TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — It wasn’t long after Florida State’s 62-7 beat down of Nevada last Saturday when head coach Jimbo Fisher went looking for another score.
And then he found it: Bethune-Cookman 33, Florida International 14.
“Dadgumit,” Fisher said shaking his head as he recalled his reaction to seeing today’s opponent, an FCS school, become just the latest to upset an FBS program this season. “They’re a good football team.”
And that’s what worries Fisher, whose 8th-ranked Seminoles (2-0) will host the fellow-unbeaten Wildcats (3-0) for the first time today, looking to avoid becoming the 10th FBS program to lose to an FCS team so far this season.
David hasn’t toppled Goliath just once this 2013. It’s happened nine times already — in only three weeks.
“It does not surprise me,” Fisher continued. “(Bethune-Cookman has) done a great job, (head coach Brian Jenkins) has done a tremendous job, and they’ve got athletes. And when you see the film, they’re a very well-coached football team.”
Fisher knows the days of those gimme-wins — when an FCS team is paid hundreds of thousands, sometimes more than a million, to be an FBS program’s season opener or homecoming opponent, then promptly get demolished — are over. Just ask San Diego State, Connecticut, Kansas State, South Florida, Oregon State, Iowa State, Georgia State, South Alabama and FIU. They all found out the hard way.
“They’re 3-0 and averaging 38 points a game and giving up 9,” Fisher pointed out about the Wildcats, before raising an eyebrow and adding: “That’s less than we are.”
Of course, the Wildcats’ caliber of early season opponents (FCS programs Tennessee State and Virginia Union, as well as FIU) versus Florida State’s (Pitt and Nevada) isn’t exactly comparing apples to apples. And Bethune-Cookman also doesn’t have the second-most efficient passer in the nation. He’s at FSU.
The kids are calling him “Famous” Jameis Winston, and he no longer needs much of an introduction. The redshirt freshman will come into today’s game against the Wildcats having completed 40 of 45 passes in two games to a receiving corps that has yet to record a drop. Just how accurate is Winston? He has more touchdowns (6) than incompletions (5) so far in his college career, and the former No. 1 high school QB recruit in the nation is already being mentioned as an early candidate for the Heisman Trophy after rebounding from a slow start — and a 7-3 deficit — last Saturday against Nevada to help lead FSU to 59 straight points.
“You’ve got to remember,” Fisher began, “he’s just a freshman.”
It helps that a Seminoles team which lost 11 players to the NFL this offseason, including seven on defense, doesn’t appear to have missed a beat. They’ve already got the FBS’ fifth-ranked scoring offense (103 points) and boast the seventh-ranked total offense in the country, despite playing one less game than the majority of the teams in the Top 50 of both lists. And the defense, under new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, is shining as well, ranking in the Top 10 so far in first downs allowed (T-3rd), points allowed (T-8th), red zone defense (T-8th) and total defense (8th). Preseason All-ACC First-Team selection Lamarcus Joyner leads the way with 15 tackles and two sacks.
Jenkins may not have as much talent on paper as FSU, but he does have a program that is coming off its second MEAC Championship in the last three years. And Fisher isn’t just blowing smoke when he calls the Wildcats “tremendous” and “very good.” Bethune-Cookman currently leads the FCS in total defense, is second in total points allowed and ranks sixth in passing defense. The Wildcats are led by Jarkevis Fields, who already has 23 total tackles and a sack and is making scouts everywhere wondering how this 6-foot, 220-pound linebacker slipped under the radar. Fields and the Wildcats, however, have never faced a team as deep at running back as Florida State, which has a rushing attack that scored six touchdowns and gutted Nevada for 377 yards last week.
Saying who leads the Seminoles’ backfield appears it will change from week-to-week with juniors Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. getting most of the reps in Week 1 against Pittsburgh before giving way to the newest addition to the backfield, fellow junior Karlos Williams (6-1, 223 pounds). Williams, who is a recently converted safety, reeled off a team-high 110 yards on eight carries, including a 65-yard score against the Wolf Pack the first time he touched the ball this season.
“Of course I don’t expect to have a first game like that,” Williams said. “It’s always our goal to move the chains and get chunks of yards to get a first down, but it was a good first game.”
Jenkins is well aware of FSU’s “three-headed monster.”
“I see tremendous football players. I see a lot of speed and explosion. Ain’t no bones about it, we know we’re up against three of the best running backs in the nation,” he said during his weekly teleconference Tuesday. “They’ve made plays time and time again. I don’t think you can ever stop a group of guys like we’re going to see, you just want to hopefully put yourself in position to slow them down and not give them big plays. But, I mean, when you look at film and you see this three-headed monster they have, you can’t do nothing but go, ‘Wow.’ “
Bethune-Cookman, a historically black college located just four hours south of Tallahassee in Daytona Beach, will likely go as far in this game as running back Anthony Jordan will take them. The 6-2, 220-pound junior rumbled for 151 yards on 21 carries against FIU and one score to earn MEAC Player of the Week honors.
If Jordan has another big game against FSU, he’ll no doubt win the award again. And Fisher said in the year of the FCS-FBS upset, the Seminoles must be prepared for anything.
“They went out and beat FIU, 34-13, and handled them very easily. Great win for them. They’ve been in the top of their league for the last three years,” Fisher said. “Coaches have done a tremendous job coaching them. They’ve got a great group, they’re athletic. They’re running the ball very well on offense. (They are) very diverse on defense and sound in the kicking game, so we’ll have our hands full again and have another great opponent coming in.”