Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston (5) smiles and celebrates with offensive linesman Tre’ Jackson (54) and safety Philip Doumar (57) after they scored a touchdown against the Florida Gators during the second half at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Florida State can punch their ticket to the BCS National Championship Game with a victory over Duke tonight. (Reuters)
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.
With quarterback and ACC Rookie of the Year Jameis Winston cleared of legal trouble on Thursday, he’ll play tonight 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. However, they can’t overlook the red-hot Blue Devils, who have won eight in a row and will play for the ACC championship for the first time.
The Seminoles 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.”