series (final eight) and appeared played in one national championship game. Only three times have they failed to advance from the opening round. 

The ladies have had their share of post-season success as well.

The women’s basketball team has been in the tournament seven times since 1993, winning their first round game every time. An upset against Stanford on the road in 2007 took them to the Sweet 16. In 2010 the team advanced to the Elite Eight.

Women’s soccer didn’t even exist at FSU in 1993. The team first played in 1995. They have made the tournment every year since 2000 and had a stretch of six consecutive appearences in the Elite Eight including one national championship game.

It is from this position of being a midget among giants both in conference and on campus that the FSU men march from to face VCU.  Fight, fight, fight to victory.

*FSU was a member of the Metro Conference, but was one of three schools that left in 1991. Virginia Commonwealth was one of the schools that replaced them.

FSU-Notre Dame

March 20, 2011

After winning their first NCAA tournament game since 1998, Florida State faces Notre Dame.  A win tonight would give the Seminoles their first win since 1993 (when the team featuring Charlie Ward, Bob Sura, and Sam Cassell advanced to the elite eight).

In 1998, Florida State was a 12 seed and upset TCU.  Their second round opponent was Valparaiso, fresh off their shocking upset of Ole Miss (Youtube clip). When the Valpo upset happened, I immediately felt that the Seminoles were going to be run over by the freight train of destiny, and so it was. FSU lost 83-77.

This time the Garnet and Gold are the under-dog and I am a bit more hopeful.  It is the first time the basketball teams have played each other.  I believe the most recent match-ups between Florida State and Notre Dame athletics have been in Women’s Soccer, where the teams met in the NCAA tournament three consecutive years. In 2007, FSU beat Notre Dame in the semi-finals before losing to Southern Cal. In 2008 and 2009, the Fighting Irish were victorious in the quarter-finals.

Due to the late start time (9:30 PM on a Sunday ?!) and the lack of an over-the-air broadcast (it’s on TBS), I will not be watching the game, but will be cheering on FSU nonetheless.  At battle’s end she’s great.



Despite the  War&Peace length of my post below, I still managed to miss a couple of things that I had wanted to note:

  • The Florida papers have been noting that Frank Beamer is 1-8 against Virginia Tech.  However, all of them have failed to put the record into context.  As the series history shows, the first four of those games were from 1988-1991, which was the front-end of Florida State’s streak of top five finishes in the rankings and before Virginia Tech started its ascent. Florida State was ranked 5,19,2, and 1, going into those games, while Virginia Tech was unranked (two of those seasons Tech finished with a losing record).  Of the five games after that, with both teams playing more or less as equals, three were played in the state of Florida.   As such, it’s not surprising that Beamer has a losing record against FSU.
  • The last two games were marred by the eventual losing team losing it’s starting quarterback. In 2007, Christian Ponder made his debut after Drew Weatherford was knocked out of the game.  In 2008, Virginia Tech not only lost Tyrod Taylor,  but his backup, Sean Glennon, as well.  It appears that today’s game may be similarly affected before it begins.  The Tallahassee Democrat is reporting that Christian Ponder”is not expected to start” with sophmore E.J. Manuel in his place.  Manuel would come into this game with a bit more experience than Ponder did when he pulled replacement duty. E.J., who went to high school in Virginia Beach, has five starts already, one of those in a win against Clemson earlier this season.

Despite being a Navy kid and having spent my childhood up and down the east coast of our fine nation, I have, for the most part, not accumulated a lasting conflicting collection of teams that I cheer for.  Due to a combination of timing and family ties, I do have a somewhat troublesome split loyalty in college sports (particularly football).  The objects of my divided love meet today in the ACC Championship Game.

My mother was born in Virginia and her brother (hereafter referred to as my uncle) went to Virginia Tech and would go on to be their Chief Information Officer. My father is a graduate of Virginia Tech and was a student there when he met my mother.  Because of these circumstances, I was brought up a Virginia Tech fan (not because of my father as one would expect, but because of my mother’s side of the family, as you will see).  My grandparents gave me a subscription to the Hokie Huddler and I read about the exploits of the great Bruce Smith and their later win in the Peach Bowl (a much bigger deal back then before the system would bloat to allow.500 teams to go to a post-season game).  When I was living in Pennsylvania, I was actually excited when they were playing Temple, so the game would be on the local radio station (Tech had not yet joined the Big East and was very much off the national scene).  However, when I entered my teen-aged years, I started to become a bit of a fan of Florida State University, in love with the sights and sounds of the War Chant in a packed Doak Campbell Stadium.

