RALEIGH, N.C. — It only takes a glance at the ACC standings to grasp the implications of tonight's nationally televised Florida State-North Carolina State showdown.
The Seminoles (6-1 overall) sit atop the Atlantic Division at 4-0. The Wolfpack (5-2) is right behind, tied with Maryland, at 2-1.
So, a win for FSU would keep it in control of its destiny in reaching Charlotte, N.C., for the ACC Championship Game on Dec. 4. Remember, if two teams are tied, the first tiebreaker is head-to-head so the Wolfpack, if it loses, would have to win out and hope FSU loses its three final league games (Clemson, North Carolina and at Maryland) to finish ahead of the Seminoles.
"We don't even think about our standings right now," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said Wednesday morning. "We're just thinking about playing well. We feel confident that we're playing better, we're getting better and hopefully we'll continue to get better each week, and that's our goal.
"But we can't worry about our standings or where we're at. What we have to do is control what we can control, and that's to play well in this football game. That's the only focus we have. We're not caught up in all the other things. We have goals and where we want to go, but like I tell them, 'To get to a goal, you have to take it one step at a time and the biggest step we have now is playing a great North Carolina State team, so don't worry about the outcome and don't worry about things you can't control.' "
The Seminoles, who once made winning the ACC seem routine by claiming the title outright or sharing it every year from 1992 to 2000 and in 2002 and 2003, have reached the title game just once, the inaugural one in 2005 in Jacksonville. They upset Virginia Tech to earn the ACC's automatic spot in a BCS game (the Orange Bowl against Penn State, that year).
Fisher's words seem to be reaching his players.
"We don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves," senior QB Christian Ponder said. "If we win this game and we lose the next couple, then winning this game didn't mean anything. So we're just focused on getting this game done and see what happens the following weeks. We know it's going to be a tough challenge."
FSU and Thursdays: The Seminoles are no strangers to Thursday night games, and this will be the fourth consecutive time they've played in Raleigh, N.C., in that time slot.
They won 26-17 in 2008, lost 24-20 in 2006 and pulled out a 17-10 win in 2004.
In case you're wondering, the Seminoles are 6-4 on Thursday nights since joining the league in 1992, but only 4-4 when they've been ranked. Other than a 2002 Thursday night game against Clemson, all have been on the road.
Fisher said he's happy his team had a bye week before (as did the Wolfpack), otherwise the five-day turnaround is "crazy" and "unfair."
Friend and rival: Ponder calls North Carolina State star Russell Wilson "probably the best quarterback in the ACC right now and one of the best quarterbacks in the nation." But although he hasn't met him, he also calls him a friend … a Facebook friend.
"He sent me the request (last week) so I accepted," Ponder said.
Run at the ACC: The women's and men's cross country teams, ranked No. 3 and 8, respectively, in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association poll, head to familiar ground Saturday for the ACC meet. It's at Franklin Park in Chestnut Hill, Mass., near the Boston College campus, where FSU's teams ran, and won, the Boston University Invitational on Sept. 19 over the same course. "I think it's going to be really, really valuable to run on the ACC course prior to the championship," coach Bob Braman said.
Looking ahead: The women's basketball team might have a location advantage in 2012. FSU will be a host for the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament, and if FSU is in the field, it will open at home. That was the case last year, and the Seminoles won both games.