PREVIEW: No. 8 Noles not taking Terps for granted

Jimbo Fisher

Jimbo Fisher

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher wants to throw the stat out the window about the Seminoles’ six straight wins against Maryland in advance of today’s mammoth ACC and top-25 matchup between the two undefeated teams.

“It’s going to be a great game,” he said Monday.

And that’s something Fisher will be saying a lot over the next month.

Today against No. 25 Maryland will kick off a ridiculously tough stretch of three games during the next four weeks that will either make or break the season for the No. 8 Seminoles, who have a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate in freshman quarterback Jameis Winston and may very well be on the path to a second straight ACC title and spot in a BCS bowl — maybe even the big one — if they’re able to survive each test.

It starts with the surprisingly dangerous 4-0 Terrapins, who were picked to finish second to last in the ACC’s Atlantic Division but have emerged as one of the conference’s top teams. Then the focus shifts two weeks later to an Oct. 19 showdown at No. 3 Clemson, where Florida State hasn’t won a game in more than a decade. A Nov. 2 duel at home with rival and No. 14 Miami will then await FSU (4-0 overall, 2-0 in the ACC), which could easily be ranked as high as No. 3 by the time the dust settles — should they emerge unscathed, of course.

But there is always danger in looking ahead. Just ask the 2012 Seminoles, who certainly overlooked N.C. State last season and saw their No. 3 ranking and perfect 6-0 record go up in flames following a second-half meltdown that ended in a 17-16 loss, altering the course of their otherwise promising season.

And that’s why Fisher can’t afford to have his team thinking beyond Maryland, which is playing its conference opener tiday and boasts the ACC’s No. 2 offense and defense — two statistics that shouldn’t surprise anybody, the coach said.

“They have good players. I learned in this game — you never know. I don’t listen to those preseason polls,” Fisher said of Maryland being picked by media members to finish fifth out of six teams during the ACC Football Kickoff event in July. “(Head coach) Randy Edsall is a heck of a football coach. … It doesn’t surprise me (they’re 4-0 and ranked 25th).

“In every conference standing, they’re (No.) one or two in every statistical category across the board, playing very good football.”

The same could be same for Florida State, which is just ahead of Maryland in the ACC’s total offense category at No. 1 and just behind the Terrapins on defense at No. 4. It also doesn’t hurt that FSU has Winston, the teenage phenom from Bessemer, Ala., who has lived up to every bit of the hype that began as the nation’s former No. 1 high school QB recruit and has only gotten bigger.

“It’s amazing playing with a guy like that,” Seminoles leading receiver Kenny Shaw, a senior, said of his 19-year-old quarterback, who started earning nicknames like “Famous Jameis” and “The Chosen One” after the first pass of his FSU career in the spring game went for a 58-yard touchdown. He has slowly added to that growing legend with plays like his 55-yard touchdown pass to Shaw with no time left on the clock before halftime of last week’s 48-34 win at Boston College. In that game, the Eagles went ahead early, 17-3, before watching helplessly as Winston led the Florida State offense to 35 unanswered points, including four Winston TD passes.

Winston finished 17 of 28 for 330 yards and four scores, and he also ran 14 times for a team-high 67 yards, earning ACC Player of the Week honors.

“(Jameis) did a great job of keeping his eyes up, finding throws or making decisions to run. That is a reaction,” Fisher said his young QB’s advanced skillset. “You had to read coverage and take what they give you, and you had to react. That’s poise under pressure, and he did a nice job of that.”

Through the first four games of his college career, Winston has broken nearly every school record for the best start by a freshman quarterback and is currently the nation’s second-most efficient passer, all while leading the NCAA’s fourth-ranked scoring offense (51.2 points per game). His counterpart, Maryland’s C.J. Brown, may be just as dangerous. He leads the ACC in total offense and rushing touchdowns, and his top wideout is a recruit Fisher once tried to lure to Florida State - five-star prospect Stephon Diggs, who is averaging a conference-best 22 yards a catch.

And while oddsmakers seem to think this game will be another cakewalk for the Seminoles — making them 16-point favorites — Florida State’s defense regressed last week when it yielded 34 points to a Boston College team that came in with the nation’s 106th-ranked scoring offense. Couple that with the fact that FSU has not yet faced a defense as good as Maryland’s — the Terps are sixth nationally and are coming off a 37-0 shutout of West Virginia — and Edsall seems to agree with Fisher about this game being truly “great.”

Edsall also knows, just like most of the rest of FSU’s opponents this season, facing the Seminoles may be his team’s toughest test all year.

“We’ve got a tremendous opportunity and a tremendous challenge as we head down to Tallahassee to take on Florida State,” Edsall said Tuesday of FSU, before turning his attention to what the Terps must do to be the first team to stop Winston. “He is just a very good player. … He’s a guy that has the ability to throw the ball and has the ability to do something with his feet. When you get that type of quarterback, it makes the job very difficult for the defense.”