- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State’s players relaxed in their hotel rooms on Thursday, watching the second half of Oregon’s loss to Stanford on TV. They sweated out the final minutes, as the Ducks chipped away at a sizable deficit. They celebrated quietly when it was over, talking with excitement about what it all meant.
By Friday, however, much of the enthusiasm had worn off, and Jimbo Fisher reminded his players of the work still to be done.
“He told us, ‘It’s time to play,’” defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. said. “We got up [Saturday] morning, and it was all out of the way.”
In its first game as a presumptive favorite to land a spot in the BCS championship, Florida State was dominant. It throttled Wake Forest, forcing seven turnovers en route to a 59-3 win. And when that was over, they donned suits and ties, boarded a bus and returned to Tallahassee with no more emotion than they’d shown all season.
For the Seminoles, these final weeks of 2013 are all business, and Oregon’s loss doesn’t change any of that.
“It was fun to see that we were the true No. 2, but we’re not worried about the outside stuff,” quarterback Jameis Winston said. “We’re worried about Florida State. We were worried about Wake Forest. And you saw we came out ready to play football.”
At least publicly, Florida State never seemed all that worried about what was happening at Oregon or Alabama or Ohio State or Baylor. Fisher promised the standings would sort themselves out by the time the season wrapped, and Thursday, he was proven correct.
This week’s BCS standings have Florida State clearly in command of the No. 2 spot. If both teams win out, a championship game matchup with Alabama seems likely. For weeks, Fisher cautioned his team to worry only about what it could control, and now its championship fate is safely in its own hands.
For the next four weeks, however, that means beating the teams left on the schedule, not worrying about Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide.
“Everybody’s talking about Florida State-Bama and the whole national championship,” senior Christian Jones said. “We’re just trying to get through the season, and hopefully we’ll be in that game when the time comes.”
The potential Alabama-Florida State showdown is oozing with storylines. Fisher was an assistant under Saban at LSU and has modeled much of his own coaching philosophy after his mentor’s. FSU defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, whose unit has thoroughly dominated its last five opponents, is another Saban disciple, having served as defensive backs coach on Alabama’s last two national championship teams. And, of course, Winston is an Alabama native. He played at nearby Hueytown High and spurned Saban’s recruiting overtures to attend Florida State, where he’s now a Heisman favorite.
But before all those headlines develop, Florida State must play out a string of seemingly bad games. The Seminoles opened as a 38.5-point favorite against this week’s opponent, Syracuse. The Orange average 24.6 points per game this year. FSU averages more than that in the first half alone. After Syracuse is 1-9 Idaho, a reeling Florida and a potential date with Duke in the ACC title game. The Blue Devils are 0-18 all-time against FSU.
But even if the next few games are supposed to be easy, that provides its own challenge. Edwards said Florida State has learned its lessons from past missteps, however, and Winston said Saturday’s dominance against an overmatched Wake Forest was a good sign the Seminoles will keep their focus where it needs to be.
And if that happens, he said, there’s a lot to look forward to.
“The way this team is playing right now, I hope we keep doing what we’re doing,” Winston said. “The way we’re playing right now, we’re playing like a championship team.”
3dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
4dTom VanHaaren and Erik McKinney