CHARLOTTE, N.C. — There figures to be plenty to talk about between now and when Florida State takes the field Jan. 1 in the Orange Bowl to close out this football season.
Jimbo Fisher won his first ACC title Saturday night.
Defensive coordinator Mark Stoops is already gone to Kentucky and rumors continue to swirl that he'll be taking some current FSU assistants with him. Other staff members' names have popped up for other jobs round the country.
And, despite his insistence that he intends to be in Tallahassee for a long time, rumors surrounding Jimbo Fisher's candidacy at other programs – particularly Tennessee and Auburn – haven't died down and won't until each of those schools has its new coach in place.
It will likely be a compelling, intriguing and maybe even dramatic December.
But it can wait.
It's easy for everyone to overlook the Atlantic Coast Conference championship that Florida State won here tonight, and immediately turn our focus to what lies ahead.
But that would be a mistake.
It would be a mistake to do that and not give this team, this title and the players and coaches that made it happen their proper respect.
“We had a culture there for a while that we couldn't win those games, we couldn't win 10 games in a season, now we've won 11,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We won the Atlantic, it was the second time we've been here in three years, we now got over the hump and won the first championship.”
No, the ACC was hardly a meat grinder this season. But, hey, somebody had to win it. And given Florida State's title drought, which ended tonight after seven long and sometimes painful years, perhaps now isn't the time to attach any asterisks.
No, the Orange Bowl might not be a sexy matchup – Florida State figures to pair with Louisville, Boise State or perhaps Northern Illinois – but there's still plenty at stake. FSU hasn't won a BCS Bowl since it won the national championship in 1999 – the same year the Seminoles achieved their only 12-win season.
Both of those would be awfully fine accomplishments for a senior class that has gone through an awful lot to get to this point.
“I'm honestly at a loss for words right now,” quarterback EJ Manuel said. “I'm just enjoying the moment, I'm happy for my teammates, happy for our coaches and happy for our fans. To be able to do this and get Florida State on the right track while I'm on my way out of here, I'm extremely excited and proud.”
Speaking of those seniors – it would be a disservice to them to not acknowledge what they did tonight. To recognize that they accomplished what no senior class could accomplish since the days of Leon Washington, Willie Reid and David Castillo.
Manuel cemented his five-year legacy as the quarterback that got Florida State over the hump, back to its place at the top of the ACC.
Everett Dawkins and Vince Williams, among others, saw FSU's defense go from rags to riches over the course of their careers, culminating in a night where they helped hold Georgia Tech's vaunted game to to 140 yards below its season average.
And on a night when he became the ACC record-holder for single-season scoring, Dustin Hopkins got to run off the field with a championship hat on his head while the Marching Chiefs chanted his name.
There were of course, plenty more – seniors and others alike – who had a hand in this. Bjoern Werner, Xavier Rhodes, Lamarcus Joyner have been stalwarts for their entire careers. Sophomore Karlos Williams may have saved the game with his juggling, last-minute interception.
“I'm extremely happy for our players because I know how hard it is and how much flak they've taken,” Fisher said. “When are you going to be back? When are you going to win a championship? …
“I'm just happy for them, that they can call themselves a champion, because that doesn't happen (easily).”
And for the ones who couldn't play – Brandon Jenkins, Chris Thompson and Jaccobi McDaniel, among others – “That's their ring, too,” Fisher said.
This championship means a lot for them. And it should.
It means a lot to their coaches, too. It was obvious on Stoops' face as he was serenaded with chants of “Thank you, Coach” after the game. Stoops was quick to deflect credit to D.J. Eliot, and noted that Eliot's experience defending offense's similar to Georgia Tech's earlier in his career was crucial in developing the game plan.
And, yes, this title also belongs to Jimbo Fisher, who three years ago inherited a mess of a program and went about the business of essentially rebuilding the infrastructure from the ground up.
It hasn't always been a smooth ride and there are plenty of signs that not everything is running as smoothly as it ought to be – once again, FSU found itself biting its nails at the end of a game against a clearly overmatched opponent – but Florida State tabbed Fisher because of the belief that he was the right man to lead the program to nights like this one. And he delivered.
“Once you're a champion, there's a responsibility, to me, of how you've got to act and represent yourself and think,” Fisher said. “And I think it's huge and I think, once you get there, you understand that.”
There's a lot that can happen between now and New Year's Day, when Florida State closes the book on its 2012 campaign. Some questions will be answered, others will be raised and there's a chance that this program will look a lot different than it does here on Dec. 2.
These next four weeks, though, will provide more than enough time to get wrapped up in all of that. But for tonight, perhaps it's best for FSU fans to take a step back, take a breath and allow for just a little bit of time to enjoy what these Seminoles have accomplished.
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