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By Tom D'Angelo

Palm Beach Post

WEST PALM BEACH - Florida State was sailing along at 5-0 and had risen to No. 3 in the Associated Press Top 25, its highest ranking in the Jimbo Fisher era, when the Seminoles arrived last season in Raleigh, N.C.

The game was just another on the schedule, nothing like the showdown No. 5 FSU faces Saturday at No. 3 Clemson. But when the Seminoles were upset 17-16 by unranked N.C. State (led by now-Bucs QB Mike Glennon), suddenly it became a defining game.

And a measuring stick for Fisher's critics.

Florida State finished the 2012 season 12-2, winning its first ACC title since 2005 and its first BCS bowl game in 13 years. But Fisher's success since replacing Bobby Bowden in 2010 became his curse.

Some program followers believed the season could have been better, pointing to second-half collapses against the Wolfpack and Florida, and uninspiring wins in the ACC title game over Georgia Tech and in the Orange Bowl over Northern Illinois.

And while the noise might have been coming from a vocal minority, the rumblings were there.

Fisher, 48, has had a handful of defining moments since replacing Bowden, but one thing is certain: Most have been successful. He is 36-10 in his first head coaching job (including 3-0 in bowls), which is tied for the seventh-best record among BCS conference schools since he took over in 2010. Fisher's .783 winning percentage is the highest in ACC history.

Now, Fisher prepares for the biggest regular-season game of his career. Some believe this will be a defining moment for him. Others say win or lose, the program is headed in the same direction.

"This game doesn't define Jimbo's career as a coach," said former FSU WR Ron Sellers. "You have to look at the body of a coach's or team's work."

Sellers became a believer last season and believes all of FSU's goals are attainable even if the Seminoles stumble Saturday in Death Valley.

FSU entered 2013 with lower expectations than the last two seasons after 11 Seminoles were taken in April's NFL draft. But an explosive offense led by freshman QB Jameis Winston and an improving defense could put this team on a fast track. With just 12 seniors on the two-deep depth chart, this was expected to be a transition year.

"I felt we had a good football team ... but you never know until you play the games," Fisher said. "I like this team. I like the direction it's going."

LOUD CROWD: FSU is pumping artificial crowd noise over speakers at practice to prepare for the environment at Memorial Stadium, also known as Death Valley.

"It's tons of noise and you can barely hear in practice, but in Death Valley you can't hear at all," RB Karlos Williams said. "It was very loud from the time we got off the bus through the time we were in the locker room, the warmup, the kickoff through the end of the game. It was just loud. And it's going to be the same. You get goose bumps talking about it, goose bumps in the stadium."

Information from the Orlando Sentinel was used in this report.