TALLAHASSEE — Any lingering ACC championship or College Football Playoff hopes ended Saturday for No. 12 Florida State when North Carolina's Nick Weiler nailed a career-long 54-yard field goal as time expired.
But the reason FSU watched its nation-best 22-game home winning streak end with a 37-35 loss at Doak Campbell Stadium had more to do with the game's first 59:56 than its final four seconds. FSU (3-2, 0-2 ACC) is still wrestling with the problems that led to last month's humiliation at Louisville, and the ones that led to last year's three losses, and the ones that led to its seasonlong hangover after its 2013 national title run.
Though the 2014 issues were overlooked because of FSU's perfect regular season and last year's problems could be chalked up to rebuilding, the Seminoles have no excuses this year — not a team that began the season with realistic hopes of coming to Tampa for the national title game but now seems destined for Orlando and the Russell Athletic Bowl.
"There ain't nothing magical going to happen," coach Jimbo Fisher said.
The loss reflects who the Seminoles are.
There are slow starts, a flashback to 2014.
With the Tar Heels (4-1, 2-0) needing only nine plays to get into the end zone on their first possession, FSU's defense has given up touchdowns on all four of its opening series this year against Division I-A foes. The Seminoles' deficit increased to 21-0, the third time in five games that they have faced a three-touchdown hole in the first half. FSU didn't even pick up a third-down conversion until the half's final nine minutes.
"If we don't know by now to start fast, we won't know," running back Dalvin Cook said. "And we ain't going to know."
Nor have the Seminoles done much to fix a defense that has bigger concerns than the torn meniscus suffered by star safety Derwin James last month. UNC quarterback Mitch Trubisky shredded one of the most talented units in the country, finishing 31-of-38 for 405 yards and three touchdowns. Receiver Ryan Switzer poked holes in the secondary (14 catches, 158 yards).
Fisher continues to defend his defensive scheme, saying it's the one FSU ran during its 2013 title run. But this defense doesn't remotely compare to that one. The Seminoles have given up more points through five games (177) than they did during the entire 2013 title run (170). FSU entered Saturday giving up an average of 6.8 yards per play. That was tied for No. 121 nationally and should get worse, after UNC averaged 7.7.
"Alignment, assignment, communication," linebacker Matthew Thomas said. "Those are the things that killed us."
That, plus penalties and inconsistencies.
The Seminoles were flagged 13 times for 120 yards. UNC's winning field goal was possible only because of cornerback Tarvarus McFadden's defensive pass interference penalty with 4 seconds left. On FSU's final drive, when quarterback Deondre Francois ducked and rushed to put FSU up 35-34 with less than 30 seconds left, the Seminoles had two false starts and a personal foul.
Though Francois finished with 372 passing yards and that impressive 2-yard touchdown, he looked at times like the redshirt freshman he is. Receiver Jesus Wilson was streaking open in the third quarter but had to slide for Francois' pass on third and 26. Instead of a momentum-shifting play, FSU had one of its seven failed third-down conversions.
"Do your job and do your job well," Fisher said. "We don't do that consistently."
The only thing FSU seems to do consistently is repeat the same mistakes.
And that's why a team that began the season with championship hopes is out of the national picture on the first weekend in October.