Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Big-game stakes won't overwhelm FSU
By David M. Hale
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The signs have been everywhere this week, so there's no use ignoring the obvious, Telvin Smith said. Camera crews have shuttled through the football facilities, speakers on the practice field boom with artificial crowd noise, and the students around campus are buzzing with excitement.
It's Clemson week, a battle of two top-five opponents with national-title implications. By any measure, this is a big game, but Smith said his teammates are doing everything they can to ignore all the buzz.
Jameis Winston and Florida State face a tough road test in Clemson. The Seminoles haven't beaten the Tigers on the road in 12 years.
"Obviously this game comes with a little edge, but it’s just another game," Smith said. "It’s just more people watching, more cameras on you."
This is the party line at Florida State, but players insist their actions have backed up their words. In seasons past, the atmosphere became the story, and Florida State's minds wandered. But this is a more mature team, and Smith said the team has filtered out everything but the task at hand.
“For the last few years we’ve been blessed to be in this position," Smith said. "But I feel like for long enough we’ve chased numbers at this school, trying to get to No. 1. I feel like we’re not focused on that, we’re really focused on one game at a time.”
A brief examination of Florida State's recent history in these games underscores why a change was necessary.
It has been 12 years since the Seminoles last went to Clemson and came away with a win. It has been six years since Florida State last beat a team ranked as high as the Tigers are now. Since 2000, the Seminoles are a woeful 1-8 against teams ranked third or better.
Some of those struggles date back well before the current crop of Seminoles donned their jerseys, but it was just two years ago that FSU hosted No. 1-ranked Oklahoma in a game that was supposed to define the Seminoles' season. It ended with a loss, and two more losses followed. The veterans of this season's team remember that feeling, and they said they've learned from the experience.
"The past years I’ve been here we always had a lot of talent, always a talented football team, but this year I see that it’s maturity," senior cornerback Lamarcus Joyner said. "It's a brotherhood and a belief -- a standard that we have set. We have finally bought into Coach [Jimbo] Fisher and his philosophy."
Fisher's approach has been business as usual, even if he admits these games were once a selling point for players to come to Florida State.
During last week's bye, Fisher didn't have his team planning for Clemson. Instead, the Seminoles worked on their own weaknesses. This week, they haven't talked about what's at stake beyond another win in the standings, in spite of the prodding of one reporter after another. The game on Saturday will already have been won or lost based on what happens this week.
"It's never pressure," junior Karlos Williams said. "I believe the pressure comes in the week of practice. We have a good week of practice, we'll play very well."
Florida State will need to play its best game of the season to come away with a win. Clemson's dynamic offense will test a new defensive scheme that has struggled at times this year. The Tigers' aggressive pass rush will put pressure on freshman quarterback Jameis Winston to play with the poise of a polished veteran. The outcome could mean the difference between a shot at a national championship and a second-place finish in its own division.
But the difference this year is that those stakes aren't new.
No, this isn't just another game -- no matter how much the Seminoles insist they're treating it that way. But Florida State has been here before, failed, and learned from its mistakes. A lot is riding on this next opportunity, senior Terrence Brooks said, but Florida State is ready.
"It's not any intimidation," Brooks said. "We want those late games with the big lights. We want people to all be tuned in to that. You shouldn't shy away from that. That should be something that gets you going. I'm ready. I've had this one marked down. I'm ready to go."