FSU faces Duke for ACC, invite to BCS championship game
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A year before college football goes with a playoff format, the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game has the feel of a national semifinal.
Florida State is 12-0 and ranked No. 1. All the Seminoles need to do is defeat No. 20 Duke (10-2) on Saturday night, and a spot in the BCS championship game is theirs.
“It’s a two-game season now,” FSU quarterback Jameis Winston said on Wednesday. “We got to eat. We got to work every day. We are even preparing harder.”
The Seminoles won the ACC title and the Orange Bowl last season, but the upperclassmen of today remember the difficult transition from Bobby Bowden to Jimbo Fisher.
Now that Fisher has rebuilt the foundation, the players are hungry for more. They have taken everything one game at a time. The calendar, however, shows December, and they know they are one step away from playing for the crystal trophy.
Getting into a shootout with Florida State, which put up 40 points in every game except for the regular-season finale (a 37-7 win over Florida), is not a good idea.
Already penciled in as one of the best seasons in school history, Florida State is one win away from one of the best ACC football seasons, too.
“We accomplished our regular-season goal of being undefeated, becoming state champions,” Winston said. “Now it’s time to become conference champions and, Lord willing, we become the big man on top.”
— Florida State is a win away from repeating as ACC champion. The Seminoles would be the first team to do so since Virginia Tech in 2006-07. Florida State has been the class of the ACC the past few seasons. A win on Saturday would give Florida State 14 ACC titles since joining the league in 1992, tying Clemson for the most titles.
— The best matchup is Duke’s high-powered offense vs. Florida State’s defense. Duke has put up points, but the Blue Devils managed just 13 in a win over Virginia Tech. It will be interesting to see what they do against a Florida State defense that leads the nation in points allowed (11.0), rushing touchdowns allowed (four) and interceptions (23).
— The Seminoles will score points on Saturday. Duke gave up 58 to Pitt, 31 to Troy and 30 to Miami (without Duke Johnson). The Blue Devils lost to Pitt and survived to beat both Troy and Miami, but they can’t get away with letting Florida State move up and down the field.
— Let’s not debate strength of schedule here. Schedules are made years in advance by athletics directors. Players can’t control who their team plays. But the Seminoles have routed opponents, winning every game by at least 14 points. And the average margin of victory? An impressive 42.7.
— Florida State is 18-0 all-time against Duke, yet this is clearly the best Duke team the Seminoles have ever played. FSU outscored the Blue Devils 89-23 in their games in 2011 and ’12. Duke won’t be a just-happy-to-be-here team. Can it keep up with Florida State on Saturday?
Cast of characters
— The FBS record for points in a single season is 716 by the 2008 Oklahoma team (Sam Bradford was the quarterback). Florida State’s offense is closing in on that total, scoring 644. Oklahoma hit 716 in 14 games. The Seminoles need 72 points over the next two contests.
— Florida State has three receivers that each have surpassed 800 yards, the first time that has happened in program history. Rashad Greene (914), Kenny Shaw (855) and Kelvin Benjamin (838) are all within striking distance of 1,000 yards as well.
— The Seminoles are playing in the ACC championship game for the third time in four years under Fisher. Florida State had played in the first ACC title game in Jacksonville in 2005, but then missed out until 2010. Fisher is 43-10 with a .811 winning percentage. It’s the highest win percentage in the ACC and the fourth-highest in the nation among coaches with two years of experience.
— Coaches typically don’t love to use two quarterbacks, but Duke’s David Cutcliffe has made it work this season. Brandon Connette has 13 touchdown passes and 13 touchdown runs, while Anthony Boone has 1,695 yards and 10 touchdown passes. Each brings something different to the table. Florida State’s defensive players will have to adjust on the fly each time Cutcliffe makes a change.
— Duke’s Jamison Crowder leads the ACC with 88 receptions. Fisher says Crowder is the ACC’s best receiver, although that could be a fair amount of coachspeak considering Florida State has three talented receivers. Clemson’s Sammy Watkins is a top-10 pick if he leaves after his junior year. Crowder will be a tough matchup for Florida State’s defensive backs.
Ten quick notes
— Florida State has not trailed in 511 minutes, a streak that dates back to the second quarter of the Boston College game on Sept. 28.
— Winston leads the nation with a pass efficiency rating of 192.6. Russell Wilson of North Carolina State and Wisconsin has the FBS record of 191.8.
— Winston has thrown for 25 first-half touchdowns. That’s more than 105 starting quarterbacks in the FBS.
— The Seminoles look for their 15th straight win over an ACC team. The last loss came against N.C. State, 17-16, Oct. 6, 2012 in Raleigh.
— Florida State averages 7.83 yards per play, best in the FBS.
— How’s this for balance, especially with a Heisman Trophy contender at quarterback? Florida State has 38 rushing touchdowns and 37 passing TDs.
— Florida State’s defense has allowed just four rushing touchdowns, the lowest total in the nation. That total is just 14 in the past 32 games.
— Opponents covert on third down just 29 percent of the time (51 of 174) against Florida State.
— When Florida State forces a turnover, the Seminoles capitalize. Of the 31 turnovers, Florida State has scored on 27 of the ensuing possessions.
— Last year, just six Florida State players had an interception. This season, 16 Seminoles have a pick.
Duke has more talent than most college football fans realize. That will be on display, especially on offense, Saturday night.
But Florida State has the offense, defense and special teams. The Seminoles have been dominant this season, and they have a chance to play for a national title with a win.
This team is humble, and often it’s because of previous losses. That memory has motivated Florida State in 2013. Expect the Seminoles to play hungry and pull away in the second half to win.