The fifth-year coach then turned to his team and his players as they took a knee around him in the locker room. He stood there, sizing up a room of 105 players that battled to a 23-17 overtime win against No. 22 Clemson without its best player for an entire game and best defensive player for the final half. He rubbed his eyes.
“Let 'em flow, Coach!”
“Let it out, Coach, let it out!”
“Don’t cry, Coach!”
If the pregame video of Jameis Winston prepping his team before last season’s Clemson game was for the cameras, the 2014 post-game version was unadulterated emotion.
Florida State great LeRoy Butler, who spoke to fans before the game about the legendary Puntrooskie play against Clemson, filmed the locker room scene in a series of videos he posted to his YouTube page.
“How good it is to come to work and work with people like you,” a vulnerable Fisher told his team in the video. “God, I’m a lucky man. Let me tell you that right now. I’m a lucky man.”
The Seminoles dealt with distractions through much of the week after Winston jumped on a table in the middle of Florida State’s campus and yelled a profane and sexually explicit statement. He was suspended Wednesday for the first half. Fill-in starter Sean Maguire said the team initially viewed it as a distraction before moving on.
Then Winston was suspended for the entire game late Friday night, and the headlines and distractions recycled.
In the first half, the Seminoles played like a team that looked distracted, but the defense kept Florida State in the game until Maguire launched a game-tying 74-yard pass with 6:04 left. In overtime, after a fourth-down stop by the Seminoles’ defense, the rushing game found new life as Karlos Williams rushed for the final 25 yards and game-winning touchdown.
“Each person, we have flaws, but I’ll tell you that’s what a family does -- love and trusts and believes in each other, that plays until the end. I don’t have words for you,” Fisher said.
Assistant coach Sal Sunseri addresses the team in the next video and gives the game ball to Fisher.
In the final video, Fisher is mobbed by his team.
Each week throughout the season, the Playoff Forecast will use ESPN's Football Power Index and human logic (i.e., the eye test) to determine which teams are best positioned in the chase for the inaugural College Football Playoff. These rankings take into account perceived team strength (including injuries) and remaining schedule difficulty (including prospective conference championship games).
The Playoff Forecast is not intended to be a prediction of the selection committee's weekly Top 25, which will be released every Tuesday starting Oct. 28. It is a projection of which teams have the best chance to be in the top four come December.
FPI's chance of winning out: 22.1 percent
FPI's chance of winning the conference: 58.5 percent
After clearing one of their most difficult road hurdles with an impressive second-half performance at West Virginia, the Sooners seem as good a bet to go undefeated as any team in a Power 5 conference. Their most highly regarded remaining opponents, Baylor and Oklahoma State, must both visit Norman, and the toughest test away from home seems to be at TCU, which comes on Oct. 4 after OU has a bye week to prepare. Also, the fact that the Big 12 has no conference championship game is another factor that enhances Oklahoma's chances of finishing the regular season unblemished.
East Carolina is ranked in The Associated Press college football poll for the first time since 2008 and Mississippi State moved into the Top 25 for the first time in two seasons after breaking a long losing streak against LSU.
The Pirates were last ranked Sept. 21, 2008. That team finished 9-5 and won Conference USA. East Carolina (3-1) is in its first season in the American Athletic Conference.
Mississippi State is No. 14 after beating LSU 34-29 to end a 14-game skid to the Tigers. The Bulldogs were last ranked in 2012.
That was the best the ACC has to give against No. 1-ranked Florida State: a Clemson team that was in the red zone seven times and scored on just three of those drives. It was the most meaningful game the Noles will play during the regular season, and they won it with their Heisman-winning quarterback suspended for the entire game and their best defensive player sidelined for the second half with a concussion.
If Florida State somehow found a way to win that one, you better believe the odds are in the Noles' favor to find their way into the inaugural College Football Playoff -- with or without Jameis Winston.
With the win, Florida State took the lead in the ACC's Atlantic Division race and should be in cruise control to win the ACC. Notre Dame is the only ranked opponent remaining on the schedule, and ESPN's Football Power Index still gives the Noles a 73.2 percent chance of winning -- their lowest predicted percentage on the schedule. That Thursday night game at Louisville no longer looks so daunting, and as for Florida?
