LAKE LANIER ISLANDS, Ga. -- Saint Bobby and the choirboy quarterback were too much for the Atlantic Coast Conference last year. Entering its second season of conference football, Florida State is looking beyond the ACC and toward its first national championship.
The ACC Football Kickoff here was an opportunity for the conference's eight other members to prop up the Seminoles. Coach Bobby Bowden is the only man to have six straight 10-win seasons in Division I. If quarterback Charlie Ward isn't the top candidate for the Heisman Trophy, he'll settle for being the nation's best college athlete. There is the customary depth and speed that could finally bring FSU its first national title, after wasted preseason No. 1 rankings in 1988 and '91.
Maryland coach Mark Duffner led the hosannas, to be expected considering that the low point of his first season with the Terps was a 69-21 spanking by the Seminoles last November.
"They're the benchmark," Duffner said. "It was evident in our game against them that the great difference was speed. We've worked hard to close that gap with our recruiting, but there's going to be some catching up to do."
"We saw Charlie Ward at his best last year. The best hit Maryland got on him was in a basketball game."
Ward, an all-conference quarterback who's also the Seminoles' point guard in basketball and a student-body leader, had 506 yards of total offense against Maryland last year.
Florida State comes to Byrd Stadium for the first time since 1968 on Nov. 6, a week before it plays at Notre Dame.
The Seminoles' non-conference schedule isn't the safest path to a national title, as they face Miami Oct. 9 and finish the regular season at Florida. Presuming a postseason bowl for the 12th straight year, the 13-game grind begins Aug. 28 against Kansas at Giants Stadium.
"Does any other school play three Top 10 teams out of its conference?" Bowden wondered.
"It might be the reason we've never won a national championship. If you look at some of the people that are winning them, see how tough their schedule is, maybe it's a national championship schedule. We don't have a national championship schedule. Can you get by Notre Dame, Miami and Florida, and still win your conference?"
Florida State's first trip through the ACC required a few escapes.
The Seminoles needed to rally late to beat Clemson and Georgia Tech last year, and even though the Seminoles received all 41 of the first-place votes in yesterday's preseason poll of the Atlantic Coast Sports Writers Association, the followers would like to think they're closing the gap.
Three other ACC teams went to bowl games last year. Peach Bowl winner North Carolina was No. 2 in the preseason poll.
The Demon Deacons won the Independence Bowl under Bill Dooley last year, but they're one of two teams below Maryland in the poll.
Atlantic Coast Sports Writers Association preseason poll (first-place votes in parentheses):
1. Florida State (41) ... 369
2. North Carolina ....... 297
3. Clemson ...... ....... 285
4. N.C. State ... ....... 236
5. Georgia Tech ......... 210
6. Virginia ..... ....... 185
7. Maryland ..... ....... 119
8. Wake Forest .. ........ 78
9. Duke ......... ........ 66