WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — All season long, Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher has told his players not to worry about things they can’t control.
It sounds like coachspeak. And it is.
But it’s also why a group of 18-22-year-old men never really worried about where they were in the BCS standings from week to week.
For Fisher, anything outside this team — BCS standings, what pundits say about the Seminoles, how teams ranked ahead of them are faring — is nothing but clutter.
And Fisher doesn’t want any clutter.
When the BCS standings come out Sunday, Florida State (9-0, 7-0 in ACC play) will be No. 2 by a sizable margin after Oregon lost at Stanford on Thursday. The toughness of the Seminoles’ remaining schedule, the record of teams they have already beaten — none of that matters anymore.
All they have to do is win out and they’re in the BCS National Championship Game.
To Fisher’s likely happiness, that automatically eliminates some of the clutter.
“Everybody’s doing that,” sophomore defensive end Mario Edwards, Jr said. “They’re putting the clutter to the side and we’re doing what we’ve been doing the past eight weeks — just coming out and playing assignment-sound football.”
In spite of the Seminoles winning at Wake Forest 59-3, without playing all that well themselves, they’re not robots. They’re human.
The team traveled to Winston-Salem on Thursday night and got to its hotel in time to see the second half of Oregon-Stanford.
Admittedly, Edwards enjoyed the result.
“We were happy. We said we were going to buy a Stanford shirt when we get home,” he joked.
Fisher addressed it with his team the next day. He knew they’d be hearing about the Oregon loss from family, friends, classmates, whomever — but they needed to forget about it.
“None of that means anything,” Fisher said of the BCS standings. “Continue to play well and prepare to play well. That’s all that matters. Then you put your head down, you wake up and if you’re there, you’re there.”
The Seminoles probably won’t be looking ahead much, and they shouldn’t, because remaining is a 4-4 Syracuse team next week, a 1-8 Idaho team the next and then a trip to the Swamp. Florida is the only real threat left on the schedule. And Florida has lost four in a row, is 4-5 on the year and just lost by double digits at home to Vanderbilt.
But all of that is just clutter, too. One game at a time is real with this group, because they won’t reach elite status if they can’t tighten a few things up.
Florida State quarterback — and current Heisman frontrunner — Jameis Winston still has a bit of clutter. He’s still a redshirt freshman, after all, even though he hasn’t looked like one most of the year.
He finished 17 of 28 for 159 yards, two touchdowns and one interception Saturday, one of his most pedestrian games in college.
The interception was what stuck out the most in Fisher’s mind after the game.
“He should have ran the ball,” Fisher said. “Why make that play? It’s 4th and 2. The first option on naked [bootlegs] is run the football. That’s what he should’ve done.
“You do what you’re coached to do and do it. … I don’t know what it is, I don’t care what it is. Run the ball and get the first down. That’s what you’re coached to do.”
Winston was trying to get the ball to tight end Giorgio Newberry, who hasn’t had a catch all year, but added, “I should have ran.”
Fisher has been effusive in his praise of Winston for most of the season, but just as the national media has started to fawn over him more and more, it’s almost as if the head coach wants to keep his quarterback in check.
“I thought at times he made some decisions and got a little greedy at times,” Fisher said. “I think he needs to understand that. You’ve got to play the game. The game is bigger than me as a coach, it’s bigger than him as a player.
“You’ve got to understand how to play the game one play at a time and take what it gives you.”
It’s obvious that Winston enjoys the attention as much as anyone else would. But he never shies away from an attempt to deflect some of that attention toward his teammates, like the dominating defense that forced seven Wake Forest turnovers.
“They’ve got so many leaders on that side of the ball,” Winston said, shaking his head and grinning. “They’re so amazing. They’re so fast to the ball. For them to create turnovers the way that they do and for them to just give us the ball so fast, that’s how you have a great team.”
He paused, adding: “They say ‘defense wins championships.'”
Winston and his teammates want to reach what they called The Standard. Coming out to play in front of a small crowd against a bad team? None of that mattered.
“No, because it’s a mentality. It’s a standard that we set as a team,” Winston said. “We didn’t care that it wasn’t a big atmosphere, but we’re out there playing football. It’s fun for us and it’s fun to win. As long as we’re winning, that intensity is going to be up.”
Fisher challenged his players not only to ignore the clutter of the Oregon loss, but also to get themselves up to play in a lackluster atmosphere. Especially coming off of three big games in a row — a win at Clemson, a win at home over North Carolina State when Bobby Bowden planted the spear and then a win over Miami.
Two of those three were prime-time affairs. This one was at noon against a Wake Forest team that isn’t very good.
So would Fisher’s team be up for it? That was what he asked his team.
“We answered that question,” Fisher said. “Can we do it again next week and can we do it the next week and can we do it the next week? That’s the challenge.
“That’s why it’s a marathon. It eliminates the weak mind and the people who stray and get out of focus.”
Fisher has his team’s full attention now, regardless of the outside distractions. Because everything he’s told them so far has come true. Do what you need to do, and the rest will take care of itself.
And that’s exactly what happened with Oregon losing.
“Everything’s falling into place now, like Jimbo said it would,” Edwards said. “We’ve just got to stay with what we’ve been doing now … we’ve set a standard. Coach Jimbo said we’ve set a standard and we can’t go below that standard.”
Oh, and Florida State secured the Atlantic Division title with the win, too.
There was a subdued celebration in the locker room afterward with the Atlantic Division trophy, but that’s about it.
“We were excited to win that, but our goals are already set for something much bigger than that,” Edwards said.
Two years ago, Florida State fell to Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, the club’s third straight defeat at the time. It left many people wondering whether the Seminoles would ever be “back” in the national spotlight, an automatic spot they held throughout the 1980s and 90s.
Fast forward to the present, as Florida State just continues to win and win, and win some more — by A LOT of points.
It’s almost as if the Seminoles are trying to top themselves each week. And why not?
Their stiffest opponent for the remainder of the season? Complacency.