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September 26, 2011

Monday with Mike: FSU not done yet

Florida State went into the season harboring hopes of competing for the national championship.

The Seminoles, who had gone through a long stretch of mediocrity and national irrelevance, were in every preseason top 10 and looked like the team to beat in the ACC.

A month into the season, the national title hopes are gone. But despite back-to-back losses, FSU still is in good shape in the ACC thanks to a tissue-soft remaining schedule.

Two weeks ago, the Seminoles' defense did its job but the offense was shut down in a 23-13 home loss to Oklahoma. This week, the offense put up good numbers behind a backup quarterback, but the defense was shredded by quarterback Tajh Boyd and wide receiver Sammy Watkins in a 35-30 loss at Clemson.

[Video: FSU coach Jimbo Fisher on loss to Clemson]

"We're 2-2, and the off-week probably comes at a good time for us to take a good, hard, deep look at ourselves," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said.

The good news for the Seminoles is that after an off-week, six of the next seven games -- all with ACC foes -- are against teams that currently are .500 or below; the only team in that stretch that has a winning record is Wake Forest.

FSU misses Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Virginia Tech this season; Clemson has to play all three. Thus, while the Seminoles fell to the Tigers, it certainly wouldn't be a surprise if FSU finished ahead of Clemson in the ACC Atlantic Division, which, once again, looks to be the weaker of the two ACC divisions.

Still, FSU looks to be at least another season -- and maybe two -- from being back among the nation's elite. The biggest issue is a rushing attack that has been pitiful.

FSU has rushed for just 318 yards and three TDs in its four games this season, and more than half (170) came against FCS patsy Charleston Southern. In the two losses, FSU has managed all of 56 rushing yards. FSU is averaging 79.5 rushing yards and is 113th nationally in rushing offense.

[Related: Week 4 winners and losers]

You can't beat elite teams -- much less be considered an elite team -- unless you can run the ball.

The lack of a rushing attack was especially glaring Saturday. FSU attempted just 15 rushes, for 29 yards, which meant that redshirt freshman quarterback Clint Trickett -- who was making his first career start because of an injury to E.J. Manuel -- had to rely on his arm on almost every play. Trickett played well, throwing for 336 yards and three TDs. But the heavy reliance on the pass hurt the Seminoles in terms of ball control. FSU ran just 53 plays, while Clemson had 86.

Trickett is listed at 180 pounds and he probably weighs that, presuming he wears 10-pound ankle weights when he steps on the scale. Despite his lack of bulk, though, he throws a nice deep ball and shows a touch that belies his lack of experience.

Ironically, it's his dad -- offensive line coach Rick Trickett -- who bears some of the responsibility for the offensive issues. The line, frankly, isn't that good. FSU lost its two best linemen from last season in center Ryan McMahon and guard Rodney Hudson, and this season's interior has been overmatched. Hopes were high for junior college transfer Jacob Fahrenkrug at center, but he already has lost the starting job and been moved to guard. The new starting center is sophomore Bryan Stork, who switched positions with Fahrenkrug.

Tackles Andrew Datko and Zebrie Sanders are solid, but they never will be mistaken for the likes of Alex Barron, Walter Jones and Tra Thomas, former FSU tackles who were taken in the first round since 1997. Heck, they won't even remind people of former tackles Ray Willis, Brett Williams and Mario Henderson, who were mid-round picks in the past decade.

There isn't an elite tailback on the roster, either, just a lot of guys who in the past would've been good No. 2 tailbacks for the Seminoles.

Clint Trickett should be back on the bench when FSU plays again, on Oct. 8 at Wake Forest. Manuel, who was bothered by a sore shoulder this week, is expected back for the game with the Demon Deacons. His presence is important because of his mobility: He's not afraid to tuck and run, though Fisher -- who calls the plays -- may not want to see Manuel run quite as often because of the shoulder issue.

After the trip to Wake, in order, come games at Duke, vs. Maryland, vs. N.C. State, at Boston College, vs. Miami and at Virginia to close out the conference schedule. Sheer talent alone will make FSU the favorite in each of those games.

The regular season ends with a trip to Florida, and while the Gators currently are unbeaten, they face a tough October: vs. Alabama, at LSU, at Auburn and vs. Georgia in Jacksonville. There also is a Nov. 12 game at South Carolina.

[Related: Get complete coverage of the Seminoles at Warchant.com]

In short, FSU still could -- and should -- finish in the top 12. But right now, they don't look like a team that could win the ACC title game, assuming they get there. Given the preseason expectations, that has to hurt.

"Like I told this team, I have been on championship teams that have lost two in a row," Fisher told reporters Saturday. "We still have a chance to be a very good football team."

"Very good," though, is a long way from elite.

Simply unacceptable

The outcome of the Syracuse-Toledo game should make every fan say, "Are you kidding me?"

Syracuse won 33-30 in overtime, but the game shouldn't have gone to overtime.

With Toledo leading 27-23, Syracuse scored on an 18-yard TD pass with 2:07 left. But the extra point attempt by Ross Krautman sailed wide left.

Well, everybody thought it sailed wide left except the referees and the replay official. They counted it, which gave Syracuse a 30-27 lead. The mistake was huge, considering Toledo kicked a field goal on the last play of regulation to send the game into overtime.

