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EAGER FOR FRESH START, FSU FOCUSES ON LABOR DAY SHOWDOWN AT CLEMSON

Forgive the Florida State Seminoles if they look at Labor Day - and the season opener at Clemson - as something of a birthday, a fresh start after some pain.

"It gets last season out of the way and gets that bad taste out of our mouths, and now we can start a whole new plan to better ourselves," junior tailback Antone Smith said Sunday. "Not only for ourselves but show people that this is what we can do when we're at our best."

The Tigers, coached by Tommy Bowden, son of FSU's Bobby Bowden, likewise see the game as a chance to make a statement. They have won two straight in the series and three of four.

"The third time is even harder, so we know we have to practice even harder if we want to beat them three times in a row," junior defensive end Phillip Merling said. "That's what we want to do, and hopefully that's what we're going to do."

THE SHORT AND THE LONG OF IT: When Kyle Long, younger brother of Virginia star defensive end Chris Long and son of NFL Hall of Famer Howie Long, orally committed to play baseball at FSU (he's a heck of an offensive lineman, too), folks in Charlottesville opined that Chris and/or Howie must have issues with Virginia.

"I read. That's all I'll say, I read," Chris Long said wryly. "That's speculation. I'm happy for my brother in whatever decision he makes. I believe wholeheartedly it was the right decision for him. I tell him all the time, this is the right decision for me. It's as simple as that. There's really nothing else to it."

NOT AGAIN: Miami senior offensive guard Derrick Morse referred to the problems that plagued the program last year (the murder of Bryan Pata, a brawl during the FIU game and the speculation about then-coach Larry Coker) as "dark clouds."

So, did he think the skies looked threatening after the recent car accident involving several freshmen, including former Plant High star quarterback Robert Marve? Well, he hopes not. The injured players are expected to be okay in time, even if that's next season.

"But we were all shocked," he said, adding that the 'Canes heard about the incident in the newspapers. "They were freshmen ... but obviously it hurts because they could have contributed (and not sat out as redshirts). You never know what's going to happen until camp."

WHAT ABOUT US?: Few pundits are picking Wake Forest to finish anywhere near the top of the ACC's Atlantic Division, even though the Demon Deacons return 13 starters from a team that won the ACC title and reached the Orange Bowl. Surprised?

"Not really," senior center Steve Justice said. "It's only been one year. We have to come out and prove ourselves again."

HE SAID IT: "I don't see a lot of guys discussing it because a lot of our guys don't personally know him. I did get to meet him a few times. There's a lot of stuff going on right now, a lot of stories out there. I guess when all the facts come out, it'll take care of it." - Virginia Tech senior defensive tackle Carlton Powell, on the troubles of former Hokie great Michael Vick.

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