With bodies bruised and lofty expectations chopped down a few notches, the Florida State football team enters a bye week that couldn’t have come at a better time.
Back-to-back losses to AP top-25 squads Oklahoma and Clemson have definitely taken its toll on a garnet-and-gold team that’s overflowing with young talent. Harboring on the two-game losing skid is a natural reaction for a fan base that expected a national championship-type result this season. But you won’t get that from me.
At least not yet.
The loss to Oklahoma showed the country that FSU could hang with the top-ranked team in the country. The Seminoles tied the game 13-13 with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter before the wheels fell off.
The loss to Clemson showed that even without their star quarterback (E.J. Manuel), their senior wide receiver (Bert Reed) and their playmaking return man (Greg Reid), the Seminoles could still score 30 points and put themselves in a fourth-quarter scenario with the chance to pull out a win in a hostile environment.
And while some fans believe the loss at Death Valley will translate into the death of FSU’s ACC championship expectations, don’t pull the plug just yet on this team's lifeline. The 'Noles have seven more conference games left on the schedule that should definitely resuscitate the win-loss column. None of those seven opponents has more than two wins through the first four weeks of the season. FSU's pulse should begin to beat Oct. 8 against a Wake Forest team that’s currently 2-1 on the year. Then the 'Noles get a 2-2 Duke squad, 1-2 Maryland, 2-2 N.C. State, 1-3 Boston College, 1-2 Miami and finally 2-2 Virginia.
As coach Jimbo Fisher has his ballclub continuing their bye-week practices, you can believe they're spending the time recovering from a tough first four weeks while prepping for that non-stop, eight-week journey that ends with the regular-season finale in Gainesville. It’s a journey that will determine whether FSU plays the maximum 14 games this year. The 12-game schedule always looks a lot better when you can add two more matchups to the agenda. The ACC title game in Charlotte and a BCS bowl game would help fans quickly forget about squandered opportunities against the Sooners and Tigers.
But let’s get back to the bye week. FSU players get to have non-football-related time away from the practice field this Saturday and Sunday.
So what are fans left with in the absence of warpaint and warchants?
There’s the basketball distraction that NBA labor talks could miraculously dissolve a more than 70-day lockout. There’s the buzz that Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant is flirting with a $3 million dollar contract in exchange for 40 days of work on an Italian team.
(By the way, if anyone is willing to offer $3 million for 40 days of "legal" employment, I am available.)
There’s also postseason Major League Baseball, with the Tampa Bay Rays no doubt appreciating a few more viewers this weekend when they try and grab an ALDS series win against the Texas Rangers. The Rays trailed by nine games on Sept. 3 but rallied back to punch their playoff ticket in dramatic fashion.
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And, of course, there’s always top-25 NCAA football at its best. This Saturday’s lineup is highlighted by an SEC showdown that could become the first loss of the season for the new-look Gators vs. Alabama, as well as a new Big 10 rivalry between Heisman hopeful Russell Wilson and Wisconsin against the conference newcomers from Nebraska.
Bottom line, we don’t have to say “bye” to college football just because the 'Noles are on vacation. It’s the perfect time to take off the garnet and gold-tinted lenses and watch what the rest of the nation has under the helmet. It’s also an ideal opportunity to restock your supply of Sharpies, poster board and glitter.
Just know that as you recoup after four weeks of football, the Seminoles are mending injuries and heartbreak in hopes of causing a lot of both for opposing teams the rest of the way.
Elton Gumbel is a sports anchor and reporter for WCTV in Tallahassee, as well as a regular contributor to NoleDigest.com.