- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The mantra is so deeply embedded by now, it’s tough to shake. One game at a time, ignore the outside distractions. Florida State’s players repeat it again and again.
But no matter how often the claims of tunnel vision are repeated, the college football slate this week shapes up perfectly to pique the Seminoles’ curiosity, and with No. 3 Oregon playing tonight and No. 1 Alabama playing long after FSU wraps up its own game Saturday, many Florida State players admit they’re eager to get a look at the other teams vying for supremacy in the BCS rankings.
“I wanted do see it because it’s a big game,” tailback James Wilder Jr. said of Thursday’s Oregon-Stanford showdown. “I just want to look at them and see why they keep jumping us, what they have that makes them keep jumping us.”
Oregon and Florida State have flip-flopped in each of the past two releases of the BCS standings, while Alabama has been a steady No. 1 all season. Both the Ducks and the Crimson Tide get top-15 opponents this week -- No. 5 Stanford for Oregon and No. 13 LSU for Alabama -- and with undefeated No. 6 Baylor also playing No. 10 Oklahoma on Thursday, the chaotic BCS picture figures to be cleared up a bit by the time the next set of BCS standings arrives.
At least, that’s the hope for Florida State, which likely needs either Oregon or Alabama to lose at least one game to get a shot to make the BCS National Championship Game. And yet, for all their interest in getting an up-close look at their competition in the polls, the Seminoles insist they’re not playing favorites.
FSU quarterback Jameis Winston said he’ll likely tune in to see Oregon and Stanford play tonight, but won’t be celebrating in his room if the Ducks get upended. It was a sentiment echoed by most of his teammates.
“I try to not get caught up in ‘I’m a Stanford fan this week, I’m an LSU fan this week,’” tackle Cameron Erving said. “We have to worry about Florida State.”
That was the company line throughout the roster, but if players wouldn’t confess to a rooting interest, they admitted there would at least be a little early scouting going on in case they end up seeing Alabama or Oregon during bowl season.
“It’s football, and I’m a natural competitor,” linebacker Telvin Smith said. “When I see somebody doing great on the opposite team, I say, ‘Yeah, I’d cover them, I’d shut them down.’ But we’re just trying to take it one game at a time and stay focused. That’s our biggest thing. And the less we try to look outside this team, the further we’re going to go.”
But even Jimbo Fisher said it’s tough to completely block out those other big games, especially when the kickoff times fit so perfectly around Florida State’s own schedule.
Fisher, who has a vote in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll, said he’s tried to make a point of seeing each of the top teams, and when he does watch, it’s tough to view the games as a fan.
“You do that as a coach watching a high school game. You say, how would I stop that or how would I go against that. That’s the way a coach looks at every game. Unfortunately, we can’t ever enjoy them.”
For the most part, though, Florida State’s players say that the enjoyment of watching a big game is the biggest reason they want to tune in.
“I’m going to watch because it should be a good game,” Winston said.
And whether Oregon and Alabama stay undefeated or the door opens for Florida State to secure one of the top two spots in the standings, Fisher keeps telling his team not to worry about how the story ends just yet. FSU still has four games and, likely, an ACC championship to win first, and he’s confident that the rest of the puzzle will work itself out.
For now, at least, the Seminoles agree. And after this weekend, the whole discussion could be moot anyway.
“We can have a perfect season and not go to a national championship, but that’s not our decision,” Erving said. “We have to leave that up to everybody else, but know that we’ve played a good season if we come out 12-0, 13-0. You can be upset, but at the same time, you have to deal with it.”
6dJared Shanker and Andrea Adelson