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Now it's time to hit the spotlight for Florida State

TALLAHASSEE — One year. They say it over and over, as if it were an eternity.

It's been one whole year since Florida State players traveled halfway across the country only to be embarrassed by Oklahoma in front of God and ABC.

One year since the worst defeat in their memories. One year since their pride was smacked from sideline to sideline. One year to wait for retribution.

What they are too young to understand is the rematch against the Sooners — now six days away — carries a significance far greater than simple payback.

This is the game that has been missing from Florida State's resume for far too long: The game with national title ramifications. The game to convince America that FSU is back.

No. 1 Oklahoma visits No. 5 Florida State on Saturday, and for three hours nothing else will matter.

"I'm pretty sure the atmosphere is going to be crazy," said fullback Lonnie Pryor. "That's pretty much the reason you play college football.

Florida State completed a two-week prerequisite course Saturday night by cruising past Charleston Southern 62-10 a week after dropping Louisiana-Monroe 34-0.

The scores are impressive, but the results mean little. The season doesn't really begin until the Sooners show up for the biggest game at Doak Campbell Stadium in years.

Yes, the 'Noles played for the ACC title in 2005 and '10, but those games hardly registered outside of local markets.

This is different.

This is the first time since the start of a half-decade decline that the rest of the country has had reason to be titillated by an FSU game. Florida State has faced some highly ranked teams in recent seasons but never one that has created this kind of fervor.

This feels like the opener in 2004 when No. 4 FSU traveled to No. 5 Miami.

Or 2003, when UM was No. 2 and Florida State was No. 5.

Or the final weeks of 2000, when the No. 3 'Noles beat No. 4 Florida and then lost to No. 1 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.

This can be the kind of night that is remembered for generations.

"They know what's ahead of them," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "They know it's a big team we're going to play. It's going to be a great football game."

So are the Seminoles ready? Are they better prepared than last season, when they were losing 34-7 by halftime?

"We know we've got to execute this time," said quarterback EJ Manuel. "When you play a great team, they're not going to make mistakes, so you can't make mistakes, either."

The 2011 version of FSU should be better, but do not base your expectations on the past two weeks.

You can't complain about consecutive blowouts, even if they were against future accountants and architects. But you also can't trust those scores to tell you anything compelling or important. Or have you forgotten 2008?

The last time the Seminoles opened the season with back-to-back sparring partners, they outscored Western Carolina and Chattanooga 115-7. And then lost to Wake Forest.

The truth is, Florida State is going to have to play better to beat Oklahoma. Manuel missed too many deep passes and locked in on too many primary receivers. The offensive line had too many penalties and showed little indication it could run-block.

Here's one way to look at it:

FSU's quarterback was bigger than both defensive ends from Charleston Southern.

So shouldn't the Seminoles have been able to run the ball a little better? Shouldn't the offensive line, where the 299-pound left guard is considered the skinny one, be capable of bulldozing a JV opponent?

Because it didn't happen that way. Charleston Southern had its safeties playing close to the line, so the Seminoles opted to throw the ball far more and never established a ground game.

The final stat line says FSU rushed for 170 yards, but that's a lark.

James Wilder Jr., a former Plant standout, had a 41-yard run on the final play of the game, but it would have been called back if Charleston Southern hadn't decline the penalty while running to the exits.

The second-longest run of the night was a 35-yard reverse for receiver Bert Reed.

"We had our ups and downs in the running game," said Pryor. "But it got a little better from last week."

So now the Seminoles begin preparations to restore the reputation this program held for nearly two decades. The reputation Bobby Bowden built. And the reputation that eventually cost Bowden his job when he could no longer live up to it.

It has been one year since FSU was hammered by Oklahoma.

It's been a lot longer since the rest of college football cared.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

Now it's time to hit the spotlight for Florida State 09/10/11 [Last modified: Saturday, September 10, 2011 11:31pm]
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