Florida State, Heroes or Hype?


by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

It was quite a site to behold this past Saturday on the ESPN family of networks.

Somehow...the studio guys...the color analysts...and any play-by-play guy who wanted to say the words "we're projecting"had all decided that Florida State was now the best team in the ACC, and should be penciled into a BCS bowl even before playing Virginia Tech this week in the conference title game.

It wasn't one lone voice. It was a chorus.  Florida State's playing the best football in the ACC right now. Florida State will be playing Stanford in the Orange Bowl. Virginia Tech? That's the team that couldn't beat Boise State or James Madison.

How quickly we forget. About a month ago:

  • Florida State lost as a favorite at NC State, in the game that would have cost them a division crown if NC State hadn't then gagged this past Saturday at Maryland.
  • Florida State lost the week after that as a double digit favorite at home to North Carolina.
  • Florida State, in a bounce back spot off TWO losses, needed a very long field goal to survive disappointing Clemson 16-13 at home as a TD favorite.

Remember THEM! Remember the Seminoles team that almost lost three games in a row as favorites?!

Yes, Florida State has picked up the pace lately. And, the win over Florida on the ESPN family of networks was impressive. But...Florida's nothing special this year, and brought no emotion to the game at all. FSU's good enough this year to blow out flat, inconsistent teams. That doesn't make them better than Virginia Tech.

The legal betting markets are generally a place of sanity when it comes to football analysis. We say "generally"because it's our job at JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK to find any mistakes and pounce on them. Obviously the markets aren't perfect or we couldn't exist. Yet, they get the numbers right more often than not. Virginia Tech opened as a 4-point favorite over Florida State on a neutral field. That's more than a field goal. That's WAY OFF what TV pundits were suggesting over the weekend too.

So, who's right? Is Florida State the best team in the ACC, and a false underdog this Saturday Night in the conference championship game? Is Virginia Tech the best team, and properly favored by a shade over a field goal? Or, is Virginia Tech actually playing so well off the radar recently that -4 is too low for this team that can score in bunches with special teams or defensive returns?

We'll crunch some numbers today to shed some light on that. Additional conference championship previews will run later in the week. After two days of NFL coverage Wednesday and Thursday (our weekly looks at NFL stat summaries and stat previews), we'll present our SEC Preview of Auburn-South Carolina on Friday, and our Big 12 Preview of Nebraska-Oklahoma on Saturday.

Some notes on Florida State/Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech 10-2
Florida State 9-3

Tech did start the season 0-2, but they're 10-0 since then...with generally impressive results on a weekly basis. We have to admit they didn't set the world on fire in a recent Thursday Night game against Georgia Tech. Tech is capable of laying eggs. More often than not, they smash eggs then scramble them.

Virginia Tech: 15th in BCS, 12th in AP, 11th in Coach's poll
Florida State: 21st in BCS, 20th in AP, 20th in Coach's poll

Odd that the TV pundits were so in love with Florida State as "best in the ACC"when the polls they kept flashing on the screen all day weren't telling that same story. We have pretty universal agreement here that Virginia Tech is the superior team. And, the AP and Coach's polls aren't part of the BCS process.

Virginia Tech 38th
Florida State 52nd

Let's not lose sight of the fact that Virginia Tech has the better offense this year. Old images die hard. And, Florida State is seen as an offensive juggernaut when they're winning because they were such an offensive juggernaut in their glory years. They've been inconsistent this year (which you know if you watched the loss at Oklahoma and the game they had to sweat vs. Clemson). Virginia Tech is seen as a defensive and special teams force that isn't that scary on offense. During their best years, that was a fair assessment (except when Michael Vick was sprinting away from defenders at lightning speed). You may hear a dozen "experts"saying this game will come down to "the offense of Florida State vs. the defense of Virginia Tech."Tech has the edge on offense believe it or not.

Florida State 39th
Virginia Tech 42nd

And, looky here...the team everyone assumed would have the better defense actually has the worse ranking! Florida State's defense has improved a lot since that ugly lull mid decade. They've got athletes again, and they're making things happen. Neither defense is top 10 caliber. But, both are good enough to express themselves in games that matter.

Florida State 40th
Virginia Tech 63rd

This could be a hidden factor that makes the TV announcers prescient. They've seen more highlights of Florida State this year because the Seminoles have played more high profile opposition in games that got televised. Virginia Tech's schedule is traditionally pretty weak. They usually play one powerhouse, a few cupcakes, then whatever the mediocre ACC throws at them.

Now that we've seen strength of schedule, we can adjust the national rankings a bit. We'll still give Virginia Tech the offensive edge, but it's very slight after the tweak. Florida State now CLEARLY has the better defense because they had a comparable stat ranking vs. a much tougher schedule. To this point, Florida State +4 is making mathematical sense.

Yet, to this point, we haven't mentioned special teams!

Virginia Tech is FAMOUS for adding in bonus points on returns, blocked punts, blocked field goals. And, their defense also has a way of turning turnovers into points more productively than most other college teams. If Florida State can avoid high profile miscues, this game is theirs to win as an underdog. One big mistake, and we're looking at the game finishing on the number. More than one (and Tech's high impact plays tend to come in waves), and we're looking at a win of a TD or more for the Hokies.

We have a few days to study tapes of games between now and Saturday. We'll be focusing very intently on Florida State's special teams play...and on quarterback Christian Ponder's maturity in the pocket when being pressured. He's come a long way this year with a more disciplined and intelligently designed schematic. Is that going to fly out the window under the pressure of a championship spotlight? What we learn from that research will determine our release in this game.

For now, we can tell you that the Under will get some thought on the total because of the defenses involved, and the need from both offenses to avoid miscues. Virginia Tech has played five straight Unders entering the game. Florida State has seen eight of its last 10 games go Under. As we said, old images die hard.

This ACC Championship game will be a big part of CHAMPIONSHIP WEEKEND for us here at JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK:

Friday: The MAC CHAMPIONSHIP matching Northern Illinois and Miami of Ohio will kick off the weekend.

Saturday: a GRAND SLAM of title tilts will feature Florida State/Virginia Tech and...

CUSA CHAMPIONSHIP: Central Florida vs. SMU
SEC CHAMPIONSHIP: Auburn vs. South Carolina (previewed here Friday)
BIG 12 CHAMPIONSHIP: Nebraska vs. Oklahoma (previewed here Saturday)

Between now and the weekend, we'll be attacking basketball very aggressively. The Big 10-ACC challenge is going on right now...with marquee games on TV every night. It's another busy week in the NBA...with interesting developments popping up all over the league. We don't have time to talk much about the baskets here in the NOTEBOOK during this very heavy stretch of football. You can be certain we're studying hoops just as closely with our EXCLUSIVE TEAM HANDICAPPING approach in the office and around the nation.

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