Florida State answered a few questions in pulling away from Clemson last Saturday night in a rare ACC matchup of top-10 teams.
The fourth-ranked Seminoles didn't succumb to the moment as they did a year earlier when hosting top-ranked Oklahoma. FSU staggered around for a while before getting its bearings, and when it did, Jimbo Fisher's team reminded many FSU fans of the Bobby Bowden squads of the 1990s.
A 28-0 run beginning in the 3rd quarter stood out from the performance. But there's more to consider, and there are more obstacles to hurdle and concerns to squash.
We can say FSU is back, sort of. To truly be back it must prove every week this is a different Florida State team, that the program has matured to a national championship level, and that begins with Saturday's game at dangerous South Florida.
Disregard that the Bulls just got dumped by Ball State on Saturday. It was on the road, and truth be known, the Cardinals aren't exactly cannon fodder. They won the week before at Indiana.
USF has athletes and some of its players know what beating FSU feels like, including quarterback B.J. Daniels, as they did it in 2009. The following week is a trip to N.C. State on a Saturday night and then the rest of the ACC schedule concluding with the annual hate-fest against SEC power Florida.
Well, maybe the Gators aren't a power, yet. But they are 4-0 and ranked 11th in the nation and already own two conference road wins. They are also the second most important college football team in the land if having an ACC team in the national title hunt entering December is your desire.
The big picture for FSU is obvious: The Seminoles must win out and rout most of its ACC brethren in similar fashion to how the 1993 and 1999 teams did on their way to winning national titles. The perception of the ACC as a second-class power conference could hurt FSU in the sorting out process pitting the most deserving teams to play for the national crown.
FSU is definitely better than a year ago and may no longer be the fraud some observers still suspect. The Seminoles have a ground game, wide receivers and a quarterback who can get them the ball and also use his feet. They have a terrific defense and a first-rate placekicker. The parts are all there.
Dealing with voters' perceptions is one thing, impressing various computer formats is another. And because netting quality wins, which usually means defeating teams in a computer's top 25, matters so much, it would best serve the Seminoles' interests if Clemson finishes 11-1 and ranked among the top six or seven. Then, if Miami, which is 3-1 with an ugly loss at No. 7 Kansas State on its resume, wins out and takes the ACC's Coastal Division title, while only losing at home to FSU until the ACC championship game, that would give Fisher's club a top 12-15 win. A victory at Virginia Tech on a Thursday night game in cold and crazed Blacksburg will help, especially if the Hokies go 8-4, which would assume losses at Clemson, Miami and to the Noles.
Furthermore, FSU needs a little help outside the league. As odd as it seems, FSU fans would be wise to root for Florida to win out until it plays the Seminoles. If Florida is 11-0 and SEC East champions when they visit Tallahassee on Nov. 24, not only will that be an enormous game, but it might be what pushes FSU into a national championship game.
That would be another top-10 victim for the Noles, and the credibility of beating a highly ranked SEC team should give Fisher's team all the street cred it needs at 13-0 to play for the national championship over a one-loss SEC or Big 12 club, or perhaps even an unbeaten Pac-12 club.
In addition, if South Florida gets hot and plays to its potential, it can make noise in the Big East. Winning the league over Louisville and Cincinnati is a lot to ask of Skip Holtz's team, but it's not out of the realm. Adding a win at the champs of another BCS conference can only bolster FSU's case.
Most important, however, is the Seminoles must take care of business. They are 4-0 and finally hitting the road this weekend. They have eight more games, at least half of which are losable. So unlike in the 1990s, nobody is penciling them in for anything, not even the ACC title game in Charlotte.
But they sure did trigger some memories last weekend as well as speculation about what it will take for them to officially be back. That's what should make these next couple of months so fascinating.