TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Lamarcus Joyner's career is full of accomplishments, but the thing he’s really worked for, the one thing he wants above all else, is finally, tantalizingly, within reach.
After Saturday’s ACC championship game, Joyner’s Florida State team will either be preparing to win a national championship or looking for explanations about how they let it all slip away in one of the biggest upsets in recent memory.
That, Joyner said, is a frightening proposition.
“Very scary, very intimidating,” Joyner said. “That’s so much pressure. And you have a Duke team that the whole country might be overlooking. But we can’t do that.”
But if the challenge for Florida State on Saturday is simply staying focused on the task at hand, this season has been remarkably good preparation.
For the seventh straight week, Florida State will take the field Saturday favored by at least three touchdowns. In each of the previous six, the Seminoles covered that spread with room to spare.
Few games have been close, and that’s now the knock from critics eager to find fault in Florida State’s easy schedule. But if the Seminoles learned anything in the past few seasons, it’s that those easy games are often the biggest traps, and this season has been a case study in how to avoid those distractions.
“This is what we’ve prepared for,” linebacker Telvin Smith said. “This is where we knew we’d be.”
Of course, there are ample distractions, the latest of which is the new No. 1 ranking beside Florida State’s name. It’s the first time the Seminoles have held the top spot in the BCS standings since 1999.
That means something, Joyner said. It just doesn’t mean they’ve arrived.
“It’s a great feeling to get what we earned, and I feel like we earned that,” Joyner said. “It feels good, but it’s not something you keep taking a glimpse at. You hear about it, you smile, and you keep going about your business.”
Business has been good for Florida State all season. Twelve games, 12 wins, all by at least 14 points -- the Seminoles have dominated each team they’ve encountered.
So what if those teams were overmatched from the outset, quarterback Jameis Winston said. All season, Florida State has preached that its biggest opponent is itself. The other team has no face, and the scope of the challenge is determined solely within Florida State’s locker room.
“When your team has the same goal in your mind, you become hungry for it,” Winston said. “You don’t become lackadaisical, like, oh, we’re almost there. It’s easier because we’re hungry. We’re like ‘Man, let’s get it.’ It’s a two-game season now. We’ve got to eat. We’ve got to work every day.”
For Winston, it’s about finishing a job he’s just begun. For Joyner and Smith, it’s the culmination of four years of tough lessons.
They’ve learned the hard way what underdogs can do, and they’re not interested in giving Duke a window to pull the upset.
“I know there’s a lot of people around the country with their fingers crossed waiting for us to fall,” Joyner said. “A lot of people can be riding on cloud nine and be overlooking these guys, but we’ve got to stay focused.”
Focus could’ve waned at any moment this season. There were plenty of opportunities. But through 12 games, Florida State has approached its business with a singular goal.
In the last 60 minutes before a potential berth in the BCS title game, that mindset hasn’t changed a bit.
“I’m not worried about what we're ranked and what we're doing. That'll all take care of itself,” Jimbo Fisher said. “What we need to focus on is preparing for a great game this week and playing a great game against Duke.”