They believe in a return to past glory. They say this team is different. They insist they are more prepared, more ready to play in a game like this one.
Okay, now it's time for the Seminoles to prove it.
In a scenario rarely experienced in Tallahassee, even during the 14-year dynasty era from 1987-2000: Florida State faces a No. 1 team at home.
One year after getting blown out by Oklahoma in Norman, the No. 5 Seminoles face the top-ranked Sooners in a game that will shape the national-title race, affect the dynamic of FSU's season and let everyone know just how far this program has returned after being MIA for so many recent years.
It's as big as it gets for the Seminoles.
"This is opportunity, man. This is what I live for. ... No disrespect to the other opponents, but these are the games you live for right here," said FSU safety Lamarcus Joyner.
It's only the second time in FSU history the Seminoles have played a No. 1-ranked team in their stadium. The previous time was 1996 against then-No. 1 Florida. The Seminoles' celebration of their win was short-lived. A week later, they found out they would face the Gators in a Sugar Bowl rematch for the national title, and Florida pulled away with revenge and the trophy.
"I expect [the atmosphere] to be like it was when we played Florida last year," quarterback E.J. Manuel said. "Everybody packed in the stands. Excitement. Happiness. All that kind of stuff. I'm sure they're used to playing in big games, and we are, too. We'll be fine. We're excited about having the fans on our side."
For FSU's second-year coach, Jimbo Fisher, this will be a test for him, too. He coached under Nick Saban at LSU when the Tigers were in big games, but he has not done it himself.
"You don't play the game on Monday," he said, "you don't play it Tuesday and you don't play it Wednesday. You can be up to play them too quick, and that's something as coaches we have to remind them about. And you have to go through it, and you have to be able to handle that part of it. ... If the emotions get too high during the week, you're drained at the end of the week."
The Seminoles will learn where they are. A win, and they're in the thick of a national-title chase with only games against Clemson (next week) and Florida (season ender) looking like potential stumbling blocks. A loss, and the Seminoles have to quickly regroup and focus on the ACC division race. A blowout loss would make that even harder to do.
"You know more of your team. Last year, being the second game we played, it was still an interesting thing going on the road, big game on the road, and [now] we know our players better and I think they know their players better," Fisher said. "We know our scheme better, and we know what we can do in our scheme better. Hopefully we'll be able to coach them better, and hopefully we've gotten better as a football team over that time, which I think we did as the year progressed."
NOTES AND QUOTES
The buzz around this game is unlike anything FSU has encountered for a home game. FSU students gobbled their entire 16,000 allotment of seats in just 17 minutes Sunday. FSU officials say that kind of rapid response is unprecedented. Thousands of other students were denied opportunity. Hotels are going for $300 or more a night, and people are having to stay more than 90 miles away to find lodging. ...
ESPN is airing its popular GameDay broadcast from Doak Campbell Stadium for the first time since 2003. The show once made an annual trip to Talahassee during the Seminoles' dynasty era. ...
The Seminoles' only win against Oklahoma came in the teams' first meeting, back in 1965 at the Gator Bowl. Since then, the Seminoles have stumbled on a big stage with the Sooners. They have lost all three Orange Bowl meetings between the teams, including the one in Jan. 2001 for the BCS national title. ...
The honorary captains for Saturday will be former FSU greats Ron Simmons and Brad Johnson.
SERIES HISTORY: Oklahoma leads 5-1.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Even though the Seminoles scored 96 points in their first two games against outmanned opponents, there is cause for concern. The running game has rarely looked efficient, despite the edge up front with FSU's offensive line. Manuel has thrown a pair of interceptions on passes he should have avoided, and no one really knows if senior receiver Bert Reed's ankle injury will heal fast and not be a factor. The Seminoles have scored and moved the ball as expected in the first two games, but the lack of a dominating running game will be an issue this week if they are forced to become one-dimensional.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The only issue in otherwise solid performances the first two games is lack of turnovers. The Seminoles have only one interception in the takeaway total. It was the Oklahoma game last year that provided a reality check on FSU's defense and reinforced this group had a long way to go before becoming great. How far this group has come will be determined on Saturday. This will determine if this defense has improved from its two poor performances last year against the Sooners and Virginia Tech in the ACC title game. Those were easily the two best tests, and FSU flunked. It can't happen this Saturday, or it will be a long night.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "That's why you come here. That's one of the big things you like about playing at Florida State, playing in games like this. When you're a child and you're in the backyard and dreaming about making a play in the big game, that's why you're here." -- Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher on Saturday's Oklahoma game.
In Part II of our Behind Enemy Lines series prior to Oklahoma vs. Florida State, Joey Helmer of…