NCF Nation: Jameis Winston

The 2015 ACC Oscars

February, 23, 2015
Feb 23
1:00
PM ET
Congratulations to “Birdman” and all of the winners from Sunday night’s Oscars, and thank you for the intriguing undercard leading up to this afternoon. That is when we release the highly anticipated ACC Oscars, which pays homage to the greatest films and on-field thespians from the 2014 football season.

So as not to overlap with the end-of-the-season ACC awards, these ACC Oscars categories are, for the most part, based on single-game performances. So, while Pittsburgh’s James Conner played the lead role in the league from August to November, it doesn’t guarantee he will go home with any hardware Monday.

Without further ado, let’s open the envelopes.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsJameis Winston saved his best game of the season for the ACC title game, throwing for 309 yards and three touchdowns.
Actor: Florida State QB Jameis Winston vs. Georgia Tech
Coming off one of his worst performances of his career, there was talk of whether Winston would be able to lift the Seminoles past 10-2 Georgia Tech in the ACC title game and into the inaugural College Football Playoff. The week prior, Winston tossed four interceptions against Florida and had an 87.92 rating. He had arguably his best game of the season against the Yellow Jackets, though, in a bounce-back performance. He completed 21 of 30 passes for 309 yards and three touchdowns in a two-point win. Every toss was on target, and the Seminoles had the right momentum heading into the playoff.

Supporting actor: Louisville safety Gerod Holliman vs. Boston College
Holliman wasn’t a nationally known name among college football fans, which puts him in the supporting actor category. As far as defensive backs, however, Holliman did not play second fiddle to anyone in the ACC. He showed why against the Eagles. He picked off Tyler Murphy on the first play of the game, and he hauled in two more errant Murphy throws in the fourth quarter as the Eagles tried a comeback.

Director: Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables vs. Oklahoma
If there were still any doubters about the Clemson defense before the bowl game, Venables converted them against Oklahoma. The Tigers’ defense was pitching a shutout until late in the fourth quarter, and the unit kept Oklahoma to just 275 yards of total offense in a 40-6 blowout. That performance sparked the Tigers to the No. 1 total defense unit in 2014, and it really was not all that close.

Best picture: The fourth-down play(s) in Notre Dame at Florida State
It looked as if the Seminoles’ playoff hopes were dashed in the final seconds against the Fighting Irish. On a play similar to one the Irish ran in the first half, Everett Golson threw a go-ahead touchdown on fourth down from the FSU 3-yard line with 13 seconds remaining. However, the rare offensive pass interference was called, a decision Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly berated for the next week. Now backed up to the 18-yard line, Golson threw for the end zone but was intercepted. The Irish had a chance to win the game late because earlier on the drive on a fourth-and-18 play, Golson scrambled and found an open receiver, who had to work for the final few yards to get the first down.

Costume design: North Carolina.
I’m a fan of the Carolina blue, so any uniform combination that incorporates that blue hue is going to rule this category. Whether it’s the more traditional UNC uniform or some of the newer looks with the black, the Carolina colors and wardrobe is usually spot on.

[+] EnlargeDeVante Parker
Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY SportsDeVante Parker amassed 43 catches and 855 receiving yards in just six games.
Short film: Louisville WR DeVante Parker
After suffering a broken left foot during the preseason, Parker did not haul in his first reception of the season until Oct. 18. He finished that game with nine catches for 132 yards. It turned out that it was one of his worst games of the season as his 14.67 yards per catch average was the lowest of the season. He tallied more than 100 receiving yards five times and caught at least eight passes four times. Against Florida State, he broke the 200-yard mark. In six games, Parker finished with 43 catches for 855 yards and five scores.

Original screenplay: The 2014 Florida State season
This past season for the Seminoles can definitely be considered original. There were not too many seasons like it before and there likely won’t be too many more. It began with the reigning national champions returning some of their most important pieces for a second title run. Shortly after spring practice ended, though, Winston was cited for shoplifting seafood from a grocery store. In the summer, receiver Jesus Wilson was charged with stealing a scooter. Then the season began and the Seminoles had close call after close call. In between was Winston screaming an obscene phrase and being suspended against Clemson, questions whether Winston received money for autographs, the Winston Title IX investigation into an alleged sexual assault and running back Karlos Williams being investigated for a domestic incident. The wins kept piling up, and so did the critics -- about FSU’s play and its handling of off-field issues. The Seminoles still finished undefeated and made the inaugural playoff, but they were blown out in the Rose Bowl.

Visual effects: NC State QB Jacoby Brissett's scrambling touchdown pass vs. Florida State
Looking to expand on their lead over No. 1 FSU at the end of the first quarter, Brissett took a third-down snap and was immediately pressured on a blitz. He spun out of a sack in the pocket and was flushed right. He then gave a stiff arm to a defensive lineman that caused his helmet to pop off, and just as Brissett was about to step out of bounds he fluttered a pass across his body for an 8-yard touchdown to give the Wolfpack a 24-7 lead.

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Sound editing: FSU coach Jimbo Fisher after defeating rival Florida 24-19 to finish the regular season undefeated.
Criticized for close wins all season long and sitting behind two one-loss teams in the College Football Playoff rankings, Fisher reminded the selection committee and fans that, ultimately, the goal of football is to win. In his on-field, postgame interview, Fisher said “The object of the game is to win. It’s not figure skating.”
It obviously takes talented players to put together a 29-game winning streak.

How talented? Florida State could be in rarefied air once the draft is completed in early May. With a nation-leading five early entrants in the draft, Florida State is on course to have at least 11 players selected.

If that happens, Florida State will have 29 players drafted over the last three years, more than any other team since the draft was cut down to seven rounds in 1994. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the last school that had at least 29 players drafted over a three-year period was Texas, with 31 taken from 1982-84.

Only two programs have had 28 players taken since 2002: Miami (2002-04) and USC (2008-10).

Those Miami teams are widely regarded as among the best all-time at producing NFL talent. Of those 28 drafted, 15 went in the first round. Florida State will not come close to that first-round number, having had four first-round picks in 2013 and 2014 with a handful projected for 2015.

But there is an interesting debate to be had between this recent Florida State stretch that produced a national championship, 29 straight wins and potentially more overall picks, and the Miami stretch that produced a national championship, 34 straight wins and more first-round picks.

Is the 2001 Miami championship team head-and-shoulders above the 2013 Florida State championship team? That question is worth discussion.

