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(Photo by Sara Davis for theACC.com)
Seminoles look ahead, tough openers and QB debuts
GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – Florida State is set to take the field for its first game since claiming the 2013 national title, and head coach Jimbo Fisher was pleased with his team’s mental approach throughout preseason camp.
The Seminoles, who battle Oklahoma State in Saturday night’s nationally televised game at Arlington, Texas (8 p.m., ABC) appear to be a team eyeing the road ahead, not one that is living in the recent past.
“I feel really good about that right now.” Fisher said. “I think when we ask our guys to really lock in and as we developed during camp, I’ve seen signs of that. I’ve been very pleased with that. Again, you don’t know until you go play an opponent, but in scrimmages or big days or certain challenge days when we’re able to simulate game day type atmosphere as far as how we wanted to play and think, I was very pleased with how they stepped up. Every time we asked them to address an issue and do something it seemed to get done.”
Season openers for ACC teams coming off national championships have produced mixed results.
Clemson opened defense of its 1981 national title at Georgia. The Tigers, missing several key pieces from the ’81 team but still ranked 11th nationally, dropped a tough 13-7 decision to the seventh-ranked Bulldogs.
Georgia Tech was ranked eighth nationally following its 1990 national title, and opened its 1991 slate with a 34-22 loss to seventh-ranked Penn State at the Meadowlands.
But Florida State’s two defending national champions prior to this season fared better. The Seminoles claimed head coach Bobby Bowden’s first title with a victory over Nebraska in the 1993 Orange Bowl, and then opened the 1994 season with a 41-17 ACC win over visiting Virginia. And less than eight months after claiming the 1999 BCS national championship, Florida State cruised to a 29-3 win over BYU at Jacksonville, Fla.
Past results aside, Fisher’s focus is solely on a young but talented Oklahoma State team and preparing his team for yet another game in the national spotlight. FSU has consistently answered the call on such occasions during its current 16-game winning streak and Fisher hopes his 2014 squad follows suit.
“I think you know that your opponent is Oklahoma State, and you know they’ve won 41 games in the last four years and the history of their program,” Fisher said. “That will definitely get your attention and you have to bring your ‘A’ game from day one. Being in the limelight as far as some of the games we went to, I think it will hopefully rub off in the future. That’s the plan. As long as you can be in those games, your kids get used to that atmosphere and environment.”
Sizing Up The Schedule
ACC teams will play 11 games against teams ranked in this year’s AP preseason Top 25, the most of any Power Five Conference. The ACC’s 17 games against teams from other Power 5 conference ties for the most nationally.
Clemson, ranked 16th in the nation, draws one of the aforementioned tough assignments on Saturday when it makes the short trip to 12th-ranked Georgia. The Bulldogs have revenge on their minds following last year’s 38-35 season-opening loss to the Tigers, but Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney says his team would face a tough task regardless of the opponent or the venue.
“The opener is always very difficult every single year; it really doesn't matter whom you play,” Swinney said. “The opener is difficult because you've got more time to prepare for one game than you do any game the rest of the year because you've got all spring, all summer to prepare for this opponent. But the bigger challenge is just there's so many unknowns because you don't have any video evidence of really who this team is like you normally do when you're playing.”
Six ACC teams will open this weekend against FCS opponents, and those who follow college football know those games can be equally challenging. When Pitt faces Delaware on Saturday, the Panthers will be facing their first FCS opponent since falling to Youngstown State in the 2012 opener.
“I don’t think you even reference it,” Pitt third-year head coach Paul Chryst said. “It’s not like ‘Hey guys, two years ago we got beat by Youngstown State.’ I think it is bigger than that—it is how you approach the game, and the respect and preparation it takes each and every week. It is everyone’s job to teach the older and younger guys. We aren’t referencing two years ago this week, but we are always referencing all the time the approach you have to have and the respect for the game.”
Not to mention – although Chryst did – that the Panthers are facing a strong football program that has claimed six football national titles and has been a perennial contender at the FCS/Division I-AA level.
“I think it helps when you put the film on and watch Delaware on tape,” Chryst said. “You sit there and guys are going to have nothing but respect for them.”
Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer, whose team was upset by FCS in-state foe James Madison in 2010, echoed Chryst’s sentiments as the Hokies prepared to play host to William & Mary on Saturday.
“It’s just a fact,” Beamer said. “Even at different levels of football, they have a lot of good football players and a lot of veteran football players. We’re starting a lot of new guys, so every game is a little bit different. You’ve got to go out and play, and they are certainly capable and we’ve got to be ready to go.”
Trial By Fire
At least 10 ACC teams will open their seasons with different starting quarterbacks than those that finished last season.
That includes Wake Forest, which is under the direction of first-year head coach Dave Clawson and will become the first conference team to kick off the season when it travels to Louisiana Monroe on Thursday night (7 p.m.; ESPNU). John Wolford, a true freshman from Jacksonville, Florida, will be under center for the Demon Deacons and Clawson says he has earned the job.
“He is our best quarterback, so I can’t worry about whether he’s a freshman, sophomore, junior, senior,” Clawson said. “In a perfect world, you always love to have the guy be in the system one or two years before he plays. But we’re going to put the guys out there who give us the best chance to win.”
Clawson noted that Wolford, who threw for over 3,300 yards and 38 touchdowns as a high school senior, wasn’t handed the starting quarterback assignment by default.
“He clearly won the job,” Clawson said. “He’s playing at a high level. I don’t think those things suddenly disappear once you play a game. He’s executed well in practice. He’s executed well in scrimmages.”
And if Wolford encounters a few growing pains once he sees live game action, so be it.
“Some things will happen for the first time for him, and that’s only normal,” Clawson said. “You certainly hope (with) a quarterback that their second start is better than their first and their 10th is better than their first and second. I’m sure there will be some game one mistakes, but mistakes happen in game one even with an experienced quarterback.
“I don’t worry about the things we don’t have. I know what we do have, and I like our players and I think they’ve worked hard. I think they’ll be focused and ready to go.”