Even with backup Sean Maguire leading the way, Florida State racked up more yards (318) against Clemson than rival Florida did (200) against Alabama with starter Jeff Driskel running the show. Maguire, making his first career start, had a better QBR than Driskel, and they both threw two picks. In spite of Winston's shocking suspension, Florida State remains right on track to be an undefeated ACC champ heading to the playoff.
The question is whether Winston wants to be part of it.
How the West will be won
There are five undefeated teams remaining in the SEC -- and they're all in the West Division.
Welcome to the club, Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs' win over No. 8 LSU legitimized their hopes not only as a contender in the West Division, but also as a dark-horse candidate for the playoff. Any team that has a chance to win the SEC has a chance to earn a playoff bid. In what should be considered the toughest division in the sport, the winner of the SEC West should wow the committee with its strength of schedule. Five teams entered the week ranked in the top 10.
LSU was the first to be reminded how quickly that can change. This is where a two-loss team might cause some debates.
Nobody has clearly separated from the pack, but it's still early.
Chest bumps for the Big Ten
It took four weeks, but the Big Ten finally had a good day.
Everyone but Michigan, that is.
For the first time this season, the Big Ten came out on top, highlighted by Indiana's shocking upset of No. 18 Missouri and Nebraska's win over Miami -- part of a 3-0 sweep of the ACC. Wisconsin also pummeled Bowling Green, as if each touchdown further distanced the Badgers from the rest of the league's MAC woes.
No. 11 Michigan State, still the Big Ten's best hope of a playoff representative, scored 73 points against Eastern Michigan, even though coach Mark Dantonio downplayed the idea of scoring style points.
The Big Ten was in desperate need of a weekend like this to boost its image. Whoever thought the Hoosiers would trump a Nebraska win over Miami as the league's marquee win? The Big Ten's playoff hopes aren't over yet.
Don't forget BYU
There was no bigger story than Florida State this week, and there is no deeper league than the SEC, but BYU still has the best chance of any team in the country to go undefeated, according to the FPI.
The Cougars' 41-33 win over a much-improved Virginia team is nothing to be scoffed at, but the Cavaliers -- like every other team on BYU's schedule -- aren't ranked. BYU would likely have to win out and look good in the process in order to have a chance at displacing a team from a Power 5 conference in the playoff.
Not only did Florida State get a huge victory in overtime against Clemson Saturday night, the Seminoles also scored big on the recruiting trail by picking up one of the top defensive line prospects in the 2016 class. Following the win featuring an electric atmosphere, defensive end Janarius Robinson became the third member of the ESPN Junior 300 to commit to Jimbo Fisher.
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Duke safety Jeremy Cash: There were a handful of players to choose from on a Blue Devils defense that turned in an excellent performance in Saturday's 47-13 win over Tulane, but Cash gets the nod here. The redshirt junior tied for the team-high with 11 tackles, 1.5 for loss, and had the first of four Duke interceptions on the day, and the fifth of his career. Duke is 4-0 for the first time since 1994, when it started 7-0, and it has looked sharp on both sides of the ball as it readies for conference play next week at Miami.
Pitt running back James Conner: At this point we'll call it a ho-hum day for the bruising sophomore back: 29 carries, 155 yards and two touchdowns. (He had one catch for 9 yards as well.) Those early-season Heisman prospects likely go out the door with a 24-20 loss to Iowa, given Pitt's underwhelming schedule, but a fifth straight 150-yard rushing outing is nothing to overlook. Conner is at 699 yards and nine touchdowns on the season, a school-record to start a season, crushing Tony Dorsett's 564 yards through four games during his 1973 freshman season.
Florida State wide receiver Rashad Greene: There may not be a player in the country who is more important to his team than Greene. The senior delivered again Saturday night in FSU's 23-17 overtime win over Clemson. He had nine catches for 135 yards and a touchdown, in addition to a 28-yard punt return. He came up huge on a night the Seminoles needed him to, proving to be a huge help to first-time starter Sean Maguire.