What is not up for debate is where this Florida State group stands compared to its other talented teams. This three-year stretch blows any other in school history away. Until now, its most drafted three-year group was 22 from 1993-95.

It goes without saying that coach Jimbo Fisher has done a tremendous job on the recruiting trail. Not only is he signing top-flight classes, he is taken the highly skilled players in those groups and developing them into professional talents at rapid-fire rates. Fisher can boast that better than just about anyone.

Here is a look at the recent three-year stretches Florida State, Miami and USC have put together in the NFL draft:

MIAMI, 2002-04

2002 draftees: 11
First round: Five -- Bryant McKinnie, Jeremy Shockey, Phillip Buchanon, Ed Reed, Mike Rumph

2003 draftees: Eight
First round: Four -- Andre Johnson, Jerome McDougle, Willis McGahee, William Joseph

2004 draftees: Nine
First round: Six -- Sean Taylor, Kellen Winslow, Jonathan Vilma, D.J. Williams, Vernon Carey, Vince Wilfork

USC, 2008-10

2008 draftees: 10
First round: Four -- Sedrick Ellis, Keith Rivers, Sam Baker, Lawrence Jackson

2009 draftees: 11
First round: Three -- Mark Sanchez, Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews

2010 draftees: Seven
First round: None

FLORIDA STATE, 2013-15

2013 draftees: 11
First round: Three -- EJ Manuel, Bjoern Werner, Xavier Rhodes

2014 draftees: Seven
First round: One -- Kelvin Benjamin.

2015 draftees: TBD
Most likely to be drafted: Jameis Winston, Eddie Goldman, P.J. Williams, Mario Edwards Jr., Ronald Darby, Cameron Erving, Josue Matias, Karlos Williams, Rashad Greene, Nick O'Leary, Tre' Jackson
The end of our countdown has finally arrived. Here are the ACC's top five players of the 2014 season.

To see the full list, click here.

1. James Conner, Pittsburgh
Position: Running back
Year: Sophomore
Tough to go with anybody else at No. 1 after watching Conner bulldoze the competition en route to ACC Offensive Player of the Year and ACC Player of the Year honors. And, well, it is not every day that Tony Dorsett's long-standing school records are shattered. Conner led the league in rushing yards (1,765), rushing touchdowns (26), rushing yards per game (135.8) and scoring (156 points). His touchdown and scoring totals broke the Pitt single-season records Dorsett set in 1976. Conner had three 200-yard games and seven 100-yard games, often taking multiple defenders on his back along for a ride. He was downright dominant, and in a year of powerful backs, he deserves the No. 1 spot.

2. Jameis Winston, Florida State
Position: Quarterback
Year: Redshirt sophomore
If there is one player on this list you would take with the game on the line, it would be Winston. But this list is an evaluation of the top performances week in and week out, and Winston was simply not consistent enough to merit the top spot this year. He made too many mistakes, whether he was trying too hard with an inexperienced receiving corps or just making the wrong decisions. But those mistakes do not diminish the fact that Winston remains one of the best (and most dangerous) players in the nation. Winston ended the season with an ACC-leading 3,907 yards passing, 25 touchdowns and 18 interceptions, all down from a year ago. But he did lead Florida State to a third straight ACC title and a spot in the College Football Playoff.

3. Vic Beasley, Clemson
Position: Defensive end
Year: Senior
Beasley returned to school for his senior season and was even better -- despite facing more double- and triple-teams than at any point in his career. He won ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors and was a finalist for the Bednarik and Lombardi awards after racking up a team-high 21.5 tackles for loss, a team-high 12 sacks, nine quarterback pressures, three pass breakups and two forced fumbles. Nobody in the ACC was better off the edge than Beasley, and he was a nightmare for many teams to block.

4. Duke Johnson, Miami
Position: Running back
Year: Junior
Johnson had the best season of his career because he was able to stay healthy and play all 13 games, finishing second behind Conner in the ACC in rushing with 1,652 yards. But Johnson led the league in all-purpose yards with 2,073, emerging as a much bigger pass-catching threat out of the backfield. When the season ended, he stood above all the other Miami greats on the career rushing and all-purpose yards lists. But maybe most impressive of all, he averaged 7.4 yards every time he touched the ball.

5. Gerod Holliman, Louisville
Position: Safety
Year: Redshirt sophomore
There were plenty of questions about the Louisville secondary heading into the season, following the loss of Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor, two of the best players on the 2013 defense. But Holliman stepped right into the starting lineup and made an immediate impact in Todd Grantham's 3-4 scheme, using his athleticism to make plays all over the field. When it was over, Holliman had tied an NCAA record with 14 interceptions and won the Jim Thorpe Award as the best defensive back in college football.
We’re counting down the ACC’s top players of the 2014 season, with a look today at Nos. 16 through 20.

To see the rest of the list, click here.

16. Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville

Position: Linebacker

Year: Senior

When Todd Grantham switched up Louisville’s defensive scheme in his first season as defensive coordinator, many predicted Mauldin would thrive in his new role as an outside linebacker and pass-rush specialist, and the senior didn’t disappoint. His 6.5 sacks were good for ninth in the ACC, and his 13 tackles for loss ranked seventh as the Cardinals’ defense ranked near the top of the national rankings for the bulk of the season. A nagging hamstring injury slowed Mauldin a bit down the stretch, but before the injury Louisville had allowed the third-fewest touchdowns per drive of any defense in the country.

17. Tyler Boyd, Pitt

Position: Wide receiver

Year: Sophomore

No receiver in the nation was as vital to his team as Boyd, who accounted for 52.2 percent of Pitt’s receiving yards this season. Boyd finished second in the ACC in receiving (1,261 yards), third in catches (78) and second in receiving touchdowns (8), while chipping in with 1,928 all-purpose yards, good for second in the conference. Boyd finished the season with six 100-yard receiving games, including topping the century mark in five of Pitt’s final six.

18. Jalen Ramsey, FSU

Position: Defensive back

Year: Sophomore

One of the most dynamic defensive backs in the country, Ramsey was the linchpin for Florida State’s defense in 2014. Ramsey finished the year with 80 tackles -- ninth in the ACC among defensive backs -- and two interceptions, but it was his versatility and leadership that set him apart. Ramsey was a crucial piece to FSU’s scheme, starring in coverage, where he racked up 12 pass breakups, and supporting against the run, tallying 9.5 tackles for loss. He was the only player in the nation who had at least 12 pass breakups and nine tackles for loss.

