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3 posts from December 8, 2013

December 08, 2013

The BCS Ends Like it Started for Florida State: With the Seminoles Playing For it All

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16 years ago Florida State University played in the very first BCS Championship Game. On January 6th, FSU will also play in the very last BCS Championship game.

In between the program has fallen on hard times and risen again.

"Florida State was in the first three National Championships '98, '99 and 2000 and all those National Championship games, it's kind of funny how it has come full circle like that and I do appreciate the history of college football that way," said Jimbo Fisher. "And we all complained about the BCS and everything that goes on, but it's funny how many times they get it right and how the history just keeps repeating itself."

The Seminoles will square off against the Auburn Tigers, who beat then-no. 1 Alabama two weeks ago and won the SEC Championship game against Missouri on Saturday.

“It honestly didn't matter to me who it was,” said Fisher.  “Auburn [has a tremendous program].  I've coached there, I know them... but I'm just glad that Florida State is there.”

The storylines for this game are too numerous to count.

Fisher cut his teeth coaching in Division I under Terry Bowden at Auburn in the early 90’s. Bowden had coached Fisher as a quarterback in college -- Fisher had even followed him from Salem College to Samford as a senior -- and he gave Fisher a job coaching quarterbacks at Auburn in 1993.

That year would prove fateful for both the Tigers and the Seminoles.

While Bobby Bowden’s Florida State team went 12-1 and won the first national title in the program’s history the Auburn Tigers went unbeaten -- Unfortunately, the Tigers were on probation and weren’t eligible for the postseason.

“I always tell Florida State this:  We should have had half of that National Championship in '93.  We were the only undefeated team in the country,” Fisher said.

20 years later Fisher has returned Florida State to prominence. His team is unbeaten again.

Still, the Seminoles will head to Pasadena as potential usurpers in the eyes of some.

For nearly the past decade the SEC has been king, dominating the BCS and making other contenders look foolish. The state of Alabama in particular has been home to the BCS Champion the last four years straight.

Auburn will be looking to continue that streak and win the last BCS Championship ever awarded.

"We're not going to get involved in all this SEC/ACC stuff because we done made it to where we are and we're not done yet,” said Jameis Winston. “We fear no one.  Our opponent has no face, so we don't care.”

Part of the Seminoles’ confidence may stem from the fact that they are built like an SEC team.

Just don’t tell Fisher that.

“I built our program like I thought we needed to build it to win a championship.  We don't model ourselves after nobody,” said Fisher.  “We're Florida State, we do things the way we do them and the way I think you have to play to win a championship and the kind of team you have to have to win a championship.  That's the way I think we tried to build this team."

Florida State boasts the top-ranked scoring defense in the nation, creates turnovers at an alarming rate (they lead the country with 25 interceptions) and the Seminoles brutalize opponents in the trenches.

Not to mention the fact FSU is on pace to score more points this season than any team in college football history.

Still, until another conference can beat the SEC for a BCS title -- the last BCS title in this case -- some will still going to be skeptical of the Seminoles’ chances.

“Yeah, people are always going to doubt us or have a feeling of upset or something.  But that's why we have that chip on our shoulder,” said Telvin Smith. “That's why we play the way we do, and that just drives us, that feeds us, and that's what it did the whole season, it just fed us, and now we're here going to the big one.”

 

For all the latest Florida State news and updates, follow Patrik Nohe on Twitter...

Thoughts From the Morning After: The Joyner Effect

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Last night Florida State finished the first 13-win season in the program's history and nobody played a bigger role in that than Lamarcus Joyner.

There are plenty of seniors that have had an impact on the return to prominence that FSU is experiencing this season, but few players -- not just in the present, either, but in the entire history of Florida State football -- have done more to prop up the program.

"This program has been down for a while and Coach Fisher came in here and did a pretty great job of recruiting and rebuilding this program," said Joyner last night. "Just to be a part of something special, to be able to bring this program back, watching this program when I was a young child, and to be a part of it and be a part of something special, there's no better feeling right now."

Fisher may have recruited the class, but Joyner acted as Fisher's glue. As a high-profile recruit Joyner used his clout to talk other recruits into signing with FSU at various camps and all-star games. 

'Let's bring FSU back,' was the mantra. And Joyner used it to ensure the class he arrived with would be tight knit and focused on the same goal.

He continued with that mantra once he got to Florida State, using it to lock down recruits on official visits and to build camaraderie with his teammates.

"If you look at the progress that we made over the years, Chick‑Fil‑A Bowl, Champs Sports Bowl, Orange Bowl, we kept getting better, we kept climbing the ladder, and that's what I envisioned to do, coming back as a senior leader to keep climbing that ladder," Joyner said.

Last season, after FSU had won 12 games, recaptured the ACC and won the Orange Bowl, Joyner made the decision to return for his senior season. He likely would have been a second or third round pick. 

The self-interested decision would have been to turn pro. Joyner has admitted before that one of his biggest motivations is getting his family out of its current financial predicament. He had that chance last year and nobody would have faulted him for taking it.

But Joyner came to FSU with a purpose -- one he felt he had yet to fulfill -- and he opted to return for his senior season, this time with one mission: to make sure FSU made it the rest of the way up that proverbial ladder.

"It just goes back to spring training, fourth quarter drills.  I mean, training together and all, just seeing the nation doubt us and being able to come to practice and work every day and look Telvin and Jameis and Coach Fisher in the eye and say 'I love you, Coach;' 'I love you, Jameis;' 'I love you, Telvin,'" said Joyner.

