Florida State gutted out yet another win over Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship game, earning itself the No. 3 spot in the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings. The undefeated Seminoles, now 29-0 dating back to 2012, moved up one spot from its previous position at No. 4, as TCU dropped down to No. 6.
The final top four was decided Sunday afternoon following a day of conference championship games in college football. Alabama remains No. 1, followed by Oregon, FSU and Ohio State University.
The Seminoles will play No. 2 Oregon in their first playoff game on New Year’s Day in the Rose Bowl.
There has been a great deal of controversy throughout the season regarding where FSU deserves to be ranked, as many of the team’s wins have been near upsets. Yet, while analysts continue to question the team’s place in the top four, the Seminoles are quietly moving right along as if they’ve yet to hear any criticism.
Head coach Jimbo Fisher spoke on behalf of his team when he said after the game against Georgia Tech, “I can’t control what other people think. All I can control is how we play and what we do. We just keep putting W’s on the board. If we keep handling our business, everything will take care of itself.”
For the amount of anticipation surrounding the brand new playoff system, Fisher seems content to ignore outside projections.
When asked about his thoughts on the rankings committee, Fisher replied, “I don’t have a message for them. There ain’t no decision to be made. The decision just got made.”
It may be an unconventional approach, but so far, so good. 13-0 is difficult to argue against.
In its final game before the start of the playoffs, FSU looked like it had finally begun putting the pieces together to play at the high level of football its players and coaches know it is capable of.
Following a season riddled with 18 turnovers, including four interceptions just a week ago against Florida, quarterback Jameis Winston played a flawless game. He threw for 309 yards and three touchdowns, and more importantly, no interceptions. The sophomore quarterback was poised and precise, guiding the FSU offense to several long touchdown drives in shootout atmosphere.
But it wasn’t just Winston that brought his A-game. The entire offense was jelling throughout the contest. Freshman running back Dalvin Cook, the game’s MVP, had 220 yards from scrimmage, 177 of them on the ground, and a touchdown. The offensive line, led by senior Cameron Erving, had perhaps its best game of the season, clearing the way for Cook’s big night.
Having a strong running presence for the first time this season, Winston easily hooked up with his favorite targets. Star wide receiver Rashad Greene hauled in seven receptions for 123 yards and two touchdowns on his way to setting the record for most receiving yards in ACC history (3,771). Tight end Nick O’Leary added 97 receiving yards on three crucial catches, including one for a touchdown.
Though the final score may not suggest it, the defense played its part, too. Georgia Tech features a triple-option offense that any defense would struggle to stop. Led by versatile quarterback Justin Thomas, the Yellow Jackets totaled 331 yards and four rushing touchdowns.
A depleted FSU defense managed to adjust, however, and did what it needed to do in the second half to allow the Seminoles to pull away. Georgia Tech was stopped on three consecutive drives starting late in the third quarter, which FSU turned into a nine point lead that would turn out to be all it would need to win.
From here on out, Florida State will be focused primarily on getting healthy. Dalvin Cook filled in nicely for Karlos Williams, who sat out with a concussion, but the most impactful injuries piled up on the defensive front. Starting tackle Eddie Goldman left the game in the first quarter. Linebacker Terrance Smith has been limited recently with a knee injury, and Matthew Thomas had to leave the Georgia Tech game temporarily due to injury.
Facing Oregon will be no easy task – FSU opened as an 8.5 underdog – but a healthy roster is always a good start. The Seminoles have about a month to prepare for the game, to be held in Pasadena. Oregon’s quarterback and leading Heisman Trophy candidate, Marcus Mariota, leads a high-flying offense that, like Georgia Tech’s, won’t be easy to slow down. Still, if Florida State enters the game with its star players healthy, it’ll have a good shot at keeping up with the Ducks.
Regardless, FSU got what it was after: a shot at a second consecutive title. FSU has faced adversity and countered with resilience all season long. They’ll be prepared for Oregon, and no one would question FSU’s quality after a win over the Ducks, no matter how narrow the margin of victory.
by MATT SIMONS / sports editor