@theACCFootball Championship: Game Night Nears


Florida State, Duke set for ninth annual game   

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- No one questions  Florida State’s sheer talent heading into Saturday night’s Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship Game matchup with 20th ranked Duke.  But talent alone didn’t earn the Seminoles an unbeaten record through 12 games or put them in position to earn a spot in the national title game with a win over the Blue Devils.

“I've been on some great teams, but I don't think there's any team that's more unselfish than our team is,” FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher said Friday.  “I think the secret to our team is the love, trust and belief they have in each other.  They generally play for each other and they care for each other, and to me that's the secret to everything we're doing.  They want to do well because the guy beside them is counting on them.”

Almost all in attendance at Bank of America Stadium and watching nationally (on ABC) expect that formula to keep working for the defending ACC champions. The Coastal Division champion Blue Devils (10-2, 6-2) have not lost since Sept. 21, but are listed as a 29-point underdog.

“Well, as long as it's not the people on our team predicting that,” said Duke’s David Cutcliffe, who was voted the ACC Coach of the Year by the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association (ACSMA) and named National Coach of the Year by the Walter Camp Foundation on Thursday.  “That's the key to that, and I don't think any of our guys are putting us down as 29‑point underdogs.”

Not that Cutcliffe and the Blue Devils are unaware of what they are up against in facing the Seminoles (12-0, 8-0), who appear to have no areas even resembling a weakness. 

Redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston was voted ACSMA’s ACC Player of the Year after throwing for an ACC freshman-record 3,490 yards and 35 touchdowns. He leads an offense that has churned out over 526 yards per game while averaging 53.7 points.

Defensively, national awards candidate Lamarcus Joyner leads a unit that ranks first nationally in scoring defense (11.1 points allowed per game) and interceptions (23), and among the nation’s leaders in virtually every other team category. The Seminoles’ collective offensive and defensive prowess allowed kicker Roberto Aguayo, with 138 points, to single-handedly outscore Florida State’s 12 regular-season opponents (132).

“(We are) very honored to play a Florida State team that truly is the No. 1 team in the country,” Cutcliffe said. “I've had the good fortune through the years to play some No. 1 teams in this profession. Some of them look like No. 1 teams, some of them don't.  Florida State certainly is.  So  it’s a huge challenge.”

Duke counters with a squad that earned 11 spots on the 2013 All-ACC team and has athletic, talented players of its own in the likes of wide receiver Jamison Crowder (88 receptions for 1,131 receiving yards and two punt returns for touchdowns).  Redshirt freshman safety DeVon Edwards has proven to be another big-play guy with two kickoff returns for touchdowns, two interception returns for TDs, and the game-sealing interception versus rival North Carolina in last Saturday’s regular-season finale.

The Blue Devils, who set a school record for wins this season, have also been a team that has played stronger as games progressed. Duke won four games during the regular season after trailing or being tied in the fourth quarter, and the Blue Devils have a allowed a total of 37 fourth-quarter points in 2013.

Florida State leads the all-time series between the schools 18-0, but the teams did not meet during the regular season this year, and Fisher said he really can’t compare Duke to any team the Seminoles have faced this season.

“They're the champion of their division, and when you're a champion, I think you're a little bit different,” Fisher said. “I don't know if Duke is similar to anybody we've played because I think what Duke does, Duke plays tremendously consistent.  They make very few mistakes.  They've become so athletic in the back end with their skill guys, and their secondary guys allow them to make plays. They're very physical up front.”

Quality bowl games await both teams regardless of Saturday’s outcome. Obviously, Florida State has its eye on the national championship game in Pasadena on Jan. 6. Duke has designs on shocking the world and bagging a trip to the Orange Bowl.

And each would love to hoist the ACC Championship Trophy.

“That's the next step we have to take,” Fisher said. “And to win your own conference championship – If you can't get focused on that, we have an issue.  We've been able to focus one game at a time … and we've done it all year.  I don't expect us to change now.”

For Cutcliffe, whose team lost its first two ACC games in September, the Blue Devils’ challenge on Saturday simply represents the next logical step in this season’s turnaround.

“When we were 0‑2 in the ACC, we all knew that we had to win every game we had left,” he said. “And I told them each week: ‘As you win one, the next one is going to get tougher.  The next one is going to be more challenging.’  They knew what was ahead, but they focused on the business at hand.

“We've reached a point where we've won all of those games, passed those tests, and (now) it's this.  You're in the championship game now.  This should be the supreme test.  That's the way it's designed to be.”