Florida State officially wraps up its ACC slate today when it hosts Syracuse. The Seminoles have already locked up their spot in the ACC championship game, but with the 1993 title team on hand, they’ll look to take another step toward a berth in the BCS National Championship Game. The Orange, meanwhile, are a win away from bowl eligibility. There’s plenty on the line for both sides, and these could be the five keys to the game.
1. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers: In last week’s win over Wake Forest, Florida State’s defense forced a whopping seven turnovers, including six interceptions of Deacons’ QBs. That doesn’t bode well for a Syracuse passing attack that has been horrific this season. In seven games against BCS automatic qualifier schools, Orange quarterbacks have thrown just two touchdowns (tied for fewest in the nation among AQ teams) and 15 interceptions (third-most among AQ teams). Syracuse is already fighting an uphill battle against the stout Seminoles defense, and turnovers would likely shut the door on any upset chances.
2. Stop the run: If the Syracuse passing game has been an eyesore, the running game has been its lifeline. The Orange ranks second in the ACC in rushing (203.3 yards per game) and have two talented tailbacks capable of busting a big run. Jerome Smith is in search of his second 100-yard rushing season, while Prince-Tyson Gulley is eighth in the ACC in yards-per-carry (5.7). Syracuse doesn’t hide what it wants to do, FSU’s Mario Edwards Jr. said, but FSU will be ready. The Noles are allowing just 3.7 yards-per-rush the past five games (not including sacks), despite the second-team defense being on the field for large stretches.
3. Find a rhythm: Florida State’s offense looked out of sync for much of last week’s win over Wake Forest, largely due to the long stretches when the defense dominated the game, keeping Jameis Winston and Co. on the sideline. For one 10-minute stretch in the first half, FSU’s offense ran just four plays. It was a reasonable explanation for some of the struggles and lapses in concentration (two turnovers, three key drops), but as Winston explained afterward, the unit still needs to perform better. Given the 38-point spread for Saturday’s game, they figure to get another shot at playing with a big lead.
4. Put on a show: With Oregon’s loss last week, Florida State is in prime position to make the BCS title game if it wins out. But the schedule down the stretch doesn’t come with many headliners, so the Seminoles would still be wise to put on an impressive showing to remind voters that, even if the competition isn’t stout, they’re still playing hard. FSU is the only team in the nation to have won all of its games by at least 14 points, and it would be smart to continue that streak.
5. Keep Winston healthy: Winston hasn’t played much in the second half this season, and Jimbo Fisher would be fine if that trend carried over this week. Balancing the need to keep Winston sharp with the desire to keep him healthy will require some delicate decision-making for Fisher, particularly now that backup quarterback Jacob Coker will miss the remainder of the season following knee surgery.