March 5, 2024

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Playing behind third-string quarterback Brock Glenn, No. 4 Florida State won the ACC championship Saturday night, beating Louisville 16-6 for what the Seminoles hope is enough to land them a spot in the College Football Playoff.

“I don’t think there is a conversation,” Florida State coach Mike Norvell said during his postgame news conference. “This is a team that is well deserving. This is a team that has earned it. This is a team that has showed up consistently and proven that they have what it takes to win.”

Even without veteran starter Jordan Travis, out for the season because of a leg injury. Even without backup Tate Rodemaker, out for Saturday’s game because of a concussion.

Without them, Glenn got the start and looked like a true freshman who enrolled in school in January, going 8-of-21 for 55 yards — the second fewest in a conference championship win over the past 20 seasons. And yet, Florida State overcame injuries to its top two quarterbacks to win its first ACC title since 2014 — a triumphant moment for coach Mike Norvell, who took over the program at rock bottom in 2020 and built it all the way back up.

The fact that Florida State won this title without Travis — its team leader instrumental in the program turnaround — is a testament to the work the entire team has put in to get the program to this moment. As the final moments ticked away, the crowd chanted, “F-S-U!”

“We just beat a top-15 team with a true freshman quarterback,” Norvell said. “Like that doesn’t matter. I don’t care perspective, what people think. We win. I believe in this team. I believe in what they can do. I believe in who they are.

“So I don’t really care about what everybody else’s opinions are. I know who I coach, and they’re going to go fight for everything they get because they’ve been doing it the last four years, and whatever the next opportunity is, I promise you they’re going to show up.” Will that be enough for the playoff committee, though?

ACC commissioner Jim Phillips said he believes it should be.

“Finishing the regular season undefeated and now winning the ACC football championship game is a historic feat,” he told ESPN. “There is no doubt that Florida State is among the best four teams in the country and has earned a place in the College Football Playoff. History has shown that the CFP committee consistently honors Power 5 undefeated champions, like Florida State. It’s been a terrific year for FSU and the entire ACC, and we have the utmost confidence in the committee and expect FSU to be recognized as one of the four best and most deserving teams among the playoff participants.”

The Seminoles’ offense struggled to move the ball Saturday — and its most effective play was the Wildcat run with backup running back Lawrance Toafili, who finished with a game-high 118 yards and a touchdown to provide the spark the Seminoles needed. Norvell said the Wildcat package was added late in the week to try to gain an edge on a good run defense. “I was just trying to be ready for my moment, trying to make it happen if it needed to be done.”

While all the focus will be on quarterback — and whether Florida State is good enough at that position to merit a playoff spot, although Rodemaker is expected to make a full recovery and be 100% healthy for the bowl game — perhaps the committee will take a look at what the Seminoles did defensively in this game. Florida State was suffocating, overwhelming the Louisville offensive line for most of the game. The Seminoles finished with a season-high seven sacks, 14 tackles for loss, five quarterback hurries and nine pass breakups en route to shutting down one of the best rushing offenses in the ACC.

Defensive tackle Braden Fiske — whom one Louisville assistant during pregame warmups pointed out was the player they were most concerned about — had nine tackles, a career-high three sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries.

“I’ve just been waiting for my opportunity to come. I knew it was coming. I was excited for the opportunity and once it finally happened, it’s there,” Fiske said.

As for why he believes Florida State should make the playoff, Fiske said, “13-0 speaks for itself. I’ve been asked, and that’s all I’m going to say. I’ll let them make the decision, but if you’re going to talk about best teams, 13-0 is one of them.”

Florida State has won 19 straight games, second most in the country behind Washington (20).

Louisville had its chances but failed to take advantage. Sixth-year starting quarterback Jack Plummer struggled badly, overthrowing receivers while going 14-of-36 for 111 yards and an interception.

Twice in the second half Louisville had the ball inside the Florida State 15-yard line. Twice the Cards failed to score a touchdown. The first time, Louisville got down to the 7, but Jamari Thrash was tackled for a 9-yard loss and settled for a field goal. The second time, Louisville was set up in great position after pressuring punter Alex Mastromanno, who couldn’t even get the punt off and had to fall on the ground to cover up the ball. Louisville started at the Florida State 12. But Tatum Bethune intercepted Plummer in the end zone to end that drive.

The Louisville defense had its opportunities, too. Twice on the same drive in the third quarter with Florida State up 10-0, Louisville dropped interceptions that would have given the offense prime field position inside the Florida State 30. Jaylin Alderman and Ben Perry had the ball in their hands but couldn’t secure it.

Florida State has the fewest turnovers in the entire country this season with five. Even with a freshman quarterback, the Seminoles somehow avoided giving the ball away. Florida State has allowed negative yardage in the fourth quarter of back-to-back games. It is the first team to have done that in at least the past 20 years.

So now, it is a waiting game for the ACC champions. There has never been an undefeated Power 5 champion left out of the playoff. Even with a third-string quarterback, Florida State did enough to finish 13-0 — with two wins against SEC opponents. Its defense put forward a resounding statement not only Saturday night, but last week in a win over Florida, too.

“We can stack our defense up against any offense in the nation,” FSU AD Michael Alford told ESPN. “And, given a month to prepare, our offense will be ready. This is why we play the game. Otherwise, let’s just sit around and see who the oddsmakers pick and do away with the committee. Because if they leave out FSU, they will significantly damage the legitimacy of the CFP.”

Florida State defensive end Jared Verse put it this way: “The committee’s going to do what needs to be done. We’re a Power 5 champion. We just showed we have a defense that can play lights out with anybody in the country. What needs to be done, will be done.”

As for whether Florida State can compete with anyone who makes the playoff, Verse added, “Anyone that they put before us is in for a rude awakening.”

Behind Verse, Fiske and others, the defense showed its full potential Saturday night, and yet there is concern it might not be enough for the selection committee.

Florida State might not have Travis, but it has a team that has made the commitment to itself to finish for him. Will the committee let it do that?

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