Florida St.-Wake Forest Preview
Twelve seasons have come and gone since Florida State last played for the BCS national championship, but coach Jimbo Fisher's team - led by Heisman Trophy candidate Jameis Winston - is making a convincing case that it again belongs on college football's biggest stage come January.
Fisher just hopes the third-ranked Seminoles don't become complacent with their success before then.
Florida State looks to clinch a spot in the ACC championship game Saturday as its visits Wake Forest, which will be without its top offensive weapon.
The Seminoles (8-0, 6-0) haven't won their first nine games since winning the 1999 national championship, and they haven't appeared in the title game since falling to Oklahoma the following season.
After last week's 41-14 rout of then-No. 7 Miami, they moved up to No. 2 in the latest BCS standings behind Alabama and could be five victories away from playing at the Rose Bowl on Jan. 6.
''This is a very good football team,'' Fisher said. ''I'll say this, I love our football team. I love our football team.''
Who can blame him? Winston, the dynamic redshirt freshman, ranks second in the country with a 201.1 passer rating and has thrown for 24 touchdowns while running for three more.
When Winston threw two interceptions against the Hurricanes, the rushing attack - second in the ACC with an average of 209.8 yards - provided two touchdowns each from Devonta Freeman and James Wilder.
Fisher, though, praised his young quarterback, who went 12 of 14 in the second half and finished with 325 yards and a touchdown.
"I thought it was a huge growing (experience) for him," Fisher said. "He dealt with some adversity, came back very calmly and managed the game."
Defensively, Florida State ranks second in the conference, allowing 287.6 yards per game, and pitched a shutout in the second half last week. It has outscored its three ranked opponents - then-No. 25 Maryland, then-No. 3 Clemson and Miami - 155-28 while forcing seven turnovers.
None of that success, though, means much if the Seminoles don't remain focused. They can wrap up the ACC Atlantic Division with a victory Saturday against a Wake Forest team that's a five-touchdown underdog.
"It's up to (the team leadership) to make sure we understand the importance of every game," Fisher said. "Hopefully we've gotten that across, and we're going to practice the same way for every game no matter who (the opponent) is."
The Demon Deacons (4-5, 2-4) nearly upset Miami on Oct. 26 before allowing a touchdown with 53 seconds remaining in a 24-21 loss, but they set a season low with 198 total yards in a 13-0 loss to Syracuse last week.
The biggest blow came when leading wide receiver Michael Campanaro suffered a broken collarbone in the first quarter, and he's expected to miss 4-6 weeks - possibly marking the end of the senior's college career.
Campanaro is tied for fifth in the nation with 67 receptions, and he's third in ACC history with 227 career catches.
"He's the guy we go to and when he's out, it makes it tough," coach Jim Grobe said. "Going forward without Camp, somebody's got to decide if they want to be that guy."
Sherman Ragland replaced Campanaro and caught 10 passes for 91 yards, though Grobe said Ragland made some mental mistakes.
"He's someone that these next few weeks I'm going to have to work with," Campanaro said. "He's got all the talent and all the capability."
The Wake Forest defense also will face a tough challenge, having allowed 407.4 yards per game over its last seven. The Seminoles average 51.1 points, third in FBS.
"Whenever you play Florida State it's going to be a big game, whether they are No. 2 in the country or whether they're having a down year," defensive end Kristopher Redding said. "We've always been underdogs in the game."
The Seminoles have won three of the last four meetings, falling 35-30 in their last visit to Winston-Salem on Oct. 8, 2011. Florida State won last season's matchup 52-0.