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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Thursday, Blacksburg, ‘Noles, Hokies

There was never any question that the A.C.C. would schedule Florida State and Virginia Tech later in the regular season, not in September, even if the earlier date might give the losing team time to rebound from a conference loss. That’s one of two positives for pitting this pair in the early season, joining the fact that it would give the A.C.C. a national platform while the rest of the B.C.S. conference landscape putters through a largely uneventful non-conference slate. But the main drawback to having this game in September is too real for the A.C.C. to ignore: Florida State and Virginia Tech have national title aspirations, and having the two conference powers face off in November might give the winner the sort of boost needed to lift the A.C.C. into the national title hunt.

All the Seminoles and Hokies need to do is hold serve. That shouldn’t be too difficult for F.S.U., should it live up to preseason expectations; of course, it’s been quite some time since the Seminoles matched their inevitable preseason hype.

But the schedule plays in Florida State’s favor, beginning with back-to-back games against F.C.S. foes — Murray State and Savannah State — to open the season. This won’t do wonders for F.S.U.’s national standing; if the Seminoles move up in the polls over the first two weeks, it’ll by default, not because of the on-field product.

But those two games might give Jimbo Fisher and his staff time to work out the kinks, perhaps identifying what combination along the offensive line and in the backfield might give the Seminoles the sort of running game it needs to become more balanced and two-dimensional offensively.

From there, the home stretch continues with Wake Forest and Clemson, with that latter game likely deciding the Atlantic division, as it did a year ago. But with the Tigers looming, F.S.U. can’t afford to look past Wake — after back-to-back losses to the Seminoles, the Demon Deacons earned a 35-30 victory last October.

Here’s Florida State’s schedule heading into the night game in Blacksburg on Thursday, Nov. 8 — Bobby Bowden’s birthday, by the way:

Sept. 1 Murray State
Sept. 8 Savannah State
Sept. 15 Wake Forest
Sept. 22 Clemson
Sept. 29 at South Florida
Oct. 6 at N.C. State
Oct. 13 Boston College
Oct. 20 at Miami (Fla.)
Oct. 27 Duke

The Seminoles have a bye on the Saturday prior to Nov. 8, meaning that Fisher will have 11 full days to prepare his team for the Hokies. But the lone drawback to this somewhat unimposing schedule is that it leaves F.S.U. with no room for error: one loss prior to that Thursday night puts a severe dent in the Seminoles’ national title hopes.

Unlike F.S.U., Virginia Tech’s schedule provide stern, resume-building tests inside and out of conference play. Ironically, it’s the Hokies that could use the breezy start to the regular season: Frank Beamer and his staff have daunting holes to fill at running back, receiver and along the offensive line, even if the defense remains largely intact.

Instead, Tech’s September features three 2011 bowl teams, beginning with Georgia Tech on Monday, Sept. 3. That’s followed, 12 days later, with a trip to Pittsburgh, a past and future conference rival; the Hokies close the month with a game against Cincinnati, the early Big East favorite, at FedEx Field in suburban Maryland. Here’s the Hokies’ slate heading into Nov. 8:

Sept. 3 Georgia Tech
Sept. 8 Austin Peay
Sept. 15 at Pittsburgh
Sept. 22 Bowling Green
Sept. 29 vs. Cincinnati
Oct. 6 at North Carolina
Oct. 13 Duke
Oct. 20 at Clemson
Nov. 1 at Miami (Fla.)

The Hokies do play a game on the Thursday prior to their date with the Seminoles, perhaps giving F.S.U. a slight edge in preparation. But it’s still a full week for the Hokies, not a shortened, five-day work week, meaning that Virginia Tech will still be on the same preparation clock as is typical during the regular season — the team will have the normal amount of time to get ready for Florida State.

Glass-half full for Virginia Tech: if properly navigated, the difficult stretch heading into Nov. 8 would leave the Hokies firmly in the national title mix. A perfect start followed by a win over the Seminoles would leave Tech, with B.C., Virginia and the conference title game to go, very much a favorite to land a berth in the B.C.S. championship game.

It’s all fun and games in February. It’s now that the Hokies are a national title contender; by August, if Beamer can’t resolve the issues on offense, the Hokies will be considered a Coastal division contender but little more. Again a trendy offseason pick, the hype surrounding the Seminoles will again be unjustified if Fisher can’t add a healthier running game into the mix on offense.

Today? This is the clear game of the year in the A.C.C., and it’s on this game that the conference is laying all its hopes of returning to the national championship conversation after an extended absence. Amazingly, it’s been 11 years since the A.C.C. had a team in the mix heading into the final weekend of the regular season: Florida State was second in the B.C.S. standings heading into the 2001 Orange Bowl against Oklahoma.

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  1. kevin says:

    Yeah because Austin Peay, Pittsburgh, Bowling Green and Cincinnati is such a difficult out of conference schedule. Sure, Florida State’s OOC schedule isn’t that great, thanks to West Virginia, but with South Florida and Florida looming, both teams will face challenges throughout the season. And honestly, Pitt and Cincinnati may be the class of the Big East, but that isn’t saying much.

  2. George says:

    Virginia Tech had to finesse this year’s schedule. Originally scheduled to play East Carolina, in 2012 and 2013, Tech had to delay those games and schedule Austin Peay this year so that they can play Alabama in the opening game of the 2013 season.

    Paul: Good note. Thanks.

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