Acceptance and Refusal
 
The unpredictability of life forces human beings to adjust their ways of thinking, or their lines of argument, or their fundamental attitudes. Chances are we have all had to make a significant internal change after a death, a layoff, a relocation to an unfamiliar place, a life event which dramatically alters our surroundings in a profound way.

That same unpredictability of life, however, can just as easily demand steadfastness in the midst of turmoil, an unwavering adherence to methods, values or tasks which have borne fruit in the past... and can still become fruitful in the future.

The volatility of life can force human beings to leave the past behind, or to reaffirm past experiences and lessons. Wearing this mortal flesh and beholding this confusing world can make us take flight... or stand our ground.

Sometimes it is necessary to walk away from a fight, and sometimes it is necessary to dig in our heels and not meekly submit to our own fears or outside perceptions of who and what we are.

Welcome to Saturday's ACC Atlantic game between North Carolina State and Florida State.

When the Wolfpack play the Seminoles, both teams will take the field under circumstances neither team expected before the season began. NCSU and FSU will straddle that very fine line between acceptance and refusal, between the healthy instinct to accept human limitations, and the equally healthy instinct to refuse to accept limits. Both are needed -- acceptance of limits prevents hubris from dominating the self, but a refusal to accept certain ideas often enables human beings to survive various predicaments and forge achievements in the fire pit of adversity.

North Carolina State and Florida State must both engage in discernment at Doak Campbell Stadium this weekend.

N.C. State got knocked down a peg or six by South Carolina, a team which subsequently got shut down by Kentucky and -- interestingly enough -- former Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. The Wolfpack were supposed to have ample veteran talent on both sides of the ball this season, but that didn't emerge against South Carolina, especially not on defense. The Wolfpack must immediately reassert themselves, a process which requires belief, yes, but also a need to scheme and adjust in ways which minimize the weaknesses which jumped off the film study against the Gamecocks.

Even if North Carolina State had beaten South Carolina, this Florida State game figured to be one of the few games the Wolfpack were not likely to win this season. This realization demanded that Dave Doeren and defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable had to respect the weapons the Seminoles brought to the table.

Now, though, Florida State might not be "Florida State" on offense.

Quarterback Deondre Francois was injured for the season in a Week 1 loss to Alabama, dealing what many think is a huge blow to FSU's division, conference, and College Football Playoff chances. That's enough of a plot adjustment to Wolfpack-Seminoles in Week 4, but it's hardly the only one from the FSU side of the divide.

Because of Hurricane Irma, the Seminoles haven't played since the Bama game. Their September 9 game against Louisiana-Monroe was cancelled, their Sept. 16 game against Miami moved to Oct. 7. 

James Blackman has had a lot of time to mentally adjust to the fact that he is now the man under center for Florida State, but he has had no live reps as a starting quarterback who enters a game knowing he will play from start to finish (barring injury or a hugely lopsided score). His teammates can simulate in practice what it's like to play with Blackman, but live action has eluded a team without its star QB for three full weeks. How well Blackman plays in isolation, and how well FSU's offense performs around him, are completely unknowable components of this game. Florida State's hurricane-caused inactivity, combined with the unwanted but necessary quarterback switch, make the Noles a total mystery.

Should Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher be aggressive or conservative in his game plan? Should he send the message to his players that this is a game in which to go all-out, or should he tell his team that expecting a full-scale Florida State experience, under these unusual circumstances, is not realistic, and that the defense therefore needs to win a 16-13 slog? Must Fisher keep the plan extremely simple and limited for Blackman, or can he expand the playbook since he has had extra  weeks without game play, during which Blackman has been able to study more?

North Carolina State and Florida State both face this basic tension: Should they believe they are the teams they thought they would be, or emphasize the need for realism and downgrade an assessment of what they can achieve this Saturday?

Athletes sometimes have to believe in spite of the evidence, "faking it 'til they make it" in order to maintain a baseline of confidence. It might not feel honest, but the emphasis is on filling the brain with positive reinforcement in a time of trouble.

On the other hand, athletes also can't bullshit themselves. If a secondary isn't as good as it expected to be (as was the case for N.C. State against South Carolina), the belief that the Wolfpack have a strong defense must be tempered or distrusted. The key is to turn that cautiousness and distrust into a resolve and rededication which generate improved performance.

North Carolina State badly needed the South Carolina game and didn't get it, precisely because Florida State figured to be a loss. Yet, circumstances might have given the Wolfpack and Doeren an unexpected path to a division win and a restoration of hope. Conversely, Florida State did figure to lose to Alabama, but the Noles didn't expect to lose a prime player in Week 1. This game now seems harder to win on paper, but a victory -- with an encouraging performance from Blackman -- could leave Fisher and his team more fortified (not less) heading into October.

What will these teams choose to accept? What will they refuse to?

The answers -- and the way in which the answers are articulated -- will tell the story of Wolfpack-Seminoles.

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