TALLAHASSEE — Florida State will recognize a fairly small group of seniors before Saturday's regular-season finale against Florida, and players such as QB Christian Ponder, G Rodney Hudson, C Ryan McMahon, DE Markus White, LB Kendall Smith and S Ochuko Jenije deserve the praise like no other class that has come through the program.
No, they didn't lead the Seminoles to a national title.
No, they didn't win an ACC title, at least not yet; FSU can reach the league final for the first time since 2005 if Maryland beats visiting North Carolina State on Saturday afternoon.
But no group of players has been through a more turbulent time, including an academic misconduct scandal, six-loss seasons and the end of the Bobby Bowden era.
"It's a great core group of guys who compete, have character and have endured a lot of tough times here and have fought through them," coach Jimbo Fisher said.
To him, the seniors didn't simply persevere; they helped set a new foundation for success. The No. 22 Seminoles (8-3) finished 6-2 in the ACC and will have at least a share of the Atlantic Division title. The Seminoles hadn't won that many league games since 2004. Heck, they were 16-16 in league play the previous four years combined.
"They helped make Florida State significant in the ACC again," Fisher said. "They found a way to persevere with younger guys and put them back in that situation and I'm happy for those guys for that fact. And proud of them."
Should the Seminoles beat the Gators (7-4) and snap a six-game skid to their intrastate rivals then follow with a bowl win, perhaps in the Chick-fil-A Bowl against an SEC team such as Mississippi State, Arkansas or South Carolina, they would reach 10 wins for just the second time in a decade. Remember, they won at least 10 games every year from 1987-2000. That would put them on the road back toward national significance.
"I don't know what the future's going to hold, but for us to get those six wins (in the ACC) and still have a chance to have a 10-win season, that's big for us. It's something that hasn't been done for a while," said Ponder, one of five players left from the 2006 signing class. "We've been through a lot together. It's definitely a good thing to end it on a positive note. I hope that we leave that legacy that maybe we were the ones who turned it around. Time will tell."
Did you know? White, who has been enjoying a breakout season, has a sack (or half of one) in seven consecutive games to give him 7.5 on the season. He entered the year with three sacks in 26 games.
"Too bad I started so late (this year)," he said of his streak. "I'm going to try to keep it going and I'm going to try to get more than one sack a game."
Numbers game: FSU is averaging 6.2 yards per offensive play, which is pretty good. But the Seminoles are averaging just 64 plays a game compared to 73 for their opponents, which isn't so good.
bowden at Orange Bowl: Bowden will be an honorary captain and be on the field for the coin toss at the Jan. 3 Orange Bowl.
"The Orange Bowl holds so many wonderful memories for me, including of course, winning our first national championship there," he said of the 1994 game against Nebraska.
The 2011 game will feature the ACC champions, which could be the Seminoles should they reach the league final then beat Coastal Division champ Virginia Tech.
The last word: "He said he had about 40 family members (at the game) and I said, 'Well, see if they can all come back this week. Bring them all back down again.' " — Fisher on S Nick Moody, who had a career-high 13 tackles and returned an interception 96 yards for a touchdown to seal the win at Maryland.
Brian Landman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3347.