The turn was slowed however, as (like my father, who was also the son of a Navy man) I moved to Virginia for my high school years.  Virginia Tech had joined the Big East and immediately started a streak of bowl appearances, which continues through this season (3rd longest such streak after Florida State and Florida).  While I watched  FSU through their first national championship as well, I was a closer follower of Virginia Tech football due to being in-state (the internet explosion didn’t reach my home until after this time, otherwise things may have been a little different).

Despite that proximity to Virginia Tech, though, when my senior year rolled around, I decided that I was going to spend the next fall in Tallahassee, with FSU offering a major in meteorology being one of the key factors.  With that, they were first and foremost in my heart.  This was pretty easy at the time. Even though FSU and VT were regular opponents from the 50′s through the 70′s (and a stretch from 1988-1991), they went separate ways when they joined their conferences.  In 1999, though, they were on a collision course as both tore through their schedules undefeated.

I was in the active duty Navy at the time and made a trip to see them play at Temple in November. Went to the game with a Virginia Tech sweatshirt and because it was also the day of UF-FSU, I had a Florida State t-shirt on underneath (That set up a great moment when I left the game in the middle of a group of Virginia Tech students and I took off my Tech sweatshirt to show my true colors. This was promptly noticed.)  With a portable TV on  in my car I drove to a shipmate’s house to watch the rest of the UF-FSU game, which the Seminoles won, of course, continuing the collision course.

This made for a fun Thanksgiving of course, as my uncle was their for dinner, but subsequently off to the Boston College game, which for the moment was the biggest game in Tech history as a win would seal their undefeated status and a place against FSU in the national championship game.  I loved the spectacle of our two teams meeting, but was cheering FSU through and through. That was true for my father, as well. He was Chris Weinke’s biggest fan**.

A couple of years later, I was stationed in Jacksonville and in attendance at the 2002 Gator Bowl, which pitted the two teams against each other again, resulting in another FSU victory.  This would be the last time they would meet as members of different conferences.

Tech joined the ACC in 2004 and when the conference went to a two division format the two teams were placed on opposite sides of the conference, giving the two a little bit of space as the would be scheduled to play only twice in a six year period (2007 & 2008 for the first pair of games). They ended up meeting sooner though and the result was another Florida State win.

When the conference announcement was made, I was intent on making a road trip to Blacksburg the first time Florida State played there. Alas, I was in Iraq when the two met in Blacksburg and the Hokies got their first win against the ‘Noles in the Frank Beamer era.  I was in attendance, however, when they met again in Tallahassee in 2008 and FSU won.

Going into the season, both teams were in happy circumstances in the top 25 (along with 3 other ACC teams).  For both teams, the nature of their season irrevocably changed on ApACCalypse Day, Sep 11 2010.   Oklahoma blew out Florida State while Miami, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, and most embarrassingly, Virginia Tech lost to James Madison.   While losing was bad for each teams individually, the fact that everyone lost made it impossible for there to be a redemption game for any of them made circumstances worse.  From this point on, everyone was playing to have a good season, greatness was out the window.

Before I go on with how the season played out for Florida State and Virginia Tech, I would like to offer an aside on the circumstances of the Virginia Tech-James Madison game.  Granted my opinion may be biased in this assessment, but all in all, I don’t think the loss was quite as terrible and unthinkable as it was made out to be.

At the time it was being speculated that Boise State and Virginia Tech would play on Labor Day, I was thankful for anything that would keep FSU from playing then.  FSU had played on Labor Day five times between 2004 and 2009 (against Miami every time, except for one against Clemson) and I hated it.  Besides screwing up the traditional October timing of the Miami rivalry game, I didn’t like the set of outcomes that result from playing on a Monday:

  • Win and take the next Saturday off. You have a big exciting win… and then take a break. Momentum killer.
  • Lose and take the next Saturday off. Your team has to sulk for an extra long time.
  • Win and play the next Saturday.  You kind of keep the momentum going, but not really, as you can’t play a serious team on such a short schedule.
  • Lose and play the next Saturday.  Assuming your team can turn itself around emotionally, it gets to beat up on a weakling to rebound.

When the best scenario involves losing, it’s a bad set-up.  Also, that scenario is precarious.  With the reduced number of scholarships and the subsequent dispersion of talent, those “automatic gimmes” aren’t so automatic.  Also, it’s tricky emotionally. The team plays in a big game with huge build-up and a raucous crowd. They follow it up with an un-notable opponent in a stadium that is much less lively than it was on the Monday prior. If the team is sluggish going out, then it’s going to have an uphill fight to get into the game.  That’s how it went for Florida State in 2006, when they had to come from behind to beat Troy. The point was emphasized in 2009 when Florida State spent 29 second half minutes losing to Jacksonville State, before pulling it out at the end.  From their experience, it was clear that trying to play on the short week after a Labor Day game is asking for trouble,

Virginia Tech, alas did not heed the lesson. While victorious Boise State took the week off the Hokies hosted a good I-AA team, James Madison, and lost.  The loss was promptly declared to be the “worst loss ever” for the Hokies, a point I took contention with in conversations.  Given the circumstances and consequences of playing on Labor Day, I did not see it as worse as the 1998 loss to Temple, which on a points spread basis was the worst upset on record for any team (it may still be, for all I know).  The other loss that came to mind was more appropriate to the situation: 1995 versus Cincinatti.

