Admit it. You’re rooting against Florida State.
You’re not the only one.
The Seminoles have become Public Enemy No. 1 in college football, with their scofflaw of a quarterback, a coach who conveniently seems to look the other way at the slightest hint of trouble, and an administration that has come to epitomize the misplaced priorities of big-time athletics.
Yet no matter how hard you pull against them, the Noles just keep on winning.
They could very well finish this season like they ended the last – with Jameis Winston holding the Heisman Trophy and the whole team celebrating another national championship.
”When everyone is against you, it’s a reality check,” Winston says. ”We get that chip back on our shoulders.”
In spite of all the hate (and, partly, because of it), Florida State is putting together one of the great runs in college football history.
The Seminoles won their 24th straight game on Thursday night, rallying from a 21-0 deficit on the road to beat Louisville 42-31. Only 25 teams in the history of college football have put together longer winning streaks, the most recent being Miami’s 34-game masterpiece from 2000-03.
”I think there’s more pressure when you’re winning,” former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said Friday, chatting by phone from his home in Tallahassee. ”I imagine right now that (head coach) Jimbo Fisher and the other coaches and the other players would hate to have that streak broken. They haven’t been beaten in two years. Every time they play, they’ve got to protect that streak.”
Look for it to carry on at least until the new four-team playoff. Florida State (8-0) has home games remaining against Virginia (4-4), Boston College (5-3) and Florida (3-3), plus a trip to Miami to face the no-longer-fearsome Hurricanes (5-3). Then there’s the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game against whatever mediocre team emerges from whatever they call the ACC’s other division.
At that point, the Seminoles should be 13-0 and riding a 29-game winning streak, tied for the 12th-longest in the history of the NCAA’s top division.
”We keep finding a way,” receiver Rashad Greene says. ”That’s character, that’s guts, to go out there and keep your poise and stay into the game and never think you’re out of it. This is a different type of team. We figure out a way to win every week.”
Indeed, the Seminoles aren’t nearly as dominant as they were in 2013, when they set a scoring record and blew out everyone they faced until a thrilling victory over Auburn in the national championship game.
But in some ways, what they’ve done this season is even more impressive.
Five times, they’ve trailed at halftime.
Five times, they’ve done what they needed to do over the final two quarters.
”It’s amazing to me,” Bowden says. ”They’ve have to fight right down to the wire so many times. But they continue to win. That’s the name of the game. That’s the only stat that counts.”
For all the criticism of Fisher over his lax disciplinary methods, he’s clearly a master at shielding his team from the turmoil. He calls it ”eliminating clutter,” one of those familiar coaching cliches but one that his players have taken to heart.
”We focus on the things we can control,” Fisher says. ”That’s part of growing up and maturing.”
It’s easy to chuckle at terms like ”maturing” while Winston is on the roster, given all his issues away from the field. Bringing a BB gun on campus to shoot at squirrels, taking crab legs from a grocery store without paying, shouting an obscene term in the student union – come across more as youthful transgressions, no great harm to anyone but indicative of someone who has a lot more growing up to do.
The most troubling is a sexual assault complaint, which has been dogged by claims of a cover-up by local authorities. Winston is facing a university hearing to determine whether four sections of the code of conduct have been violated – two for sexual misconduct and two for endangerment.
That said, he has not been charged with a crime.
And his brilliance on the field is undeniable.
The third-year sophomore has yet to lose a game as Florida State’s starting quarterback. He’s already got one Heisman in the trophy case and – as things currently stand on and off the field – deserves serious consideration for another.
Winston’s value to the Seminoles was never more apparent than in the victory over Louisville. He threw three interceptions as Florida State shockingly fell behind by three touchdowns. Hobbled by a sore right ankle, he threw for three touchdowns and 278 yards in the second half, including a 35-yard clincher to Freddie Stevenson with just over 2 minutes remaining.
”He’s as good as anybody I’ve ever seen,” Bowden says.
The Seminoles have closed ranks around Winston, who is no longer available for interviews during the week. Teammates are reticent to discuss their quarterback, even when the question lacks any potential controversy.
There’s an us-against-them mentality that is clearly working in the Seminoles’ favor.
Public Enemy No. 1?
They don’t mind a bit.
Associated Press writer Kareem Copeland in Tallahassee, Florida, and AP Sports Writer Gary B. Graves in Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to this report.
Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963