Florida State receiver and former Westover star Rashad Greene celebrates after scoring a touchdown last week against Clemson. Greene and the Seminoles are looking for their first 7-0 start since winning the national title in 1999. (Reuters)
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Eleven months ago, Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher openly questioned the BCS system and how it determined which teams play for the national championship each year.
“I think it stinks,” Fisher said in November 2012. “I think the BCS and how we do it with these computers, I think we’re ruining it.”
Eleven months later, after FSU debuted at No. 2 in the first BCS poll of 2013 — that stance had softened just a tad.
“Oh, I love the computers now,” the coach said with a wink and a grin during his weekly news conference.
You better believe he does.
Despite being ranked No. 3 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll behind No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Oregon, Florida State (6-0) leapfrogged the Ducks in the initial BCS rankings following this past Saturday’s 51-14 rout of then-No. 3 Clemson on the Tigers’ home turf.
The game was billed as the biggest in the ACC’s 60-year history, but FSU did all of the history-making, scoring the most points ever by an opposing team in Death Valley thanks to another remarkable performance by Heisman candidate Jameis Winston. The 19-year-old redshirt freshman threw for a career-high 444 yards and 3 touchdowns and ran for another, only fueling hype to his campaign as the best player in the land after reigning winner Johnny Manziel of No. 7 Texas A&M lost earlier Saturday to Auburn.
That same hype surrounded last year’s senior quarterback EJ Manuel, a first-round NFL draft pick, but it came crashing down when the Seminoles lost a shocker during the middle of last season against N.C. State — today’s opponent.
FSU, which was 6-0 and ranked No. 3 at the time, led 16-0 at halftime, but the nation’s No. 1 defense gave up 17 unanswered points in the second half and Manuel and the Seminoles failed to score again in the 17-16 stunning defeat.
Fisher doesn’t see a repeat this weekend with Winston, who the coach says is mature beyond his years and handling the Heisman pressure with poise uncommon for a freshman.
“If you want to be in the Heisman race, keep winning games. As much as it is about great play, it’s about your team winning games and being successful,” Fisher said. “I think he will (stay focused on winning) and I think our team will. I think our program is more mature that way and it will help Jameis and his maturity as he goes down the road.”
Fisher called all the media attention that has, and will, surround Winston and the Seminoles “clutter.” And if there wasn’t enough clutter already, Florida State’s unbeaten 4-0 ACC record will be put on the line Saturday against the Wolfpack (3-3, 0-3) on a day when the program will also welcome the return of legendary former head coach Bobby Bowden.
The NCAA’s all-time winningest Division I head coach (389 victories) is returning to Tallahassee to be recognized in a pregame ceremony since he was, by most accounts, forced to retire in 2009 at the age of 80 with the once-proud program in decline. Fisher, who was Bowden’s offensive coordinator at the time and the head-coach-in-waiting, immediately took over.
Four years later, Bowden is returning one weekend after the program’s first signature win in more than a decade and with many saying the Seminoles’ resurgence to the top of the college football world that Fisher promised when he took over is finally complete.
Either way, everyone around Florida State is glad to have Bowden back.
“It really does (mean a lot that the school is honoring him),” fifth-year senior center Bryan Stork, one of the few remaining players still on the team who played for Bowden in his final season, said Monday. “I remember the day he retired - it rained for three days straight in Tallahassee. He never came around after that and I haven’t seen him in a long time. He’s a legend … and I was lucky enough to be on the team for a year.”
Shortly before the 3:30 p.m. kickoff against N.C. State, FSU will bring Bowden and close to 300 of his former players onto the field, where a video montage will be shown and a brief ceremony conducted to honor the man who built the Seminoles’ football program into the national powerhouse it is today. It will conclude with Bowden planting the Seminoles’ ceremonial lit Indian spear at the 50-yard line of the appropriately named “Bobby Bowden Field.”
Fisher, who helped mend fences between Bowden and the university after his controversial departure, called it a day he’s been waiting for.
“It’s what’s right about the world. He made Florida State. He was Florida State. That’s why we have this stadium, the facilities, that’s why we have academics, that’s why we have the school. That’s why we have everything,” Fisher said. “Coach Bowden allowed Florida State to open the doors and raise money and be great to come to Florida State, not just athletically, but academically. I think it’s what’s right about the world. It’s what’s right for Florida State and it’s great for college football. I’m extremely excited because he was my hero too.”
N.C. State, which is coming off a bye week and is in the midst of a two-game losing streak, will finally get back the talents of star quarterback Brandon Mitchell for this game. The Arkansas transfer broke his foot in the season opener, giving way to backup Pete Thomas, who has thrown eight interceptions and just two touchdowns in five games since.
Mitchell and the Wolfpack are understandably 28-point underdogs to the Seminoles, who enter the game with the nation’s 5th-ranked offense that’s averaging 53.2 points a game and FBS’ 6th-ranked defense, which is giving up an average of just 12.3 points an outing — third-lowest in the country.
A win today will set up Florida State’s second massive Top 10 showdown in three weeks when No. 7 and bitter rival Miami comes to town Nov. 2 — provided there’s not another N.C. State letdown.
Fisher assured there won’t be.
“Feel that pain (of that loss),” Fisher said he reminded his team this week. “Pain is preparation. You want that pain again? Don’t prepare. If you want to eliminate that pain, prepare to take care of business.”