Florida State completed a 14-0 season on Monday night by erasing an 18-point deficit to down Auburn, 34-31, to win the BCS National Championship. Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston’s two-yard toss to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds remaining would be the game-winner as the Seminoles claimed the third national championship in school history and second perfect season.
Despite facing little adversity on the field throughout the course of the 2013 regular season, Florida State showed a mental makeup that not everyone knew it had. After what many had called a lost decade, FSU is finally back on top making 2013 the year of the Seminole.
FSU entered the 2013 season with a lot of momentum. Florida State was coming off of its first ACC championship in seven years and just its second victory in a BCS bowl. Nevertheless, the Seminoles have the unenviable task of replacing 11 NFL draft picks including starting quarterback E.J. Manuel. The reigns at the position would be turned over to a freshman two-sport star named Jameis Winston. As the preseason poll was released, FSU found itself ranked 11th in the AP Poll and 12th in the Coaches.
In the Beginning…
Florida State was the last team to play in Week 1 as the Seminoles met ACC newcomer Pittsburgh on Labor Day. With a history of not performing well on Labor Day night, the Seminoles overcame a slow start to defeat the Panthers 41-13.
The story of the night however was Winston. In his first collegiate start, the redshirt freshman misfired on just two of his 27 pass attempts finishing the night with 356 yards passing and five total touchdowns.
The First Scare
After rolling through Nevada and Bethune-Cookman, Florida State found itself on the short end of a 17-3 score against a Boston College team that had won just two games in 2012. Led by running back Andre Williams, the Eagles moved the ball at will through the early parts of the game.
FSU was able to draw even late in the first half and with the Seminoles scrambling to get a play off at the end of the half, the mystique of Jameis Winston grew. On the final play of the half, Winston shook off multiple sacks and heaved a prayer for Kenny Shaw. Shaw reeled in a 55-yard touchdown and the Seminoles never looked back.
The Florida State defense however, had become a perceived weakness. FSU allowed the Eagles to rush for 200 yards and put up 34 points in a 48-34 Seminole win.
A Perceived Stumbling Block
After a porous defensive effort against Boston College, Maryland came to Doak Campbell Stadium on October 5th in what many perceived as a potential stumbling block for Florida State. The Terrapins were 4-0, ranked in the top 25 and coming off of an impressive 37-0 shutout of West Virginia.
In an effort reminiscent of the great FSU teams of the 1990′s, the Seminoles delivered an old school Florida State beatdown. Winston passed for 393 yards and five touchdowns while defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s unit held the Terrapins to 234 yards of offense and just 2-for-15 on third down conversion attempts. Maryland went home losers that day, 63-0.
When it Became Real
Few would have guessed it prior to the season, but the first meeting of top 5 teams in 2013 took place in the ACC. Ranked fifth in the country, Florida State went into Death Valley, a place it had not won in a dozen years, to face #3 Clemson. It took only four plays from scrimmage to know how the night was going to go.
On Clemson’s opening snap, Florida State cornerback Lamarcus Joyner stripped tight end Stanton Seckinger of the football giving FSU its first forced turnover of the night. It took the Seminoles just three plays to strike pay-dirt as Winston found Kelvin Benjamin in the corner of the end zone.
By halftime, FSU led 27-7 and the points just kept coming. Florida State built a 51-7 lead before collecting a 51-14 victory while putting up the most points ever by a visitor at Death Valley.
Though Winston passed for a career-high 444 yards and accounted for four total touchdowns, the night belonged to Joyner. Joyner forced two fumbles on the evening and also came up with an interception on a play in which the Seminoles had just 10 men on defense. The ACC Atlantic was Florida State’s to lose, the Seminoles were 6-0 for the first time since 1999 and the prospect of playing for a national championship seemed to be a reality.
A Rivalry Peaking Once Again?
Despite blowing through Clemson on October 19th, the Seminoles weren’t the only ACC school still unbeaten as November rolled around. In fact, they weren’t the only school from Florida undefeated either. With both teams 7-0, third-ranked Florida State played host to rival and #7 Miami on November 2nd. Both teams still had a national championship in sight and early on, it was evident that the Hurricanes were there to play.