"And then you go find yourself telling someone you love them every day, then you just build a brotherhood, and we started believing in each other.  That's when I felt that we was the best team in the country, and I said that early on at the ACC kickoff that it didn't matter what people said about us or think about us, it was all about what we felt about and thought about each other."

Joyner embodies the ferocity of this year's Florida State defense perfectly. He gets every last ounce out of his physical talents, plays selflessly, trusts his teammates and attacks without hesitation.

That's why it was fitting that Joyner lead the way for Florida State's defense on Saturday night -- much as he has done all season.

It was the former Ft. Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas standout that delivered a fearsome blow to set the physical tempo early on when the teams were still feeling one another out.

It was Joyner who came up with a key interception early in the second quarter after Duke threatened following a Jamison Crowder punt return.

"Larmarcus' interception changed the momentum and got it back for us and it allowed us to go back down and score a touchdown," said Jimbo Fisher.  'That play by the defense to change the momentum by Lamarcus, it was a great play by a great player."

Now only 60 minutes of football stand between Joyner -- and his Florida State teammates -- and their goal of winning a national title. Well, 60 minutes and Auburn.

Perhaps appropriately if the Seminoles are to best the Tigers it will take a big performance from a nickel corner in run support to help stymie the Auburn rushing attack. That means Lamarcus Joyner will have to step up for the Seminoles one final time.

If the past four years are any indication, Joyner will be ready come January 6th.

"We have to just do the little things that we've been doing all season, and by the time we're in California and ready to play in that National Championship, then I'll be able to say that we're confident," said Joyner. "But it's all about the power of preparation and what we do throughout this week and the weeks that come to prepare for this game."

 

For all the latest Florida State news and updates, follow Patrik Nohe on Twitter...

Rapid Reaction: ACC Championship Game -- FSU 45 Duke 7

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Florida State is headed to Pasadena.

Credit Duke for being scrappy and having a great gameplan. Unfortunately, they just aren't in Florida State's class. Even without playing their best game, the Seminoles stomped the Blue Devils 45-7 on Saturday night.

In the process Florida State won its 14th ACC title, punched its ticket to its fourth BCS championship game and won 13 games in a season for the first time in school history.

Now the Seminoles will play for a BCS Championship on January 6th -- likely against Auburn.

Jameis Winston took home MVP honors on Saturday night for a 19/32, 330 yard performance. Winston tossed three touchdowns on the night but also had two picks. He admitted after the game that he had just been a little bit too amped. 

"I came out too amped for the Miami game too," said Winston. "As you saw, I also threw two picks [in that game]."

Fortunately for Winston and his offensive teammates the Florida State defense was more than capable of carrying the team on Saturday night. Duke managed just 239 yards and didn't score until the second team defense had taken the field. FSU's defense was superb.

When Duke drove the ball following Devonta Freeman's first quarter fumble, the defense held and forced a long field goal. Duke missed it. FSU never fell behind (In fact, FSU still hasn't trailed in a game since they played Boston College back in late September).

When Jamison Crowder returned a punt inside the Florida State 40, Lamarcus Joyner grabbed an interception to snuff out the Blue Devils' drive. 

Everytime Duke made a play on offense, FSU's defense answered. 

"We like to go out there [and] force our will on them. So that's what we try to go out there and do," said LB Telvin Smith.

By the time Florida State's offense got rolling, the Seminoles had the game well in hand. Duke came in to the evening with a very good gameplan and knew most of FSU's tendencies based on formations and packages. Early on that threw Winston and the Seminole offense for a loop.

But Fisher was smart enough to pull out a few previously unseen wrinkles to toss the Duke defense off the scent. Once Florida State introduced the threat of the option, the run game opened up. Florida State ended up rolling up 239 rushing yards -- including three touchdowns -- and Duke never really looked comfortable once they had to account for Winston running the ball too.

That in turn opened up the passing game, Kelvin Benjamin in particular. Benjamin caught two touchdown passes, giving him 14 on the year. He's now second all-time at FSU for the most TD receptions in a season. He's caught more in a single year than Ron Sellers, Peter Warrick, Anquan Boldin or Fred Biletnikoff ever did at FSU in a single year. That's an impressive group, and Benjamin has shown the potential this year to be as talented as any of them.

Benjamin's first touchdown grab put FSU up 7-0. He was double covered and caught a ball that frankly shouldn't have been thrown by jumping over and out-muscling the two defenders.

Later in the game he scored from 54 yards out thanks to his ability to break tackles and stay on his feet. The season may have started with Rashad Greene as the team's most dangerous receiver -- and he still is every bit as dynamic -- but Benjamin has passed him as this team's alpha receiver. 

Now Florida State gets the next month to prepare for Auburn and the BCS title game.

FSU played in the first ever BCS title game and they will play in the last one too. In between the program has fallen on hard times and risen again. A win on January 6th would bring the Seminoles full circle.

All that stands between Florida State and its goal now is Auburn. But don't expect FSU to get wide-eyed about playing an SEC team for a national championship though.

"We're not going to get involved in this SEC/ACC stuff because we done made it to where we are and we're not done yet," said Winston. "We fear no one. Our opponent has no face, so we don't care."

 

(Photo courtesy of Travis Register)

For all the latest Florida State news and updates, follow Patrik Nohe on Twitter...


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