By Stewart Mandel
September 19, 2009

Many who watched Miami and Florida State's thrilling Labor Day shootout two weeks ago were left wondering whether the two rivals' offenses were truly "back," or whether their defenses were simply overmatched.

Two days after the Jacory Harris-led Hurricanes proved they're no fluke by trashing No. 14 Georgia Tech, Christian Ponder and the Seminoles made a national statement of their own Saturday night.

Facing a veteran BYU defense that manhandled Oklahoma in its opener, in a stadium where the home team had not lost in four years, FSU had its way with the seventh-ranked Cougars in a 54-28 demolition. Ponder, who finished 21-of-26 for 193 yards and two TDs while running for another 82 yards and a score, marched the 'Noles to touchdowns on their first four drives of the first half and again on their first drive after halftime. The average length of those drives: 75.6 yards.

FSU also feasted on BYU turnovers, converting a fumbled kick return into a field goal just before halftime to go up 30-14 and sticking a dagger in the Cougars' comeback hopes at the start of the second half when freshman standout Greg Reid picked off BYU star Max Hall and returned it 63 yards for another score.

For most of this decade, the 'Noles have struggled to develop a reliable quarterback, but Ponder has officially put all doubts to rest. Just as notably, FSU's offensive line -- such a mess only a couple of years ago -- has developed into its biggest strength under the tutelage of renowned coach Rick Trickett. The 'Noles bulldozed their way to 316 rushing yards, and Ponder was rarely touched.

Obviously, BYU's BCS hopes took a huge hit with the loss, though they're not entirely dead, either. Thanks to the Oklahoma win, the Cougars would almost certainly wind up back in the top 12 if they manage to run the table in the Mountain West. Whether voters would keep them above an undefeated Boise State or Houston may depend in large part on how well Florida State performs the rest of the way.

It's still extraordinarily early, but as of today it would appear the 'Canes and 'Noles -- which fought right down to the last second in Tallahassee -- are the class of the ACC. Virginia Tech, which scored its own important win Saturday against Nebraska, may have something to say about that next week when it hosts Miami.

The 'Noles are unlikely to dominate week-in, week-out the way they did Saturday night, but if they play more consistently this season than they have in the recent past (i.e., avoid turnover-fests like the one they had last week against Jacksonville State), they may be seeing Hurricanes again come the ACC title game.

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