About three hours after the game, the Big East released a statement from conference coordinator of football officiating Terry McAulay, who admitted the refs on the field and the replay official blew the call.

First question: How in the world does an official standing right next to the goal post miss seeing that an extra point goes wide? Second, and most important, how does a replay official miss the same miss?

[TheRocketNation: Big East admits blown call]

McAulay's statement said, "In reviewing the video, we have determined that the angle from behind the kicking team shows conclusively that the ball passes outside the right upright. Our review of the process determined that the replay official mistakenly focused his attention on the sideline angle, which proved to be distorted."

Our review of the process? That replay official should be suspended for a while, and during his suspension, he can bone up on the right angles to worry about during a replay.

Toledo coach Tim Beckman took the high road: "We've got to make sure we don't give the touchdown up so they could kick the PAT."

He's right, of course; players always need to make sure they decide the game, not the refs. Still, in a situation like this, you sure as heck hope the refs -- and the replay official -- are competent.

Grid bits

Air Force rushed for 595 yards in a blowout of Tennessee State on Saturday, and three other teams rushed for 400: Oregon (415 in a victory over Arizona), Florida (405 in a rout at Kentucky) and Army (402 in a loss at Ball State). But while Air Force (197 yards), Oregon (101) and Florida (115) also had modest passing attacks, Army threw for zero yards. Yes, zero, on 0-of-4 passing. Army completed one pass, for 6 yards, in last week's win over Northwestern. The last FBS team not to complete a pass in a game was Navy, in a win over Wake Forest on Oct. 24, 2009; in that one, the Midshipmen didn't even attempt a pass.

New Mexico allowed 446 passing yards and six passing TDs in getting blasted by Texas Tech last week. This week, the Lobos allowed 373 rushing yards and five rushing TDs in falling in overtime to FCS member Sam Houston State. To make matters worse, there were media reports Saturday night that a recruit was arrested for DUI outside the stadium before the game -- while driving coach Mike Locksley's SUV.

[Rankings: AP/coaches poll]

All hail Ron Zook: Illinois has started 4-0 for the first time since 1951. The Illini have Northwestern this week and haven't been 5-0 since '51.

Temple RB Bernard Pierce ran over, around and through Maryland defenders en route to a 149-yard, five-TD performance in a 38-7 rout of the host Terps. The Owls led 31-0 at halftime against a Maryland team that lost by just six last week to West Virginia. Pierce, a junior, has rushed for 496 yards and 12 TDs this season, and it was his third 147-yard performance of the season; he had 147 against Villanova and 150 against Akron. The Owls, who lost 14-10 to Penn State last week, play a key MAC game at home against Toledo next week.

There were 13 FBS-FCS matchups this week, with the FBS teams going 10-3. The losers were Minnesota (to North Dakota State), UNLV (to Southern Utah) and New Mexico (to Sam Houston State in overtime). This season, FBS teams are 81-6 against FCS competition; the other losers are Western Kentucky (to Indiana State), Duke (to Richmond) and Oregon State (to Sacramento State).

Staying with UNLV, its 25-point loss to Southern Utah is the second-largest in history by a FBS team to a FCS team. There is a website that tracks such things, and Boston College's 27-point loss to Massachusetts in 1978 -- the first season there was a FBS-FCS split (back then, it was Division I-A and Division I-AA) -- is the largest.

We're four weeks into the season, and every team in the MAC, Sun Belt and WAC as well as the independent ranks has at least one loss. The Big East, Conference USA, the Mountain West and the Pac-12 have just one unbeaten team each. The Big 12 has seven unbeaten teams, followed by the Big Ten and SEC with four each and the ACC with three.

Some more fun with numbers: Going into Saturday's game at Georgia Tech, North Carolina was allowing 77.0 rushing yards per game. Tech had 75 in the first quarter and finished with 312. Penn State threw its first four TD passes of the season against Eastern Michigan. We talked earlier about Air Force rushing for 595 yards against Tennessee State; last week, Tennessee State, an FCS program, surrendered 640 passing yards (to Murray State). Oklahoma State's 30-29 victory over Texas A&M was the fifth time in the past six matchups in that series that the margin of victory was five or fewer points and the third contest decided by one point. Oregon State has opened 0-3 for the first time since 1996. The Beavers are at Arizona State next week. Troy coach Larry Blakeney is in his 21st season at the school, and with Saturday's win over Middle Tennessee, Blakeney improved to 21-0 in home openers. Baylor is 3-0 for the first time since 2005. With its loss at USF, UTEP fell to 0-16-1 all-time in games played in the Eastern time zone. LSU's win over West Virginia was the Tigers' 21st in a row in September. Oklahoma's victory over Missouri was the Sooners' 18th in a row over the Tigers in Norman. Mizzou hasn't won at OU since 1966. Boise State QB Kellen Moore has thrown multiple TD passes in 16 consecutive games, the nation's longest such streak. Louisiana Tech dropped to 1-3 with an OT loss at Mississippi State. It was Tech's second OT game of the season; Tech is 1-1 in those games, with both decided by six points. Its other two losses, to Southern Miss and Houston, have been by a combined three points.

For those wondering, the first BCS standings of the season come out Oct. 16. And the first Rivals.com 1-120 rankings of the season will be unveiled Tuesday, Oct. 4.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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