TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Not to add any pressure, Clemson and Louisville, but that game the two of you are playing Saturday night is now set to decide the ACC Atlantic.
Florida State essentially guaranteed that an hour before that top-five kickoff when it revealed itself to be more reminiscent of the team that played in the first half against Ole Miss than the one that played the second. The No. 12 Seminoles are 0-2 in the ACC following a 37-35 loss to double-digit underdog North Carolina, which almost certainly eliminates the Seminoles from playoff contention and likely from the conference championship race, too.
It was a fun few weeks projecting out the rest of the ACC season and forecasting 11-1 finishes for Clemson, Florida State and Louisville. Machine would settle the division in a final tiebreak if man could not, as the ACC would rely on computers to determine an Atlantic representative for the title game if all three were tied. Florida State, by way of a comedy of errors, handled business for Clemson and Louisville. Tonight is now a de facto ACC championship semifinal for those two.
The Seminoles shoehorned themselves into another early deficit, trailing 21-0 in the first half. North Carolina did all it could to extend FSU fans’ weekly first-half frustrations by giving up a touchdown late in the second quarter. Yet Florida State fans’ irritation has reached a breaking point, as many matriculated out of Doak Campbell Stadium at halftime.
Those fans missed the Tar Heels blow a two-touchdown fourth-quarter lead, then the Heels missing the PAT on a go-ahead score with 2:31 left. Florida State scored a wild touchdown when Deondre Francois ducked out of a sack and dove into the end zone. Florida State then converted on the extra point to take a 35-34 lead with 23 seconds remaining. The Seminoles’ defensive breakdowns surfaced again, however.
It took three plays for North Carolina’s offense to get into fringe field-goal range. A 23-yard completion on first down, followed by a pass interference penalty, set the Heels up for a 54-yard field goal attempt. Nick Weiler made the kick and then looped down the Florida State sideline mocking the tomahawk chop. Or maybe he was slicing the Seminoles’ ACC chances in half.
North Carolina piled up 538 yards on a Florida State defense that continued with the maddening self-inflicted wounds Saturday. The FSU offense is equally guilty for the loss, as its foibles helped set up the three-touchdown deficit. The first four Seminoles drives reached North Carolina territory, but all ended without points.
This week, Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher railed about labeling a season as “over” the moment a team falls out of the College Football Playoff race. This week, he’ll have to make sure his team doesn’t fall into that defeated mindset. A season that began with playoff promise and at one point saw the Seminoles climb to No. 2 in the rankings is now in jeopardy of falling apart one day into October.