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).