Boston College quarterback Tyler Murphy: Stop the presses: Murphy failed to rush for 100 yards. He did net 99, though, along with two rushing touchdowns, including a 71-yarder in the first quarter. And he completed 11 of 18 throws for 130 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Murphy has proven to be an invaluable addition to the Eagles, as he stretches the field and makes them so much less predictable. BC rushed for 413 yards in its 40-10 win over Maine, eclipsing the 400-yard rushing mark for the second straight game and eclipsing the 300-yard mark for the third time in four games. The Eagles' 549 yards of total offense marked the third time they eclipsed that mark this year as well. So much of that comes back to the man under center.
Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas: Thomas' numbers will not jump off the page as a passer: He completed 7 of 18 throws for 125 yards and a touchdown during the Yellow Jackets' 27-24 win over Virginia Tech. His rushing numbers were much better: 22 carries for 165 yards and another touchdown. But Thomas made plays when it mattered most, leading yet another game-winning drive and helping the Yellow Jackets snap a four-game losing streak against Virginia Tech. Thomas bounced back from a rough start throwing (he lost a fumble as well) and completed 4 of his final 7 passes, relying heavily down the stretch on DeAndre Smelter (5 catches, 101 yards, TD), who himself deserves plenty of recognition in this space now. For all of its troubles, Georgia Tech is now 4-0 and in great position in the Coastal race, having fended off the Hokies on the road. (Special recognition in this game also goes to Virginia Tech linebacker Chase Thomas, who had the insane line of 17 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries.)
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The spotlight was going to be on Jameis Winston regardless. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner, engulfed in controversy for the better part of a year, was suspended for the full game less than 24 hours before No. 1 Florida State's matchup with No. 22 Clemson.
As the game approached, though, the attention was supposed to turn to redshirt sophomore Sean Maguire, the other quarterback -- the starting quarterback, if only for three hours.
Except Winston invited the cameras and microscope with his pregame antics, appearing from the locker room in full pads and taking practice snaps with the rest of the quarterbacks.
Then it carried over into the game. The spotlight was not on the Seminoles until the ball was finally kicked off at 8:23, but for the first 30 minutes the team played like it was a secondary story: Breakdowns on the offensive line, a negative rushing total and a defense that allowed 249 first-half yards to Clemson.
For the most loyal Winston supporter, this was the perfect scenario as late as Friday evening. The offense was sputtering and in need of a spark as it entered halftime trailing 10-3. But now Winston was relegated to the bench for the second half, too, and it was time for Maguire to earn the spotlight he hadn't received since being named the starter Wednesday.
So Jimbo Fisher was left with Maguire, and if the Seminoles were going to win, he was going to have to take them there. He did, tossing a 74-yard touchdown to Rashad Greene with 6:04 left to tie the game, which Florida State eventually won 23-17 in overtime.
“I felt a lot of pressure was on him,” cornerback Ronald Darby said. “… We put him in bad situations, but he pulled out the win.”
Maguire learned he'd play the entire game not long before he went to sleep Friday. There weren't any dreams of big touchdown passes or improbable overtime wins. But he lived it Saturday.
“I can’t put into words,” Maguire said. “It’s the greatest feeling in my life so far that’s for sure.”
Maguire played nervous early while teammates played distracted. In the first half, Maguire played like a quarterback who only saw the field in mop-up duty previously, completing only 6 of 17 passes in the first half.
In the second half, Fisher took the training wheels off. There were shotgun and first-down passes and no-huddle offenses to start the second half. The game was going to be in Maguire’s hands, which most honest Florida State fans did not trust leading into the game.
In the second half, he was 15-of-22 passing and finished with 305 yards.
“We got him in a rhythm and got him some confidence,” Fisher said.
Would Maguire have been confident enough to throw that deep fourth-quarter pass to Greene in the first quarter?
“Probably not,” Fisher said. “And it comes after he takes a sack he shouldn’t have taken. But that’s what I loved about him tonight -- he just kept playing the next play, and that takes a lot for a first-time starter.”
The narrative nearly turned for Maguire in the final three minutes of the game. Maguire took a chance over the middle and threw an interception. Clemson had the ball at the Seminoles’ 26-yard line and was killing the clock to set up a game-winning field goal attempt.
That is when Maguire’s teammates secured the backup quarterback’s moment in the spotlight, no matter how fleeting it was destined to be, by forcing a fumble.