19. Cameron Erving, FSU

Position: Offensive line

Year: RS Senior

Erving entered the season as perhaps the most heralded offensive lineman in the ACC, the veteran left tackle on a senior-laden line for Florida State. But while much was expected of the Seminoles' line, the production was missing early in the year as FSU cycled through centers and the ground game failed to coalesce. Midway through the season, however, Erving made the switch from tackle to center, and everything clicked. Dalvin Cook and the running game found their footing, and Erving looked right at home in the middle of the line. For the year, FSU’s line helped cut Jameis Winston’s sack rate nearly in half, and Erving went on to win the ACC’s top blocker award for the second straight season.

20. Dadi Nicolas, Virginia Tech

Position: Defensive end

Year: RS junior

The Hokies’ defense lost five seniors from its 2013 defensive front, then star tackle Luther Maddy went down just four games into 2014, but the unit remained one of the most effective in the country thanks in large part to the work of Nicolas. His 8.5 sacks ranked third in the ACC and his 18 tackles for loss ranked second, and Nicolas single-handedly took over several games for Virginia Tech when the Hokies needed him most -- including racking up two sacks against both Ohio State and Duke.
Jim HarbaughGregory Shamus/Getty ImagesJim Harbaugh has his work cut out for him at Michigan, which just went 5-7.

Back in October and November, before Michigan officially had an opening for a head coach, its fans already started daydreaming about the possibility of prying Jim Harbaugh from the NFL.

The evolution of fantasy to reality of Harbaugh’s return to Ann Arbor, each day providing additional drama, ended up being one of the more fascinating coaching storylines of 2014.
The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft has passed. Now let's take a quick look at the biggest draft deadline winners and losers across the ACC:

Winners

Clemson: The Tigers did lose an underclassman: punter Bradley Pinion. Head-scratching, yes. But the reason the Tigers are winners this year is that they held on to all their top offensive talent. While nobody was in position to declare early, it still is notable that this is the first time Clemson has not had an underclassman on offense turn pro since 2010. That could very well change once these freshmen start growing up, but for now, it is good to be co-offensive coordinators Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott.

Duke: The Blue Devils had only one player who could have potentially left early: safety Jeremy Cash. When he announced he would return to school, there must have been a huge sigh of relief. Not only does the Duke secondary now return all its starters, it returns its best player. Cash had 111 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 2 interceptions and 4 forced fumbles this past season. With linebacker Kelby Brown (ACL) expected healthy for 2015, Duke potentially has two of the best defensive players in the ACC.

Notre Dame: So the Irish have only one toe in the ACC football waters, but they did end up a huge winner, and that is something teams with Notre Dame on the 2015 schedule need to know. All underclassmen who could have returned did: defensive lineman Sheldon Day, left tackle Ronnie Stanley, center/guard Nick Martin and quarterback Everett Golson (at least for now). Stanley was the biggest surprise because some had projected him as a first-round pick on a few early mock drafts. While Golson's status remains unclear, getting Day, Stanley and Martin back means expectations will again be high in South Bend, Indiana.

Losers

Florida State: The Seminoles might be the biggest draft-deadline loser in the country, with five players turning pro early this year: quarterback Jameis Winston, cornerbacks P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby, defensive tackle Eddie Goldman and defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. Of that group, Winston and Goldman are listed on the first Mel Kiper Jr. mock draft. Losing players to the draft is nothing new for the Seminoles, but they have taken heavy losses from their underclassmen in the past three years: 12 in all. Add to that losses from a terrific senior group, including Rashad Greene, Nick O'Leary and Karlos Williams, and 2015 might end up being a bit of a rebuilding year for the Seminoles as they get a boatload of young guys ready to play. On the bright side, kicker Roberto Aguayo and linebacker Terrance Smith announced they would return to school.

Louisville: Many expected safety Gerod Holliman to leave after he tied an NCAA record with 14 interceptions, despite some questions about his pro potential. But losing defensive backs Charles Gaines and James Sample has to be a blow the Cardinals were not quite expecting. Louisville, which ranked No. 5 in the nation in pass efficiency defense, must now replace five of its top six defensive backs in 2015. Put another way, Louisville is losing players responsible for 21 of the 26 interceptions it had last season.

Miami: While we all expected running back Duke Johnson to leave, losing him is still tough for a Miami offense that revolved heavily around him in the past three seasons. Johnson leaves as the school's all-time career all-purpose yards and rushing yards leader. Add the departure of offensive tackle Ereck Flowers and now Miami has to replace its two best underclassmen, plus top seniors Clive Walford and Denzel Perryman.
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The belief five months ago was that by late Monday, Florida State's coronation would begin on the dais at the 50-yard line of AT&T Stadium. With consecutive national championships, the Seminoles would wrestle rule from the SEC in the latest turnover in college football's dynastic cycle.

Instead, we're writing the 2014 Seminoles' obituary, justifiably needing a full 10 days to completely decompress and answer the question that ultimately defines each team's season: How will this Seminoles team be remembered?

How do you neatly place this FSU season in a box? How do you sum up a team that for nine months was subject to comments and criticisms, drama and distractions? The Heisman Trophy-winning quarter was suspended twice, once for shoplifting seafood and the other for an immature phrase that fell below his own standard of behavior "beyond reproach." There was the #Dallas2Dallas expectation of dominance, but the come-from-behind, fourth-quarter wins left the selection committee yawning. There were accusations of violence against women aimed at the FSU backfield and at Winston. Finally, and with former judge Major Harding clearing Winston in the FSU conduct code hearing a week earlier, the Seminoles were blown out by 39 points in the semifinal loss to Oregon.

If space allowed, that entire last paragraph would be filled with footnotes and annotations. They only begin to tell the story of a team that went 13-0 through December, was part of a 29-game winning streak and won a conference championship.

And that's how this team will be remembered -- the 2014 Seminoles, due to equal parts circus and success, were the team you could not stop talking about.

The details of the 13-1 record will eventually become minutiae -- How many remember the 2004 USC team had four near defeats? -- but the fact FSU just kept winning amidst the turmoil is why we'll even care to remember them. The saturation point with viewers drops exponentially with each loss. The Seminoles kept winning, which is why every on- and off-field headline was fit for print -- front page, bold type.

