Why Florida State has what it takes to win College Football Playoff
Florida State enters the College Football Playoff with a 29-game winning streak and a tough first-round matchup against Oregon in the Rose Bowl. The Seminoles aren't the same team that claimed the BCS championship last season, but coach Jimbo Fisher's team is loaded with young talent and one of the nation's top quarterbacks in Jameis Winston.
Despite finishing the season unbeaten, Florida State dropped in the committee's rankings throughout the year. The Seminoles weren't dominant in most of their games, but Fisher's team consistently found ways to win, while overcoming youth and injuries on defense.
5 REASONS WHY FLORIDA STATE WILL WIN THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF
1. Jameis Winston
Winston has experienced his share of ups and downs this season, but when the sophomore is locked in, he's one of the best in college football. Winston missed one game due to suspension and finished the season with 3,559 yards, 24 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.
In the ACC Championship Game against Georgia Tech, Winston turned in one of his best performances of the year by throwing for 309 yards and three scores on 21 completions. An ankle injury bothered Winston late in the season, and with nearly a month to heal, he should be at his best in the playoffs.
And it certainly doesn't hurt that Winston will have plenty of time to work on getting in rhythm with young targets like Travis Rudolph, Jesus Wilson and Ermon Lane. In the postseason, a quarterback that's on fire can carry a team to a championship. Winston is that type of player.
2. Defensive improvement and better health
Florida State's defense isn't as dominant as it was last year, but this unit also had to overcome a lot of injuries, a new coordinator and youth in the starting lineup. The Seminoles allow 5.3 yards per play, which ranks 11th in the ACC. And under the direction of first-year coordinator Charles Kelly, the defense ranks sixth in the conference in points allowed per game (23).
Kelly has done a good job of making adjustments within the game, as the defense stepped up in the second halfs against Louisville, Georgia Tech and Miami. While those numbers are up from last season, it's important to consider Florida State could have zero senior starters in its first playoff game. Standout defensive tackle Eddie Goldman suffered an ankle injury in the ACC championship, and his status for the playoff games is uncertain. If Goldman can't play, that's a huge blow for a defensive line that is already without Nile Lawrence-Stample, who's out for the season.
Injuries also hit the linebacking corps hard, including ailments to junior Terrance Smith and redshirt freshman Matthew Thomas. It's possible the time off will benefit Florida State's defense more than any other unit in the four-team playoff.
3. Freshman talent on offense
The Seminoles have veteran playmakers like seniors Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O'Leary, but the time to prepare for the playoffs will help coach Jimbo Fisher develop some of the team's young talent.
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Running back Dalvin Cook emerged as the team's top running back over the second half of the season and finished the year with 905 yards and eight scores. The true freshman from Miami gashed Georgia Tech for 177 yards and rushed for 144 yards against Florida.
In addition to Cook's emergence, the receiving corps features an emerging star in freshman Travis Rudolph (32 catches for 459 yards), and true freshman Roderick Johnson is now the team's starting left tackle. All three players have been major contributors over the last half of the season, and with the additional time to prepare, all three will be more comfortable in Florida State's offense. That's a scary thought for the rest of the playoff teams.
4. Experience winning close games
The knock on Florida State's resume heading into the national championship last year was the lack of close wins. The Seminoles dispelled that narrative after scoring a late touchdown to beat Auburn in the BCS Championship Game.
A year later, the narrative on coach Jimbo Fisher's team is the Seminoles are simply winning too many close games. Regardless of whether that should be held against Florida State in the rankings, it could come in handy in the playoff. Florida State won seven games by a touchdown or less and only two of its final seven matchups were decided by more than 10 points. If the Seminoles are locked into another tight matchup in the playoff, this team has the experience and confidence to overcome a late deficit.
5. Best kicker in college football
If Florida State plays another close game, kicker Roberto Aguayo could be a difference-maker. Yes, that's right -- we're highlighting a kicker. The sophomore is the best kicker in the nation and the defending Lou Groza Award winner.
Aguayo connected on 25 of 27 field goals this season, including 9 of 11 attempts from 40 yards or more. Both Alabama and Oregon have struggled at times with their field goal attempts in 2014. If either team is locked into a close game with Florida State, Aguayo's ability to hit 50-yard attempts is a valuable asset for coach Fisher.