Duke-Florida St. Preview
Florida State was voted the No. 1 team in the nation Sunday for the first time since Oct. 1, 2000, is heavily favored against Duke in Saturday night's ACC championship game in Charlotte and is 60 minutes from a berth in the BCS title game.
The 20th-ranked Blue Devils, though, have made believers out of the Seminoles, even though they have never lost to Duke in 18 meetings.
What doesn't play into the Blue Devils' favor is the fact that Florida State will no longer face the distraction of whether quarterback Jameis Winston will face charges in a sexual assault case.
The redshirt freshman, who has completed 68.8 percent of his passes for 3,490 yards with 35 touchdowns and eight interceptions, won't be charged in the investigation stemming from an incident with a female student last December.
Winston was accused of raping the student, but State Attorney Willie Meggs said Thursday there is not enough evidence for the case to go forward.
"It hasn't altered (our preparation) in any way," Fisher said of the case before Meggs' announcement. "Our team is not insulated from it. We deal with it. We address those issues.
"We control what we can control and that's how we prepare and how we play. That's how they go about it."
Fisher has benefited from a team with the ability to ignore outside distractions and focus on the immediate task each week. The Seminoles (12-0, 8-0) will stick to a script that has worked all season, but there tends to be a different feel in the air when a program is considered the best in the nation.
Fisher disagreed that there's a difference.
"Not one bit," Fisher said Sunday afternoon.
For its part, Florida State thinks the feel of facing Duke is different now, too.
"Just as Florida State has bought into coach (Jimbo) Fisher's coaching, I think those guys have bought into their team," Seminoles safety Lamarcus Joyner said. "You just see a group of guys that believe in each other, and when you have a belief you can do a lot of wonders. ... I just see a team that believes in each other and has a great coach and some smart players.
"They're on a roll."
So is Florida State, which climbed from a No. 11 preseason ranking as the Seminoles chased other programs all season. Clemson was the preseason favorite to win the conference and ranked No. 3 when the two teams met Oct. 19. Florida State won 51-14.
The eyes of Florida State fans turned toward then-No. 2 Oregon. The Ducks lost to Stanford 26-20 on Nov. 7, five days after the Seminoles beat then-No. 7 Miami 41-14.
The "We want 'Bama" cheers began to float out of the stands during Florida State home games after the Seminoles moved to No. 2. Then two-time defending champion Alabama lost 34-28 to No. 3 Auburn last weekend.
The regular season ended with Florida State ranked the top team in the country.
Fisher said the only thing those rankings show is their consistency.
"Hopefully we can do it one more week until the bowl season starts," Fisher said. "We've been able to focus and do that and not pay attention to the outside things and worry about anything.
"We can't worry about where we're ranked and what goes on. We just have to worry about preparing and playing and that's all we tell our guys."
Top 10 rankings and national championship implications were the least of the Blue Devils' concerns. They needed a 27-25 win against North Carolina last Saturday, their eighth in a row, to reach the conference championship. Florida State was ranked No. 10 at the end of 2012, but Duke (10-2, 6-2) hasn't had a winning season since going 8-4 in 1994. The program has had four winless seasons during that span.
"These guys deserve more respect than what people have given them, really, overall," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. "We're not just fortunate. We're a good football team. We wouldn't be where we are if weren't good.
"We were a good football team a year ago. We lost some games that got away from us. I'm very excited about what's happening to this team because it's going to help our program. Our guys have believed."
Picked in the preseason to finish last in the Coastal Division, Duke has already set a school record for victories, captured its first division title and sewn up the first consecutive bowl berths in school history.
"Our entire season has been based on people telling us what we can't do," tight end Braxton Deaver said. "'You're last in the ACC' - oh, that's funny, now we're first in the Coastal."
Fisher said the Blue Devils caught his eye as a possible opponent about three weeks ago.
"You see highlights and you see the numbers and what's going on," Fisher said. "I knew if they got hot, they could be there."
Florida State has scored fewer than 40 points in just two of the 18 meetings between these schools, and the Seminoles are second in the FBS with an average of 53.7 points while ranking first with 11.0 allowed per game.
The Blue Devils rank fifth in the ACC in both scoring offense (33.7) and scoring defense (23.0).