It's why what we'll remember most about the 2014 Seminoles is we talked about them most thanks in part to the 24/7 news cycle and proliferation of social media. That's not to say Florida State didn't earn some of the criticisms and backlash, too.

It began with the debate whether Winston should be suspended from football activities after the April theft. The outrage escalated when Winston screamed a sexually charged phrase at a busy campus intersection. The Winston case -- and Florida State's poor handling -- became a rallying point for on-campus sexual assaults around the same time there was talk of a surplus of Winston autographs. That ignited a spark within the Florida State fan base, which called the coverage a witch hunt. And all the while Winston kept winning.

The Seminoles were America's third grade crush. Picked on publicly, secretly we couldn't take our eyes off them. With individual motives we collectively watched the Seminoles every week. The FSU-Notre Dame game was the highest-rated game of the regular season, and four of the 10 most-viewed games involved the Noles.

They were never dull off the field, even if the storylines felt contrived at times, which gave the 2014 season a pro wrestling feel. The Seminoles lost the Hulkamania persona from the beginning of 2013 and put on the black hat. They were Hollywood Hogan in 2014, plaguing the same fans that asked FSU to end the SEC's title streak a few months earlier.

On the field, the Seminoles' didn't even finish their first half of football before the overrated talk began. Their credentials were questioned after 25 minutes. The Noles were a lightning rod even for the selection committee. The committee never seemed to know what to do with FSU, which fluidly moved within the committee's top four but never made it to No. 1 despite being the only undefeated team in FBS at the time of the final ranking.

Over time, most will forget about the near defeats. Some will forget who exactly thumped Florida State and in what bowl.

We'll all remember that we had to watch, though.

"Talkin' Bout Them Noles: The Story of the 2014 Florida State Football Team" should be available soon. Bet that sells better than their 2013 copy, too.
Florida State has won three straight ACC championships, but the Seminoles are not a lock to be the preseason favorites to win the league again in 2015.

This could be the season to catch the Seminoles -- especially with Georgia Tech and Clemson returning top-25 teams.

[+] EnlargeJustin Thomas
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsJustin Thomas and the Yellow Jackets will aim to defend the nation's top-ranked rushing offense next season.
Everybody knows what Florida State has done over the past three years to re-establish itself as a national program. The Seminoles will remain a national program in 2015, but they may not be as dominant as they have been, given all the players they must replace.

You thought having to replace 11 NFL players off the 2012 team was bad? At least the Seminoles had Jameis Winston coming in at quarterback, and returning standouts such as Rashad Greene, Nick O'Leary and Lamarcus Joyner on defense.

Now, the Seminoles have to replace perhaps the best player in program history (Winston), the best receiver in program history (Greene) and the best tight end in program history (O'Leary). Not to mention four starting offensive linemen and at least two All-ACC defenders who have declared early, with up to two more on the way.

When it is all said and done, Florida State could end up getting at least another 11 players drafted. That would bring its three-year total to 29 drafted players -- more than the 26 players Miami had drafted off its heralded teams from 2001-03.

Not even a coach that has recruited as well as Jimbo Fisher has can easily reload after losing so many veterans that laid the foundation for multiple ACC titles, a national championship and a 29-game winning streak.

What could make the difference is quarterback. That remains a big uncertainty in Tallahassee. But Georgia Tech and Clemson return two of the best quarterbacks in the ACC -- both sure to earn preseason votes for ACC Player of the Year.

Justin Thomas had a breakthrough season for the Yellow Jackets, the catalyst for an 11-win season and what should be a top-10 final ranking. He has two more seasons in Atlanta. While it is true the Jackets lose terrific players in Zach Laskey, Synjyn Days, Shaq Mason and DeAndre Smelter, the biggest key to efficiency and productivity in the Georgia Tech offense is its quarterback.

Thomas was terrific in his first year as a starter, becoming just the second quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards in school history. He ranks No. 4 in the nation in QBR, a measure of how good a quarterback is on a play-by-play level. From a team perspective, Georgia Tech ranks No. 1 in the nation in rushing offense and third-down conversions, No. 3 in time of possession and No. 7 in first downs -- all testaments to how well the triple-option worked this season with Thomas behind center.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
AP Photo/Rainier EhrhardtDeshaun Watson and the Tigers finished second in the Atlantic Division in 2014, and will likely be a preseason favorite to take over No. 1 in 2015.
At Clemson, we all saw the potential Deshaun Watson has -- provided he can stay healthy for an entire season. With Artavis Scott, Mike Williams, Wayne Gallman and a host of other young offensive players returning, this offense has the potential to be as good -- if not better -- than the crew Tajh Boyd led a few years ago. The Tigers could end up being the top preseason choice in the Atlantic.

On the whole, the Atlantic Division should be tougher than it has been over the past few seasons. Louisville showed it is a team that has the potential to make some noise in the ACC in Year 1; NC State is vastly improved, and the last ACC team to hand the Seminoles a loss. Boston College has played the Seminoles close the past two seasons, nearly pulling the upset in Tallahassee a few months ago.

Of those three, the Cards and Wolfpack also return their starting QBs.

The ACC schedule will also be more challenging. The Seminoles swap Virginia for Georgia Tech from the Coastal, and the game is in Atlanta. So is their annual Atlantic showdown with Clemson. Already, those two games are setting up to be pivotal in the 2015 ACC race.

There is no doubt Florida State has plenty of talent in the pipeline. But whether the Seminoles will be able to put it all together for 2015 and play like a dominant force remains a question mark, leaving the door open for another team to raise the championship trophy.
Florida State finished the season with an average margin of victory of 8.1 points -- good for 35th nationally and 25th among Power 5 teams. With one game to play, Oregon, the team FSU lost to in the Rose Bowl, has an average margin of victory of 24.9 points per game, the second-best mark in the country.

So, as the Rose Bowl proved, Oregon is a much better team than Florida State, right?

Well, sort of. But here is a caveat to that narrative.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Rob Tringali for ESPNOf the 100 teams in the past decade to finish in the top 10, none allowed more than 83 points off turnovers. Jimbo Fisher's Seminoles allowed 127 this season.
Oregon was really, really good at the one thing every coach demands his team be good at, and Florida State was really, really bad at it. That thing is turnovers.

Oregon had the nation’s best turnover margin at +20. FSU was 101st at -6. Oregon led the nation in opponent points off turnovers at 13. Florida State finished dead last in the country at 127. You might have noticed a few of those came in the Rose Bowl.

