FSU at a crossroads as the Hokies come calling

Get used to it now, because this is the way it will look at 8 p.m. Thursday night:

Jimbo Fisher has a bit of a conundrum.

When his Florida State Seminoles hit the road, they lose games they shouldn’t way too often. Every season that begins with high hopes seems to be soured by road losses that crush the spirit of the fanbase. His teams have lost five true road games in his first three seasons as head coach, whereas they’ve only lost three games in three years at Doak Campbell Stadium.

Photo courtesy of TomahawkNation.com

2012 has been no different. The ‘Noles have held serve at home, winning every game to this point by an average of 45 points. If you want to remove the games against Savannah State and Murray State, they’re still winning home contests by an average of 37 points. There’s a growing confidence within the fanbase that their team will knock off the Florida Gators on Nov. 24, and I have to believe it’s because they’re playing the game on Bobby Bowden Field. If it were played in the Swamp, we’d have a whole different story.

On the road, FSU hasn’t won a single one of their three road games by more than 13 points, and the three teams they’ve faced away from Tallahassee have a combined record of 13-14. Their lone defeat of the season, at NC State, was the last time the Wolfpack looked even remotely capable of playing decent football — since that game, they’ve been outscored 96-59 with losses to UNC and Virginia and a win over Maryland. Those three opponents have combined to post a below-.500 record so far this season, so the Wolfpack didn’t exactly turn into world-beaters after beating the Seminoles.

Not that anybody expected it.

Thursday night, the Seminoles will be in Blacksburg for a prime-time spotlight game against the Virginia Tech Hokies. It’s literally the hardest place in the ACC to play one of these night games, because FSU’s administration doesn’t allow the school to host weeknight games and, to my knowledge, Clemson’s doesn’t, either. So instead of rewarding FSU for doing the right thing in refusing to allow students to get hammered and spend a school night at the stadium (not saying some wouldn’t hit the bars instead, but not all of them would), they force the ‘Noles to hit the road and walk into a hornet’s nest nearly every year.

I guess it’s because FSU is a highly-marketable brand.

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All bitterness aside, the Seminoles walk into the biggest hornet’s nest Thursday night. The Hokies have been bad by their standards this season, and their fans are pissed. At 4-5 with three games left to play, they’ll either need to beat the Seminoles, the rival Virginia Cavaliers or possibly even both just to get bowl-eligible. Right now, their 2-3 record in the ACC is good enough for fifth place in the Coastal Division, but amazingly, they’re not out of the running to win that division.

If desperation isn’t enough to convince you the Hokies are a very dangerous team, here’s another reason to be worried — they’re actually not that bad at home. Four of those five losses have come on the road, and the fifth loss came at a neutral location. They’re a perfect 4-0 at Lane Stadium with wins over Georgia Tech (in overtime, to open the season) and Duke, who has proven to be no scrub this year.

The Seminoles are a very different animal, which explains why a team that has been perfect at home enters the game as a two-touchdown underdog. But keep in mind that in the four games played between these two since VT joined the ACC, each team has won two games. They’ve alternated wins, and if you follow the pattern, it’s Florida State’s turn to emerge victorious. Only one of those last four games was decided by less than 10 points.

Fisher’s role tonight needs to be getting the Sandman mentality out of the stadium as quickly as possible. Letting the Hokies hang around in this one would be troublesome, and even worse, letting them get ahead and extend the wild atmosphere could lead to an embarrassment. Winning the coin flip and getting a quick score on offense would be ideal, but forcing VT quarterback Logan Thomas to turn the ball over would be acceptable, too. Either way, this is Virginia Tech’s Orange Bowl (because they’re likely bound for something more like the Music City Bowl), and they’re going to plant the target squarely in the middle of Florida State’s back.

This isn’t a game the Seminoles can lose — they already lost one of those this season. Two ugly road defeats would really get the fanbase fired up, even if Fisher can beat the Gators and win the state of Florida, as he’s done every year during his reign. Allowing the Hokies to have another banner night on their own field would be fatal to a program that just finally found a pulse.

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