BUFORD, Ga. -- The last couple of Julys have witnessed the recurring trend of picking against Florida State in the preseason poll. Of trying to find the team that will supplant the 'Noles at the top of the ACC.
Virginia and North Carolina became the fashionable choices to overtake Florida State the last couple of years.
From the results of the 1998 preseason poll, which was released Monday, perhaps teams haven't trimmed the gap as much as believed.
Florida State captured first-place votes from each of the 66 members of the voting media, and its total of 594 points topped second-place North Carolina by 108 and third-place Virginia by 111.
"Haven't we actually done as much as Nebraska has?" FSU coach Bobby Bowden said, alluding to the Cornhuskers dominance of the Big 12.
"It seems to me that the talent gap was closing for a few years," he added. "Every year there, teams were getting closer and closer. Then last year, it seemed Florida State re-established itself."
Georgia Tech finished third, followed by Clemson, Wake Forest, N.C. State, Duke and Maryland.
Last year, North Carolina garnered a number of first-place tallies, while Virginia did the same in 1996. The gradual steps appeared to signal a steadying decline in the talent gap between FSU and the rest of the ACC.
But Florida State has lost only one conference game since joining the ACC in 1992. Last season the 'Noles lost only one conference game by less than 13 points, while winning five by more than 24 points.
"I don't see FSU going down," Clemson coach Tommy West said. "The talent level is close with the front line, but I don't think the gap is close with back-up play.
"If FSU gets someone hurt, they replace him with someone else. There's no problem with depth at FSU."
"Everybody says (the ACC) is closing the gap, I don't get into that," O'Leary said of the Seminoles, who have won at least 10 games an NCAA record 11 straight years. "I've been in a bunch of big games in the NFL and college and when you're in big games it's an attitude.
"It has nothing to do with closing the (talent) gap, it has to do with, `Do you really believe you can beat them?' You can talk and talk and talk and say you are closing the gap speed-wise but to be in big games and know how to play them you have to play in them."
The Seminoles lost seven first-team All-ACC performers from a year ago, including the league's offensive and defensive players of the year.
But Bowden has typically retooled and claims the '98 version will be the fastest team he's ever produced in Tallahassee.
"I'd like to sit here and think, `who's first,' not `who's going to be second or third,"' Virginia offensive coordinator Sparky Woods said.
For now, though, and apparently anytime in the near future, there doesn't appear to be any doubt who will be first.
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