“Oh my God, we got the ball back,” Maguire said.
And Maguire finally got his limelight.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- With two minutes to go in regulation Saturday night, the end seemed near -- for both the ACC and Florida State.
Jameis Winston stood in track pants on the sideline, his suspension threatening to shred national championship hopes. His backup, Sean Maguire, had just thrown a bad pass that Clemson safety Jadar Johnson easily intercepted, putting the Tigers in prime position to win.
On second-and-2 from the Florida State 18, C.J. Davidson took the ball. All the Tigers had to do was get a few more yards to set up for a game-winning field goal. Florida State defensive tackle Eddie Goldman converged, and got his hand on the ball. It squirted out.
Hearts sank on the Clemson sideline. The nation had seen Clemson fumble opportunities before, mistakes that have turned its school name into a verb that has come to symbolize what it means to give away games.
All that was left was victory. Karlos Williams, ineffective all night, knew what he had to do. He would not let his teammates down. His 12-yard touchdown run gave No. 1 Florida State a 23-17 win, preserving its championship hopes and saving face for the ACC.
“It just shows we have great players on this football team besides Jameis Winston,” Williams said. “Although he's our captain, he's our leader, he's the best player in college football, we showed tonight we also have great players on this football team -- Rashad Greene, Bobo Wilson. Sean Maguire is a great quarterback. I believe that we proved we're Florida State and we're on the right track.”
With all due respect to Clemson, the ACC needed Florida State to pull out the win. Saturday was the worst weekend of the year for the ACC, as the league went 3-5 in nonconference play against FBS opponents, including an ugly 0-3 against the Big Ten.
Had Clemson won, the ACC would have gone from front-runner to outsider praying for a shot in the College Football Playoff.
Watching Florida State win the national title last year helped get the ACC some major respect. Watching Florida State go down at home in September to a team it has owned the past two seasons would not make a compelling case for inclusion. While it is true a one-loss Florida State team may not have been completely eliminated from contention, the ACC strength of schedule is simply not going to hold up this season against the SEC, Big 12 and Pac-12. Not with the Week 4 results as an example.
So to guarantee staying alive for another week, Florida State had to win. It looked bleak in the early going, with the Clemson defensive line dominating and Clemson freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson taking a star turn of his own.
While Clemson played better for large parts of the game, it left points all over the field -- unacceptable for a team with its own championship hopes. Cole Stoudt, who started the game at quarterback, missed a shot at a sure touchdown in the first quarter when he threw the ball at his receiver’s feet. Clemson missed a field goal.
In the third quarter, Clemson had first-and-goal on the 1. A bad snap sailed over Watson’s head on second down. Clemson ended up missing another field goal. All the while Maguire started playing better, and so did his offensive line. It helped that Greene and Nick O’Leary were more involved, a big reason why the Noles stayed in the game.
But the biggest play of all belonged to Goldman, who matter-of-factly described his crucial forced fumble late in the fourth quarter.
“I knew it came loose,” he said. “When you're in the heat of the moment, you're not really thinking.”
Was there ever a moment of doubt when his teammates took the field, with the clock winding down and Clemson in prime position to win the game?
“You can't think of losing,” Goldman said. “One thing that Jimbo Fisher tells us is that you're never out of the fight until it's over. That's the mentality.”
Winston will be back at practice Monday. He will be under center next Saturday, when Florida State continues its playoff quest at NC State. The Seminoles proved they can win with Winston, and they can win without Winston.
Now they need to prove they can keep on winning. Because once again, the Noles are left alone carrying the banner for themselves.
And the banner for the ACC.
New No. 1 In ESPN CFB Power Rankings
Final Georgia Tech 27 Virginia Tech 24 Final Iowa 24 Pittsburgh 20 Final Maryland 34 Syracuse 20 Final Tulane 13 Duke 47 Final Maine 10 Boston College 40 Final Louisville 34 Florida International 3 Final Virginia 33 21 BYU 41 Final Army 21 Wake Forest 24 Final North Carolina 41 East Carolina 70 Final Presbyterian 0 North Carolina State 42 Final Miami (FL) 31 24 Nebraska 41 Final/OT 22 Clemson 17 1 Florida State 23