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FLORIDA STATE AT WAKE FOREST: BIG VOTER IS WATCHING YOU

In calendar terms, it hasn't been quite a year since Wake Forest's 30-0 beatdown in Tallahassee tolled the ultimate, unmistakable death knell of Jeff Bowden and complacency at long-decaying Florida State, but to the extent FSU wants to permanently excise 2006 - and maybe the last six years altogether - down the memory hole, the `Noles' goal tonight must be to make it seem much more distant than that. So distant you must begin to question again whether it actually happened, and when, and what does that have to do with today, anyway? This is Florida State, after all.

That loss was perhaps the single most traumatic memory that led to the aggressive poaching of proven assistants this offseason, and that still casts a pall on the Seminoles' four-game win streak (nearly four-and-a-half, you could argue) since its first half egg at Clemson in the opener. Next week's visit to Miami will be the midterm litmus of FSU's seriousness as a resurgent ACC contender entering a brutal run through November (Boston College, Virginia Tech, Maryland, Florida), but it's tonight, on national television, when it assures us, "That wasn't really real."


The horrible thing about the Weatherford Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretense was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one's will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic.
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The problems that plagued it last year were two-fold, and, despite the final point total, offensive: FSU had no hope of running the ball on Wake, bottoming out around a yard per carry, and Drew Weatherford all but sealed the coming devastation when, off a missed field goal to end by far FSU's best drive of the night (62 yards), he tossed interceptions on back-to-back throws in the second quarter, from which Wake logged ten easy, demoralizing points. Xavier Lee made his contribution by imprbably throwing another set of picks on consecutive throws in the third quarter, the latter of which was returned for the jaw-dropping, do-you-believe-this-is-happening? touchdown of the night. FSU produced nine first downs all night, only one of them off a third down conversion, allowed five sacks and was lucky to finish over 100 yards total offense.

That was the only game Wake Forest looked like a champion with some distance on the plebes rather than a scrappy survivor of a cutthroat battle royal, and stagger into tonight's game with two losses in its first five and a noticeable lack of elan. The most efficient passing attack in the conference last year currently sports an awful 3:10 TD:INT ratio, partially the result of playing a back-up true freshman for two games and partially the result of the returning zen master throwing more interceptions in three starts (7) than he threw last yerar in thirteen (5). The Deacon secondary allowed 408 passing to Boston College, 258 to Nebraska and 291 to Duke (Duke), and 254 before sacks against Maryland. The offense was outgained at Army, winning on a punt return and near-lengh-of-field interception return to win, and has survived the last two weeks in overtime against the Terps and by five to Duke, to whom it allowed 27 points in the second half.

While Florida State, in the meantime, is winning at Colorado a week before Oklahoma bit the bust in Boulder, nearly shutting out Alabama and badgering NC State into four turnovers by humbling the Wolfpack offensive line (five different Noles combined for six sacks of poor Daniel Evans) in a comfortable win. If the offense is still struggling for an identity, it has apparently decided on Lee as its versatile triggerman and showed some renewed commitment to the run, and the defense has kept it out of desperate situations by returning to the top ten in scoring for the first time since 2004. Since halftime at Clemson, FSU hasn't looked like a team that could go down 30-0 again in a game like this - but hasn't done enough yet to dispel the thought that maybe, somewhere inside, the worst tendencies of the Jeffy era is waiting around the next first down, dormant like a tumor not quite obliterated, coming to life again under the right conditions.

Fundamentally, this is a possible elimination game between quasi-rivals with one division loss apiece, but in light of last year and the first month of this season, it feels like Florida State has much more to gain (and to lose) than the defending champs. That's what humiliation will do for ya.

Florida State 24 Wake Forest 13