Florida State Seminoles: Unconquered in the face of chaos

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Through the roses and the thorns: Jameis Winston and Jimbo Fisher are headed back to the birthplace of their dominance.

When Jimbo Fisher took over for legendary head coach Bobby Bowden at Florida State none of us expected such a quick rise back to prominence. In his first three seasons, Fisher led the Seminoles to a 31-10 record with three consecutive bowl wins.

Since the 2012 season, Fisher’s Seminoles have run off 29 consecutive victories, including a National Championship. The 2014 season hasn’t been a bed of roses for the garnet and gold. Off the field incidents involving quarterback Jameis Winston would’ve upended a weaker program, but the Noles have  won, at times in spite of themselves to earn a trip back to the Rose Bowl for the College Football Playoffs.

The Florida State Seminoles know now what it feels like to be the Miami Hurricanes.  Epic struggles with their in-state rivals made them a sympathetic figure for several years. Sudden success coupled with off the field occurrences have made the Noles an easy target for naysayers, with most of the venom directed at Winston — whose incidents have been well publicized.

The unrelenting shade toward the Seminoles has carried over into the voting rooms each week. After entering the season as the nation’s top ranked team, Jimbo Fisher’s squad has been ranked as low as fourth. Eight times this season, Florida State has come back to salvage the streak and more importantly, their run to immortality. Remember the Seminoles trailed the Auburn Tigers in the BCS Championship Game last January. Prior to being selected by the College Football Playoff Committee, there were whispers of possibly being left out of college football’s version of the Final Four — despite running the table the last two seasons.

After a 56-41 victory against NC State, the 4-0 Noles were forced to watch as Alabama (4-0) was elevated to the No. 1 ranking in the USA Today poll for Week 6, but earned only a No.3 ranking in the AP Top 25 as Florida State retained their top ranking. The biggest slap occurred when Mississippi State — who was unranked in the preseason was given the top spot. To their credit, the Bulldogs did have three consecutive victories over Top 10 opponents (#8 LSU, #6 Texas A&M and #2 Auburn).

Week 12 was the first week Florida State would drop beyond the second spot in the College Football Playoff rankings but never below No. 2 in the AP Top 25 polls.

In the middle of the firestorm, the Seminoles have found a cool hand in Jameis Winston. If it was orchestrating a comeback drive against Oklahoma State or shaking off a four interception performance against the Florida Gators the sophomore quarterback has displayed maturity on the field which leaves us baffled about his behavior Sunday through Friday. Winston has taken everything in stride, from the one-game suspension for his actions in the FSU Student Activities Center to the unforgiving subscribers of social media who have made him the subject of relentless memes and tasteless jokes. Even comedian Kevin Hart came at the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner on his recent visit to Tallahassee.

It’s clear to me the reason for the Noles lukewarm response from voters is Winston. They have no control over what happens to him off the field, so the margin of error for the team was reduced to zero. The more heroic the Winston-led comebacks, the more voters took umbrage to the team and Fisher. No matter how they tried to drive a wedge between player and coach or player and team the circle only tightened.

The blatant resentment for the Seminoles was never more evident than during “Hurricane Week” — the week of the FSU/Miami game. It seemed as if twenty years of hatred for the team from Coral Gables was swept under the rug just to see college football’s new evil empire conquered. Florida State — ranked third at the time — rallied from a 23-7 deficit and to outlast the Hurricanes 30-26.

After the game, Jimbo Fisher obviously bothered by the talk about his team not being deserving of a No. 1 ranking because of so many close calls summed up his post-game presser with two words: “Anybody, Anywhere.”.

In the ACC Championship, the Seminoles found themselves in a firefight with the explosive Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Jameis Winston passed for three touchdowns and was turnover-free. The offense re-established the running game through freshman tail back Dalvin Cook and the Noles defeated held on for a 37-35 victory. Ironically, the Noles twenty-nine game win streak began against Georgia Tech two years earlier.

Despite an unblemished record, Florida State had about as much faith in the College Football Playoff Committee as a fighter does a Las Vegas judge. In the end, it was Florida State drawing a No. 3 seed and facing No.2 seed Oregon in the Rose Bowl January 1st — where they defeated Auburn for the  BCS Championship last season. This matchup has the potential to feature the last two Heisman Trophy winners in Winston and Ducks’ quarterback Marcus Mariotta. The winner faces either No. 1 Alabama or No. 4 Ohio State for the National Championship in Dallas on January 12th.

The 2014 season has been an odyssey for the Seminoles — who have endured everything  — be it self-inflicted or what have you. Say what you will about the unwavering dedication of Fisher or the flaws of Winston, but when you speak of the Florida State Seminoles collectively, only one word should come to mind…

UNCONQUERED!!!

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