But for the sake of discussion, flip-flop the turnover numbers for both teams and here are the average margins of victory per game:

Oregon -- 13.7 (13th nationally)
Florida State -- 21.9 (6th nationally)

In other words, turnovers are every bit as important as coaches say they are (which, of course, is pretty self-explanatory).

Florida State had 528 yards of offense in the Rose Bowl, which is the third-most Oregon allowed all year. This came in spite of five turnovers that killed drives -- three of which came on plays that gained first downs, and the fourth on a pass that went through the hands of a receiver that would have gained a first down. In other words, cut that turnover number down to two, and FSU realistically had a shot at 700 yards of offense in a game that it actually lost by 39.

Again, this is revisionist’s history. FSU did cough up five turnovers, did lose by 39, and won’t play for a national title. The point of this discussion isn’t to suggest the wrong team won or that Oregon is undeserving of its place in Texas this week. But the argument has been made all season that FSU didn’t belong in the playoff, wasn’t that good. Then the Rose Bowl happened, and all those critics of the Seminoles stood on their soapboxes and awaited acclaim. But that’s silly, because aside from turnovers -- all five of which were flukey -- there is no argument that Florida State was particularly outclassed.

Let’s look at it from another angle. Clearly, turnovers have a huge impact on the outcome of a game. We are all in agreement on that, but the numbers also back that up.

The Seminoles allowed 127 points off turnovers this season. Two other teams were tied with FSU in that stat -- Georgia State and UConn. Those two teams combined to finish 3-21.

There were 11 teams that allowed at least 100 points off turnovers this season. FSU was 13-1. Notre Dame was 8-5. The other nine teams finished a combined 20-88 (.185).

Of the 21 teams that allowed at least 85 points off turnovers, 18 finished with losing records.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Harry How/Getty ImagesJameis Winston had an interception rate of 3.9 percent this season, the ninth highest among Power 5 quarterbacks.
Obviously, Florida State is a huge outlier -- but that is also compared with every team in the country. Here is an even more astonishing number: Of the 100 teams in the past decade that finished the season ranked in the top 10, none allowed more than 83 points off turnovers. FSU allowed 127. That’s nearly three standard deviations from the mean. That’s absurd.

So how does a team perform so badly in the turnover department but still finish 13-1?

Critics will argue FSU benefitted from a lackluster schedule, but with 13 Power 5 opponents, including nine that went to bowl games, that’s probably far too simplistic.

The likely answer is that FSU was a uniquely resilient and absurdly talented team. And that, in spite of the Rose Bowl loss, is pretty exceptional.

The second question to be asked -- and for Florida State’s purposes, the more pertinent one -- is how the Seminoles can change those turnover numbers for 2015 so that the team (which won’t have Jameis Winston) doesn’t have to be so uniquely resilient and absurdly talented to win games.

Looking at points off turnovers as a metric is a really multifaceted idea. To be bad at it is to suggest that a.) the offense gives up too many turnovers, b.) the defense does not respond to those turnovers well, and c.) luck was not on your side.

Let’s start with C. Turnovers -- particularly fumbles -- are notoriously luck-based and fluctuate wildly from year to year. That FSU existed so far outside of the norm this season suggests that luck played a big part, particularly in the Rose Bowl. Simply starting anew in 2015 should fix part of the problem.

Then there is B. Yes, FSU’s defense was put in a bad spot too often. Only five defenses in the country began a higher number of their drives following turnovers than FSU. On the other hand, the Seminoles didn’t step up nearly often enough. Only Florida Atlantic, UCLA, Indiana and Arizona State gave up points at a higher rate following a turnover than FSU (73.3 percent). Given that so many top defenders will be departing for the NFL, this should be a big concern going forward for FSU. The onus falls to Charles Kelly to have his defense more prepared to handle adversity rather than rolling over when the chips are down. After the game got out of hand against Oregon, Kirk Herbstreit said he thought Florida State’s defense had quit. He certainly had evidence to back up that claim.

Finally, there’s Point A -- the offense. Theoretically, losing Winston won’t help. But Winston also had an interception rate of 3.9 percent, which was the ninth highest among Power 5 quarterbacks. Much of that wasn’t on Winston, but it’s hard to envision a scenario in which his replacement has a rate any higher. Moreover, there were all those interceptions that were credited to Winston that had more to do with receivers running bad routes or backs not picking up blocks. With another year of experience under their belts, it stands to reason that those mistakes will be fewer.

Long story short, if FSU wants to win another ACC title, it needs to drastically change its turnover numbers. Much of that improvement will come with the simple passage of time and increased practice. But FSU’s choice for its next quarterback, the game plan it hands to that quarterback, and the fight it can instill in its defense for 2015 will also play a huge role, so what happens over the next few months -- particularly in spring practice -- will loom large.
video Jameis Winston, the central figure of Florida State’s 29-game winning streak the past two seasons that included a national title, is ready to make his move to the next level. It’s the logical next step for Winston. And Seminoles fans, who spent the early part of Wednesday celebrating the redshirt sophomore’s career, are already making their pitch as to why Winston should go No. 1 overall.

Long anticipated but now official, Winston’s decision marks the end of an FSU era, which means it’s time to take a look at the future. Winston’s declaration for the NFL draft will result in a complete overhaul of Florida State’s offense. Of the 11 players to start on offense for the Seminoles in the season opener, only two will return next season.

The line of succession in Tallahassee was well defined the past several years. First-round pick Christian Ponder would be replaced with EJ Manuel, the sixth-ranked prep quarterback in 2008 and a future first-round pick himself, who would then give way to heir apparent Winston, the No. 1 high school quarterback in 2012. That linear succession route was forced to detour when the Seminoles’ ballyhooed backup, Jacob Coker, left for Alabama in the offseason.

Sean Maguire, who redshirted with Winston in 2012, received the start in September when the Florida State administration suspended Winston for the Clemson game. Maguire was effective at times, throwing a 74-yard touchdown to tie the game late, but a fourth-quarter interception nearly ended the Seminoles’ playoff hopes.

John Franklin III is listed third on the quarterback depth chart, but his future could be at receiver. Class of 2014 quarterback JJ Cosentino redshirted this season, but the 6-foot-4, 234-pound freshman comes from a high school program that has produced numerous Division I and NFL quarterbacks, including Hall of Famer Dan Marino and two-time Pro Bowler Marc Bulger.

