Following Saturday’s 51-14 thrashing of third-ranked Clemson on Saturday night, Florida State has ascended to third in both human polls and second in the BCS. The Seminoles put up the most points ever by an opposing team at Memorial Stadium on Saturday while winning at “Death Valley” for the first time since 2001. With the victory, Florida State extended the nation’s longest bowl streak while improving to 6-0 for the first time since 1999, the last year the Seminoles claimed a national championship.
There was little not to be impressed about on Saturday as a balanced offensive attack for Florida State put up 565 yards while the Florida State defense forced four Clemson turnovers. In a contest that many felt would be the Seminoles’ toughest test, Florida State passed with flying colors.
Florida State entered Saturday’s game winning by an average of 42 points-per-game, but its legitimacy was still in question. Maryland, a team that Florida State blanked 63-0, was the only ranked opponent that Florida State had faced while many scoffed at victories over the likes of Nevada, Bethune-Cookman and even Boston College. But after a 37-point victory over the third-ranked team in America on Saturday night, it has become clear that the Seminoles are back.
Despite a total team effort, Florida State redshirt freshman Jameis Winston was the star of Saturday night’s show and has become the face of the Seminoles to this point in 2013. Winston passed for 444 yards, a career-high, while accounting for four total touchdowns in the win over Clemson. Winston has completed more than 71 percent of his passes this season and has accounted for 23 total touchdowns compared to just three interceptions. Saturday was not only a statement game for Florida State, but for Winston in his quest to become just the second freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.
Winston however, is surrounded by an outstanding supporting cast. The trio at running back of Devonta Freeman, James Wilder Jr. and Karlos Williams is arguably one of the best backfields in the country. Senior wide receiver Kenny Shaw and junior Rashad Greene are each on pace to record over 1,000 yards receiving for the Seminoles this season, something that hasn’t been done at FSU in more than a decade. Kelvin Benjamin, a sophomore wide receiver, is a match-up nightmare at 6’5″ while tight end Nick O’Leary had a career night against the Tigers going for a team-high 161 yards receiving. O’Leary also has five touchdown receptions which is tied for second nationally among tight ends.
The Florida State offensive line that was a real weakness just a few short years ago has become a strength. The pass protection of tackles Cameron Erving and Bobby Hart has shut down even the ACC’s best pass rushers while guard Tre’ Jackson is perhaps one of the best in the country. Center Bryan Stork is the lone senior up front for Florida State and has brought leadership as a four-year starter.
First-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has moved away from Florida State’s traditional 4-3 scheme that was in place for years to a 3-4 look. A former position coach at Alabama, Pruitt had never served as a defensive coordinator at a FBS school prior to this season. Pruitt’s new scheme was thought to have huge question marks after a 48-34 win over Boston College earlier in the year in which the Seminoles allowed nearly 400 yards of offense with 200 coming on the ground.
In the two games since, both against ranked opponents, Pruitt’s defense has yielded a grand total of 14 points while completely shutting down a high-powered Clemson attack on Saturday. The Florida State defense has also held two of the ACC’s elite playmakers in Maryland’s Stefon Diggs and Clemson’s Sammy Watkins to fewer than 100 combined yards of offense.
Pruitt’s scheme has forced the Seminole defense to become versatile and to this point, it has been. Senior linebackers Christian Jones and Telvin Smith as well as senior cornerback Lamarcus Joyner have stepped into leadership roles while anchoring a defense that is giving up just over 12 points-per-game. The combination of the seniors as well as talented young players such as defensive ends Chris Casher and Mario Edwards Jr. and defensive backs Jalen Ramsey and P.J. Williams has Florida State with one of the strongest defensive units in the country. Timmy Jernigan, a junior defensive tackle, has blossomed into one of the premier interior defensive linemen in the country and has been arguably the Seminoles’ defensive MVP this season.
When head coach Jimbo Fisher replaced the legendary Bobby Bowden following the 2009 season, the legend gave simple advice to his former offensive coordinator and head coach in-waiting, “do it your own way”. To this point, Fisher has. Although fans have called on Fisher to hire a legitimate offensive coordinator, Fisher has continued to assume the play-calling duties as head coach.
Despite a 31-10 record through three seasons, Fisher had not been fully embraced by the fan base. Fisher delivered Florida State two 10-win seasons in his first three seasons, something that had not been done at Florida State in the six years prior to his tenure. Last season, Fisher coached FSU to its first ACC title in seven years and its first BCS bowl victory in 13, but a loss to N.C. State as well as home losses to Virginia in 2011 and North Carolina in 2010, had many questioning if Fisher could ever get the Seminoles back to the level of competing for national championships.
The answer to that question has become a resounding yes. At 6-0 for the first time in 14 years, Florida State is a contender to win far more than just the ACC. The Seminoles have a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback, something they had in each of their two national championship seasons, and a defense that is deep, fast and talented.
In a state rich with high school football talent, Florida State has become the premier program of the Sunshine State. Not hurting the fact is that Fisher is a combined 5-1 against in-state rivals Florida and Miami as compared to 1-5, what Florida State was in the three previous seasons prior to Fisher taking the head coaching reigns.
The Seminoles are ranked second in the BCS, tying the highest that any ACC school has been since the conference expanded prior to the 2004 season. With a roster loaded with depth and All-American talent in addition to what looks to be another top 10 incoming recruiting class, the glory days have returned to Tallahassee. Whether or not the Seminoles have staying power will be seen in the years to come and as fans fortunate enough to have watched the great FSU teams of the 1990s know, nothing lasts forever. With still half a season to play, the Seminoles are more than good enough to make a run at a third national championship and after Saturday’s 51-14 victory, another question can be put to rest. Florida State is all the way back.