- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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Yes, Florida State is that good.
After Saturday’s 51-14 dismantling of Clemson, the question now is not whether FSU is the best team in the ACC, the debate is over whether it’s the best team in the country.
Saturday’s win in Death Valley was less of an indictment on Clemson and more of a statement about Florida State as a program under coach Jimbo Fisher. Clemson is a top 10 team and the mighty Seminoles blew past them at warp speed. On the road. With a redshirt freshman quarterback.
In four quarters on Saturday, the gap between Florida State and the rest of the conference grew as long as the ride from Tallahassee to Chestnut Hill.
Florida State replaced six assistants this offseason. The Noles lost 11 draft picks, including every starter on the defensive line, and their starting quarterback. And yet somehow, they’re even better.
Florida State, which is ranked No. 2 in the latest BCS standings, should finish the season undefeated – and that includes a potential matchup against Virginia Tech or Miami in the ACC championship game.
Anyone who thinks NC State has a prayer at pulling off what it did a year ago in Raleigh on Saturday forgot to turn the calendar to 2013. The Wolfpack is a beleaguered bunch that is banking on the return of quarterback Brandon Mitchell to get it to a bowl game. They can get there, but they won’t get any closer to it on Saturday. Former coach Bobby Bowden will be planting the spear before the game. The school is expecting up to 300 former players to be in attendance. And after what happened last year? There’s no way this group is going to let it happen again -- especially on their home turf with so many former Noles watching.
If you thought what happened in Death Valley was ugly, you might just have to look away on Saturday.
NC State is merely a formality standing between FSU and rival Miami. The Canes will be the toughest opponent remaining on the schedule -- and that includes a trip to the Swamp. Florida has fallen out of the rankings, and they’re not the same team they were when Miami knocked them off in Week 2. Miami’s ability to run the ball and its sheer determination in a storied rivalry could make the game interesting. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Canes won -- but they shouldn’t, not based on what we’ve seen so far: i.e. Miami turnovers and FSU’s deep roster.
Jameis Winston is the best quarterback in the ACC. He has arguably the best receiving corps in the country. And yet the Noles’ defense was the story of the game at Clemson. Granted, part of Clemson’s letdown can be attributed to the fact that quarterback Tajh Boyd, determined to leave a legacy and win a national title, tried to do too much. The bottom line, though, was that Florida State had the better team. The Noles dominated up front on both sides of the ball against Clemson, creating pressure to allow their players in the secondary to snag the interceptions. The coaches did an excellent job of preparing the players and keeping them focused through what was easily the most anticipated matchup since 2005.
“This game was blown off the charts,” Winston said. “Everybody was like, ‘Oh my god,’ and then, ‘We’re three-point favorites.’ We’re not going to let nothing like that affect us. We’re a great football team and we’re here to play football. We’re not here to do all the partying, all the rah-rah stuff and celebrate for being a great team. We have to play every game one game at a time.”
Asked after the game -- twice -- if he thought he was coaching the No. 1 team in the country, Fisher wouldn’t bite, but he did say he’s “not scared to play anyone.”
“I think we have a heckuva team,” he said. “I’m not doubting our team or anything. We’ve got a lot of ball to play. If we keep taking care of business, the country will see, and we’ll get to where we’ve gotta go.”
At No. 2, they’re already as close as they need to be. It’s just a matter of staying there, and nobody else in the ACC has looked good enough to change that.
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