De'Andre Johnson, a 2015 early enrollee, and Deandre Francois will enter the fold before next season. Francois is ranked No. 54 overall in the 2015 ESPN 300, and Johnson is No. 293.

Whoever wins the job -- and a platoon is not out of the question to start the season -- won’t have the experience around him like Winston had his first season. Florida State’s career receiving leader, Rashad Greene, is off to the NFL, as is Nick O'Leary, who holds the school record for touchdowns by a tight end. The offensive line will have to replace four starters with more than 150 career starts among them. Running back Karlos Williams, who found a rhythm late in the season, will also depart.

Winston was the leader of the offense, too. With that role vacated, will the next quarterback step into it as effectively as Winston did in 2013?

There is no need for Florida State fans to enter a state of panic, though. Chief among reasons is coach Jimbo Fisher’s history of developing quarterbacks. In his five seasons as Florida State’s coach, Winston will be Fisher’s third first-round pick. Winston could join JaMarcus Russell as a Fisher protégé who was selected No. 1 overall. Fisher runs a complex NFL scheme, but Cosentino, Franklin and Maguire have all spent at least one season learning it.

Talent is not lacking elsewhere on the offense, either. Running back Dalvin Cook has already emerged as a 2015 player of the year candidate. Roderick Johnson could be a four-year starter at left tackle. Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph were effective as freshmen, and five-star athlete George Campbell, a member of the 2015 class, will participate in spring practice as a receiver.

The schedule offers some relief after a 2014 nonconference schedule that included three Power 5 teams. Outside of the ACC, Florida State hosts Texas State, USF and Chattanooga, and it travels to retooling Florida. Road trips to Clemson and Georgia Tech are daunting within the ACC, though.

The future is not bleak at Florida State, but no one is quite sure what awaits the Seminoles over the horizon.
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The decision we have all been waiting on proved to be rather anticlimactic in the end.

Because there was only one real choice Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston could make. Winston had to leave school early for the NFL. He would have been misguided to go back to Florida State for another year, to endure another season full of scrutiny and toxicity without any guarantee that his draft stock would be as high as it is today.

Already, draft pundits are evaluating whether Winston or Marcus Mariota will go No. 1 overall. Going back to school would have compromised that, potentially throwing millions of dollars out the window. Winston had no reason to become the next Matt Barkley.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesJameis Winston has opted to turn pro with his draft stock mostly intact despite a statistical drop in 2014.
Whether he is mature enough to leave or ready enough to lead a professional team after two years as a college starter should not factor into the equation. Winston has enough talent in his right arm alone to make scouts ignore all the red warning flags.

Just look at what has happened to his stock over the past year. In May 2014, ESPN NFL draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. had Winston at No. 1 on his 2015 Big Board. But after Winston was cited for shoplifting crab legs and then suspended one game after standing on a table on campus and shouting an obscene and sexually explicit phrase, Kiper dropped Winston to No. 25 on his Big Board re-rank in September.

At the time, Kiper wrote: “Winston has dropped as I feel off-field concerns have become too numerous and would cloud any decision to draft him right now. He has time to prove doubters wrong, however. But he needs to.”

He must have throughout the course of the season. Because Kiper now has Winston at No. 6 overall on his latest Big Board. Fellow ESPN draft expert Todd McShay has Winston going No. 2 overall in his first mock draft.

At least for now, the character concerns have been shelved. So has a redshirt sophomore season that was not nearly as good as his Heisman campaign in 2013. Winston threw for fewer yards and touchdown passes, and more interceptions -- yet his stock is nearly the same as it was after winning the national championship a year ago.

While it is true the NFL has become the land of second chances, it also is true the league has come under increasing scrutiny for player (mis)behavior. But at the beginning of the draft process, anyway, it seems teams might be willing to overlook all the baggage for a chance to secure what could very well be a franchise quarterback.

We all have seen Winston at his finest on the field, where he was 27-1 as a starter. He is a quarterback with confidence bordering on arrogance, holding firm to the belief every single time he drops back that he can make any throw, into any window, to any player. Or that he can make any play he wants, period -- because, well, he believes he is better than the man trying to knock him down.

That belief manifested itself in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual, when he pressed so hard in trying to lead a Seminoles comeback in the College Football Playoff semifinal that he flopped backward comically and fumbled on a critical fourth-down play in the third quarter. When he got to the sideline, he and coach Jimbo Fisher got into a heated verbal spat.

That gaffe showed Winston can be a loose cannon both on the field and off. There are no doubts Winston is incredibly gifted. But there are plenty of doubts about whether he can actually pull himself together and harness that talent into a successful NFL career.

Those doubts are not getting much airplay at the moment. Rather than debating whether he can be a model citizen, pundits are debating whether his skill set, work ethic and measurables are enough to make him the No. 1 overall pick.

Had he returned to school and gotten hurt, or thrown another 18 interceptions, or had another sideline tiff with Fisher, or gotten into trouble off the field again, you can bet those doubts would have threatened his draft stock.

Winston weathered a tumultuous two seasons in Tallahassee. But the time has come to say goodbye. He is, after all, in a perfect spot now to start anew.

FSU has QB talent, but it's unproven 

January, 7, 2015
Jan 7
12:15
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With Jameis Winston announcing Wednesday that he’ll enter the NFL draft, the quarterback situation at Florida State is going to go from prominence to the great unknown.


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Florida State running back Dalvin Cook closed out his freshman season with a nightmare performance, one that will stay with him in the months to come.

Because in the aftermath of his two fumbles in a 59-20 loss to Oregon in the Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual, Cook sat in a quiet, desolate locker room and talked about the motivation those mistakes will give him in the offseason.

[+] EnlargeDalvin Cook
Gary Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsDalvin Cook finished his freshman season averaging 5.9 yards per carry.
As if building on a 1,000-yard season was not going to be motivation enough, Cook plans on torturing himself with replays as a way to make sure those mistakes never happen again.

“I feel like this offseason has got to be the best one I’ve had,” Cook said. “I’ve got to go back and I’ve got to take it in. If I don’t want to watch it, I’ve got to watch it.”

Without a doubt, Cook took his first steps toward team leadership in the aftermath of that game.

As a true freshman generally off limits to the media, he could have taken the easy route and avoided queries after the blowout loss to the Ducks. Instead, Cook sat on his stool during the open locker room period and made himself available, answering every single question that came his way.

