Friedlander: Florida State wins an ACC championship. But did it do enough to earn a Playoff spot?
CHARLOTTE, NC – No undefeated Power 5 conference champion has been left out of the College Football Playoff since its inception in 2014.
But as the old saying goes, the first time can’t happen until it happens for the first time.
So stay tuned.
There’s a good chance history will be made when the 4 Playoff participants are announced at high noon Sunday.
The wheels were set in motion the moment Alabama finished off Georgia in the SEC Championship Game on Saturday afternoon. It’s a result that provided some nervous moments for NC State athletic director Boo Corrigan and his Playoff selection committee.
Should they take No. 8 Alabama, even though it lost a head-to-head matchup against No. 6 Texas? And what to do about the 2-time defending national champion Bulldogs, who were No. 1 when the day began?
Then there’s the question of what to do with No. 4 Florida State?
Yes, the Seminoles won Saturday night. But in surviving Louisville and their own offensive ineptitude for a 16-6 victory at Bank of America Stadium that clinched their first ACC championship since 2014, they gave the committee the excuse it needed to leave them out of the bracket.
That’s not to say it’s guaranteed to happen. There’s a body of work to consider. FSU did, after all, win all 13 of its games. Against a representative schedule that included a top SEC team (LSU) and a victory at Clemson.
“There’s a zero in our loss column,” said defensive tackle Braden Fiske, who recorded 3 and a team-leading 9 tackles against the Cardinals. “What else can you ask for? Thirteen-and-oh is 13-0. I’ll let that speak for itself.”
If any further lobbying is necessary, and it likely is, there’s plenty of extenuating circumstances for Fiske to mention.
Not only was FSU playing without its star quarterback Jordan Travis, who suffered a season-ending injury 2 weeks ago against North Alabama. It was also without his proven replacement Tate Rodemaker, forcing true freshman Brock Glenn into his first career start Saturday night.
And even he may have been hobbled by a gimpy knee.
Glenn’s inexperience showed against the ACC’s 2nd-ranked defense. He completed 8-of-21 passes for only 55 yards and avoided making a catastrophic mistake only by the grace of Louisville defenders dropping potential interceptions.
The Seminoles managed only 219 yards of total offense, with most of it coming on runs by Lawrance Toafili off direct snaps. Toafili finished with 118 yards on 10 carries while his running mate Trey Benson added 67 yards on 18 tries while also taking several Wildcat snaps.
Presumably, Rodemaker would be back for a potential Playoff semifinal matchup. But even with him back in the lineup, it’s hard to imagine FSU being able to put enough points on the board to beat any of the 3 teams currently ahead of it in the rankings. Or any of the other contenders lurking behind them.
And that’s taking into account a defense that has allowed less than 17 points per game all season and was even better in rising to the occasion against the Cardinals on Saturday.
It was evident right from the start that Fiske, Jared Verse, Akeem Dent and their teammates were playing as if they knew they needed to pitch a shutout to win.
They came close, yielding only a pair of field goals while recording 7 sacks, 14 tackles for loss, 10 pass breakups and 1 monumental interception of Louisville’s Jack Plummer by Tatum Bethune – just 3 plays after a near-disastrous error in the kicking game gave the Cardinals a 1st down at the FSU 12.
It was a gritty, heroic effort worthy of a championship. But a shot at the national championship?
That’s a decision the committee will have to make.
Do you pick the best 4 teams based on what they’ve done over the course of the season? Or the best 4 teams as they’re playing now?
An argument can be made for both. Either way, the committee is going to be criticized.
The Seminoles could have made things easy on the selectors by buckling under the adversity and coming up short Saturday night. You can only image the committee members watching the game from their hotel room in Grapevine, Texas, rooting like crazy for Louisville.
But to the credit of Mike Norvell and his team, they didn’t let that happen.
“This is a real team,” Norvell said, pounding on the table at his postgame press conference for emphasis. “It’s one that finds a way to win games, whatever it needs to look like. There’s plenty of teams that have talent. But it’s about getting the win. It’s about making sure you show up and do the things necessary to achieve in each situation.
“Since the (Playoff) was created, there’s never been an undefeated Power 5 team that’s been denied an opportunity to play for a national championship over a 1-loss team. There’s a reason. You have to earn it on the field. Go finish. That’s what this team has done.”
The million dollar question is whether that spotless 13-0 record is enough to earn the Seminoles a spot in the Playoff or if they’ll be relegated to the Orange Bowl, where the national championship they’ll be playing Liberty for is the same kind fictional title Florida neighbor UCF claimed a few years ago.
The answer is out of their hands.
Now the waiting begins.