Florida State not overlooking upstart Duke

The Sports Xchange

December 03, 2013 at 7:44 pm.


FSU tailback Devonta Freeman (8) is one of many weapons for an opposing defense to deal with when facing the Seminoles offense. (John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports)

For more than three months, Florida State head football coach Jimbo Fisher has opened every Monday press conference with a nearly identical statement.

“Very proud … ” the fourth-year FSU head coach begins in his friendly southern twang. “Another great victory by our guys.”

Only this week, Fisher never meant it more.

After the school’s first 12-0 regular season in 14 years — punctuated with a 30-point whipping of rival Florida this past Saturday and a move to No. 1 in the AP top-25 poll and the BCS rankings — Fisher and the Seminoles could finally hand out a few pats on the back and let out a deep exhale.

But only for a moment.

The week to come could bring about many things that’ll set the Florida State football program on a smooth path to Pasadena, Calif., and the BCS national championship game — or those same things could send the program into a tailspin.

And they’re all centered on the potential legal troubles of quarterback and ACC Rookie of the Year Jameis Winston.

The redshirt freshman and clear-cut Heisman Trophy frontrunner — whose status remains under a cloud of uncertainty due to his alleged involvement in a 2012 sexual assault case that has yet to be resolved — could either charged or exonerated by the end of the week by the Florida state attorney in Tallahassee, Willie Meggs, according to multiple reports Monday.

If Winston is cleared, he’ll suit up for the third straight game since the 11-month-old accusations resurfaced and play Saturday night against heavy underdog and 20th-ranked Duke (10-2 overall, 6-2 in the ACC) in the ACC championship game.

A win in Charlotte, N.C., and FSU will surely play for all the marbles on Jan. 6.

But if Winston is charged with a felony and immediately suspended per FSU’s student-athlete conduct policy, it won’t just make the path to the national title tough — that path may very well end against the red-hot Blue Devils, who have won eight in a row and will play for the ACC championship for the first time.

No one at Florida State is allowed — or willing — to discuss the possibility of missing Winston as the decision looms. But they were more than willing to discuss what it will take to beat the final opponent standing in the Seminoles’ way of playing for the program’s third national crown.

“They’re very disciplined. They’re very smart, they play intelligent, and teams like that you’ve got to watch out for,” FSU senior center Bryan Stork said of Duke. “We’re not taking them lightly.”

Added senior CB LaMarcus Joyner: “It’s about the power of preparation. We understand what’s at stake — but we understood that all year. I mean, it’s business as usual. We’re going to game plan for these guys, going to respect them, go out there and give them our ‘A’ game because we know they’re going to do the same. We expect to have a great, competitive ACC championship game.”

FSU, the reigning ACC champ, ran away with the Atlantic Division title with an 8-0 conference record. Duke, meanwhile, took a more dramatic route on its way to representing the Coastal Division, losing its first two ACC games of the season before winning six straight, including four by seven points of less, as the race went down to the final day of the regular season.

The Blue Devils’ 27-25 win at in-state rival North Carolina last Saturday assured them a spot in the conference championship in Charlotte, which becomes essentially a home game for Duke. The reward, however, for making program history and monumental strides in head coach David Cutcliffe’s sixth year at Duke will end up being a 29-point thrashing — or possibly worse — by the No. 1 team in the country, according to oddsmakers.

Cutcliffe didn’t laugh out loud when he heard the line for the ACC title game, but he was shaking his head at the fact many still think the Blue Devils’ success is nothing more than a fluke, even if Cutcliffe predicted three years ago that — by 2013 — Duke football would be in the very spot it’s in now.

“Well, probably not until this week, in some cases, and maybe they still are,” Cutcliffe said when asked if he thought those same people who laughed at his prediction in 2010 had finally stopped. “These guys deserve more respect than what people have given them really overall because we’re not just fortunate. We’re a good football team. We wouldn’t be where we were if we weren’t good.”

Being good is one thing. Being great is another. And not many are denying that what Florida State has done this season puts the Seminoles on another level.

What the Seminoles have accomplished in Fisher’s fourth year has been enough to make a notoriously tough coach use words like “very proud” about this team week after week. And he hopes to say it twice more.

But no matter what happens with his star player in the next few days — or in Charlotte on Saturday night — either way, it’s been a year to remember for Florida State.

And Fisher knows it. So let the chips fall where they may.

“I’m very happy and blessed,” Fisher said. “We’re all very thankful.”



–To the surprise of no one, FSU led the ACC with end-of-the-year accolades, including seven All-ACC first-team honors. Leading that list was freshman QB Jameis Winston, who is No. 1 in the nation in pass efficiency (192.6) and leads the ACC in passing yardage (3,490) and touchdown passes (35), shattering the school record for TDs in a season. Along with Winston on the first team was redshirt junior LT Cameron Erving, redshirt senior C Bryan Stork, junior RG Tre’ Jackson, junior WR Rashad Greene, junior RB Devonta Freeman and senior CB Lamarcus Joyner. The only surprising thing was that Joyner was the only FSU defender to make the first team despite the fact the Seminoles’ defense ranks first in the nation in several key defensive categories. FSU’s second-teamers included freshman K Roberto Aguayo, junior TE and Mackey Award finalist Nick O’Leary, senior LBs Telvin Smith and Christian Jones, junior NG Timmy Jernigan and senior S Terrence Brooks. Named to the third team were redshirt sophomore WR Kelvin Benjamin, who leads the ACC with 12 TD catches, junior LG Josue Matias, sophomore DE Mario Edwards Jr. and freshman S Nate Andrews. Seminoles earning honorable mention honors were junior RB James Wilder Jr., senior WR Kenny Shaw, junior RT Bobby Hart, redshirt sophomore LB Terrance Smith and sophomore CB P.J. Williams.

–Seminoles defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has proven his worth. When Kentucky hired away FSU’s Mark Stoops, the architect of last season’s No. 1-ranked FBS defense, there was some trepidation as to whether Jeremy Pruitt — Alabama’s DBs coach who had never been a defensive coordinator — was really the answer. Well, any early critics were officially silenced Monday when Pruitt, who won two national titles with the Tide, was named one of five finalists for the 2013 Broyles Award, given to the nation’s top assistant coach. Pruitt, in his first year with BCS No. 1 Florida State, arguably has an even better defense than Stoops did a year ago — and that team lost seven players to the NFL. The 2013 Seminoles lead the nation in scoring defense (11.0 points per game), pass defense (153.0 yards per game), interceptions (23), rushing touchdowns allowed (four) and defensive touchdowns (eight). Some at FSU feel Pruitt’s defense is even more dominant than last year’s. “Our defense is like an offense,” senior safety Terrence Brooks said. “We have so many different formations allowing us to do all kinds of things. Coach Pruitt does a great job of disguising our looks so they never know where the blitz is coming from. And we take it personal when teams step onto our field and think they can play with us. That’s the kind of mentality you have to have to be great.”

QUOTE TO NOTE: “Well, the thing is, Jameis is a competitor. Sometimes it gets the best of him a little bit. I’ve never seen somebody like him get up in Jimbo’s face like that, but Jimbo calmed him down. His competitiveness is out the window. I’ve never met somebody so competitive. For the most part, I like his spark he brings to the offense, his competitiveness. That gets us going.” — Bryan Stork, FSU senior center on his reaction to seeing freshman QB James Winston blow up at his coaching staff during a miscommunication last weekend against Florida, resulting in a timeout being called and head coach Jimbo Fisher grabbing Winston by the facemask and giving him a piece of his mind.