He jogged into the room, smiling and holding his index finger aloft. Florida State's Peter Warrick was in a jovial mood--even making jokes about his trouble with the law--during a news conference today, but the senior wide receiver wasn't kidding about his theory on why the Seminoles lost to Tennessee in last year's national championship game.

"Everybody went into that game thinking it was a joke," Warrick said. "We had a lot of players missing curfew and doing this and doing that, coaches telling us to do things and people doing it their own way."

Warrick had just one catch for seven yards in that game. He also carried the ball once for 11 yards. Accordingly, FSU coaches have promised to get him more involved when the Seminoles play Virginia Tech on Tuesday night in the Sugar Bowl.

"This year it's different," Warrick said. "Everybody knows it's business, man. We've got to go out and win this. Me, I'm a senior--this is my last chance. I want to be on the first team at Florida State to go undefeated and win the national championship."

This season, Warrick, who passed up leaving school last year for the NFL draft, has a career-best 71 receptions for 934 yards and eight touchdowns. He also has thrown for one touchdown, run for three and returned a punt for another. With that kind of versatility, he was asked, what is the best way to cover him?

"Probably lay me down and put a blanket on me," he said.

Warrick was a leading contender for the Heisman Trophy before serving a two-game suspension for illegally obtaining a substantial discount on clothing at a Tallahassee department store. He and then-teammate Laveranues Coles paid $21.40 for clothing worth $412.38 with the help of a clerk at Dillard's. He eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor petty theft charge as part of a plea agreement.

"It takes a real man to learn from his mistakes," said Warrick, since elected offensive captain by his teammates. "I feel like--that since I got in that trouble--I'm more mature than I was, now."

If today's session was any indication, Warrick seems to have his off-the-field problems behind him.

"I'm over that," he said. "A lot of people are going to say a lot of stuff, but I can't please everybody. People judge me by my actions. They don't judge the person that I am. If they get to know me, they'll know that I'm a great person and I mean well. But I did make a mistake. It was a young mistake, but it's all behind me now."

Not that he won't bring up the Dillard's incident.

"A lot of people come up to me and when I have on [fancy clothes] and they say, 'Hey, you got that from Dillard's, huh?' That's true," Warrick said with a laugh. "When it first happened, I was like, 'Why me?' But why not me? I'm no better than anybody else. As you know, it's something I would never do again. I can look back and tell young kids not to make the same mistake I made."

Coles was kicked off the team and now lives in Kenner, a New Orleans suburb.

He told the Times-Picayune newspaper last week he won't be in the Superdome for the Sugar Bowl. "I wouldn't even ask for a ticket," Coles said. "I couldn't go and sit in the stands. It would just kill me. It's hard enough just watching on television."

Third Time, Charm?

This is Florida State's third trip to the national championship game in the past four seasons, but it lost the first two. This week, Coach Bobby Bowden was philosophical about it.

"I'm from the other side of the tracks. I'm not spoiled," he said. "I hate to say it, but I could live with number two. I don't want to. I want number one. But when I came up in college, we won one game a year. Man, I haven't been around winners all my life. But I'm around one now."