Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston (5) smiles and celebrates with offensive linesman Tre' Jackson (54) and safety Philip Doumar (57) after a touchdown on Saturday. (Reuters)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston threw two touchdown passes to Kelvin Benjamin late in the second quarter to break open a defensive struggle and the second-ranked Seminoles finished the regular season unbeaten with a 37-7 victory over Florida on Saturday in front of 90,454 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Florida State (12-0) set the school record for regular-season victories and matched the record for total victories set in 1993 and 1999, when the Seminoles won their first two national championships.
The Seminoles have beaten Florida three out of four years under coach Jimbo Fisher, after the Gators won six in a row with coach Urban Meyer.
Winston completed 19-of-31 passes for 327 yards, his seventh game of 300 or more this season. Benjamin caught nine passes for 212 yards. The two also connected on a four-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, and a 56-yard pass play in the third quarter set up an 11-yard touchdown run by Devonta Freeman.
"We had some early difficulties, but we kept sawing wood," Fisher said.
Florida State recovered two fumbles, both by quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg, and held the Gators (4-8) to 193 total yards. The two turnovers led to two field goals by Roberto Aquayo.
Mornhinweg, who was the Gators' third-team quarterback when the season started and had not taken a snap in a game until three weeks ago, finished 20-of-25 for 115 yards.
Mornhinweg's five-yard touchdown pass to fullback Hunter Joyer with 13:39 left in the game ended a 14-play, 83-yard drive and kept alive the nation's second-longest streak of games without a shutout at 320.
"I thought our guys continued to fight and play yard, but we didn't have enough bullets in the gun," Florida coach Will Muschamp said.
The Seminoles will play Duke in the ACC Championship game on Dec. 7 in Charlotte, N.C. Florida State remained on track to play in the BCS National Championship on Jan. 6 in Pasadena, Calif.
However, its immediate future remains murky as Tallahassee state attorney Willie Meggs continues to investigate a sexual assault allegation against Winston.
Meggs said last week that he might need until Dec. 10 to complete his investigation, after the final BCS rankings are released and after the deadline for Heisman Trophy voting.
The Gators ended their season with a seven-game losing streak and a 4-8 record, the first losing mark since going 0-10-1 in 1979.
Florida won't go to a bowl game for the first time since 1990, when the Gators were 9-2 but ineligible because of NCAA sanctions.
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley gave Muschamp another vote of confidence during a pregame news conference in the stadium press box, saying that Muschamp "will fix this thing."
The Gators had 29 players miss one or more games because if injury, including their first two quarterbacks, Jeff Driskel and Tyler Murphy, plus first-team tailback Matt Jones, team defensive leader Dominique Easley and three starting offensive tackles.
Nursing a 3-0 lead and harassed by the Gators' defensive front most of the first half, Winston finally started getting better protection and fired scoring passes of 45 yards with 4:24 left in the half and 29 yards with 24 seconds remaining.
On the first score, Benjamin caught the ball over the middle and broke three tackles before getting into the end zone.
That score ended a 12-play, 96 yard drive on which Winston converted a third-and-26 with a 27-yard completion to wide receiver Kenny Shaw.
"He gets more competitive when he gets hit a lot," Fisher said.
After forcing a punt, Winston guided the Seminoles to the second score of the quarter by going 74 yards in 1:42. Winston completed 5-of-6 passes for 69 yards on the march, with a 22-yard pass to tight end Nick O'Leary converting a third-and-three the play before Benjamin's touchdown catch in the left corner of the end zone made it 17-0 at halftime.
Winston had completed only 4-of-7 passes for 35 yards before the two touchdown drives. He hit on 9-of-13 for 173 yards in staking the Seminoles to their halftime lead.
Winston came back to Benjamin time and again after Benjamin had an early drop on a pass that looked like a sure touchdown.
"He told me, 'Forget about it,'" Benjamin said of his quarterback. "This team is like that. We don't yell at each other. We pick each other up."
Before those two touchdown plays, Florida State could manage only a 49-yard field goal by Aguayo. He added another from 40 yards in the third quarter and 28 yards in the fourth quarter.