For those with questions about Florida State being thrown off its game by the off-field issues circling the program and star quarterback Jameis Winston this week, the Seminoles offered up an answer in the first three minutes. Then another answer about two minutes after that.
Ultimately, after 60 minutes of football, the Seminoles showed Syracuse and the nation its answer to the distraction questions in a 59-3 beating of the Orange.
That answer was simply, no.
No, Florida State would not be derailed by TMZ breaking news of a sexual battery investigation taking place involving Winston. No, the team would not veer off course as questions regarding how the investigation was conducted swirled around the Internet. No, the Seminoles would not make Syracuse bowl eligible by dropping the ball at home.
Florida State answered with a resounding no, time and again, including four times in the first quarter alone. After building a 38-0 lead going into halftime, the Seminoles would again pull Winston in the third quarter and let his backup get reps. This time it was Sean Maguire, as regular backup Jacob Coker is likely out for the season after suffering a torn meniscus, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
As NBC Sports' Chris Huston pointed out, Winston handled the distractions quite well. The redshirt freshman started hot, and for the game's first 30 minutes he reminded people why he was the Heisman front-runner.
Great start for Jameis Winston. 10/10, 170 yards, 1 TD. No signs of distraction.— Chris Huston (@HeismanPundit) November 16, 2013
The kid completed passes, avoided sacks and put his team in position to win, the same as he has done all season.
Although Winston is at the center of the issue, the entire team has to battle with the distraction, and as a whole, Florida State responded well. The team played lights-out football from the first kick to the final whistle.
Karlos Williams, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. all got going in the run game. The offensive line controlled bodies up front. And as usual, the wide receivers made big catches and really forced the issue with the defense.
On the defensive side of the ball, Florida State again put together a suffocating effort. There were no signs of distraction, as the first unit forced four three-and-out possessions and five punts in the first half of the ballgame. Winston was not the only big-time player to sit out the second half; youth was inserted on the defensive side of the ball coming out of halftime as well.
Via David Hale of ESPN, FSU legend Charlie Ward expected the team to maintain its focus and rally around Winston, which proved to be the case.
Charlie Ward on Winston situation: "It came out of the blue. The timing is very odd." Says he expects team to rally around Jameis.— David Hale (@DavidHaleESPN) November 16, 2013
This Florida State team is focused. These players and this coaching staff have a goal in their sights, and to get to Pasadena for the BCS National Championship Game, no box can go unchecked. Syracuse was one of those boxes, and the 'Noles checked it in emphatic fashion despite the off-field issues looming large.
As the legal system grabs hold of the reins, Florida State will have little control over what comes next. Until the issue is resolved, one way or the other, for the Seminoles the space between the white lines will remain a place to focus, execute and push toward a BCS national championship.