Daryl Bush has endured the dirty-play accusations of Florida coach Steve Spurrier, the taunts from Miami and the pure power of Nebraska.
But, last week as the Seminoles prepared for another fall full of national exposure, Florida State's senior middle linebacker got a little steamed during an hour-long interview at the ACC Kickoff in Asheville, N.C. The question was whether FSU should win the ACC.
"I don't get into predictions too much," Bush said. "And we don't use those as motivation to win. We're Florida State. Our philosophy hasn't changed.
"I don't know how all of a sudden people thought North Carolina is good. We've always taken them seriously and they've been good. Coach (Bobby) Bowden is like that when somebody is good."
Preseason publications are predicting North Carolina to be right on the heels of Florida State this fall. The ACC media gave Florida State 45 first-place votes last week and North Carolina received 20.
Their Nov. 8 game in Chapel Hill, N.C., to be televised in prime time by ESPN, is already being billed as a national showdown, not just an ACC title bout. Last season in Tallahassee, Fla., Florida State won 13-0 and the stingy Tar Heel defense returns intact.
The Tar Heels, 10-2 last season, are picked fifth or higher in five preseason polls and Football News even picks the Heels to win the national title. Last season, the Tar Heels were the first ACC team to finish in the top 10 since Florida State joined the ACC in 1992.
"Florida State doesn't have to come in here and answer some of the questions we have to," North Carolina coach Mack Brown said. "`Are you ready to contend?' `Is the publicity getting to you?' They're already there.
"We're one in a group that could change that. I'm sure we'd have a better chance to win (against Florida State) at home than on the road."
That North Carolina is the ACC upstart from what prognosticator Danny Sheridan once called "Snow White and The Eight Dwarfs," isn't the point. The ACC is looking for a second team to earn football respect - nationally and from the Seminoles. Smaller schools (see Duke and Wake Forest) and smaller stadiums (five seating under 50,000) "turn some people off," according to Georgia Tech coach George O'Leary.
After all, Florida State is 39-1 in five ACC seasons, with a lone loss at Virginia, and only four of those 40 games have been decided by fewer than 10 points.
"Hasn't but one team beat them," Clemson coach Tommy West said. "I don't think you close the gap by only getting beat by two touchdowns."
O'Leary was the defensive coordinator when the Yellow Jackets won the 1990 national championship. He saw a change in the makeup of the league when he returned to Atlanta three years ago.
"When I left in 1991 and came back, speed was the biggest difference in the conference," O'Leary said. "Teams had more speed and range. Everybody was trying to become an FSU clone. Still, the biggest difference is teams were going after and getting 4.5 40 guys.
"But Florida State has got guys with 4.5 speed who can really hit you. I call that contact speed."
There are other signs of upward mobility. Sparkling new field houses have been added at Wake Forest and North Carolina. The league beefed up its non-conference schedule with games against Auburn, Southern California, Stanford, Notre Dame and Boston College this season. Clemson, long a conservative running team, added former Eric Zeier tutor Steve Ensminger as offensive coordinator, and O'Leary brought Ralph Friedgen back to the staff to run the offense.
There has been some notice. The ACC announced last week a television deal through 2005 with ABC and ESPN worth nearly $200 million.
Still, there is another angle to an effort to share the throne with the king.
"When I was in the Southwest Conference (at Rice), everybody thought it was a good league as long as Texas dominated," Duke coach Fred Goldsmith said. "We got to the point where there was parity and people said we had a crummy league."
But leave it to Bush for the last word. After being asked about the ACC and North Carolina endlessly, he finally broke down and smiled.
"If I had to vote, I'd vote us first every time," Bush said.
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