Prior to the contest, Winston had not committed multiple turnovers in a single game. In the first half, Winston was intercepted twice with each leading to a Miami touchdown. At the half, the Hurricanes were within striking distance, 21-14.
The second half however, would belong to the Florida State defense. P.J. Williams and Nate Andrews each recorded interceptions as FSU kept Miami off the scoreboard in the final 30 minutes. Florida State tailback Devonta Freeman, a Miami native that wasn’t recruited by his hometown school, finished the night with 176 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns as the ‘Noles made it four straight victories over Miami, 41-14.
Help From the Outside
Despite being 8-0 and virtually untested, winning out would simply not be enough to land Florida State in the BCS title game. While the BCS standings at the time favored Florida State over Oregon, the remaining schedule left the opportunity for the Ducks to get to the title game. Florida State would need either a loss from Alabama or Oregon to make the trip to Pasadena and on Thursday, November 7th, it came.
Against a Stanford team that handed Oregon its lone loss of 2012, the Ducks fell behind 26-0. Despite a valiant effort to get back in the game, Oregon fell six points short, 26-20. Florida State’s door to Pasadena was wide open.
On the Wednesday of November 13th, it was learned that Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was involved in a sexual assault scandal dating back to December of 2012. Charges were never brought against Winston, but after the story was broke by TMZ, the case was re-opened by state attorney Willie Meggs. Winston’s future was in jeopardy beyond just the football field.
On October 26th, Florida State defeated N.C. State 49-17 in a game in which the starters did not play in the second half. N.C. State was one of two teams to beat Florida State in 2012 and the other was Florida. As the teams met in Gainesville on November 30th, the Seminoles were riding high at 11-0. FSU had beat its previous three opponents, Syracuse, Wake Forest and Idaho, by a combined 198-20 margin.
Meanwhile, Florida was enduring its worst season in more than three decades. The Gators were 4-7 and had lost six straight games including a 26-20 loss to FCS Georgia Southern at home the previous week. Florida however, had defeated the Seminoles in Tallahassee the previous year thanks to five FSU turnovers.
For the first 25 minutes, Florida battled hard trailing by only three points, but two touchdown passes from Winston to Benjamin in the final five minutes of the first half gave the Seminoles a 17-0 cushion at the break. Florida’s only point of consolation would be breaking up the shutout early in the final quarter. Benjamin finished the afternoon with a career-high 211 yards receiving and three touchdowns as FSU completed its first perfect regular season in 14 years.
Winston Not Charged
Two days before Florida State’s ACC Championship match-up with Duke, state attorney Willie Meggs called a press conference to announce that he did not intend to press charges against Seminole quarterback Jameis Winston. The announcement came nearly a year to the date of the allegations.
A Title Defended
The ACC Championship in Charlotte did not feature the likeliest of match-ups. Florida State was looking to win its second straight crown while Duke had won eight straight games after going 18 years without a winning season. For the first time since 2000, FSU was ranked first in the country and the Blue Devils were all that stood between the Seminoles and a trip to Pasadena.
Duke could hang tough for only a quarter. The Blue Devils became the first team to hold Florida State scoreless in the first quarter, but by halftime, the FSU lead was 17-0. Florida State scored three touchdowns in just over a seven-minute span in the third quarter and only a touchdown with 1:01 to play for Duke broke up the shutout. For a second straight year, the Seminoles were ACC champions. The final score: Florida State 45, Duke 7.
One week after Florida State claimed its second straight ACC title, quarterback Jameis Winston sat in New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Winston was the overwhelming favorite entering the evening and when the announcement was made, Winston had become FSU’s third Heisman Trophy winner joining Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke, also quarterbacks. Winston also became the second freshman in as many years to win the award.
Winston not only won the Heisman Trophy, but took home the Davey O’Brien and Walter Camp Awards as well. Senior Bryan Stork won the Rimmington Trophy as the nation’s top center and placekicker Roberto Aguayo became the third Seminole to win the Groza Award.