He took full responsibility for the game-changing fumbles that altered the course of the College Football Playoff semifinal, handling himself with poise.

Demeanor is one thing. More importantly, Cook is set to become the best returning player on offense, somebody his teammates can get behind as they begin to find a new identity.

Veteran leaders Rashad Greene, Nick O’Leary and Karlos Williams are gone. So are four starting offensive linemen. Though quarterback Jameis Winston did not provide any hints about his future, it is anticipated he will leave school early to enter the NFL draft.

If Winston does leave, Cook will be the new face of the offense, a devastating runner with the capability of becoming one of the best backs in the entire country. Cook hit the 1,000-yard mark on just 170 carries, averaging 5.9 yards every time he touched the ball.

His skills were on full display in the second half of the season, when he posted four of his five 100-yard games. But along with his ability to make big plays -- 12 of his carries went for 20 yards or more -- came too many mistakes.

Cook lost four fumbles, two against Oregon and one each against Virginia and Miami. Three were converted into touchdowns. Florida State overcame the mistakes against the overmatched Hoos and Canes, but they were devastating against the elite Ducks.

“The first fumble, I was kind of like trying to get extra yardage, and I was stumbling and a guy came from behind me, and he stripped the ball from me,” Cook said.

On the second: “I thought I’d seen a seam and I didn’t have the ball secured. It was the same thing, he came from behind me and he stripped it.”

Cook did not play another down.

But he will start 2015 with a clean slate, a player who should garner a few preseason votes for ACC Offensive Player of the Year. If the Seminoles do have a new starting quarterback, at least he will have the luxury of having Cook right behind him.

An extra motivated Cook, eager to put all his mistakes in the past.

“At the end of the day, the younger guys that will return and be a part of this organization for more years, they will learn from this experience,” Greene said. “They will learn from the mistakes they made and get better.”

Florida State is counting on that.

In a new AT&T commercial, Heisman Trophy winners Bo Jackson, Doug Flutie and Herschel Walker, sitting around watching the new College Football Playoff on ESPN, try to tease Joe Montana about his not winning the bronze statue. Montana seems duly impressed.

"What an accomplishment," he says. Only he raises his hand to his face, and it features four Super Bowl rings and a ring for the 1977 national title he won at Notre Dame.

#winning!

When it comes to team sports, particularly in this country, winning championships trumps eye-popping statistics and individual accomplishments. That's why no one ranks Dan Marino ahead of Montana on lists of all-time great quarterbacks, even though Marino was a better pure passer.

This is an important sports cultural note because we are on the cusp of potentially making a huge distinction. If Oregon beats Ohio State in the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T on Jan. 12, Marcus Mariota will have a strong case for the greatest quarterback in college football history. He'll have the Heisman, eye-popping numbers over three brilliant seasons and, most important, that championship. It would further boost his case that Oregon's first Heisman winner also led it to its first football national title, the Ducks then being the first first-time national title winner since Florida in 1996.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/Jae C. HongMarcus Mariota's passing efficiency numbers are among the best in college football history.
Ah, Florida. It can counter with two legitimate entrants to the discussion of best quarterback in college football history: Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow. Both put up huge numbers over multiple seasons and won Heismans. And both won national titles.

By those measures, you'd also have to include USC's Matt Leinart in the discussion. He won the 2004 Heisman and finished sixth in 2003 and third in 2005. While his overall numbers aren't as sparkly as Mariota's, Weurffel's or Tebow's, he went 37-2 as a starter and nearly won three consecutive national titles.

If winning is our primary measure, how can QBs like Tommie Frazier and Vince Young be overlooked? Frazier and Young each finished second in Heisman voting, but Frazier won consecutive national titles at Nebraska (1994 and 1995) without losing a game -- that 1995 team ranks among the best in the history of the sport -- while Young resurrected the Longhorns and won the 2005 national title.

Our old-timers are reminding us that college football is more than a few decades old. Any discussion of all-time greats needs to include TCU's Sammy Baugh, who was slinging the ball around well before passing was a significant part of the game, and the Horned Frogs claimed a national title in 1935 with Baugh behind center. The two-time All-American had 39 career TD passes and also ended up an NFL Hall of Famer.

So what is Mariota's case should he prevail against the Buckeyes? The CFP, in itself, would be a good Point A: His winning a national title will rate a bigger accomplishment than those of his predecessors because he will have to win consecutive games against highly ranked, top-four foes in order to earn that final No. 1 ranking. Those who won BCS or pre-BCS titles didn't have the added rigor of the CFP.

As for numbers, both this season and career, Mariota's case is strong. He leads the nation in Total QBR, ESPN.com's advanced metric for measuring a QB's efficiency and overall effectiveness, by a wide margin, and his 91.7 rating is third best since 2004. He finished ranked second in QBR the previous two seasons to Heisman winners Jameis Winston of Florida State and Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M. Those QBR numbers rank 10th and 17th of all time, making him the only QB since 2004 to have three seasons ranked in the top 20.

The same lofty measures hold true with standard QB efficiency ratings. Mariota is No. 1 this season after ranking seventh in 2013 and 2012. Those ratings rank 6th, 55th and 97th all-time (since 1956). His career efficiency rating ranks second all-time behind Oklahoma's Sam Bradford.

Mariota has been responsible for more touchdowns (134) and racked up more yards of total offense (12,661) than any other player in Pac-12 history. He has thrown a touchdown pass in all 40 career starts, the second-longest streak in FBS history. He is on pace to set the FBS record for career interception percentage, as only 13 of his 1,130 career attempts have been picked off (1.15 percent).

With any subjective measure, as this undoubtedly is, you can highlight or downplay aspects to suit an argument. Leinart and Frazier led dynastic runs of sustained excellence but were hardly one-star constellations for college football superpowers. Young completed an outstanding 2005 season -- second to Reggie Bush in Heisman voting -- with a tour de force performance in a thrilling victory over Leinart, Bush and USC in the national title game. Tebow finished first, third and fifth in Heisman voting, was a significant part of a second national title team, had 145 career TDs and put up strong efficiency numbers.

A further complication in this debate is blocking out how these quarterbacks were evaluated by the NFL and then produced as professionals. The only aforementioned QB who succeeded in the NFL was Baugh. Wuerffel and Tebow were widely doubted by NFL scouts in advance of the draft. Injuries ended Frazier's career before he could play on Sundays. Leinart and Young were top-10 picks in 2006, but they both flopped in the NFL.

