Second-ranked and undefeated Florida State begins its postseason quest for a second consecutive national championship in the same stadium it won the title a year ago: The Rose Bowl.
The Seminoles, No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings, are riding a 29-game winning streak and intent on proving that a season-long run of close wins has galvanized them for their semifinal showdown against the No. 3 Oregon Ducks (No. 2, CFP).
Although the game is being played in the heart of Pac 12 country in Pasadena, California, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher believes returning to the site where he won his first national title as a coach and the school won its third, has advantages.
“It is good you know where you are going to be, the kind of stadium it is and the weather,” Fisher said. “Hey, when you’re on the road, whoever is there, that’s who we’re going to play.”
With a semifinal victory, the Seminoles would return Dallas and the stadium where they opened the season with a win over Oklahoma State.
But first things first and that’s Oregon.
The New Year’s Day game against the Ducks is full of intriguing storylines, including a showdown between the last two Heisman Trophy winners – quarterbacks Marcus Mariota of Oregon and Florida State’s Jameis Winston.
Barring any practice injuries over the next two weeks, the Seminoles will be the healthiest they’ve been all season for Oregon. Fisher is also optimistic that defensive tackle Nile Lawrence-Stample will be ready for the game after missing most of the season with a pectoral injury.
“He’s a heckuva player now,” Fisher said. “He was fixing to have a great year.”
Winston, who has overcome several shaky starts this season to lead second-half comeback wins, is among several Seminoles taking advantage of the layoff to heal from nagging injuries. The quarterback is also awaiting a decision following a student code of conduct disciplinary hearing that concluded on Dec. 3.
The woman who said Winston sexually assaulted her in December 2012 also participated in the two-day hearing, which was held to determine whether Winston violated any or all of four sections of the code of conduct – two for sexual misconduct and two for endangerment.
No decision was made after the hearing. Winston and the woman were asked to submit final recommendations to former Florida Supreme Court Justice Major Harding, who presided over the hearing.
On the field, the Seminoles came-from-behind in several wins, rallying from deficits as great as 21 points on the road. Fisher bristles at talk that his unbeaten team struggled this season while adding 13 more wins to its streak.
“We played very well, we competed very well,” Fisher said. “Being able to not panic and handle situations, from that standpoint, I don’t think we struggled at all.”
Fisher, who is a gaudy 58-10 since taking over for Bobby Bowden five years ago, takes a great deal of pride in his team’s resilience and responds to questions about the number of close calls over the season in a similar manner.
“The only undefeated team in the country,” he frequently reminds questioners.
And Florida State players are for the most part puzzled why they’re considered the underdogs.
“I really don’t understand that,” sophomore cornerback Jalen Ramsey said. “We’re the ones who won 29 in a row. What are we scared of?”
Teammate Bobby Hart, a senior offensive tackle, points out the Seminoles have worn a bull’s-eye on their backs for every one of their 13 opponents during the season.
“We got everybody’s best shot,” Hart said. “They tried to let you know that ‘we’re trying to knock you off. ‘It showed me a lot about our team, the way that we responded.”
But for the first time this season the Seminoles are not favored to win as Oregon currently is a nine-point favorite.
The winner advances to take the winner of the Ohio State-Alabama Sugar Bowl matchup.
Florida State practices through the weekend before players leave for a few days to spend Christmas at home before returning for the team’s Dec. 26 departure to the West Coast.
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.