For All the Marbles
The day of January 6th had finally arrived as Florida State got set to face SEC Champion and second-ranked Auburn for the BCS National Championship. The Tigers had completed a remarkable turnaround after just three wins in 2012. Auburn had won six of its 12 games by one score and were coming off of its two most complete performances beating defending national champion Alabama and Missouri in the SEC title game.
Led by running back and Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason, Auburn arrived as the nation’s top rushing team while Florida State was the country’s last unbeaten. Despite a run of seven straight BCS titles for the SEC, Florida State entered the contest as a double-digit favorite.
Florida State grabbed an early 3-0 lead, but by the midway point of the second quarter, Auburn had asserted its will. With the Tigers leading 14-3, Winston fumbled in FSU territory setting up a short touchdown run by Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall. The Auburn lead was 21-3 and the champions of the mighty SEC appeared too big, too strong and too physical for the Seminoles.
The Tigers had won games all year with last second scores, wild finishes and by overcoming adversity, but that had not been the strong suit for the Seminoles. After FSU wide receiver Rashad Greene dropped a sure first down, head coach Jimbo Fisher rolled the dice. Facing a 4th-and-4 from its own territory, the Seminoles successfully ran a fake punt on a reverse to Karlos Williams to keep the drive alive. Seven plays later, Freeman was in the end zone and the Seminoles had life at the break trailing 21-10.
The Florida State defense that had given up fewer than 11 points-per-game during the season stood tall in the second half forcing three straight Auburn punts. With FSU trailing 21-13, the Seminoles would force their only turnover of the night. An interception by P.J. Williams gave the Seminoles the football at their own 44-yard-line. Five plays later, Winston hit fullback Chad Abram for an 11-yard touchdown and the Auburn lead that was once 18 was down to one, 21-20.
The Tigers answered with a six-minute drive, but the FSU defense was able to hold Auburn to a field goal setting up a heroic effort by the most unlikely of Seminoles. Trailing 24-20, freshman Levonte “Kermit” Whitfield hit a seem on the ensuing kickoff and went 100 yards for a touchdown. For the first time since the latter part of the first quarter, Florida State led 27-24.
Auburn, a squad dubbed “the team of destiny”, was far from done however. Facing a 3rd-and-11, Marshall slipped away from two Florida State defenders and hit receiver Sammie Coates for 15 yards and a first down. Two plays later, Mason broke through Florida State arm-tackles on his way to the end zone for a 37-yard touchdown. The lead that FSU had fought so hard to regain was gone.
Whitfield’s ensuing kickoff return would not be as successful as he was stopped at the 20-yard-line. With 1:11 to play, Heisman winner Jameis Winston and the Seminoles were 80 yards away from the end zone and a national championship. On his 20th birthday, Winston was far from at his best. He had been hit, he had fumbled, he had missed throws, but he had one last chance.
On the second play of the drive, Winston fired a short pass to Greene, who split a pair of Auburn defenders and raced 49 yards to the Auburn 23.
Following a delay of game penalty later in the drive, Winston once again targeted Greene — this time in the end zone. The two could not hook up for the score, but this time, interference was called. With 17 seconds to go, Florida State sat at the Auburn two-yard-line.
The Seminoles lined up in a jumbo set, but the call was play-action. After freezing the Auburn linebacker, Winston found Benjamin, who made a leaping catch in the end zone. With 13 seconds to play, Florida State led 34-31 and sat one stop away from a national championship.
After an incomplete pass by Marshall, Auburn’s attempt to lateral the ball around failed as Mason was tackled after a gain of just 20. The game was over. The SEC’s stranglehold on college football was gone as well. For the first time in 14 years, the Seminoles were national champions.
Florida State not only became the first non-SEC school in eight years to win the Sears Trophy, but it became the first team to do so with a freshman quarterback in the BCS era. Head coach Jimbo Fisher — the man who had the unenviable task of replacing a legend in Bobby Bowden — had brought the ‘Noles back to the top.
Big things will once again be expected from Florida State in 2014, but after years of mediocrity, the Seminoles are all the way back. The days of the BCS are now done and the final BCS champion is FSU. No one can predict what will come for Florida State in 2014, but 2013 will forever be the year of the Seminole.