This is a similar setup to last year. Florida State enters the game undefeated and among the nation's top ranked teams. We know the big names. We know what to expect. But things are not always that simple. FSU has not rolled over opponents this year. Winston is not the center of college football and their defense is not suffocating like last year's unit. To get a better feel for the defending National Champs, I asked Dylan from the Florida State blog Tomahawk Nation some questions. His answers are below.
1. Winston has been a lightning rod of excitement and controversy for the past two years. How do Florida State fans view him at this point? Do you think he leaves for the NFL after this season?
Tomahawk Nation: I think there are differing views on Jameis even within the FSU fanbase. There are some for whom what has at times been an out-and-out witch hunt (see: fabricated autograph “scandal,” fabricated point-shaving “scandal”) has galvanized them into fierce defense of Winston. There are others who are just tired of what seems like an endless stream of embarrassing stories, and unfortunately are somewhat looking forward to his departure from Florida State’s program. It’s a shame that a generational type of player is viewed in this way by some of his own fanbase and hated by much of the country, but that’s the modern college football climate in which we live. I absolutely think he’s leaving for the draft after this season. He gains nothing by staying and is absolutely NFL-ready as a player. He reads the middle of the field and makes throws with anticipation and accuracy into tight windows like nobody else does.
2. Last year was historically dominant. This year has seen the team fall behind over and over. Do you view it as the team losing its edge? Not having the same talent? Other teams adapting?
TN: It’s a combination of a lot of factors. First of all, it’s taken a while, but I think we’ve finally gotten to the point where most of the FSU fanbase realizes that comparing this team to the 2013 team is not a wise thing to do. That team was the pinnacle, probably the best that Florida State has ever fielded. Though the ‘Noles returned a significant amount of talent this season, they also lost a bunch as well, and this team just isn’t 2013 quality. It’s tough to replace Kelvin Benjamin, Kenny Shaw, and a bunch of studs on defense that played so well together last season. Another thing we were and are concerned about is the replacement of senior leadership and football IQ, particularly on defense. Lamarcus Joyner, Telvin Smith, and Timmy Jernigan have proven extremely tough to replace, particularly in those two areas. I don’t think it’s necessarily that the team has “lost its edge,” but leadership may well have been lacking in the off-season and in practice, causing a drop-off in preparation. FSU also hasn’t fared nearly as well with injury luck, which was absurdly good last season. The ‘Noles have battled major injury issues at almost every single position. I think another part of it is that FSU has faced a tougher slate of teams to date, particularly at the quarterback position. 2013 FSU didn’t face a group of quarterbacks like J.W. Walsh, Deshaun Watson, Jacoby Brissett, Everett Golson, and Brad Kaaya. These factors, along with general inconsistency, have led to the ‘Noles playing in much closer games in 2014. I don’t think the media would be of such a critical perception had the 2013 ‘Noles not been such world beaters and had gone like 9-3, but if that’s one negative effect of having such a dominant team a year prior, I think all FSU fans will take it.
3. Do you think a one-loss Florida State team (to either BC, Florida or the Coastal winner) would make the College Playoff?
TN: Funny you should ask, as I’m writing this about an hour after the College Football Playoff rankings were announced on Tuesday night. I think my answer here is a pretty clear no. Sitting at third right now, I just don’t see any way the Seminoles would be able to survive a loss to BC, Florida, or Duke/GT and return to the top four. I’m someone who puts a lot of stock into advanced metrics rating systems like Bill Connelly and Brian Fremeau’s F/+, which currently have the Seminoles at 10th in the nation, but I also have difficulty reconciling this with my intuitive valuation of winning games. Advanced metrics don’t really see wins and losses, just performance. So while the ‘Noles haven’t played too impressively against whom they’ve played by those numbers, I do think that the SEC is being overvalued while FSU’s schedule is being undervalued, even when opponent-adjusted like F/+ is. FSU opponents have suffered major losses to key players after playing the ‘Noles – OK State lost its starting quarterback for the season, Deshaun Watson has missed a lot of time for Clemson, and Louisville lost its QB for the year the week after playing FSU. Obviously FSU is getting everyone’s best shot, and Fisher said recently that he’s talked to opposing coaches who spent major parts of their off-seasons scheming for the FSU game in particular. It’s an interesting situation developing in the first season of the new playoff, but Florida State will need to keep winning to have a shot at the title.
4. What is your prediction for the game?
TN: Florida State has played a similar type of game for most of this season. A sluggish start, likely including a few turnovers, and several big plays allowed. This either leaves the ‘Noles trailing or in an uncomfortably close game against an overmatched team. Sooner or later, FSU has found a way to flip the switch and take control of the game, though the final results aren’t always aesthetically pleasing. Every week, some ‘Noles fans declare that this is the week that FSU finally puts it together and plays three or four complete quarters of high level football. While hoping it will eventually happen, particularly down the stretch here in November, December, and January, I don’t have any reason to believe that switch is going to be flipped until I see it. So I’ll say this one is more of the same. BC can run the ball and is coming off of a bye week, and I’m sure Addazio will have some shot plays drawn up for Tyler Murphy to try to pop a few plays against the Seminoles early. FSU also is coming off of an emotional win at Miami and has Florida on deck. I’ll call it an ugly 33-23 Florida State win.