Virginia Tech started the season with a difficult loss to Boston College on Thursday night.  Despite having extra time to prepare for the game, they were shut out at home on a rainy day by the unheralded Bearcats (looking back on their schedule Cinicnatti wasn’t as atrociously bad as I made them to be in my memories; however, Tech didn’t have much business losing to them, much less losing 16-0).  At that point the season appeared to be lost. The next game was at Miami and even though the Hurricanes’ legendary home winning streak was over, the Orange Bowl was still a formidable place to play. Morseo given that Miami had a 71 game winning streak against unranked opponents.  The Hokies’ defense carried the day however, and Tech won 13-7 and proceeded to go on a tear.  The balance of the 1995 season featured Virginia Tech dominance as they won the Big East and went to the Sugar Bowl. That game was a microcosm of the season as they fell behind to Texas 10-0 , but rallied to win 28-10.

So, Frank Beamer was not in unfamiliar territory when the Hokies found themselves 0-2.  The next game was against East Carolina, a series which has always played like a rivalry game.  An article in today’s Washington Post details the beginning of the Virginia Tech turnaround centered around that show-down.  As was the case in 1995, VT has rolled since the first two losses. This despite having a seemingly grueling three game stretch against Georgia Tech followed by games at North Carolina and Miami.

Florida State, on the other hand, has had a tougher time of it.  The Oklahoma game was awful.  I had never seen the FSU defense so overwhelmed; Oklahoma was playing so fast and formidable  that it appeared that it was men against boys.  While I had watched a few games where FSU’s defense clearly wasn’t up to the challenge, the Oklahoma game was of a different magnitude.  After three easy wins against  inferior teams, the ‘Noles  thrashed Miami and the Florida State faithful were thinking “We’re back!”.  A Thursday night loss against NC State (caused by a fumble at the end of  the would-be game-winning drive) actually fit into that pattern a bit, because FSU’s first ACC loss was on the road on Thursday night. However, the subsequent loss, on a wide-right field goal in a  Homecoming game  against UNC, brought forth rage and panic.  It was clear that FSU was back in the “every game a fight” mode that made previous seasons nervous affairs for Florida State fans.  Florida State squeaked through its next two games and as detailed in my previous post, rolled over Florida as Maryland beat NC State to let FSU into today’s game.

Having watched both teams closely over the course of the season, I deem Virginia Tech to be the better team. Florida State playing its best could certainly beat them. However, I think Virginia Tech is in the stronger spot emotionally, having had their focus on redemption the whole season, with 1995 as the template. FSU, on the other hand, has been on a week to week basis and may be spent by the victory over Florida.

Other factors favoring Virginia Tech concern the game’s location. It will be played in Charlotte and Hokie fans have a trend of taking over stadiums in North Carolina.  While FSU will have a noisy contingent, I expect the crowd will make it seem like the game is Lane Stadium. Also, game-time temperature is forecast to be 40° with a probability of light rain.  Conditions much more like Blacksburg than Tallahassee.  I expect it to be a battle of running games in which the Hokies come out top.

However, I will be unabashedly happy if that is not the case. Go ‘Noles!

** For those wholly unaware or who have forgotten, Chris Weinke was the quarterback of Florida State under a set of unusual circumstances.  He was recruited by FSU to play football, but went into professional baseball instead .  He didn’t make it to the pros, but unlike most, he didn’t squander his signing bonus, so he was in strong financial shape when he left baseball to show up as a 24 year old freshman in Tallahassee in 1997 at the bottom of the depth chart.  Dan Kendra was expected to be the starter in 1998 before blowing out his knee in spring practice causing him to miss the season. Weinke overtook Marcus Outzen and ended up being the starter.  He set a school record by throwing six interceptions in a loss to NC State that year. However, starting with the very next game, he went on a streak of completions without an interceptions that broke FSU and ACC records.  He was at the later end of that streak when he suffered a neck injury against Virginia that not only ended his season but could have ended his career (it was precariously close to being a paralyzing.)  He returned, of course, for FSU’s unbeaten season.  Despite not being much of a sports fan (my passion for sports comes from my mother), he followed FSU football closely during that season, cheering Weinke on the whole way.  True to his non-sports fan nature, he was more excited about  Weinke’s financial managment and maturity than any of the other things I’ve described.


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