Mariota is expected to be a top-10 pick this spring and could go No. 1 overall. In terms of NFL prospects, he's decisively better than Wuerffel and Tebow, and it's already clear he has a superior arm compared to Leinart and is far more advanced mechanically than Young. In terms of pure QB ability and talent as it would translate to the NFL, Mariota is the best prospect of the bunch, even before you factor in his ability as a runner.

Of course, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer can do his old QB Tebow a favor in this debate. If the Buckeyes triumph over the Ducks, Mariota won't get to flash a championship ring, a prerequisite for inclusion in our "best ever" conversation.

Ducks, Buckeyes hammer perceptions

January, 2, 2015
Jan 2
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LOS ANGELES — Perception, that truth-y thing that often stands in for reality, was front and center during the buildup to the College Football Playoff semifinal matchups on Thursday.

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston talked about how “perception is reality” for him and how he can’t change the minds of haters. Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost noted that coach Mark Helfrich had “an uphill battle in terms of perception” having to following Chip Kelly at the Ducks' helm. Helfrich’s squad endured another round of questions about being perceived as a finesse team that wilts against programs perceived as more physical.

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott
AP Photo/Brynn AndersonOhio State ran away from Alabama to cap a miserable bowl season for the SEC West, and there was nothing fluky about it.
Down in New Orleans, the perception was that top-seeded Alabama was too big and too bad and was going to leave a footprint on the collective foreheads of Ohio State, because that’s what SEC teams do to Big Ten teams, particularly when that SEC team is Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide.

It’s then fair to say that perception suffered as bad a bowl season as the SEC West, which was unmasked as college football’s tough guys when Saban’s Crimson Tide capped a shocking 2-5 divisional face-plant by being bullied by the Buckeyes.

That, of course, happened just after Helfrich took a decisive step out of Kelly’s shadow by leading his Ducks to a 59-20 brutalizing of a Seminoles team that hadn’t lost in 29 consecutive games, a team that impressively passed the sight test but nonetheless was frantically tapping out to the Ducks' jujitsu on both sides of the ball before we were more than a few minutes into the fourth quarter.

And so the dominant college football paradigm was sledgehammered in the first go-round of our new system by a matchup that resembles a traditional Rose Bowl. For the first time since 2005, no SEC team will play for the national title, and the SEC will not win a national title for a second consecutive year after winning the previous seven.

Friday was an odd day if you’ve been around the sport for a while, not only because postgame celebrations at the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl were muted by the fact that the victories were secondary accomplishments that didn’t conclude the season. The much-maligned Big Ten took down the state of Alabama -- Auburn lost to Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl -- which had won four of the previous five national titles, and Michigan State hushed Baylor, a team that still doesn’t understand that its cowardly scheduling is the problem, not the media or CFP selection committee.

Those marquee Big Ten victories came after Michigan made a thundering statement by acquiring Jim Harbaugh, a hiring that stands in contrast to SEC power Florida looking to Colorado State for its next coach. No offense to the capable Jim McElwain, but his pleated khakis aren’t nearly as inspiring or fascinating as Harbaugh’s.

Oregon and Ohio State arrive as our finalists after seasons laden with adversity. Both have been wracked by injuries, the Buckeyes at quarterback, the Ducks everywhere else. Both suffered early-season defeats that had many dismissing them from the national picture. They also both feature creative, up-tempo offenses that stand in contrast to the two-back, pro-style sets that many traditionalists still write sonnets about. So there are some notable similarities.

There also are differences, of course. Ohio State has won seven national titles, the Ducks zero. Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer is probably a win away from having his face carved into the Mount Rushmore of coaches. Winning a third national title after capturing two at Florida and previously winning big at Bowling Green and Utah would insert him into the "best ever" discussion.

Of course, Phil Knight might build a golden statue of Helfrich outside Autzen Stadium if the Ducks win the first CFP, grabbing the only prize that has eluded the program during its steady rise as a national power since the 1980s.

Oregon will beat Ohio State if it sticks to the simple plan it used against the Seminoles. Before the Ducks squared off against FSU, another college football blue blood, Frost spoke of the necessity of "dictating" instead of reacting to what the Seminoles were doing.

"If we are reacting to what they are doing, we aren't at our best," he said.

[+] EnlargeJan 1, 2015; Pasadena, CA, USA; Oregon Ducks running back
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY SportsFlorida State couldn't stand up to Oregon's physicality, another way the College Football Playoff semifinals contradicted conventional wisdom and stereotypes.
Did a team ever dictate a big game more than the Ducks did to the Seminoles, particularly in the second half, when FSU was supposed to take control? While Winston pulled out the "we beat ourselves" line afterward, he apparently failed to pay enough attention to Ducks' game film. Rendering teams into bloody hamburger during a sudden transformative frenzy is what Oregon does. The Ducks were not gifted those five turnovers from the Seminoles. They took them. The Ducks forced 30 turnovers this season and ranked second in the nation in turnover margin. They ranked first in turnover margin in 2012 and have been in the top 25 every year since 2010.

“All they did tonight was go out and act like themselves,” said Frost.

Yet there was a little bit more to the Ducks' effort, and perhaps this can be attributed to Helfrich. There is no question that Oregon players and coaches were annoyed by the pregame talk about "finesse." Receiver Byron Marshall, who was pretty snappy about the topic before the game, said afterward that certain dismissive comments that were attributed to Florida State players were posted in the locker room, which further motivated the team. Kelly would have outright rejected such an approach as an outside distraction that had nothing to do with the quality of execution. Helfrich seemed to let his players marinate just a bit in the perceived -- that word! -- tweaks.

When asked about what Winston could have meant when he said "this game could have gone either way," about a 39-point defeat, Oregon center Hroniss Grasu was at a loss.

“I don’t know what he was thinking," he said. "We beat them physically, we beat them mentally, our coaches outcoached them."

He then added: “They are a great team. We are just a better team."

Here's a guess that many of the Buckeyes could identify with those pregame sentiments and postgame conclusions.

Both these teams want a national title above all else. Winning is always the ultimate reward. But you can also bet both will sustain an internal perception that they still have to prove their doubters wrong, that they must still play with a chip on their shoulders.

And no matter what, when the smoke clears on Jan. 12, one more set of perceptions will be sledgehammered.

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